Help with MA auto insurance
July 24, 2007 10:43 AM   Subscribe

I need help understanding MA auto insurance; specifically, are rates really identical among insurers? Is there anything I can do to lower the cost?

Here's the background -- I'm 24, I live in Massachusetts, and I am a brand-new driver. I'd like to buy a car soon. So -- for insurance, I tried an online quote finder, and the agent who called gave me an estimate of $3200-3900 a year for full coverage with a $500 deductible*. He said I could not get an exact quote without the VIN of the car I want insured. That seemed like a lot of money to me -- he said it was because I'm a new driver, and since I didn't have any knowledge of what other people pay for insurance, I let it go at that. I later asked friends who began driving in other states, and the general response is that that is an insane amount of money, even for a new driver. A year of insurance could potentially cost more than the car is worth!

Here's the question part -- my understanding of MA insurance is that it's set by the state and it will cost the same no matter what agency I choose. So is there no point in calling around to get other quotes? Can I do anything to lower the cost? As it is, I've never been in an accident, I commute 4 miles, and I live in a good area of a so-so city. I could understand if my zip code drove up the cost, but gosh, it's not like I'm in Boston any more.

Also, if you or your kids recently began driving in MA, I'd really like to know if the number I was given is.. normal.

* I asked specifically about a 2000 Cherokee, which is in the ballpark of what I want. He said Cherokees are not the cheapest to insure, but they are not the highest either. I am definitely open to choosing a different vehicle. I need to haul around a lot of stuff regularly. I only need to worry about accomodating one other passenger.
posted by Marit to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
So I recently moved to Mass and went through insurance there. I bought a brand new car and initially was told I had a very reasonable $1500ish cost for the year. Then the Mass DMV lost my old Ohio license, they decided I was a brand new driver with no history trying to insure a brand new car, and suddenly my costs had tripled. And this was with an insurance agency run by my boyfriend's aunt, who was doing all she could to get me the discounts for AAA/etc. So no, I don't think those costs you were quoted are at all unreasonable.

(Things did work out and I'm now down to $1500 again, but I also have a six year clean driving record...)

Anyway, the question of insurance is up again for renewal (according to NPR recently) -- that the Massachusetts State Insurance Deity has decided that maybe she wants unregulated insurance options in addition to the regulated insurance for most drivers. If you wait a few months, you may find the situation to change, but right now, you'll be paying a lot and you'll be paying it wherever you look.
posted by olinerd at 10:54 AM on July 24, 2007

Don't All Insurance Companies Charge the Same Rate in MA? from the AIB who set the rates. They have a big manual on the subject too.

You are probably a class 25: "Inexperienced Principal Operator - licensed less than three years. Driver training." That is basically really bad, rate-wise. It looks like you'll pay about 3x what someone in class 10 Experienced Operator would pay. Experience Operator is your standard adult driver with 6 years of license.
posted by smackfu at 10:58 AM on July 24, 2007

Also: this might be of help.

Specific things I remember seeing that could (very incrementally) lower costs were vehicle anti-theft systems (LoJack, for example), parking it with a club on the wheel, having AAA membership, and showing evidence of six months' worth of public transportation passes concurrent with six months of being insured (so starting now, not starting six months ago). But none of these is going to make a huge dent; you need more experience first.
posted by olinerd at 10:59 AM on July 24, 2007

You cannot compare your insurance to other people's. You just can't. There are too many factors for you to take into consideration to allow for a simple "I drive X and I pay $" comparison. Things just as safety features, type of car, driving history, offenses, zip codes, etc. Laws vary from state to state so you absolutely cannot compare yours with someone living in another state. It's like saying my insurance is high and having a friend in Kathmandu tell me he pays half what I pay.

$3200 - $3900 a year does not sound ridiculous to me for a new driver in semi-new vehicle. That's about $266/month. I've never sold a policy in MA, but comparing it to what I've sold in other states it's par for the course. Insurance does not start out cheap and then get higher when you mess up; it does the opposite.

The best thing you can do for cheap insurance? Get an older car and have liability only for a few years until your rates drop. That's about it.

Just make sure it's a year long policy, not a six month policy. If it's actually six months, then yes, that is a ridiculous amount of money.
posted by sephira at 11:06 AM on July 24, 2007

If $3,200 - 3,900 is more than the car is worth, you're probably better off with liability only (i.e. no coverage for your car).
posted by robinpME at 11:09 AM on July 24, 2007

The only way you can get discounts in MA is stuff like getting AAA membership, living in the suburbs, having LoJack, or getting your insurance through a group (like at work). If you are only driving 8 miles a day then you could probably qualify for the low-mileage discount (I think there are levels, like under 5K miles a year, under 7500 miles a year, etc. But definitely mention that you don't drive that much).

And living in the suburbs or a very safe area helps too - where I live there is a lot of car theft and vandalism so my rate's pretty high.

I've no idea how much my parents were paying for me when I was driving in high school, but when I was 23, I bought my own car (then about 6 years old) and insured it myself. Initially, in the suburbs, it cost me ~$800 a year; when I moved into the city it doubled to about $1650 a year. Right now for my brand-new car - with my absolutely perfect driving record - it's about $3k for the year. I'm 27 now and have been driving since I was 16. My sister, who at 23 had been driving for less time than I had at the same age, was paying $1700 a year in the suburbs and that, of course, doubled when she moved into the city (her car is a 2002 Honda, I think).

Don't compare your insurance rates with people who drive in other states; it's comparing apples and oranges.
posted by sutel at 11:13 AM on July 24, 2007

I used to have USAA as an insurer before I moved to MA as they are very competitive and reliable. When I got my MA quote, I found that Amica could undercut USAA for exactly the reasons above.

Because I believe in free market, I called up USAA and told them what Amica would do for me, and the agent basically said, "we can't match or beat that because we're not in MA."

I also called some places that said, "we'll beat any quote" and was told "...except if you're in MA."

Amica has been reliable.
posted by plinth at 11:14 AM on July 24, 2007

It's my understanding (I didn't actually do comparison shopping to confirm this) that I'm getting a cheaper rate than I would ordinarily because I'm buying my insurance through a group plan offered by my employer (Harvard). Any chance you're eligible for something like that?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:17 AM on July 24, 2007

You've got it about right as far as the insurance rates, that they'll be the same at basically all insurers in MA. This is one reason why many national insurance agencies, such as Geico, do not cover MA. Also, in MA the minimum levels of insurance that you are legally required to carry are much higher than in other states, which is another reason why your friends who live elsewhere may be floored by your cost.

What you want to do is shop based on the quality of service you can get. Get recommendations from people who have actually had to make claims against their insurance, because that's really when it counts the most. I had a really friendly, helpful agent at one point, and then my car got stolen and the parent insurance company _screwed_ me on the payout when they totaled it. It was really unpleasant.

I later changed to another company whose service was impeccable, and although I didn't ever have to file a claim with them, a friend did when _his_ car was stolen, and he was very impressed at the service he received, and felt that the settlement was very fair. We're "car guys" so we think about this stuff a lot : ) That company was Johnson and Rohan insurance. Give them a call, they're extremely friendly and helpful. I no longer live in MA, but my sister who does is insured with them and has had nothing but good things to say. They can take care of you through mail or fax, so you don't need to go to their office for anything.
posted by autojack at 11:28 AM on July 24, 2007

Here's a list of groups and their insurance discounts. Some are cheaper to join than AAA -- for example, MassBike.

I have been very happy with Amica, but (as you can read elsewhere on that site) its former special discount for low-step drivers has gone away. They still offer the only multicar discount in the state, though.
posted by backupjesus at 11:34 AM on July 24, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the tips on wiggling the cost down -- I see now that it won't be very different from the numbers I was given, but every little bit helps.

I do understand that laws vary from state to state, but I was surprised at how much -- it's not like there are mines planted in Massachusetts roads. But autojack's comment clears it up a bit.
posted by Marit at 11:41 AM on July 24, 2007

having a friend in Kathmandu tell me he pays half what I pay

Of course, you could register the car in Katmandu...but then you'd have to explain those Nepal plates if you got pulled over.

Only half joking. Why are there so many Wisconsin plates in my Twin Cities neighborhood? They're not here for canasta night. I used to know a guy years ago who consistently registered his beater at his parent's address in Ely, Minnesota, where the main risks would be wolves or snowdrifts, rather than his inner-city Minneapolis neighborhood, and saved roughly 2/3 on his insurance. Not a recommendation here--I'm just sayin'.
posted by gimonca at 11:42 AM on July 24, 2007

When I first moved to MA from NH, I took a lot of grief from my neighbors about my NH plates, as so many people around here duck the insurance cost and the excise tax by registering up north. Once I explained that I had just moved from there, the neighbors calmed down -- but they got a lot nicer when I showed up with MA plates.
posted by backupjesus at 11:55 AM on July 24, 2007

I drove in MA for several years, and I was able to get a decent insurance rate through AAA. I tried to shop around a bit, and the only benefit I saw was that if you move to just across the New Hampshire border and commute into MA, there can be a substantial savings. MA is after all a very small state, so you can evade some of their stupid laws and still work there if you are willing to go through a little trouble.
posted by Oso Mocoso at 11:57 AM on July 24, 2007

Do not try to get away with out of state plates if you are living in MA - you will most likely wind up getting busted.

Join AAA for their insurance discount (they do their MA insurance through Commerce) and don't get into any accidents. Your rates will drop in a few years.

And yes, moving to NH made car insurance a lot cheaper for whatever reason. But with the longer commute, we spend more on gas. You just can't win.
posted by tastybrains at 12:06 PM on July 24, 2007

$3200-3900 a year sounds about right based on friends I used to have in MA when I was growing up in CT, factoring in inflation and general cost creep. (I grew up in northern CT.)

It wasn't atypical in the slightest to pay more in insurance than you do on your first car. In fact, I'd say that was more common than not among my friends in MA; get a beater for virtually nothing and then pay through the nose for insurance. The only people (young, first-time drivers) I knew who had cars that cost more than insurance were those who could afford expensive cars.

Massachusetts has a really weird insurance regulatory scheme, as you're probably figuring out. Only good thing I've ever heard about it, is that you can predict pretty reliably what you're going to pay in insurance, given a different vehicle or change in status.

You might want to find an agent/company that you like, and sit down with them and talk about what you can do to reduce your costs somewhat. Maybe a different choice of car (if that's an option for you) would bring it down.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:08 PM on July 24, 2007

By looking at your profile it looks like you live in Lynn which according to the territory rankings ranks at 15 compared to say 2 for Winchester. Which means that a car garaged in Lynn costs substantially more to insure than a car garaged in Winchester. When I moved from Watertown (7) to Somerville (13) my rate went up from about 900-1000 to about 1400 for the year for a 1998 honda civic!! My brother's 2002 or 4 Nissan SUV costs him around 700 at the same address!!

Best bet is to get a car that has zero theft value.
posted by eatcake at 12:41 PM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

The AIB has the 2007 territory definitions, and Lynn is a somewhat-difficult-to-decipher 43. Higher numbers seem to mean higher cost, but 27 seems to be a special very-little-theft code for the boonies and the islands.

Let's put it like this: Lynn is sandwiched between Springfield (42) and Lawrence (44), both cities notorious for theft and insurance fraud.

Congratulations, Brockton, you're #45!
posted by backupjesus at 1:03 PM on July 24, 2007

Yeah for some reason the rankings on the website are two years old but it doesn't seem to make it better for insurance in Lynn.

My agent once explained it to me but I can't remember. The rankings are some convoluted system based on crime rates, the theft rates for your car, number of claims filed in the territory, of course your particular driving record etc...
posted by eatcake at 1:15 PM on July 24, 2007

So to append another question. Why are the rates in MA so high? I started out with my first insurance paying less than $1000 a year at 20 in NC. 3500, even for a new driver, seems outrageous!
posted by uncballzer at 2:03 PM on July 24, 2007

Right, as other people have alluded, I wanted to add that you will save significant money depending on where you live. When I moved from Cambridge to Watertown, less than 10 minutes away, my insurance cost went down by 1/3. Consider living somewhere else : )
posted by autojack at 2:20 PM on July 24, 2007

Uncbalizer, as someone said above, one of the biggest reasons is that MA forces you to get coverage at levels that are, compared to some other states, much higher -- i.e., you have to get windshield coverage, your minimums on liability and medical and whatnot are higher than elsewhere, etc.
posted by delfuego at 2:22 PM on July 24, 2007

The sad truth about Massachusetts insurance is that Marit's quoted rate is actually subsidized by other drivers. The commonwealth has incredible density, bad weather, bad roads with bad signage (I can name 10 totally unsigned intersections within 5 miles of my house -- you just have to know to yield there), expensive labor, expensive health care, and a high mandatory insurance burden.

On the flip side, you're 86% more likely to die in a motor vehicle accident in North Carolina than in Massachusetts on a per-mile basis, so we've got that going for us.
posted by backupjesus at 2:32 PM on July 24, 2007

When I worked for Progressive insurance, I was told the following about MA insurance, as it tended to be the highest quotes I would generate from around the country...

High State regulated minimums, which is actually a good thing. Some states at the time ( I don't know if this is still true 8-9 years later) required no liability. At all. Meaning you are covered as far as the state was concerned, but you paid out of pocket for everything. Very odd.

High theft rates, which I couldn't and still back up with my own facts.

Poor driving conditions, and signage, as backupjesus said.

Its sad, but Iremember trying to generate really outrageous fictional quotes, using tons of violations, young drivers and new spendy cars. Invariably the highest quotes I could get were in MA.

One real policy I did sell was paid in full for around $15,000. It was for a father and his two 17 year old sons, they had brand new 3 series BMWs while the dad treated himself to a 5 series.

On lowering your costs, i've posted a few times on this subject, please check my askme post history, as they were kinda lengthy.
posted by efalk at 8:28 PM on July 24, 2007

High theft rates, which I couldn't and still can't*
posted by efalk at 8:28 PM on July 24, 2007

Tell your insurance agent that you want to hear all the ways you can lower that rate, as Kadin2048 suggests. They should bring up going for a higher deductible, eliminating or reducing line items that are optional, as RobinpME alludes to, and some of the other sources of discounts that have also been mentioned here. If they don't bring up these things, get a different agent who will.
posted by daisyace at 4:53 AM on July 25, 2007

If they don't bring up these things, get a different agent who will.

Or just call Amica. They've always been willing to chat with me about ways to pay them less money, and the regulated industry means the tips they give you will work with any other company, too.

Of course, I now have all my non-employer-provided insurance with Amica. Their dastardly plan to win my business with kindness worked!
posted by backupjesus at 5:24 AM on July 25, 2007

Wow, after living there for three years, I can't believe I also didn't echo that MA rates are so high because the drivers there suck worse than any drivers I've ever shared a road with, bar none, my entire life. Drivers who feel perfectly fine making a left across oncoming traffic the microsecond a light turns green, making right turns from leftmost lanes, blowing by you at 70 on the shoulder of the road, barreling through rotaries without a glance at the traffic with the right-of-way... I cannot explain how happy I was to see Boston in my rearview mirror, and I'm a more-than-average confident driver. MA insurance companies need to suck up the costs of all the massholes on the road there, hence higher rates, I'd think.
posted by delfuego at 2:51 PM on July 25, 2007

Delfuego: sadly, you are so right.
posted by mingshan at 7:41 PM on July 25, 2007

Response by poster: Just thought I'd update -- I'm in the process of buying a 99 Cherokee and managed to get an exact number for a year of insurance, which was decently below the guy's estimate ($2900, for the record). The agent was patient and helpful and I am now satisfied with my understanding of All This.

A final comment -- I didn't really think about the poor signage/road markings until I visited some old childhood homes this summer and realized the rest of the country enjoys -- imagine! -- lines on the road indicating where one's car should be. Luxury!
posted by Marit at 9:41 AM on August 21, 2007

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