Editor's Note: This is the first article in a three-part series about commercial auto insurance. To read the next article in the series, click here.

As a business owner, your vehicles are the backbone that keeps your business up and running.

Just like you would never go on a job without the tools of your trade, you should never drive your business vehicles without the right insurance coverage.

Commercial auto insurance can seem complicated, but understanding what companies, coverages and services are available is the first step toward making better decisions for your business.

From deciding how to buy and choosing a company to knowing what coverages are right for you and tips for controlling costs, this three-part series seeks to answer all the questions you have about commercial auto insurance but didn't know who to ask.

The first step in buying the right commercial auto insurance policy for your business is learning to navigate all the different ways to buy, and deciding which way is right for you-online, over the phone or in-person?

While some business owners are comfortable buying policies directly from a company online or over the phone, others choose in-person counsel from an independent insurance agent.

Independent agents can offer multiple coverage packages, prices and service levels because they represent a variety of companies. And because your coverage requirements probably include a combination of auto, cargo, general liability, worker's comp, umbrella, etc.-they can put together a customized package specific to your needs.

Next, it's time to decide what company best fits your needs.

There are a lot of companies offering commercial auto coverage.  And while the some business's commercial auto insurance needs are simple, others are more complicated.  Here are five simple, but important questions to ask when making a decision about what company to buy from:

1. How long has the company offered commercial auto coverage? Are they experts in this field?

The longer a company has been offering commercial coverage, the more likely it is that they understand a wide variety of risks. This enables them to be confident in offering broader acceptance that provides protection for more drivers, business types and vehicle models.

As experts, your insurance company should offer a wide variety of commercial auto coverage that allow you to customize your insurance policy to fit your specific business needs. This ensures you get the exact commercial coverage you want without the extras you don't need. 

Talk to an independent agent about your business and your insurance needs to determine what insurance company or companies are right for you. Remember, independent agents represent multiple companies, so they are able to put together an insurance package that features best-in-breed insurance companies providing the specialized coverage you need.


2. Does the company offer specific options that meet my business needs?

To ensure that you can get the right amount of protection for your business, look for a company that offers coverage options designed to provide more protection to new and growing businesses and liability limits up to $1 million Combined Single Limit (CSL).

Look at the coverages offered by prospective carriers to be sure they can provide you with a customized package that meets all of your business needs.

3. How are claims handled?

There are many things to consider besides price when shopping for insurance.  To be profitable, you need to keep your business vehicles on the road, so choosing a carrier with responsive claims service is critical.


4. What payment plans does the company offer?

As we all know, in some months business is up, and in other months, it's down.  With that in mind, it's always helpful to find out what payment programs and options a commercial auto insurance company can offer.

Look for an insurer that not only has competitive rates, but multiple bill plans, low initial payments, as well as provides discounts for paying in full, having an anti-theft device and more. 

5. What options do I have in making changes to my policy or asking questions about it?

Does the company have customer service representatives ready to answer your questions when you have them?

And, can you manage your policy online-anytime, anywhere?  Will the company send you text messages of payment reminders if you want them? What about paperless billing and e-mail updates?

Confirm that your potential commercial auto insurer offers all these types of services.

Construction Business Owner, May 2008