Searching for cheap car insurance feels a bit like a wild goose chase, and a bit like Russian roulette. It’s hard to know where to start. The options are overwhelming. And sometimes you think you’ve found a great deal… only to discover an ugly little surprise after you make the purchase.

To make the whole process a little saner and more predictable, we’ve compiled this list of Dos and Don’ts. Stick to these basic guidelines, and finding cheap car insurance will be much simpler than you think.

Do search multiple carriers

If you want to get a good deal, you simply have to shop around. Don’t just check prices for a few name-brand car insurance companies. And definitely don’t just consult with one insurance agent. (Agents are “captive” - they only represent a single agency. Read more about finding an insurance agent near you.) You need to compare as many options as possible.

What does this mean in practice? It means using a service like Online Auto Insurance to get quotes from many insurance agencies simultaneously. Just drop in some basic information about yourself, your vehicle, and your driving history, and we’ll show you a great range of competitively-priced quotes.

Don’t necessarily pick the lowest premium

When insurance companies give you quotes, they’ll be in the form of monthly premiums. And it may be tempting to just pick the lowest one. Isn’t that number exactly what you’re looking for in a cheap insurance plan? Not so fast. Your monthly premiums are only one piece of the insurance puzzle. You also have to think about deductibles.

A deductible is the amount you have to pay before your insurance policy “kicks in” and begins covering costs. For instance, if your comprehensive insurance policy has a $1,000 deductible, you have to pay the first $1,000 to repair your car after an accident. Everything above that will be covered by your policy.

Generally speaking, there’s an seesaw relationship between auto insurance premiums and deductibles. Plans with high premiums tend to have low deductibles, and vice versa. That means the lowest-premium plan could end up costing you more in the long run. And to get the cheapest insurance, you may actually have to spend more upfront.

Do dig for discounts

It may surprise you to learn that car insurance companies really do want to offer you low rates. It’s how they stay competitive. But to get their rock-bottom prices, you have to help them help you.

Every insurance company offers a huge range of discounts to consumers who can prove that they’re responsible, low-risk drivers who will take care of their vehicles. For instance, if you use a theft deterrent device like OnStar or LoJack, insurers might knock a few dollars off your monthly premium. Or if you’re a member of a professional organization - e.g. for lawyers or doctors - that can cut down your rate as well. Are you a student with a good GPA? Active military? Ready to purchase your policy in one large installment rather than several small, incremental payments?

All of these are valuable to your insurer, and can earn you a discount from your insurance agency. But you have to ask! If you’re comparing insurers, ask a lot of questions and really dig for those discounts.

Don’t be too loyal

One of the most common mistakes people make when shopping quotes for auto insurance is to do it far too infrequently. In other words, many drivers tend to stay with the same insurance company for far too long. This ends up costing you money. Perhaps a lot of money.

You see, insurance companies aren’t like most businesses. Rather than rewarding you for your loyal business with benefits and discounts, insurers actually raise your rates as time passes. So if you’ve been automatically renewing your insurance policy for several years, you’re almost certainly paying more than you need to. Loyalty doesn’t pay.

The solution is simply to move your business around more often. One study found that the average consumer saved $300 simply by changing insurance providers. Even if you’re perfectly happy with your current insurer, simply getting a lower quote could help you negotiate for a lower rate.

Do buy an insurance-friendly car

Getting cheap insurance isn’t just about being a savvy shopper and digging up good deals. Your rates are also greatly affected by the vehicle you drive.

This only makes sense, of course. Some vehicles are simply more prone to accidents, given their construction. Some vehicles are more likely to be stolen, or to suffer mechanical problems. All of these qualities make the vehicle riskier for an agency to insure, meaning they will charge you higher monthly premiums.

So the next time you’re in the market for a new car, take your auto insurance rates into account. You’ll find plenty of rankings online for the lowest-cost vehicles to insure. (And note that the cheapest cars to buy aren’t always the cheapest cars to insure.) Invest in an insurance-friendly vehicle and your rates will be significantly lower in the long run.

Don’t just buy the bare minimum legal policies

Each state has its own car insurance regulations, but they all have one thing in common: The legally required insurance minimums are far less than is recommended by consumer groups.

For instance, Louisiana only requires you to buy liability insurance covering $15K per person and $30K per accident for bodily injury, and covering $25K in property damage. But a serious accident can easily cause 10X or 20X more financial damage. If you only carry the bare minimum, legally-required insurance policy, you could be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

This is just another way that the “cheapest” insurance can actually cost you more in the long run. It may seem counterintuitive, buy if you want to save money on auto insurance, don’t just buy the smallest possible policy. Carefully consider all the options, and invest in car insurance that will best protect your long-term financial interests.