If you’re going to buy a car, you’ll need to buy auto insurance. There are three different way to buy auto insurance: You can buy online, work directly with an insurance company or find a broker who can help you decide among multiple insurers.

Choosing the right company and the right policy for the right price can be a challenge, but it’s important to think through your auto insurance needs before you need to make a purchase decision.

“Many companies sell insurance policies and prices vary greatly from one to another, so it really pays to shop around,” said Loretta Worters, vice president at the Insurance Information Institute.

She recommends getting at least three price quotes from companies, agents and online. If you currently have insurance, see if your company offers auto insurance at a discounted rate. Also check with family and friends about their insurance and see if they have any recommendations.

No matter which type of insurance you decide on, be sure the company is reputable by checking with ratings companies or the Better Business Bureau, licensed for your state and available for questions or if you need to file a claim.

Online Insurance

Online insurance is fast, easy and usually the cheapest option. You can complete the sign-up process in a few minutes online and immediately print an insurance card. You don’t even have to step outside your front door before you’re insured.

But there are some drawbacks. While you will have to put some personal information online to even shop for quotes, if you choose an online insurer you have to put a significant amount of personal information online, including your social security number. So make sure you’re working with a reputable company to limit the potential for identify theft.

Customer service can be slower and more difficult with online insurance. If you have questions or need to file a claim, you’ll have to deal with an impersonal call center. That can add another headache to dealing with a car accident.

Insurance Agents

Agents typically represent one insurance company and have a local presence, although there are independent insurance companies that work with a variety of different insurers and work with you to find the right insurer to meet your specific needs (see below for details).

You can find agents online, but the best thing to do is ask your friends for a referral to someone with whom they’ve had a good experience.

You can start building a quote over the phone, or go into a local office to sit down and really hash out a policy. You might pay more than if you purchased an auto insurance policy online, but having an agent sitting in front of you will clarify any questions you have about your policy and tell you about any discounts you may qualify for. They offer more handholding if you need to file a claim as well.

Remember that an insurance agent is also a salesperson. So if you go in person, be prepared for a sales pitch. An agent may try to push more coverage on you than you need. Don’t let them talk you into something you don’t understand or need.

Independent Insurance Brokers

Insurance brokers navigate your insurance options for you. They will provide you with quotes from various companies and craft a policy that works best for you. They basically do your quote shopping for you and can sometimes find the best rates, saving you time and money. However, they may charge a fee or commission for their work. Insurance brokers are also salespeople, so they may try to upsell your policy.

If you find an insurance carrier and agent or broker you can trust, you are much more likely to wind up with a good policy that will protect you.