The shocking run-up in gasoline prices is getting a lot of ink and web space, but for the first time in a year, car insurance rates are on the rise as well, according to a recent study by the Insurance Web site, the largest online auto insurance agency in the USA. The company expects auto insurance rates to continue to rise at least through the balance of the year, which means consumers will need to be even more savvy shoppers as they try to keep their car insurance rates reasonable. (Unless you drive a Ferrari, of course.)

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The IW study analyzed the lowest auto insurance quotes to consumers from more than a dozen insurance companies during the first quarter. The Car Insurance Rate Report found that the lowest car insurance quotes, on average, increased by 1.05 percent over the previous quarter, rising from $1,811 to $1,830 per year. This increase marks the first time in a year that rates have inched up. Rates fell or held steady in 2007, marked by a 5.2 percent decrease in the fourth quarter compared to the same period the year before.

“Insurance costs generally represent about five percent of the full cost of operating a car, so increases in car insurance rates — on top of rising gas prices — will hurt consumers across the board,” said Dave Roush, CEO of the Insurance Web site. “This is the perfect time to comparison shop and take advantage of every opportunity to save money. There are some very good strategies consumers can follow that potentially add up to hundreds of dollars a year in lower rates.”

Time-tested tips like maintaining good credit, driving safely and upping your deductibles remain valid strategies for lowering your auto insurance rate. But you can do other things as well. Here are some additional, off-the-beaten-path money-saving suggestions for consumers looking to minimize the impact of increasing auto rates:

Earn an early shopping discount. Many auto insurance companies offer discounts to your premium if you shop well in advance of your current policy expiration date. If you were considering switching companies, and you give your new auto insurance company enough notice (usually two weeks) before your current policy is up for renewal, you might receive significant savings on your new policy.

Look for “good student” discounts. Some auto insurance companies offer discounts to policies with teen drivers if they have a B or better grade average in school. Of course, proof of those good grades is required, but good students can sometimes help parents save as much as 10 to 15 percent on car insurance.

Take a defensive driving course. Some companies offer a discount for a defensive driving course, usually if taken within three years. So, you’ll get a double bonus — you can learn ways to avoid accidents — and save money on your car insurance at the same time.

Shop for auto insurance before buying a car. The cost to insure different cars can vary as much as the cars themselves. Insurers base premiums on a number of factors including crashworthiness, repair costs and theft rate. Data about each measure is available from the Highway Loss Data Institute.

Comparison shop online. Comparison shopping online can save you time and money. The key to shopping online is to know when you’re getting a “quick quote,” which is just an estimate, or a real, bindable online auto insurance quote. There can be a big difference between an estimate and the final rate you are charged. Web sites that offer you the opportunity to shop rates from various insurance companies in bindable form are your best bet.

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Based in Cleveland, Driving Today Contributing Editor Luigi Fraschini loves saving money. © Studio One Networks.

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