Seeking Auto Insurance

Parent Q&A

  • GEICO for auto insurance?

    (7 replies)

    My auto insurance rates with state farm are getting expensive and I'd like a cheaper but also reliable alternative.

    has anyone used GEICO and had to file a claim with them? how did it go?

    What about metromile?

    Thanks- wish I could walk everywhere

    RE: GEICO for auto insurance? ()

    My wife and I have geico insurance and we haven't had any issues with them. A (likely) drunk driver crashed into our car while it was parked in front of our house. It was the middle of the night and the guy drove away so we had no information on him. Our car was declared totaled but Geico was very understanding and the whole process was pretty smooth. I think from the time the car was totaled to when we received the check and started car shopping only a week or so had passed.

    RE: GEICO for auto insurance? ()

    We have filed claims with GEICO, which we've had for years. Went very smoothly. And I think my premiums didn't go up, tho' there could've been an argument to do so. I would recommend them.

    RE: GEICO for auto insurance? ()

    We've had GEICO car insurance for about 15 years and are happy with it. We've only had one claim, but it was a big one - totaled the car - and they dealt with it well. I'm curious to hear what others say about Metromile - I looked into them because we drive so little, but wasn't quite sure I wanted to leave GEICO when everything is going so smoothly. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Looking for suggestions on car insurance

Aug 2010

Hi, Looking for suggestions on car insurance . I would prefer not to go with one of the big national players like State Farm or Allstate. I thought Ralph Nader's consumers organization used to rate or recommend auto insurers but I couldn't find it. Any recommendations? - driver new to california

I highly reccomend Rebekah Shapiro with State Farm. She's in SF at 725 Filbert St. 415-525-3344, rebekah.shapiro.rnqq [at] How many insurance brokers do you know that give you their cell phone number, and then actually answer when you call them in the middle of the night with a problem? I only know of one. She's good for homeowners and life insurance too. Andrew

Travelers vs AAA for Auto and Home Owner's Insurance

Oct 2009

I would like to hear both positive and negative experiences with your auto and home owner's insurances with either AAA, or Travelers. Specifically, I would like to know how your experiences were with
* Customer service (Were you able to reach their customer service promptly when you needed it? Did your claim handled promptly? How is the attitude of the customer service?)
* Length of time to resolve your claim.
* Follow up
* Etc,
Thank you! Mika

We have AAA auto insurance on two cars plus renters' insurance. We have been very happy with their quick customer service. You get a bit of a discount having both kinds of insurance. I also cut cost on the car insurance by having a policy that renews every 6 months and took the ''mature driver course and test'' online (for which most insurance companies offer at least some kind of discount). I think you have to be at least 50 to take it. We had a claim on our car being broken into and lots of stuff stolen. The appraisal on the contents seemed somewhat low, but better than nothing. And, they documented everything well and did a quick job. kl

I recently switched my auto ins from AAA to liberty mutual due to premiums cost and the old age of my car, but after 15 years with AAA, I was perfectly happy with them and still have our homeowner's with them. Have only had to make claims twice - both for car stereo stolen, and everything was quick and efficient, no problems, and it didn't seem to raise our rates. alyson

I had a very large HO claim with AAA in 2006 and it was an absolute nightmare. The adjusters for claims over $50,000 are specially trained to make claimants' lives a living hell so they'll settle for less than they're entitled to. I had a ''guaranteed replacement value'' endorsement that meant nothing. They hired a contractor who builds track homes in Fremont (though my house in the N. Berkely hills was of exceptional quality) a fake engineer -- no kidding! -- to ''evaluate'' foundation cracks, and after repeated demands, a ''mold expert'' who took 2 samples (compared to 30+ by real experts whose livelihoods didn't depend on AAA hiring them again and again). Everyone but the fake engineers agreed the foundation cracks were clearly new; after getting sick every time I was in the house, I had to hire my own indoor air quality team and pay for it out of my own pocket. I was out of my house for 11 months, though the reconstruction took less than 3, because the adjuster kept refusing to acknowledge the scope and valuation of the claim by anyone but their bought- and-paid-for ''experts.'' A big claim is why you have insurance! However much people tell you AAA was wonderful fixing their bumper or their $5K HO claim, it means nothing if it wasn't over $50K! (Mine was about $250K and that didn't include a huge amount I was never reimbursed for, nor the enormous time & energy it took over 18 months to finally settle the whole deal; after I agreed to their lowball reconstruction reimbursement, they took 3+ months to send the check and more than 9 months more arguing about EVERY SINGLE item of personal property I lost and the cost of replacement; their subcontractor insists things shouldn't cost more than something sort of like it -- as if they know what you lost -- from Penny's.) There are horror stories like this about big claims with every company that uses the standard HO-3 policy, which is most of the ones you've heard of. I ultimately switched to Fireman's Fund; Chubb also has a good policy. It may be a little more expensive, but absolutely worth it if you're ever unlucky enough to need it! Good luck and stay away from AAA, whatever you do. FYI, my FF auto includes roadside service and is less expensive than AAA. David Shaffer in Walnut Creek is my broker. Buddhist survivor of AAA

Friendly & helpful car insurance broker?

June 2008

Our fantastic and responsible nanny is looking for a local car insurance broker to work with in order to get new insurance and to deal with in the event that she needed to make a claim. She would appreciate someone very friendly, helpful and responsible. Does anyone work with someone they love around here? Berkeley and Oakland/Piedmont would be best but I'm sure she'd be happy to travel for the right person since she wouldn't have to go very often. She has email but prefers to do business the old-fashioned way (face-to-face). We are so grateful for her presence in our lives and we'd love to help her find the right broker. Susan

I haven't had to make a claim with them yet (knock on wood) but we just switched our car insurance to Ruth Stroup at Farmers on Piedmont Ave (510-842-3600) and she was fantastic -- in 12 years with my previous agent, I'd never once met them face to face, but Ruth came out to the house to meet with us twice, followed up conscientiously without being too aggressive, and is easy to reach by phone or email. And the rates were good, too (at least for car and home together). Happy Customer

Want out of Allstate Insurance

March 2007

I have had Allstate Insurance for a number of years and the rates continue to rise, as other insurance companies have been dropping their rates. Now Allstate is asking the state to allow them another 10% increase. I understand that Farmer's Insurance is an option. Does anyone have any experience with Farmer's or any other insurance company? Any recommended agents?

I've had AAA for many years -- even though I had heard it was much more expensive -- I wanted an insurance company that was honest so that if I did get in an accident I could report it, they would pay me and fix my car without cheating me. So far, so good -- I've had them for 20 years -- I've been in two accidents and had my car vandalized. I reported all incidents. I pay less than $1,000 per year -- I am the only driver. There's an office here in Berkeley on University next to Cafe Venezia. You can get a quote over the phone. The website gave me a much higher quote. I don't recall the name of the person I worked with and my old agent retired. AAA satisfied

I have Farmer's insurance and like it. I can recommend a great agent. Her name is Gail Mirchandani. Her #is 925.354.5400 or contact her at gmirchandani1 [at] She is very good at explaining the information as well as being very honest and has good integrity. Farmer's does have some discount plans available. Marika

You've got to check out John Carroll of Liberty Mutual. John was an insurance adjuster before becoming an auto, home, and life insurance representative so he really knows his stuff. The company is great and handles claims quickly. John can be reached at (925) 846-8384 ext. 210 or john.carroll [at] Kamila

We have had our home insurance with Farmers for many years now. We used to have our cars insured with 21st Century.

We get an auto quote every few years from different insurers and they continued to be competitive so we stayed put.

If you're looking to move just your auto policy, look into Liberty Mutual too. I was with them a long time ago and they had good rates and very easy claims processing.

I knew of possible savings to have multiple policies with one insurer so we moved our auto insurance from 21th Century to Farmers. For the same exact coverage, it was a little less with Farmers but they gave us 5-15% (can't remember) off our home policy for bringing our auto policy to Farmers. The only thing we walked away from was 21th Century's ''forgiveness'' for first accident even if we are at fault. We had been with them for a long time and they said they only give that to preferred customers. They have an additional discount for life so I got a term life policy there... the discount = cost of annual premium. So it's basically free. My agent is: Les Ellis 925-258-1010
Happy with Farmers

2004 - 2006 Recommendations

21st Century for Auto Insurance?

April 2006

I'm thinking of switching my auto insurance from GEICO to 21st Century, mainly for the reduced rates with the same coverage. Anyone has any experience with them? They used to be called 20th Century. Thanks in advance. Angela

I currently use 21st Century and am very happy with their service. They are easy to contact, friendly and accomodating as well as their affordable rates. I bought a new (03') SUV and full coverage is only $55/month ( I was pleasantly surprised). I would highly reccommend them. minnie

I enthusiastically recommend 21st Century. We've been with them several years, they have good customer service, decent rates and were very helpful with filing a claim and recouping money when our truck was broken into. Kim

I have had very good luck with 21st century. Let's face it, besides cost, the important differences between companies come out when you have a claim. I was in an accident in Southern California. 21st Century paid for my repairs and represented me in the (ridiculous) lawsuit filed by the other party. The attorney was very skilled (they hire private firms) and accomodating. Didn't end up costing me a penny. They even paid for new car seats for my twins ''because the seats had been in an accident.'' Debbie

I have been a customer of 21st Century Insurance for many years and have been impressed with their service and coverage. My husband and I were in a car accident a couple of years back that left our car totaled, and 21st Century really came through for us from having a tow car ready to take us home to reimbursing us fairly for our totaled car. I'd highly recommend them. Christine

I've been with 21st Century insurance for approximately 5 years now. Their rates were so competitive that I had decided to make the ''switch''. I had some reservations at the beginning...of course I wondered if ''because they are cheaper, would customer service or any claims i may encounter be sacrificed''? This proved to be exactly the opposite! A young woman ran through a red light in Oakland and I was very lucky that she didn't manage to come in my drivers side door. Within 30 minutes there was a tow truck there to pick up my vehicle - a claims adjuster with 21st Century stayed on the phone with me to make sure that I was okay - called ME BACK later that evening to ask if there was anything else they could do, and how i was feeling....All of this was accomplished by PHONE...but i never felt like i ''lacked in any way''...without a live person in an office in town. Everything was settled very quickly. I hope this answers your question, i couldn't be HAPPIER with my auto insurance carrier! I hope my testimony to this company helps you! Terrie

we've had 21st Century (formerly 20th Century Ins) for about 15 years. In that time, we've been rear-ended three times. In all three cases, there was no problem getting the cars fixed. TA

My husband and I have used 21st Century for 3 years. We switched because our old insurers, having raised rates many times, were charging about twice the 21st Century rate. Service has been better than we got from the old company, however. A year ago, when my car was stolen, 21st Century responded quickly, paying top blue book value for the old car. happy customer

i've had 21st car insurance for about 6 yrs. i've been very happy with them. i have had my car broken into three times in sf and have been in 1 car accident. they handled my repairs in timely manner and i didnt notice a huge increase in my rates. you also get a additional discount for being married. hope this helps! cate

I switched from 20 years of Allstate insurance to 21st Century Insurance 3 years ago and have never looked back. We've had no problems of any sort, and have had two claims handled efficiently and promptly. My favorite thing about the claims experience is that the adjuster gave us his direct line and his hours of work, so that we didn't have to go through one of those cumbersome phone trees every time we called. 21st Century is also financially strong, which should be a consideration anytime you buy insurance (so you know they'll be around to pay claims!) anon

I previously had 21 Century Ins. I have long since switched to Amica Auto Insurance, rated #1 by Consumer Reports. Amica is VERY selective, requiring a good driving record. Service is excellent. Rates are amongst the lowest and, for me, significantly better than 21st Century. Good luck! Elaine

Need excellent auto home insurance agency

August 2005

Please provide your recommendation for an excellent auto & home insurance agency. Thanks. Toby

We switched last year from Allstate to AAA, and we're really satisfied. The rates were better, even though we had a major discount from sticking with Allstate for 10 years. Also, the customer service has been great, and we recently had an auto claim that went very smoothly. AAA has a bit more of a self-service feel. For example, their web site allows you to test out adjustments to your coverages to see how they'd affect your rate, and you can even see the effect of getting (or removing) a point on your driving record. And when you call to make changes to your policy, you're dealing with someone who's more of a customer service representative than an agent, so it seems like you get more honest answers and less of a sales pitch. Christopher

Jill Cash is an AWESOME independent State Farm Agent in Berkeley. In addition to underwriting home, life, auto and more for us, she helped us choose health insurance and even find a great car loan. She is also certified to give financial planning advice. Best of all she's just plain funny and easy to work with. She's a big believer in making an informed decision, and would completely encourage you to get all the info you need to feel good about your insurance decisions. I can't recommend her highly enough. She can be reached at (510) 843-8300. Check her out at Rachel

Allstate vs CSAA insurance

June 2004

We have been happy with CSAA (AAA) for our auto insurance for 12 years, and Allstate for our home insurance for 4. However, given the discounts available if you have both types of insurance, we think we should consolidate auto and homeowners insurance with one of these carriers. The price is the same either way. Could anyone speak to positive or negative experiences with either CSAA for homeowners or Allstate for auto insurance, especially if you've had to make claims? I've read the postings on the web, but would like more up-to-date info on CSAA and some info on Allstate. Thanks, Sima

We had a similar dilmena a year ago and ended up switching *from* CSAA. We didn't go to Allstate so I can't speak to that. But we found when I had to make a claim that CSAA raised our premiums over a thousand dollars. It was truly laughable when we go the policy statement. Also, I found that it is actually a detriment to the consumer that so many drivers are covered by CSAA. This is because if a CSAA driver has a claim against a CSAA driver, they won't neccessarily look at all the circumstances and fight for you if you feel you were not the party at fault. These factors made us go with another insurance carrier. Elizabeth

I have had Allstate auto/home/renters insurance since 1987 here and in another state. My Allstate agent's office is at 1760 Solano, Berk. I have never had a home or renters claim but I had one auto claim (not my fault) in 1992 and my now ex-husband had four claims, one not is fault, one his fault, and he called in two vandalism claims. All were really easy to deal with. Allstate gave us a list of repair places, we paid the deductable, and that was that. Our rates never went up. We did lose the ''good driver discount'' for a couple of years, however. When my husband and I divorced, my agent was really great about rewriting the policies for me. I checked rates online and Allstate's were the lowest for me and my situation. Allstate fan

2003 & Earlier

Unhappy with claim, want to switch from AAA

May 2003

We have been customers of AAA/CSAA for over 20 years, but last year our rates more than doubled for no reason. Then this year we were VERY unhappy with how they handled a claim when another driver also insured with AAA hit us. In the past we had stayed with them despite their high rates because my husband believed they handled claims fairly. However, recently they have changed. For example, they used to waive the deductible if both drivers were insured with AAA. This is no longer true. So we are looking to switch companies for home and auto insurance, and there are some attractive rates out there. But what I don't know is how these companies handle claims. Does anyone have experience with AIG, Geico, or 21st Century for auto insurance, or any homeowner's insurance other than AAA? Thanks in advance! telzey

I have been a happy GEICO customer for more than 7 years - and in two different states. I have only filed one claim, for when my car was broken into. They sent me to an Authorized Garage, which provided an estimate for the repairs - panel repainted, door locks replaced, window replaced, and glove compartment door replaced. They then gave me the option of either taking a check for the estimated amount of repairs, or signing over the check to them, and they would make the repairs. I found a garage closer to my home, which was more convenient, and estimated completing the same repairs for less money. When I called GEICO to discuss this option, they said I could take the check from the authorized garage, have the repairs made anywhere I chose, and keep the difference (if any). This was about 5 years ago, so perhaps the policy has changed, but I have always been happy with my rates and their service. Anon

We are very happy with Amica for both home & auto insurance. Whenever we have needed to make claims they have been quick & responsive. We haven't used any other insurance companies, but found that both Farmers & 21st Century were unpleasant & slow to pay with regard to auto accidents. kb

It sounds like you are writing about my experience with AAA. I stuck with them for a very long time despite the increases and the lack of customer service. I finally switched to AMICA Insurance on the recomendation of someone on this list. Even though I have not yet reported a claim, I received a rate for both car and home that was lower than any of the companies you listed. GEICO offered a rate that was double the rate of AAA (which was very high after the increase). Perhaps the person who recomended AMICA can share his/her experience on how they handle claims. You can contact AMICA by calling 1-800-242-6422 or visit at Jannette

We've had 21 Century for over seven years and I was recently involved in my first auto accident after 20+ years of driving. I thought they were responsive and helpful, especially since I was found to be at fault. I've also found their rates to extremely competitive (cheaper than GEICO) but I think they are fairly picky about who they will ensure. Give them a try. --anon

I've had Amica Insurance for both auto and homeowners insurance for nearly 20 years now -- I first learned of them through an article in the Bay Area Check Book, a local version of Consumer Reports. That article rated them very highly, as has every other article about them I've ever seen. In the time I've been insured with them, I've had to file about 3-4 claims against my homeowners insurance, and recently filed my first claim on my auto insurance (a fender bender which was the other driver's fault). They were prompt, courteous, and efficient in settling my claims, and in answering any questions I've had over the years. They didn't raise my rates after any of my claims -- and their prices are quite reasonable. I recently got some quotes from other insurance companies (even though I'm very satisfied with Amica, I'm always looking for ways to squeeze a few more pennies out of my budget) and found that my auto insurance is way less than what the next lowest company would charge me. Their homeowner's rate wasn't the lowest, but it was competitive -- and given how satisfied I am with them, I'd hesitate to switch even if it was going to save me a lot. One way they keep their auto rates low is to only accept people with clean driving records. I've forgotten the details about your auto accidents -- if you were at fault, you might not be able to switch to Amica for a few years. It's worth a phone call to find out though, and if you can't switch to them now, think about switching to them when you can. Good luck! Diane

Looking for new insurance agent

Sept 2002

Not sure if I saw this on the website. I am looking to replace the agency that has my car insurance, State Farm. Lately, I'm being charged for everything and the rates are constantly increasing. Can anyone recommend a good car insurance agency and/or agent? (I like State Farm and another State Farm agent recommendation is ok.) Thank you. Cheryl

I did not see the original posting, but I understand you are looking for a new car insurance agent/agency. I would like to recommend Pedro Acosta at the AAA on University Ave. in Berkeley. We get excellent service and great rates - he always checks where we can get a discount. Before you decide, you might also like to check the California Department of Insurance's web site. It addresses issues of financial strength, customer complaints and more and you can get estimated quotes from some of the companies: Anne


Oct 1999

I would appreciate anyone's experiences, good or bad, with the following three auto insurance companies: GEICO, CNA, USAA In particular, I'd like to know if is it easy to file claims with them, and do they settle the claims with minimum hassels. Any other comments are most welcome, also. Thanks very much

e have had USAA auto insurance in the past (for ~4 years) and were quite pleased with their service and prices. Good luck!

For car insurance, I use Geico . You can save a lot of money if you don't deal with an agent. But you can also shop online Some websites estimate your premium and list different company quotes.

My whole family uses USAA . Honestly I don't know how their rates compare, but I wouldn't use another insurance agency. My interactions with them have been trouble-free and fair. In addition, I've spoken with several USAA agents and felt that to a person they all answered my questions accurately. Consumer Reports consistently ranks USAA at the top of their insurance comparisons. If you qualify for USAA insurance (you were in the miliary or your spouse or parent was), the only reason not to go with USAA would be cost because their service is superior.

I have used USAA for all of my insurance (auto and home) since 1985. In 1990 I filed a claim for personal property loss due to a fire and it was settled, no questions asked, within a week. Granted, I had done my homework and got receipts for most of the big ticket items that were lost, but I think that they have an excellent track record.

On the auto insurance side, our family has used USAA for many years and there have been a few minor accidents. We've never had any trouble settling a claim. Most recently I had a windshield replaced and it only required a single phone call to make all of the arrangements.

Finally, in all the years that I have dealt with USAA on the phone to inquire about provisions in my policy or changes to my policy, I have always had extremely competent, courteous and prompt service. I highly recommend them.

We have been insured with USAA for years; I qualified through my dad, who has also been their insured for years. We had a spell of terrible car luck - 1993 my car was stolen, 1995 our 1-year-old car was totalled, 1996 our 2-month-old replacement was side-swiped and then rearended - you get the picture. While it is true that all these events were due to third parties, and thus USAA could probably subrogate through their insurers, we felt that we were fairly treated. USAA is always highly ranked among insurance companies, for all their personal insurance lines, and I think it is well deserved.

I recommend getting quotes from . It takes about 15 minutes to answer all the questions they have for you, but then you can get several quotes instantly. Consumer Reports or Kipplingers (I forget which one, I subscribe to both) in the last issue or two did a review of auto insurance. They defined the types of coverage (i.e., collision, bodily injury, etc.) and recommended how much coverage of each type you need. They also rated companies on price and customer satisfaction. I did a review of my coverage and compared prices and I will be staying with AAA.

The article on car insurance mentioned by another writer was in Consumer Reports, I think the Sept. issue. We were also looking for insurance at the time and availed ourselves of their insurance quote service. What the article said regarding different companies giving price breaks for different categories of people is true. We have AAA insurance and the lowest Consumer Union quote beat our insurance by $200 for 2 cars (even counting AAA's dividend). And that was with a $400 price drop from AAA because it restructured its prices this year. Note: with the Consumer Union's service, and probably any service, you have to call the company you're interested in directly to get an official quote--none of the companies matched the quote we got from Consumer Union. The $200 we would save by switching companies is based on the company's quote, not the one CU gave us.

More Recommendations

From: Tom (8/98)

20th Century is a company based in Woodland Hills that has very good rates, particularly with their educator's discount. They don't have lots of branch offices, but who really needs that? Their number is 818-704-3100.

From: Eric (8/98)

We have been with AAA for a few years. I tried to do some comparison shopping (20th. cent., Mercury, AIG) to get cheaper rates recently and couldn't find any (although I suspect there are). One time saving recommendation: Instead of staying on the phone for what could be hours of quote gathering or filling out a bunch of forms, type out a paper with all the relevant info and send copies of it to ins. co.s to get quote by mail.

From: Eleanor (8/98)

I would also recommend Amica for car insurance if you have a garage for your car. My car has been hit three times and stolen once; they were very fast and helpful each time. They also do home insurance. I don't have the phone number handy, but they are based in San Rafael.

From: Diana (8/98)

You might try California Casualty (#800-800-9410). It is for UC Berkeley employees (I'm not sure about students), and they offer payroll deduction for your payments. My husband and I have been with them since 1987. We tried to see if we could get cheaper insurance through AAA, Farmers, and one other major insurance company, but they couldn't beat California Causalty's price. We have two trucks and two cars insured with them. We get a good driving discount and multiple vehicle discount, which really helps.

Adding nanny to auto insurance plan

Sept 2006

hi: we need to add our nanny to our auto insurance policy. unfortunately, she does not have a flawless driving history. what is the most cost effective way to get coverage for her. if we just add her under our exisiting plan, our rate more than doubles. currently, our auto and home insurance are from two separate companies. is there a cost benefit to getting both from the same agency. any advice appreciated. thanks, lisa

Does your nanny have a car and auto insurance or is the reason why you are adding her to your policy because she does not? I ask b/c we looked into adding our nanny to our auto insurance policy (we have AAA). The agent I spoke to said that if our nanny did NOT live with us and did NOT drive our car for more than 30 consecutive days at a time, she did NOT need to be added to our policy and she would be covered under the current insurance policy that we have. Based on this, we did NOT add her to our policy. However, our nanny does have her own car and her own insurance. If you do decide to let your nanny drive your car, I would have some up-front conversations about who is liable for any accidents, etc. If she crashes or damages the car - do you pay the deductible or will she? From experience, I would strongly suggest you get it all out there in the beginning. Good luck

Have you seen her driving record and inquired into the circumstances of each violation/infraction/accident? Are you convinced that she's a safe driver? Your insurance company apparently does not think she is. If you and the insurance company are reluctant to take the financial hit to insure her, why do you trust her with your children's safety? I'm sure she's a very nice person, or you would not want to keep her as your nanny. Maybe she just shouldn't drive your kids. My thought is would you let a surgeon with a spotty record operate on your kids? Even mediocre surgeons kill fewer kids than careless drivers (who may also be nice people). If something bad happened, you would probably look back on this as a red flag that you wished you had investigated further anon

How much liability do I need?

August 2003

We recently bought a new house and were convinced by an insurance agent that now that we have assets, we should raise our limits on our auto insurance. My question is, how much do we really ''need''? Both of our cars are compacts over 10 years old and probably couldn't cause that much damage if we tried! Neither of us has ever been in an accident.

One argument the insurance agent used was that if you are in an accident and are sued, your earnings can be garnished up to 55%. What assets are considered in such a case? Retirement savings? Future earnings (and how would you calculate that?)? The market value of your house, regardless of mortgage? Are there websites that help to assess risk and assign value to insurance coverage? Thanks! Befuddled

I have always carried more than the minimum amount of liability insurance on my auto policy, because regardless of your net worth, it would be Not Fun to wind up liable for more than your insurance would pay.

Your assets are not ''counted'' in terms of whether you have to pay. If you are found to be at fault in an accident that caused $100,000 of damage, and your insurance policy maxes out at $30,000, you will owe $70,000 out of your own pocket. If there is a judgment against you, and you don't pay, the injured party can put a lien on your home, your bank accounts, or, yes, your wages. It's hard to collect a judgment against someone who has no assets, of course, so having adequate insurance is more important when you do have enough assets to make it worth someone's while to go after them.

Of course the chances of this happening are relatively remote, especially if you are a very good driver, but a little higher insurance policy limit usually doesn't cost all that much more, and to me is well worth the peace of mind. How much do you need? Well, how much do you think you might get sued for? How much can you afford? Get some quotes from your insurance carrier for different levels, and you might ask for advice based on their experience as far as typical settlement amounts, and decide how much you're willing to pay for. Holly

Dear Befuddled,
I recommend following the advice of your insurance agent. You should buy as much insurance as you can possibly afford and it's not that much more expensive than the minimum coverage. The minimum coverage required by California law is ridiculously low (it used to be $10,000/$30,000 but may have gone up). Don't fool yourself that you can't do much damage with you car. One moment of inattention and you could accidently kill a pedestrian with your car. Image that you unwittingly got in a car accident and left the other driver, or your passenger, perhaps your best friend, paralyzed for life. Under a minumum coverage insurance policy, your friend would receive $10,000 under the policy for a lifetime of pain and suffering and lost wages (medical coverage is a separate issue) The total your insurance company would pay out to everyone damaged in the incident would $30,000. If you are sued and the party receives a judgment against you for an amount greater than the limits of your insurance policy, then you could be personally liable. Your wages and bank accounts could be garnished, a lien could be placed on your home, etc. Also if you die before the judgment is paid off, the unpaid balance may become a debt of your estate to be paid off before your heirs can inherit from you. Most lawyers who have experience with litigation have purchased the maximum amount of insurance possible (usually $250,000/500,000 depending on the company). In addition, they purchase an ''umbrella policy'' with their home owners insurance for an additional $1,000,000 or so). Good luck. anonymous

Dear Befuddled,

Your insurance agent is giving you good advice, but keep in mind that this second opinion comes from another insurance agent.

Let\x92s assume you get into an accident in which you are at fault and the other party sustains injuries. The minimum required by the State of California for bodily injury is $15,000 per person. However, even moderate injuries may result in higher medical bills, and when hospitalization, surgery and rehabilitation is required, the medical bills can easily reach $100,000 or more. In addition, the injured may not be able to work for a while, resulting in potential loss of wages.

This is a litigous society already, but if the injured person doesn\x92t have health insurance (not uncommon), you really leave them no choice but to sue you to recover the cost of the medical bills. And once a personal injury lawyers gets involved, they will likely add damages for pain and suffering as well and seek maximum compensation for their clients (and maximum compensation for themselves).

If a jury finds you liable for an amount higher than your liability limit, then your assets are at risk. Any asset is considered, including the equity in your home, any type of retirement savings and, yes, even earnings through garnishment of your wages.

Whether the car is old or new is not relevant because it can produce as much injury as a new car, for instance when hitting a pedestrian or bicyclist. However, for people with compacts and other non-sports cars and good driving records, premiums usually don\x92t go up very much by increasing the liability limits.

There isn\x92t a formula to determine adequate coverage because lawsuits for bodily injury from auto accidents range widely. I recommend to all my clients to have bodily injury liability limits of at least 100/300 (this means $100,000 per person and $300,000 for the entire accident). Many choose even higher limits, and those with high net worths usually opt for umbrella policies of 1,000,000 or more.

Hope this helps. kai