Car insurance is a significant operating cost, especially for large families, those with low credit scores, and drivers with imperfect track records. But with some work, there are ways to lower car insurance costs.

Here, we present 10 strategies to consider.

1. Do an Annual Rate Check

If you've been with the same insurer a long time, it might be tough to beat its rates, especially if you haven't filed any claims lately. In fact, a 2014 survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that only 10 percent of 19,000 CR.org subscribers who compared premiums found they would save money by switching.

It's easy to compare insurers online, at sites such as Answer Financial, Insure.com, and NetQuote. Though you usually won't get an immediate quote, you will get email from agents looking for your business. Consider forming a relationship with an independent agent, who will check rates for you at a range of carriers.

2. Pick a Top-Rated Insurer

Saving money isn't simply a matter of finding the lowest premium. Some insurers have lower premiums but end up costing you more in the end by lowballing loss estimates, hassling repair shops to cut corners, and forcing you to pay extra for original-equipment replacement parts. They might even unfairly jack up your premiums after an accident.

We surveyed 64,872 CR.org subscribers in 2014. Eighty-eight percent of them were highly satisfied with the handling of their claims. Among the highest-rated groups were USAA, Amica, and NJM, with overall satisfaction scores of 90 or higher.  

3. Set the Right Deductible

A higher deductible reduces your premium because you pay more out of pocket if you have a claim. Hiking your deductible from $200 to $500 can cut your premium on collision by 15 to 30 percent. Go to $1,000 and you could save 40 percent.

If you have a good driving record and haven't had an at-fault accident in years—if ever—opting for a higher deductible on collision might be a good bet. Just make sure you can afford to pay that cost if your luck runs out.

4. Review All of Your Coverage

Your liability coverage pays for bodily injury and property damage that you cause. Don't get caught short by reducing your liability limits to the state minimums. Buying more coverage might seem like an odd way to save, but the benefit comes if you have a costly claim, which can put your life's savings at risk.

If you have another car you can use while your vehicle is being repaired, you don't need to pay for rental-reimbursement coverage. Dump roadside assistance if you have an auto-club membership that's a better deal or if it's part of your new car's warranty.

Think carefully about personal-injury protection and medical-payments coverage. Forget it if you have good health coverage; keep it if you don't or if your usual passengers aren't well-insured.

5. Take Advantage of Discounts

Insurers offer a whole range of modest but worthwhile discounts that are essentially based on a low-risk lifestyle.

Here are some to ask about:

  • Students with good grades.
  • New drivers who have taken a driver-training course.
  • Older drivers who have taken a refresher course.
  • Any driver who takes a defensive-driving course.
  • Members of affinity groups, such as college alumni and certain occupations and professions.
  • Anti-theft and safety equipment.

6. Multiple-Policy Holders

Insurers also offer fairly hefty auto discounts if you also buy your homeowners, renters, or life insurance policy from them. But be sure you check out total costs both ways: premiums from different insurers combined compared with single-insurer packages.

7. Maintain a Good Credit Score

Most states allow insurance companies to use your credit score as a factor in setting your premiums. Ask your insurance company whether it does that. If your finances have been adversely affected by military deployment, divorce, a job loss, the death of a family member, or medical problems, ask your insurer for an exception.

8. Report Reduced Mileage

A major cost component in auto insurance is miles driven per year. The average is about 12,000. But if you're driving a lot less than usual for some reason, perhaps because of a job change or retirement, let your insurer know. Your reduced driving could cut 5 to 10 percent off your premiums.

9. Choose Your Car Wisely

Vehicle damage is the biggest cost for auto insurers, so premiums will vary by auto model. When comparing vehicle models, ask your insurer for premium quotes on the different models under consideration.

10. Manage Teenage-Driver Risk

Adding a teenager to your policy can hike your costs by 50 to 100 percent. Make sure your child takes a safe-driving course before getting a license. And make it a rule that unsafe driving will mean the loss of driving privileges.

Inform your insurer if your child isn't licensed or is a college student residing more than 100 miles from your home and doesn't have a car.