If you have questions about buying car insurance online or through an agent, this guide explains the key differences.

With more than 275 million registered automobile vehicles on the road, insurance companies are doing what they can to capture drivers’ attention and sell them a policy. Not only do the big names come up with eye-catching commercials, but they also simplify the process of obtaining a quote and purchasing insurance directly online—in some cases, cutting out the need for an agent. 

There are 1.2 million insurance brokers, agents and employees who can help you iron out the specifics of coverage, but do you always need to speak to one to get a good deal? You might have the same question as others: Is it cheaper to buy car insurance online or through an agent? 

Key Highlights
  • Buying a policy online can be a quick and easy way to get coverage without the go-between.
  • When you are concerned about obtaining only the coverage you need or want to have questions answered before purchase, you should speak with an agent.
  • Insurance brokers are agents that work for you, and not for insurance companies, who can help you to compare quotes and shop for the best policy to fit your needs.
Written by:
Maggie O'Neill
Contributing Researcher
Maggie has twenty years of experience working in media. She is a writer and editor on car insurance and related issues. Before joining CarInsurance.com, she reported on health, education and lifestyle for magazines, websites and newspapers in Nevada.
Edited by:
Erik Martin
Contributing Researcher
Erik J. Martin is a Chicago area-based freelance writer whose articles have been published by AARP The Magazine, The Motley Fool, The Costco Connection, USAA, US Chamber of Commerce, Bankrate, The Chicago Tribune, and other publications. He often writes on topics related to insurance, real estate, personal finance, business, technology, health care, and entertainment. Erik also hosts a podcast and publishes several blogs, including Martinspiration.com and Cineversegroup.com.
Reviewed by:
Laura Longero
reviewer icon
Executive Editor
Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

Is it cheaper to get car insurance online or through an agent?

Whether you want to buy insurance through an agent or directly, the basic fact remains: If you have a car, you need car insurance in most states. And while the first half of 2022 saw slowed auto insurance shopping growth, the 2023 LexisNexis Auto Trends Report shows that shopping volumes grew in the third and fourth quarters of 2022 in response to rate increases.

And consumers shopped more and switched more, with record new business volumes in November and December, resulting in 10.2% growth in the fourth quarter of 2022.

That said, auto insurance companies are trying to attract new customers and keep their current customers with loyalty discounts. As companies move toward telematics and AI, they also offer products directly to customers to streamline purchasing.

Pros of buying car insurance online

Here are the pros of purchasing insurance online versus through an agent:

  • You can research matters more quickly. How often have you called an insurance company to ask a question or obtain a quote, and the expected 10-minute phone call runs 30 minutes or longer? It’s often easier to research policies independently than to call an agent and be put on hold or wait for a return call.
  • You enjoy greater privacy. According to Lauren Mckenzie, an insurance broker/agent with A Plus Insurance: “Some people may not feel comfortable providing information over the phone to an agent and prefer the privacy of being able to submit their answers online themselves.”
  • You might find discounts online. Many car insurance companies offer a discount for purchasing a policy online. Called the “Online Purchase Discount” or something similar, this discount is only available for online purchases. And you can obtain other discounts online when you get a quote, too. Discounts you might be eligible for include choosing paperless billing, obtaining insurance for more than one car (a multi-car discount), or getting a discount for preferred payments, like paying for your policy in full or opting for automated payments.
  • There’s less hassle involved. Finally, many consumers prefer buying insurance online vs. from an agent because they don’t need to talk to an agent. This can be a good option for people who understand what they want in a policy, know how to comparison shop and want a straightforward auto policy.  The tech-savvy, auto insurance-educated and efficient-minded shopper will likely find the no-hassles online purchasing option appealing.

Cons of buying car insurance online

The downsides to purchasing car insurance online include:

  • You could choose more coverage than you need and overpay for your policy. Remember that your policy will only pay up to its limits. While online insurance quote tools typically correlate to coverage requirements in your state, an agent can help you make sense of the details. This is something to think about, given that there is a range of insurance coverage systems across states, including no-fault or tort (at-fault) coverage.
  • You could end up with low liability limits. If so, that won’t protect you against legal action if you’re found at fault for an expensive accident. Remember, liability insurance is for the other guy – and the other guy might own a Tesla. “The disadvantage to purchasing a policy online without speaking with an agent first is the possibility of selecting incorrect coverages,” McKenzie says. “There are several different coverage options you can choose from to customize your auto policy.”
  • You may be required to buy insurance through an agent. Mark Friedlander, director of Corporate Communications for the Insurance Information Institute in St. Johns, Florida, says that many carriers require coverage to be purchased through their agent, whether it’s an exclusive agent or an independent agent.
  • Online quotes may not be as precise. “Online quotes should be considered as estimates and are typically not as accurate as getting a quote directly from the insurer or their agent,” cautions Friedlander.

Pros of buying car insurance from an agent

Purchasing auto insurance from an agent has its benefits, such as:

  • It can be advantageous for people with more complex needs. This could be the need to get a rideshare endorsement, add a teen driver, bundle with homeowners insurance or get gap coverage for a new vehicle. High-risk drivers could also benefit from talking to an insurance agent, particularly an insurance broker who can provide quotes from different companies. “Buying online could potentially speed the process up, but I would rather clients go to Google and look for a trusted broker near them to be sure they get the best coverage at the best price,” says Noah White with Ark Insurance Group. “You always want to discuss bundling discounts with an agent. Also, if you have young drivers, there are often discounts for them for being students. Tell them where you work and if you are a first responder, police officer, EMT, military, etc. These positions often bring more discounts.”
  • You may save more dollars. White, who sells all lines of insurance – including auto and life – said that most of the time, consumers can save money by talking to an insurance agent. He explained that commissions, which are paid from the carrier, are based on the total premium amount of a policy. “Some agents may add on extra coverages to increase the premiums, but buying online does not cut out the agent commission,” he added. “It does not play a factor in the pricing decisions.”
  • You may get more quotes and carriers to choose from. “An independent insurance agent works with multiple carriers, so they can compare pricing and find the best cost and coverage options for your needs,” says Myles Trempe, producer and independent agent with Wallace & Turner Insurance in Springfield, Ohio.

How does purchasing insurance through a local agent work instead of a website? 

“Buying direct means you go directly to the company site or representative and purchase your insurance,” White said. “Buying from an agent means there is an agent that represents that one specific company you are looking at, and buying from a broker is buying from a licensed professional who is not tied down to any one company or carrier.”

Check out our detailed guide on what a car insurance broker is

Captive agents vs. brokers – what’s the difference?

Brokers and agents – it gets a bit confusing. Here’s a quick breakdown of the different kinds of folks you can buy insurance from:

  • Captive agents: Captive agents work for one company.
  • Independent agents: Independent agents work for several companies.
  • Brokers: Insurance brokers work for the client rather than an insurance company.

“A captive agent is an agent who can only sell one company,” White says. “This means they will not shop the best price for you because they only have one product to offer.” 

When an insurance agent or agency is licensed to sell in different states and has relationships with many companies, they can comparison shop for you. This is true at A Plus Insurance, where the agents are licensed brokers, which enables them to sell insurance in 38 states and more than 20 different insurance companies. 

“Sometimes it is easier to go through an insurance brokerage – because we can shop for the customer and find affordable prices by searching several insurance companies for the coverage desired,” McKenzie says. “If you use an online quoting service to receive multiple insurance quotes, you will likely be spammed with phone calls and emails from several insurance companies trying to offer a quote.” 

Cons of buying car insurance from an agent

Of course, there can be drawbacks to getting car insurance from an agent. Consider these downsides:

  • Your perspective, goals and prior experiences may affect your opinion about buying auto insurance from an agent vs. online. For instance, agents who do not have a personal relationship with you may be more inclined to sell you coverage you do not need to get a commission, while agents who focus on honesty and client needs tend not to oversell.
  • The process could take longer than buying online. Depending on your online insurance company, you can get a quote and purchase a policy within a day or days. That circumvents the need to wait for a return call or email from an agent who has many other customers with whom they are working. You manage the purchase process by buying directly through the company instead of a middle person.
  • The agent may be motivated to oversell you a policy to earn a commission. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, commissions are a “common form” of compensation for agents, especially agents with substantial industry experience. Generally speaking, the commission an agent receives depends on the amount of insurance sold and whether the policy is new or a renewal. An agent could also be motivated to upsell if a bonus is available when they meet sales or profit goals. It can be a this-or-that situation. Car insurance purchased through a Progressive agent includes the commission the agent receives. On the flip side, auto insurance bought directly through Progressive includes a more significant portion of marketing costs in addition to costs for staffing and sales centers, according to Progressive’s website. “Agents are paid a commission by the insurer when they write policies, but they do not charge consumers a fee to purchase a policy,” says Friedlander.

Check out our detailed guide on how to get a car insurance quote

Final thoughts: Buying car insurance online vs. an agent

When buying car insurance online vs. through an agent, this choice depends on what makes you comfortable and the complexity of your insurance needs. Sure, many factors affect this choice, including the ease of purchasing a policy, the ability to answer your questions, how simple it is to compare quotes and your self-confidence in getting the right coverages and discounts.

Sometimes, even when shopping for car insurance online, you must speak with an agent or customer service representative to finalize your policy purchase.

“While some companies allow you to bind a quote online without ever needing to speak with an agent, clients are often asked to provide information to confirm that the details on the policy are accurate,” Mckenzie says. “At this point, they may be given a number to speak with an agent or an agent may reach out to them to follow up on details and give a final quote.”

Check out our experts’ recommendations on How often should you shop for car insurance?

Frequently asked questions

How to get an insurance quote before buying a car

The Insurance Information Institute recommends getting at least three quotes from a mix of national and regional insurers before committing to an auto insurance policy. You can obtain quotes through online comparison sites, directly from insurers or through agents.

Per Mark Friedlander with the Insurance Information Institute, an independent agent can provide you with multiple quotes while an exclusive agent can offer quotes for the company they represent. Online quotes should be considered estimates and are typically not as accurate as getting quotes directly from the insurer or their agent.

Is it cheaper to purchase insurance directly from an insurance company?

It doesn’t necessarily cost more or less to get car insurance through an agent, online, or directly from an insurance company, according to Myles Trempe with Wallace & Turner Insurance. The cost will vary from person to person based on a range of factors like age, type of car, credit-based insurance score and past claims.

Does it cost more to get car insurance through an agent?

The base cost of your policy is typically the same, no matter what method you use to purchase coverage – whether through an agent, online, or directly from an insurance company, per Mark Friedlander with the Insurance Information Institute. Note that the insurer pays agents a commission when they write policies, although they do not charge you a fee to purchase a policy.

Resources & Methodology


LexisNexis. “Auto Insurance Trends Report.”  Accessed March 2024.

Statista. “Motor Insurance in the U.S.” Accessed March 2024.

Statista. “Number of agents, brokers in U.S. from 1960 to 2018.” Accessed March 2024

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Insurance Sales Agents.” Accessed March 2024.


The CarInsurance.com editorial team bases its reporting on data it commissioned Quadrant Information Services to gather on average auto insurance rates for more than 34K ZIP codes across the United States. 

Typically, averages are based on rates for a single, 40-year-old male, with no violations who commutes 12 miles to work each day and has a full-coverage policy with limits of 100/300/100 and a $500 deductible for collision and comprehensive coverage.

Laura Longero

Ask the Insurance Expert

Laura Longero

Executive Editor

Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

John McCormick

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John McCormick

Editorial Director

John is the editorial director for CarInsurance.com, Insurance.com and Insure.com. Before joining QuinStreet, John was a deputy editor at The Wall Street Journal and had been an editor and reporter at a number of other media outlets where he covered insurance, personal finance, and technology.

Leslie Kasperowicz

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Leslie Kasperowicz

Managing Editor

Leslie Kasperowicz is an insurance educator and content creation professional with nearly two decades of experience first directly in the insurance industry at Farmers Insurance and then as a writer, researcher, and educator for insurance shoppers writing for sites like ExpertInsuranceReviews.com and InsuranceHotline.com and managing content, now at CarInsurance.com.

Nupur Gambhir

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Nupur Gambhir

Managing Editor

Nupur Gambhir is a content editor and licensed life, health, and disability insurance expert. She has extensive experience bringing brands to life and has built award-nominated campaigns for travel and tech. Her insurance expertise has been featured in Bloomberg News, Forbes Advisor, CNET, Fortune, Slate, Real Simple, Lifehacker, The Financial Gym, and the end-of-life planning service.

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Contributing Researcher

Maggie has twenty years of experience working in media. She is a writer and editor on car insurance and related issues. Before joining CarInsurance.com, she reported on health, education and lifestyle for magazines, websites and newspapers in Nevada.