Used to be that if you wanted car insurance you went along to your local high street insurance broker and they found you the best policy from among the companies they dealt with.
Nowadays everyone wants to insure your car, from brokers to direct insurers and banks to supermarkets - even the car makers themselves. There's more choice, more competition and that's great news for drivers. Here we look at the options.
The downside is that brokers don't tend to deal with every single insurance company - just those they have an arrangement with. So while they do provide a choice, it's perhaps not as wide as it could be.
Sounds sensible, but this doesn't always result in significant savings, as these companies have had to replace the expense of commissions for brokers with the expense of advertising their products to consumers.
While most of these use either a direct insurer or a broker to actually provide their insurance, they aim to use their trusted brand and buying power to get their customers cheaper deals.
Yet the golden rule for insurance is always to shop around, so while such providers are of course worth looking at, they do also only provide a limited choice.
Dealing direct with an insurer through the internet cuts out many of their expenses and so extra discounts of up to 15% are often given for buying your policy in this way.
However, a difficulty with buying online is that the amount of vital detail - or 'small print' - provided about policies on insurers' websites is hugely variable. Often it's hard to find out even the excesses on a policy, full details about exactly what's covered, and what the maximum payout limits for different sorts of claims might be.
These details can vary enormously between companies and can make a big difference if you need to claim. In most cases, once an online quote is obtained, a phone call still has to be made to the insurance company to find out all the details of the policy that you need to know.
Our advice is to search online, save your quotes - which most sites allow you to do - call the company to get all the necessary details, and return to the internet to actually buy the policy which has the right balance of price and features.
Our Compare-a-Quote comparison form is designed to help you keep track of this process and identify the best deal.
The main ones are gocompare.com, confused.com, comparethemarket.com and insurancewide.com. Utilities switching service uswitch.com has also recently moved into comparing car insurance, but the range of providers they work with is currently very limited.
The advantage of these sites is that you only have to enter your personal and car details once, rather than repeatedly on different websites.
Secondly, to get full the info you'll need about policies from each insurance company, you still have to log into each separate company's website and enter/confirm further details. This often leads to a change in the headline quote seen on the comparison site anyway.
And thirdly, you may find that some of the details provided to the comparison sites have not translated accurately to the quoting systems of all the featured insurers, so the quote they give is not accurate for your needs.
The comparison sites are also not consistent with each other, indicating that it isn't sensible to think of them as reliable 'one-stop-shops'. In our tests, not only were different quotes given from the same insurance providers, but excess details and the cost of legal cover also differed.
In one case, the most competitive quote after taking further details into account was from a company 6th on the results list from one leading comparison site, and from a company not featured at all in the results of another.
However, at the very least these comparison sites do give a good overview of quotes and an idea of providers likely to be most competitive for your own circumstances. Use them to get a general idea of prices, but it remains very worthwhile getting quotes from insurers' sites directly. A list can be found on our car insurance links page.
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