WE FILLED OUT quote forms at more than a dozen sites for a variety of hypothetical people in a variety of places: a 30-year-old single woman with a 1997 Jaguar XK8 coupe, in Ohio and California; a 40- and 41-year-old couple who drive a 1999 Volvo S70 and a 1997 Toyota Corolla, in Maryland and California; and the same family with a 16-year-old son.
We quickly noted a problem: The company that offered the lowest quotes for one family offered some of the highest for the others. And the site with the lowest quote also produced the highest quote for the same family. The leaders change if you live in a different city, have a different car, or have a record of accidents and tickets. And the number of quotes you can get varies a lot from . state to state.
The two major on-line marketplaces, QuickenInsurance and InsWeb, give you the greatest number of accurate quotes in the least amount of time. But be prepared: You can't get accurate auto-insurance quotes without answering a boatload of questions.
QuickenInsurance makes it as painless as possible. After spending about 15 minutes typing in information about your cars, your driving record and the amount of coverage you want--helped by excellent "advice" buttons, which explain how each variable can affect your rate--you'll get immediate quotes from up to five insurance companies.
One of the best things about QuickenInsurance is the accuracy of its quotes. Its information comes directly from the insurance' companies, so you'll get the price you were quoted, as long as everything about your motor-vehicle and claims records checks out. Click on the "compare details" button for a table that shows how each insurer stacks up in terms of claims-processing time, financial-strength ratings, which discounts are included in your quote and other details. It's easy to fiddle around with different variations to see how much your rates will change if you raise your deductible or increase your liability coverage.
You remain anonymous until you apply for a policy, which you can also do online. Several companies even activate your coverage immediately if you submit your credit card number.
QuickenInsurance's biggest weakness is the limited number of companies it quotes. In some states, you'll go through the entire process and get prices from only one.
So if you still have energy left and want more quotes, you should also go to InsWeb and see how many companies it offers in your area (click on the "quoting companies in your state" link at the bottom of the state page). In some states, InsWeb came up with almost the same results as QuickenInsurance did. But in others, such as
The biggest annoyance with InsWeb is the lack of anonymity. After you spend about a half-hour filling out all the forms, you must type in your name, address and phone number before you're allowed to see any quotes. And you can't buy a policy online--an agent will contact you.
A few of the biggest providers don't appear on either site. Check out Geico, and call USAA (800-365-8722) if you're in the military or a dependent. You can get a State Farm quote at the company's own site.
Also take a look at eCoverage, an online-only auto-insurance company that offers low rates because its brand-new technology cuts down on administrative costs (and on your time answering questions). The company sells policies in fewer than 20 states right now but is quickly adding more. You can buy a policy immediately, and even submit claims online.