Each weekday, an estimated 3.5 million Americans leave home to embark on at least a 90-minute commute to work -- and that's just one way. By comparison, the average U.S. commute takes about 25 minutes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For many Americans, "extreme commutes" are necessary to hold down jobs and to hold down housing costs.
But those commutes of 90 minutes or more also can boost auto insurance premiums by roughly 10 percent.
Drive more, pay more
In addition to causing more wear and tear on your car, extreme commutes increase your risk of getting into an auto accident, says Loretta Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute. More miles on the road mean more of a likelihood of being in a crash. So a driver who logs 25,000 miles a year is at greater risk than someone who logs 7,000 miles a year.
Generally, the more you drive, the more it costs in terms of insurance, says Jerry Farcone, president of Farcone Insurance Agency Inc. in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
"Often, people don't realize the impact an extreme commute has on their insurance rates until they notify their insurance company," Farcone says.
Most insurance companies send you a form asking whether your driving habits have changed recently. If you've started driving longer distances to get to work and you note that on the form, you may see a bump in your premium.
However, ignoring the form and hoping for the best can work against you, according to Farcone. If you don't send back a response, your auto insurance company may use an average to compute your rates, which may result in your premiums going up or down. By contrast, if you've recently moved closer to work and now commute fewer miles, your premiums could decline if you report that to your insurer.
The length of time it takes you to reach work isn't considered -- only your actual mileage. So if you commute on a notoriously congested highway, it may take you an hour to drive a short distance, but only the actual miles driven are used in figuring your insurance rates. "Mileage is mileage," Farcone says. "It doesn't matter if it's freeway miles or stop-and-go city driving."
Kevin Alsup, vice president of insurance at Foundation Financial Group in Jacksonville, Fla., says extreme commutes raise your premiums by an average of 10 percent.
"A one-way commute of three miles or fewer is considered pleasure driving and does not affect your insurance rate. But rates steadily increase as mileage goes up until you hit 20 miles, which is usually the cut-off point where premium increases stop," Alsup says.
Surcharges start at three to nine miles (for a one-way commute), then another bump occurs between nine and 14 miles and yet another between 14 and 20 miles, Alsup says. "Basically, you pay additional surcharges for approximately every five miles you drive," he says.
If you're a sales representative or a real estate professional or are someone else who drives long distances to actually do your job, your personal auto insurance premiums could increase even more, Alsup says. However, many of these types of jobs provide car allowances than can help offset the higher premiums, he says.
'Extreme' insurance add-ons
In general, auto insurance for an adult with a clean driving record averages $850 to $900 a year, according to Worters. That number can fluctuate based on your age, where you live, the kind of car you drive, your credit score and other factors.
If you're an extreme commuter, you may want to consider extra coverage for situations that may crop up during your time on the road, Farcone says. Options vary from insurer to insurer but can include:
1. Towing coverage. Aside from towing services, this can coverage can come in handy if you're locked out of your car, you need help changing a tire or your car runs out of gas.
2. Rental car coverage. If your car winds up in the repair shop, you can continue your extreme commute in a rental car.
3. Glass buy-back option. This pays for repairing chips in your windshield caused by rocks kicked up by other vehicles.
Carpooling cuts costs
Alsup says the best way for extreme commuters to save money on premiums is through carpooling.
"If you can carpool and get your long commute down to fewer than three days a week, you can get a break on your premiums," Alsup says. "Otherwise, use public transportation or consider moving closer to work."
Most importantly, obey the speed limit and don't talk on your cellphone while driving, Alsup says. "Accidents and tickets add surcharges to your insurance premiums more than any commuting length," he says.