Getting the most bang for your auto-insurance buck requires some mental elbow grease and research on your part. And always follow the first rule of car insurance: Don't take anything for granted.

When you consider the army of attorneys, actuaries and bean counters participating in the writing of any auto-insurance policy, it's a wonder that even a licensed agent can make heads or tails of it.

Until filing that first claim -- a ride around the block on the reality bus for most of us -- about all we really know about our auto insurance is the amount of the annual premium, the deductible and the dollar limits of the coverage. Even if we know a few more details, such as whether the policy includes no-fault, gap or uninsured-motorist coverage, we are probably fuzzy about what these coverages are. In fact, we are pretty fuzzy about every aspect of the policy.

Compounding this lack of awareness are misconceptions about auto insurance ingrained in many of us. These misconceptions, or myths, often cost us money in higher premiums, as well as greater financial loss after an accident.

Here are five auto-insurance myths that can cost you money:

I shouldn't regularly shop around for insurance because I like my agent.

There is something to be said for an agent who is available, attentive and responsive to your questions. Not all of them are. But even if he lives next door or happens to be your brother-in-law, your agent provides a service for which he receives payment. When a crash occurs and a claim is filed, what ultimately counts is written into that legal contract with the insurance provider. Your agent, regardless of how kind, friendly and sincere, can't alter how the provider fulfills that contract.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners recommends reevaluating your insurance every 12 months. Any number of life changes -- age, marriage, divorce and so forth -- can alter your needs, as well as your level of risk on which premiums are based. Even a jump in your credit score could mean a lower auto-insurance premium.

Car insurance is highly competitive; many companies would love your business.

When friends borrow my car, their insurance will cover any accidents.

To us it makes perfect sense that, in a crash, the driver's insurance will cover damages no matter whose car it is. The fact is that, while the owner's history factors into measuring risk and determining premiums, the car is the protected asset. The insurance policy tied to the vehicle directly covers it in a crash. If it's your car, your insurance provider pays and your premiums may go up.

The idea that no good deed goes unpunished is reaffirmed every day, as unaware car owners face paying deductibles -- and sometimes higher premiums -- after lending their car to a buddy who wrecked it.

My insurance covers my car no matter how I use it.

Where the car lives, where you drive it and what you use it for all contribute to the measured risk an insurance provider considers when determining your premium and paying a claim. All other factors being equal, it costs more to insure a car in New York City than it does in Sioux City, Iowa. A car parked on the street every night is at higher risk than one parked in a garage.

Insurance providers can refuse to pay a claim for a car wrecked while doing something outside the boundaries of normal use stated in the policy -- entering it in race-what-you-brung night at the local drag strip, for example. There are less obvious uses that may seem within the norm, but your insurance provider probably disagrees -- business use of your car, for example. If using your car is a requirement of your job, it may not be covered if a crash occurs while you are working.

That's not something you want to learn after the crash.

Because my car isn't new, thieves don't want it.

When weighing the pros and cons of dropping some coverages to reduce the premium for your older car, it may seem logical that comprehensive coverage that protects you against theft, fire, hail and so forth is a sensible place to begin because, well, no one wants to steal an older car. If this is your reason, you are wrong.

There are sound arguments for dropping comprehensive coverage. The car is so old, its book value doesn't make it worth insuring, for example. But the fact that it isn't new doesn't mean your car isn't a target for thieves. Used auto parts are a big business, and there is always demand for parts from a used Toyota Camry, Honda Civic or the like.

My no-fault coverage means my insurance provider won't hold me responsible for accidents I cause.

Not true. No-fault coverage simply means the insurance provider for each party in an accident pays the claims for its own customer as issues are sorted out and blame assigned. The insurance provider of whomever ultimately is blamed then must repay to the other providers any claims paid their customers.

If you are deemed the responsible party, no-fault doesn't get you off the hook.

author photo

Russ Heaps began covering the automotive industry in 1986, first overseeing the automotive pages of the Boca Raton News and then the Palm Beach Post in Florida. In 2001 he became managing editor of AMI Auto Week and NOPI Street Performance Compact magazines. Since leaving AMI he has freelanced his auto reviews and industry analysis to the Washington Times, Hispanic magazine, Journal-Register Newspapers, Bankrate.com, MyCarData.com, Interest.com, and others. He resides in Greenville, SC.

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