Shopping for auto insurance probably isn’t a priority on your pandemic “to do” list. But spending a few hours collecting rates from insurers likely will pay off.

Most consumers stay with the same company year after year, assuming that steep discounts they get for their loyalty or not having any speeding tickets or accidents means they won’t find better pricing. That’s usually untrue. Although you might be getting a break from your current company, its competitors will also probably happily offer low prices to lure you away.

Nonprofit consumer group Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org compared prices charged by the Twin Cities area’s largest auto insurers and found that most area drivers will save $500 or more a year by making a better auto insurance choice. For the next month, Checkbook is offering free access to its ratings of auto insurance companies to Star Tribune readers via Checkbook.org/StarTribune/auto-insurance.

Here are the types of savings Checkbook found that are available to most area families:

• Checkbook’s illustrative couple with two cars living in southern Hennepin County with clean driving records would pay $1,200 per year with GEICO, $1,244 with Travelers, $1,290 with Western National or $1,327 with USAA, compared to more than $3,100 per year with Allstate and MetLife.

• If that couple lives in Anoka County and has a less-than-perfect driving record (one at-fault accident in the last five years), they’d pay $1,479 per year with USAA, $1,529 with the Hartford, $1,541 with American Family, and $1,574 with GEICO, compared to more than $4,000 per year with Esurance and more than $5,700 with Encompass.

• For a couple living in suburban Ramsey County with clean driving records adding a teenage son to their policy (gulp!), annual premiums are $2,169 with USAA, $2,311 with American Family, $2,455 with GEICO, or $2,526 with Progressive, compared to more than $5,000 per year with Allstate, Encompass, Esurance, and MetLife.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the largest U.S. insurance companies are giving their auto policyholders some form of relief, as changes in driving habits have resulted in fewer accidents and claims, which will save the insurance industry tens of billions of dollars. Don’t let news of one insurer’s refund stop you from shopping other companies, which may have lower rates.

You don’t have to wait until your current policy term expires to take advantage of the savings you’d get from a switch; your old insurer will refund the unused share of your premium.

You also don’t have to forsake service for a better rate. Checkbook asked insurance customers and auto body shops to rate insurers for their claims-handling service and found that some highly rated companies offer low rates.

Insurers increasingly are offering their best rates only to customers who meet criteria that have nothing to do with their driving histories. For example, most companies offer their lowest rates only to customers with excellent credit scores and who are college graduates and homeowners. And companies are increasingly using opaque methods to calculate rates. With most, your credit score and other information may matter more than your driving record.

You want to buy enough coverage to protect yourself — but not so much that you’re wasting money. Avoid common car-insurance mistakes by doing the following:

• Make sure you maintain the highest deductible amount with which you are comfortable.

• Be vigilant that your coverage doesn’t lapse.

• Consider dropping collision and comprehensive coverage when your car’s value drops below $3,000 or so.

• When shopping for coverage, find out how much more it will cost to raise limits beyond standard coverages. It is usually inexpensive to increase limits for liability coverage above standard amounts.

• Carefully consider the extras. Some optional coverages, like rental car reimbursement coverage, aren’t worth much, but companies charge a lot for them.

• For repairs, insist on using an auto body shop you trust — as long as it charges reasonable rates. At Checkbook.org, you will find ratings of area auto body shops.

Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. We are supported by consumers and take no money from the service providers we evaluate.