South Carolina’s tort regulation and vast rural landscapes score it a wonderfully low average auto insurance premium of $110 a month, which is $20 less than the rest of the nation. And while that’s great news, the even better news is there’s still a chance residents can shave a few more dollars of their monthly bill. All it takes is a little patience, and some shopping around. I applied for quotes from four different companies and found a $830 difference between them! State Farm was the cheapest for me at $954 year, but unfortunately, I can’t say it would also be the cheapest for you. Rates are as unique as fingerprints and there’s no one best insurer for everyone.

Auto insurance companies look at a ton of factors when determining how much to charge you, including your age, credit score, driving history, vehicle, and employment status. That said, your best chance at  finding the cheapest premium is to get quotes from as many companies as you can possibly handle. I’d recommend getting at least four — or as many as you can stand to apply for, really.

This process doesn’t take too long, especially if you have your information handy. Online quotes usually only took me about five or 10 minutes, and if you do need to make a call, expect to add another 15 or 20. But no matter how long it takes, just remember the name of the game is savings. And the more time you put in, the bigger those savings might be.

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Our Top Four Picks for the Best Car Insurance in South Carolina

My quest began with four auto insurers. Each one was ranked as having an “above average” or better score for customer service by JD Power in the Southeast, and has passed financial stability testing by A.M. Best.

Insurer My quote
State Farm $954
Progressive $1,084
Nationwide $1,620
Geico $1,784

To further explain my standards, I used JD Power because it’s a leading global force in customer satisfaction studies. Secondly, it is important to know that your insurer is standing strong financially. That is why A.M. Best evaluates each company’s solvency; to insure that they can withstand the full brunt of possible claims levied against them. Between both criteria, you should be sitting pretty.

As stated, my quotes had a whopping $830 gap between the highest and the lowest, which is quite a bit of pocket money. State Farm came in cheapest by far at $954; the next lowest, Progressive, landed at $1,084. That’s already over $250 in savings between the two cheapest providers. Next, Nationwide quoted $1,620, and Geico came in swinging with $1,784 per year.

Even If You’re Happy, It’s Best to Shop for a New Policy Every Couple of Years

Ever heard of price optimization? It’s a technique used by about half of all large insurance companies to understand how likely an individual might be to search out the best price of something. Essentially, an insurer uses your personal data to estimate how flexible you are concerning your premiums. If they feel that a 5% increase in your yearly rate won’t scare you off, then they won’t feel bad slowly bumping up your premiums.

This should be a great motivator to shop for a new policy — even if you don’t intend on switching providers. When insurance companies can see that you’re out there searching for the best deals available, they will be less likely to test the limits of your budget.

In the last few years, 15 states have declared price optimization illegal or under investigation. Unfortunately, South Carolina has not addressed it formally. For now, the safety of your hard earned cash is in your hands. As they say, the best offense is a good defense, so defend your right to low rates and shop the insurance market. You might find great savings, and even if you don’t, it should deter your current provider from any unfair price gouges.

South Carolina’s Minimum Coverage

The Bare Minimum

Minimum coverage in South Carolina starts with liability and uninsured motorist coverage. Liability covers the damages you may cause if you’re at fault in the wreck. You must maintain $25,000 of bodily injury coverage per person, $50,000 for bodily injury per accident, and $25,000 for property damage (25/50/25). Uninsured motorist coverage will protect you in case you find yourself in an accident caused by a non-registered uninsured driver. Minimum uninsured motorist coverage must be $25,000 for bodily injury per person, $50,000 bodily injury per accident, and $25,000 for property damage (25/50/25).

But what about registered uninsured drivers? That’s right, you could have a accident with a registered uninsured driver. And, sorry to say, but your uninsured motorist coverage won’t cover you at all.

In South Carolina you can legally apply to drive the roads as a registered uninsured motorist, but you must pay a yearly fee of $550 to the state and meet four strict qualifications:

  • You must hold a valid driver’s license for three years or more.
  • Every driver in your household must hold a valid license for three years or more.
  • You must not be required to fill out SR22 certifications or insurance (meaning your driver’s license has not been suspended for violations).
  • You must not have been convicted of any of certain traffic violations (a full list can be found here).

In the event of a motor vehicle accident the registered uninsured driver is required to pay any damage caused by him or her out of pocket. If you, as an insured driver, sustain injuries from an accident of this nature, your uninsured motorist coverage will not kick in.

This is where the tort system, as opposed to the no-fault system, truly shows its colors. Torts are the legal term for civil court cases that include a plaintiff charging the defendant with financial responsibility for damages. Should you be involved in an accident with a registered uninsured motorist who can not meet the legal requirement of paying out-of-pocket for said damages, you’ll be left with no other choice but to employ the tort system in civil court. If the defendant is found guilty of owing you more than than they can pay, bankruptcy may be their only recourse, and you may still never receive all that you are owed.

The Best Car Insurance Is Not Just Cheap Car Insurance

When thinking about buying minimum coverage, it is important to consider the costs that may come with it. Picture this:

  • Statistically speaking, the average driver will have an accident every 17.9 years.
  • The average cost of a disabling, nonfatal accident is about 80,000, according to the National Safety Council.

By maintaining only minimum coverage in a tort state like South Carolina, you could be found responsible for damages well exceeding your minimums. If the courts said you were liable for the full $80,000 in our hypothetical accident, where would the extra $55,000 come from? Out of your pocket.

If you chose to upgrade your coverage to the most popular package (usually 50/100/50), you could end up saving yourself from full-fledged bankruptcy. Protection of this caliber might still leave a gap between your coverage and damages in the worst-case scenario, but it is certainly a major improvement from the minimum.

You might think an upgrade like this would cost astronomical amount more than minimum coverage, but that’s not true. If I had chosen to purchase higher protection from the company who had my lowest quote for minimum coverage (State Farm), I would only end up paying $59 more per year. If you measure that out to the average number of years before you get in a wreck, that’s just over $1,000. Over 18 years, that’s nothing compared to the huge bills that could land on your head if you only carry minimum coverage.

What happens I’m caught without insurance?

Let’s say you’re in the mood to push your luck. You want to test the waters of driving uninsured in a tort system state. Let’s also assume you do not want to become a registered uninsured driver of South Carolina. Here are your consequences:

  • suspension of your driver’s license and registration until you pay a reinstatement fee
  • $550 reinstatement fee
  • filing an SR22 for three years after the violation

None of these things will endear you to the insurance companies, and your subsequent rates will surely suffer.

If you have have decided to drive uninsured due to denials for coverage by auto insurers in South Carolina, you still have a final recourse to utilize. The Associated Auto Insurers Plan of South Carolina is a non-profit management company for certified South Carolina insurers. If you can prove that you have been denied coverage within the past 60 days, the AAIPSC will assign a insurer to you who must offer you coverage.

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Why are South Carolina’s rates the way they are?

Much like its neighbor to the north, South Carolina benefits from lower than average rates for a number of similar reasons. First, 92% of the state is rural, according to the United States Bureau of the Census. Rural areas are considered less dangerous for automobile accidents and thefts, therefore they generally produce lower premiums.

South Carolina premiums also benefit from being a tort system state rather than no-fault. Simply put, no-fault states say that each person is responsible for paying their own damages and medical bills regardless of fault in the accident. Drivers in these states also have to carry personal injury protection insurance, which adds to the premium burden.

The Bottom Line

Even if your state is beating the national average, there are still plenty of savings out there waiting to be found. All it takes is the determination and leg work to look for as many quotes as you can. And when you do apply for quotes, be sure to consider more than the minimum coverage. Cheap car insurance isn’t always going to be the best car insurance. And unless you have about $100,000 laying around in a “automobile emergency” fund, you’ll find yourself in a massive financial bind should you ever have a serious accident.

Car Insurance in South Carolina

  • State Farm
  • Progressive
  • Nationwide
  • Geico

Find the Best Car Insurance

Enter your ZIP code below and be sure to click at least 2-3 companies to find the very best rate.