The Gen-Z Guide to Buying Car Insurance for the First Time

Lara Vukelich
Lara Vukelich

Reviews Report

  • First-time car buyers may pay triple what experienced drivers pay for insurance premiums.
  • It typically costs 25% more to insure a teenage male driver than teenage female driver.
  • State minimum car insurance requirements set the bar for the coverage you absolutely need, expressed as three numbers in this format: XX/XX/XX

When you get off your parents’ car insurance and buy your own policy, you’ve unlocked a new level of adulting. But how exactly is liability insurance different from comprehensive insurance, again? It’s hard to keep these things straight. If you’re a first-time car insurance buyer, reading through policy jargon feels a lot like a math class flashback. 

What’s more, if you get the wrong type of insurance or don’t buy enough coverage, you could end up in financial trouble after a fender bender. Never fear, we’re here to help. Here’s how to pick your first car insurance policy and what affects your premium costs.

How to Shop for Car Insurance for the First Time

So, where do you start? Buying car insurance for the first time sounds overwhelming, but it’s not so scary when you divide it into manageable to-dos. Follow these four steps to get your first car insurance policy without getting hosed. 

1. Research state laws about car insurance

Each state has its own car insurance laws. The local authorities want to make sure you’re able to be financially responsible for any accident you may be involved in. More often than not, states have what they call “mandatory minimums.” These laws let you know the bare minimum coverage you’re required to have. 

Insurance minimums are often reflected in this format: 25/50/25 (the exact numbers might be different). The digits here reflect financial values for specific types of car insurance coverage. 

In other words, 25/50/25 coverage translates to:

  • $25,000 of coverage for personal injury damage insurance
  • $50,000 of coverage for all personal injury damages in a single accident
  • $25,000 of coverage for all property damages in a single accident

Make sure you know what your state covers before you buy a policy. 

2. Get multiple quotes

The first insurance quote you get may not be the best for you. Just like when you’re searching for a place to rent or a new pair of shoes, you want to compare a few options. Getting at least three to five quotes is a good place to start. You can always go back and adjust coverage limits if the quoted premiums are too high for your budget (as long as you meet mandatory minimums). 

3. Apply every discount you can

Oh, you didn’t think you should pay full price, did you? There is always a discount. Student discounts, good driver discounts, and discounts for having a good car alarm are all on the table. If you don’t see discounts online, make sure you call someone on the phone (ugh, we know) and ask how to lower your premium. 

4. Add insurance to your vehicle immediately

Once you make a decision, give your insurance company your car’s make, model, year, and VIN. It will also need your driver’s license information. If you’re on your way to buy a car, you should make contact with your insurer of choice beforehand and let it do some preliminary work to get you in the system. Then you can call the company from the dealership and add the car to your policy before you drive off the lot. 

We also have to mention that bundling does wonders when you’re buying insurance for the first time. New drivers or car insurance buyers often have a shorter driving history and fewer discounts available. Bundling your car insurance with renters insurance is one almost sure-fire way to pay less, and your renters insurance company already has your good payment history on file, which might help you save more. 

Factors That Affect Car Insurance Premiums

Lots of things affect how much you’re quoted for car insurance. Both your driving record and the car itself play a part. Insurance companies will primarily consider:

  • Driver profile
    • Age, gender, credit score, and zip code all inform your premium quote.
    • Drivers under the age of 25 tend to pay higher premiums. 
    • Drivers with better credit may also save on car insurance. 
    • City drivers also pay more, because the chance of accidents and theft is higher than in rural areas. 
    • Male drivers may also pay more for insurance (especially in their teens and early 20s). 
  • Vehicle
    • New cars have a higher value, and therefore higher insurance costs. 
    • Insurance premiums also consider the make and model of a car, as some cars are more likely to have expensive repairs. 
    • The purpose of your vehicle (work or leisure) also matters. If you use your car for work, you may pay more. 
  • Driving history
    • Tickets, accidents, and drunk driving charges all increase your car insurance premiums. 
    • Car insurance can increase by as much as 44% after you file a claim.  

Auto Insurance Terms You Need to Know

We know you didn’t learn anything about how car insurance works in school, so here’s some basic vocab to get you up to speed on the different aspects of car insurance.

How Much Car Insurance Coverage Do I Need? 

Consider the following when you’re narrowing down your top insurance options. 

  • Leasing vs. financing: Leased cars usually have higher insurance premiums than financed cars and may require higher-end coverage than you’d choose on your own. As Geico explains, “Leasing a car usually requires a higher insurance premium because the leasing company technically owns the car in full and wants to make sure the car is well-covered in case of an accident.” 
  • New vs. used: Buying a brand new car? You probably want comprehensive coverage. Since the value of your car is high, you want to make sure you can recover the total cost of the car if (knock on wood) you total it after three months. Used cars may be better suited for plans that just meet mandatory minimums. 
  • State minimum: You always want to make sure you meet state minimum requirements. In a way, your state makes some of your insurance decisions for you. That can be frustrating, but you don’t want to get caught in a situation where you are liable for an accident and your insurance can’t cover the cost — you could get sued personally.  
  • Dropping comprehensive coverage: It’s not usually worth it to carry comprehensive coverage if your car’s value is far less than the deductible. Once your car is paid off or at a certain age, you may want to downgrade to strictly state-minimum liability insurance. 
  • Medical payments limits: Medical payment coverage is essential. This protects you in case you injure someone in an accident, or you get injured yourself. Regardless of the state of your car — you want to be covered well in this department.  
  • At-fault and no-fault states: There are 18 states that offer no-fault insurance. In no-fault states, few lawsuits are allowed. Instead, each party’s insurance covers their own injuries and property damage, regardless of who was at fault. Some states may require you to carry this coverage, often called personal injury protection (PIP) insurance. 

How Car Insurance Works During WFH

Insurance companies don’t explicitly offer work-from-home discounts, but they may offer low mileage discounts. And if you’re working from home or you walk to work down the street — you should definitely jump on these benefits. California actually requires insurance companies to consider mileage driven when giving premium quotes. According to California Insurance Code Section 1861.02(a) and Title 10, California Code of Regulations, Section 2632.5(c)(2), a mandatory automobile rating factor is “…the estimated number of miles driven annually for the twelve months following policy inception.”

You may be required to drive as little as 5,000 miles per year to qualify for low mileage coverage. If you can’t quite meet that threshold — don’t throw in the towel just yet. You might also be able to enjoy a lower premium just by switching your primary vehicle usage from commuting to work to leisure.

Whatever you do — be honest with the insurance company. Your insurance provider may ask for an odometer reading if you apply for low-mileage coverage. If you drive an average of 16,000 miles a year after reporting 4,000-mile averages, it could deny any claim you submit later on. We call that an expensive and avoidable mistake. 

Are You Ready to Buy Your Own Car Insurance?

First-Time Car Insurance FAQ 

About the Authors

Lara Vukelich is a freelance writer for Over the last 12 years, she has covered internet service, home goods, travel and more at Expedia, Huffington Post, and other publications.

Table Of Contents