As car insurance rates rise, try these money-saving tips

•If you're considering switching insurers, start looking for a new policy well before your current policy comes up for renewal. Many insurers provide an "early shopping" discount of up to 12%, Belden says. The reason? Insurers view someone who looks for a new policy ahead of time "as being a responsible consumer, as opposed to someone who's in trouble with their current company," he says. But always make sure you've got your new coverage in place before you cancel your old policy.

•Don't even think about driving without insurance. Yes, auto insurance is expensive, and times are tough. But driving while uninsured will cost you a lot more in the long run. Insurers regard people who go without insurance as high-risk drivers. That means you'd pay higher premiums for insurance if you tried to buy it in the future.

•Shop around. The auto insurance industry is competitive, so get at least three quotes before you buy a policy. You can shop for quotes at websites such as www.insurance.com, www.insure.com or www.esurance.com, or by working with an independent insurance agent.

Your state insurance department can help you find out whether there have been complaints against insurers that operate in your state. For more information, go to the consumer website for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, www.insureuonline.org.

To suggest columns, e-mail: sblock@usatoday.com.

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