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Auto Insurance Companies

After years of holding their rates steady-and in some cases even dropping them-many of the top auto insurance companies have boosted rates this year, including State Farm (6.9 percent), Farmers Insurance (6.9 percent) and Allstate (8.9 percent).

Rising medical and repair costs, higher jury awards and fraud have combined to put a dent in auto insurance companies' dwindling cash reserves, experts said.

"In the 1990s, costs were starting to rise, but auto insurance companies had the cash reserves-profits from the stock market-to keep costs from being passed along to the consumers," said Nancy Kramer, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Insurance.

Today, those reserves are depleted. "Auto insurance companies are telling us that, based on their losses, they have to charge more or they'll go out of business,'' she said. "Now, we're expecting some consumer sticker shock," Kramer said.

If consumers aren't assertive, they could end up stuck with high auto insurance premiums.

But there's still time to shave a few dollars off their auto insurance premiums by comparison shopping and re-evaluating their current coverage.

Here are a few ways to obtain cheap auto insurance

Raise your deductible.

The deductible is what you pay out of pocket before your insurance company pays anything. Switching from a $200 deductible to a $500 deductible can save consumers 15 percent to 30 percent on their collision and comprehensive costs, he said. Up your deductible to $1,000, and you'll save 40 percent to 45 percent.

Drop collision and comprehensive coverage on old cars.

Why over insure your clunker? Collision coverage pays the cost to repair or replace your car if it is damaged in an accident, regardless if it was your fault or someone else smashed into you. Comprehensive coverage pays for other events that have nothing to do with collisions, such as vandalism or car theft. But if you're driving an old or beat-up car that's worth less than $1,000, it doesn't make sense to keep up the coverage. In some cases, dropping it could save you $150 to $300 a year.

Keep your driving record clean.

Sounds like a no-brainer, but good-driving discounts can shave about 20 percent off your premium, according to the California Department of Auto Insurance. To qualify for good-driver status, you'll need a clean driving record for three years. That means you can have one point, but no more. (Speeding tickets or an accident you caused typically give you a point.) Ask about other discounts.

Many auto insurers offer other discounts. Though the details vary from insurer to insurer, you'll usually get a discount if:

You insure more than one auto or have other policies, renter's insurance, homeowner's insurance, etc., with the same firm. The more policies you have, the more you'll save.

You are over age 50. Typically, insurers give drivers age 50 to 65 a discount. After age 65, insurers may view drivers as more risky, so typically they offer no discount.

A teenage driver maintains a B average in school grades.

You are a teacher or have an advanced degree in engineering, math or science. Actuary history shows that people in these professions tend to be low-risk drivers.

Your auto is equipped with an anti-theft device. Forget about those annoying car alarms, though-most insurers only give a discount if you have tracking system that alerts the police if your auto is stolen.

Knock your college student off your auto insurance policy.

If your college student isn't going to drive the family car, let your auto insurance company know. Young drivers are the riskiest, and if they won't be driving your car, you don't need to insure them, Moraga said.

Pay for minor damage yourself.

You get a ding that will probably cost you about $100 to fix. But is it worth filing a claim? No, experts say. If it's small and you can fix it without paying a lot, do it. Insurers look at how many claims consumers file. There is no magic formula to tell you how many claims are too many, but if you're not careful, you'll see your rates go up-or, worse, the insurer won't renew your policy.

Drive fewer miles.

If you can cut down on your daily commute, you'll pay less. Insurers look at how many miles you drive and factor that into your rate. Again, how much you'll save depends on the insurer. Taking the train, car-pooling or even hopping on the bus will cut down on your mileage-and your rate.

Pick a safe car.

Yes, some vehicles are considered high risk because of their safety record, so if you're in the market for new auto, inquire about its safety record.

Also, consult groups, such as the Highway Loss Data Institute, to find out if your dream car is a popular target of auto thieves. In their latest study, for example, the Highway Loss group found that Honda's Acura Integra was at the top of their most-stolen new car list because of demand for its parts.

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