My car insurance came up for renewal this month, so I decided to do some rate shopping just to see what’s out there. With car insurance there are so many providers, and you want to check with as many as possible. So, I fired up my computer and headed out looking for some decent car insurance comparison websites to speed the process.
But here’s what I discovered: there aren’t any! Oh, there are “comparison sites” all right, but none of them at all useful. What could be a great business idea is nothing but junk. In fact, I found that it was even worse than that.
Rarely have I ever gone on a shopping expedition in which I so ended up regretting the search itself. It wasn’t just that I didn’t find what I was looking for; that was disappointing enough. But far more disturbing was my new concern over what I’ve left behind. These sites are largely an internet scam.
What car insurance comparison websites are not
Given the name “comparison websites,” we should reasonably expect that we can enter some basic information and get several side-by-side car insurance quotes that will help us to determine which provider offers the best pricing for a given level of coverage. Apparently, that’s not how they work.
On several sites that I visited, not a single one provided anything close to that kind of information — or any information at all!
After filling out the applications on a couple of sites, I was instantly bombarded with phone calls and emails. In fact one call came the very second I hit the send button. No, it wasn’t an insurance agent, but someone whose voice screamed “telemarketer.” I was in Phase Two of the move-the-prospect-closer-to-a-closed-sale process.
What car insurance comparison websites are REALLY about
The reason I never got any information on any of the websites is because I clearly misjudged their true purpose—which is nothing close to helping me, the prospective customer, find the right policy for my needs.
As far as I see it, the sites have two main purposes: to act as a lead generator for groups of participating insurance carriers, and to serve as an information-gathering service.
The lead generation component is obvious from the fact that I was contacted by several companies immediately. No doubt the insurance companies and/or their brokers are paying a premium to be first in line.
It’s also quite likely that it wasn’t even insurance companies or brokers contacting me, but telemarketing and lead generation services that get the information, then forward it on to the insurers and brokers once you’re determined to be a “qualified lead.” Whatever is happening on the back end, none of it helped me get the quotes that I wanted.
Now for the really bad news
But the information-gathering element was the part I found to be downright disturbing. Each site asks for the type of information you’d supply on a loan or job application. They first ask for your zip code, which is harmless, but with each click of the “continue” button, they ask for more and deeper information.
Name, address, length of time at that address, credit status, education, occupation, residence status (own/rent), marital status, birthdate, home phone, business phone, e-mail address—and worst of all–your Social Security number! And they make it clear that they intend to check your credit history and driving record. (In case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t supply my Social Security number, and some of the information I provided was bogus).
Exactly how much information do you have to supply to get an insurance quote? Certainly not that much! That’s a degree of information that you don’t normally supply unless you’re prepared to sign documents and write a check to a specific provider.
Once again I’ll make an educated guess—the real parties behind car insurance comparison websites are lead generating services that are looking to collect detailed information that can be sold to various organizations looking for prospects. I’m now set up for junk mail, spam and telemarketer calls. I’ve gotten insurance quotes from brokers in the past, and none have asked for that much information in return for a quote.
All of the sites I investigated were essentially the same, which means they’re based on an industry template. Each asks the same questions in the same sequence, so after trying five or six it was pointless to move on. It was all just more of the same.
What to do if you want reliable car insurance quotes
The best advice here is to ignore car insurance comparison websites entirely if you want to get cheaper car insurance —they’re all sizzle and no steak. At best you’ll get harassed and confused, at worst you’ll have turned sensitive personal information over to an undetermined group of nameless, faceless people and organizations to be used for purposes we can’t even imagine.
There are two better options. One is that you contact several major insurance carriers and get quotes directly. Narrow the list of providers by asking family, friends, co-workers—anyone you know—who their car insurance company is, what kind of rates they’re paying, and how satisfied they are with the company.
The other is to hook up with a reputable independent insurance broker who works with several companies and knows the ropes. This will be the best way to get the side-by-side comparisons that we all hope car insurance comparison websites would provide but apparently don’t.
Have you tried using car insurance comparison websites? Have you found any that actually do what the name implies they would?