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THE FINE PRINT

Auto insurers offer discounts as motor vehicles sit idle

As legions of people work from home, the cars they drove to the office sit in garages or driveways. Now many are paying less for car insurance.

Streets are empty, and insurers are cutting drivers a break.
Streets are empty, and insurers are cutting drivers a break.Arturo Holmes/Getty Images

Q. Shouldn’t my insurer give me a break on auto insurance, since my car is in the driveway all day?

A. Yes, about 95 percent of insurers in Massachusetts have committed to discounts, according to the state Division of Insurance. And the reason is obvious: Fewer vehicles driving fewer miles means fewer crashes, and that means fewer claims made to insurers.

Q. How much are the discounts?

A. Most insurers are now committed to a 15 percent discount in your premium for April and May. A few are providing slightly higher discounts.

Q. How much will I get?

A. The average annual premium in Massachusetts is about $1,200, according to the website The Zebra. So, a 15 percent reduction for two months is $30.

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Q. That doesn’t seem like much. Is it commensurate with the reduction in driving?

A. No, not really. Driving and crashes are down by around 50 percent, according to various national and regional data.

Q. Who is able to hold insurers accountable?

A. The state Division of Insurance and the attorney general’s office oversee the insurance industry. The insurance division says it is working with insurers to obtain discounts for policyholders. “These discussions will continue with additional auto insurance companies in the immediate future to explore additional relief,” it says on its website. The AG’s office has written to the division offering its help in getting discounts for policyholders.

Q. What discounts are the state’s largest insurers now committed to?

A. The dominant insurer in Massachusetts is MAPFRE, which writes almost one-quarter of all policies in the state, according the website EverQuote. MAPFRE says it will credit personal auto policyholders 15 percent of their premium for April and May (about $30).

The only two other insurers in double digits for market share in Massachusetts are GEICO (about 13 percent) and Liberty Mutual (about 11 percent). GEICO is committed to a 15 percent discount for either six or twelve months, depending on how long the policy runs, for a savings of $90 to $180. Liberty Mutual is committed to 15 percent for two months.

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Q. Who is providing more than 15 percent?

A. Arbella has committed to a 20 percent rebate for April, May, and June, which means a discount of $60 on an average policy, one of the most generous rebates available.

State Farm, which writes less than 1 percent of policies in the state, is offering a $50 discount on two months on an average policy.

And Progressive, which has about 5 percent market share, and USAA, which has about 3 percent of market share, are providing 20 percent for two months, about $40 on an average policy.

Q. What are the other large insurers in the state providing?

A. To round out the top 10 in market share: Safety and MetLife, 15 percent for two months; and Plymouth Rock, 25 percent, beginning April 1 and ending when state stay-a-home advisory is lifted. But that’s only on liability and personal protection insurance — not on collision and comprehensive — so their discount is really equivalent to 15 percent.

Q. What do I have to do to get my discount?

A. Nothing. The insurers say it will be paid automatically.

Q. When will I get my discount?

A. Insurers say they will process credits or cut checks in the coming weeks.

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Q. What if drivers continue to stay off the roads into the summer?

A. You can expect additional discounts.

Q. Can I also get a low-mileage discount?

A. Many insurers provide significant discounts depending on how much (or how little) you drive. I qualify for a 7 percent discount based on driving less than 12,000 miles a year and my wife gets 17 percent off for being under 5,000 miles. Check your policy to see if you are getting a low-mileage discount, and if not, ask your agent or insurer about it. But a discount may not come immediately because you need at least one year of low mileage. My insurer calculates my mileage based on what’s listed on my annual state vehicle inspection report.

Q. Are there other ways to save money?

A. If you own your motor vehicle, as opposed to financing it through an auto loan, you may consider temporarily dropping collision insurance, which pays for repairs when your car is damaged in a crash. (Lenders usually insist on collision insurance to protect their assets.) You can also consider temporarily dropping optional liability (bodily injury to others and bodily injury caused by an underinsured auto). But be sure you won’t be using your motor vehicle. Otherwise, you’re taking a considerable risk. Later, when you are ready to return to the road, call your insurer to reinstate collision and optional liability insurance.

Q. Will insurers defer monthly payments during this crisis?

A. Some insurers have committed to working with policyholders who are struggling financially by deferring payments to a later time. Check your insurer’s website. And if not, you can remind them that the state Division of insurance has directed insurers “to be flexible and make every possible effort to avoid policy cancellation.”

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Q. I lost my job and now I’m making grocery deliveries for Instacart using my car? Do I need extra insurance?

A. Some insurers are extending coverage at no additional charge for customers who now use their personal vehicles to make food, grocery, pharmacy, and medical supply deliveries. No action is required by the driver for that additional coverage but you should check with your insurer to make sure what is being offered.


Got a problem? Send your consumer issue to sean.murphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.