Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hello, Car Insurance!

I got the license, I got the car, but I needed to get car insurance before I could drive off into the sunset. I was forced to descend into a dark underworld of labyrinthine bureaucracies, to endure the relentless gnawing of customer service agents paid on commission.

I. Please leave a message.

In the beginning, I called a local insurance agent recommended to me by a Real Adult. The first time I called, I got the secretary. The secretary, sounding bored and crabby, told me the agent was in a meeting with an important client and that she would have to take down my information. The meeting must have lasted the whole day because I never got a call back. Later, I tried to call again and got her voicemail.

The next day I called again, got the same yawning secretary and left the same futile message. After the weekend passed, I knew that I needed to create contingency plan in case this woman turned out not to exist. I collected quotes from other insurance companies and called back armed with information, this time finally hearing the voice of the agent I was trying to contact all along. She took down my information and said she would call me back later that day with a quote.

She never called me back that afternoon. At work that evening, I saw I had a voicemail. It was from the agent, saying that the car identification number the secretary took down had too many digits, but she had a quote ready for me. I called the next day and got the voicemail. When I finally got in touch with her, the quote she gave me was twice as high as the highest quote I had gotten so far. I wrote her a nice email thanking her for her time, saying that I had taken another offer.

“It’s okay, we’ll get you onto our policy in six months. Give me a call then,” she wrote back.


The sites that calculate car insurance quotes are designed to be user friendly, but they ask a lot of confusing and seemingly unnecessary questions.

What is your social security number?

When was the date of your last period?

List three things you've never told anyone.

Besides that, I didn't know if I had anti-lock brakes. I didn't know if my car was a CE or a LE or a VE or a PE. The first site I went to on my quest for insurance quotes left me wondering, “Am I doing any of this right?” I picked up my cell phone and talked to an “Insurance Expert.”

Katie gladly answered all of my questions and then asked me for my credit card number so we could go through with the purchase. This was all moving too fast for me. I didn't know what to say. Did she really think I was going to buy insurance on impulse?

“Uh, I really want to discuss this with my boyfriend first. It’s a big decision and I’d really like to call you back about it,” I said with some stuttering.

“Sure! Hey! Why don’t I call your boyfriend and we can talk him into this together? Don’t worry! I do this all the time with couples who have questions about our policies. Then I can answer any questions the two of you have. I’m sure that we can convince him that this is the best option for you.”

“No. That’s okay. I’d rather call back.”

“Okay, here’s what I’m going to do for you…”

I could not get her off the phone. I couldn't bring myself to say that I wanted to compare insurance companies without her breathing down my neck from a calling center in Omaha. Eventually she ended up asking me a lot of questions about my life, trying to develop an amiable relationship with me. Are you a student? You were a creative writing major! That is so cool! Are you going to write a book? I’m totally going to buy your book when it comes out. What kind of work are you doing now?

“I’m a telephone operator. I basically do the same job as you, but in a hotel rather than an insurance company.”

That’s a comparison no Insurance Expert wants to hear.

In the end, I got her to say goodbye. I told her that I had to follow up with an insurance company my parents suggested before making a decision. I was worried she would want to start a party line with me, her, and anyone I would ever consult for advice, but fortunately that didn't come up.

III. You seem like a smart girl.

In the end, I settled on the insurance company that gave me the best rate. Naturally. What else was I supposed to do? How else does one choose between a series of comparably sketchy options? I called the winning insurance company and set up a policy with yet another Insurance Expert named James. I felt like James was sitting at his switchboard phone snickering at some fantastic joke that I wasn't part of, playfully elbowing the ribs of his best friend who crouched beside his desk, trying not to burst out laughing. James was a bad actor and he was giving the performance of a lifetime.

“Wow! Look at this rate! You must have the best rate in the whole state of New York! I want to live where you live and get an excellent rate like this. I mean, you’re a new driver, you’re only twenty-three years old, and you’re getting this great rate! And the rate that I’m going to give you is only thirty dollars more than the rate you got online! Wow! You must be so happy with this rate.”

I found myself laughing out loud at him. I felt like I was walking into a scam, but I guess that’s how one always feels when purchasing insurance.

“Listen Brittany, you seem like a smart girl. I mean, you’re buying your insurance from us. So just bear with me while I read you these terms and conditions…”

Finally. I got my insurance, I registered my vehicle, and now Nina the Car is in my clumsy hands forever. Then the check engine light turned on, but that is another story for another day.