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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 18, 2010

Be careful when cutting back car insurance

By Robbie Dingeman


The Insurance Institute has tips on how to keep auto insurance costs down, including having a good driving record.

1. Shop around. Prices vary from company to company. Get at least three price quotes by calling or accessing information on the Internet.

2. Before you buy a car, compare insurance costs. Car insurance premiums are based in part on the car's sticker price, the cost to repair it, its overall safety record, and the likelihood of theft.

3. Ask for higher deductibles.

4. Reduce coverage on older cars.

5. Buy your homeowners and auto coverage from the same company. Many insurers will give you a break if you buy two or more types of insurance.

6. Maintain a good credit record. Insurers are increasingly using credit information to price auto insurance policies.

7. Take advantage of low-mileage discounts. Some companies offer discounts to motorists who drive a lower-than-average number of miles a year or who car pool to work.

8. Ask about group insurance. Some companies offer reductions to drivers who get insurance through a group plan from their employers, through professional, business and alumni groups, or other associations.

9. Seek out other discounts. Companies offer discounts to those who have not had any accidents or moving violations for a number of years.

Source: Insurance Information Institute

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Kailua businessman Joseph Hallabay learned that scrimping on his auto insurance was a costly mistake.

And he hopes other consumers can learn from his experience and think carefully before they cut their insurance coverage.

Hallabay, who owns the Fantastic Sam's hair salon next to Hamakua Safeway, said he was stopped at a red light on the morning of May 8 in the Chinatown area when a truck driven by an uninsured driver hit his 1996 Saab 900.

He was thankful that neither he nor his two passengers were injured. Then he filed a police report, figured that he'd do some paperwork, then get his repairs covered with the help of Hawai'i's no-fault insurance law.

But this week months later he headed for Small Claims Court, frustrated by the delays.

Hallabay, who has run his Kailua store for five years, said he was looking to save some money on his annual auto-insurance costs. So he eliminated his collision coverage and cut back his coverage to just be the minimum required by law.

He estimated a savings of $300 to $400 a year. "I thought we could use that 'saved' money for something else more important," he said.

But he said the savings cost him much more. If he had collision coverage, his insurance company would have helped deal with the other party.

Without such coverage, he said, he has had to deal with the insurance case examiner and the changing story of the other driver. "I have to fight for myself, and I've spoken to lots of attorneys, and because it was a minor accident not involving any severe pains or life loss, they would not take the case," Hallabay said.

One of the state's largest insurers Island Insurance Companies occasionally sees people trim their insurance coverage but cautions against making such decisions.

"We do see a lot of people just buy the state-required limits," said John Schapperle, president and chief operating officer of Island Insurance.

And Schapperle said the lower coverage means people don't have enough coverage to pay for accident claims. "There's not much we can do because people are complying with state law."

Despite the troubled economy, "we haven't seen any trend where people have cut back," Schapperle said.

But he said people do look to the short-term upfront savings since insurance isn't something that you're using every day.

Because he's in the business, he said, he believes in keeping substantial coverage. He said Hallabay's story could have been even worse. If the truck had hit Hallabay and that caused him to rear-end another car which caused injuries, Schapperle said, he could have been sued and his business assets endangered.

"Unfortunately, it's a difficult situation," Schapperle said.

He said people should be cautious about changing their insurance without understanding what they are dropping.

Hallabay said he's increased his insurance coverage. "This is to warn people," he said.