Many of the top insurance companies are pretty picky about who they insure. You may be denied direct coverage for some or all of the following: A poor driving record, a unique, high-performance vehicle, geography (if you live in a high crime area), your age and the amount of driving experience you have.
Because car insurance is a requirement to legally drive in most jurisdictions, states have set up "assigned risk" pools or similar systems that divvy up the highest risk drivers among all companies that do business there. Winding up in assigned risk is typically bad news as you'll pay considerably more than other drivers. The rate will be set by the state so it's the same regardless of the insurer, but you can only do business with the insurance company that's assigned to you. You can find more information about assigned risk and how it works in various states in this Insure.com article.
The good news is that assigned risk isn't permanent, and even if you are initially turned down for direct coverage, you can reapply again and again as your driving record improves or as other risk factors go down.
Drivers trying to avoid (or escape from) assigned-risk insurance may have the best luck with large companies, and State Farm certainly fits the bill: It's the biggest car insurer in the nation with more than 18 percent of the market, according to Insure.com. Its size means that State Farm can offer a very wide variety of policies and discounts. Those looking for a more personal car-insurance experience shouldn't write off State Farm because it's huge, though; the company has a large network of agents nationwide for face-to-face service and those get great reviews for their knowledgeable and helpful and service. In fact, although direct-service insurance companies can usually offer lower rates, experts say a good agent may be able to maximize your good qualities to help ease your rates down a bit more than an impersonal, online agent would.
State Farm fares very well overall in customer-satisfaction surveys than many of its large competitors, with policyholders reporting solid experiences with claims. State Farm has strong financial ratings, too.
Progressive offers another solid option for risky drivers. It also maintains an extensive network of local agents and offers a wide range of plans and discounts. Financial ratings are solid. Progressive touts its "concierge level" claims service, although customers report decidedly mixed feelings about their experiences. Some policyholders also complain that their rates suddenly shot up without warning.
One more large company worth a look is GEICO. Like State Farm and Progressive, GEICO is big enough to offer enough flexible plans to cover all types of drivers, and it has solid financial ratings. However, like Progressive, the company receives mixed reviews for claims service and complaints about sudden rate hikes. GEICO also doesn't offer many local agents.
There are few life events more terrifying than putting the car keys into the hands of your beloved teenaged son or daughter. According to the CDC, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of deaths for U.S. teens. However, they also point out that these accidents are preventable, and ongoing education in safe driving practices is the way to do so.
That is why we really like Esurance DriveSafe, a teen-oriented safety program we wish was around when we were the nervous parents of newly minted drivers. It's only available to parents who already are insured through Esurance; but it's free to them. The DriveSafe programs is a combination of a telematics device that tracks your teen's driving habits, and a Smart Phone app that will send you alerts if they are engaging in risky driving behavior, like speeding, driving past curfew, accelerating unsafely, and other unsafe practices.
The DriveSafe program is not like other driver-tracking devices in that it won't affect your insurance rates (or your teens) one way or the other; rather, if offers an ongoing monitoring for parents to put their minds at ease, while being a very big incentive for the teenage driver to drive in a safe, responsible manner. The tradeoff, of course, is privacy and the indignation your son or daughter may feel when mom and dad decide they need to be "tracked." Those are issues that each family has to settle according to its own rules and dynamics; but if you want a higher level of control in those first years or months, this is the program to provide it.
Having said all that, there still is the reality that teenage drivers need insurance and, because they're considered high risk, it's relatively pricey; many teen drivers seeking insurance on their own will wind up in assigned risk. If your current insurer will add your teenager to your policy, rates will likely be considerably lower-- they can always reimburse you. There are no companies we found that are better or worse, rate-wise, when it comes to teen drivers, but larger, direct sale companies like Esurance and GEICO might possibly be new driver friendlier. In addition, virtually all companies offer good student discounts, which can provide an additional incentive for a new driver to hit the books.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Reviewed Auto Insurance: These are the top car insurance companies, based upon surveys that measure customer satisfaction. We found the top options for every car, person and price range.
Best Auto Insurance Company: There are some car insurance companies that just stand head and shoulders above the rest for claims settlements and customer service. We also found a highly affordable option.
Best Auto Insurance for Military Families: Military families sacrifice a lot for their country, and these are the car insurance companies who go the extra mile to make their lives just a bit easier.
Buying Guide: Shopping for car insurance can be like trying to steer an out-of-control car. We answer many of your questions and offer tips for shopping here.
Our Sources: These are the expert sources and customer reviews we used to determine the best auto insurance. They are ranked in order of their credibility and usefulness.