- Truck insurance carriers often offer rate specials, but be wary of a carrier that is 30-40 percent lower than the competition.
Don’t risk losing time and business by teaming with an agent and carrier that don’t know trucking
Federal law requires owner-operators have trucking-use liability insurance and some cargo insurance. Where you get that insurance will determine whether you operate successfully and remain financially secure in the event of an accident.
Many insurance agents say they offer trucking insurance, but unless they specialize in the business, you could end up in a precarious financial position if you don’t have the proper coverage. Finding one of the estimated 100 agencies nationwide that focus on trucking insurance is important for your business’ success and your peace of mind. Also know that, in the insurance world, trucking insurance is something of a high premium volume area, attractive to agencies that sometimes jump into and out of trucking insurance, which can be dangerous for insurers themselves if they don’t have industry knowledge.
“It’s more complex than an auto policy,” says Mike Miller, director of marketing for Progressive Commercial’s auto division, which includes trucking insurance. “There’s more regulation and federal filings and financial responsibility. If a company doesn’t understand those needs, you might think you have the right insurance, but if you’re pulled over or checked and don’t have the right forms and coverage, you could be out of business for a time and fined.”
In searching for a knowledgeable agent, be ready with a list of questions. Ask how long they’ve been handling trucking insurance. Ask about carriers they represent and the commodities they haul. Ask for customer references, and when you get those names, make sure you query them on how informed about trucking the agent is, what question-response and file-posting times can be expected and how the agent performed when presented with a claim. If the answers seem vague or lacking in information, the agent may not be experienced in trucking.
“I would ask the response time if I need to get verification of insurance to somebody [such as a broker],” says Bonnie Knoedler, secretary-treasurer at Sparks Insurance. “If you’re an owner-operator with your own authority, getting that certificate is life and death. You should hear a quick response to that.”
How agents and carriers respond to claims is crucial. Miller says you need to work with a company that has specialists who understand trucks and can get your rig fixed and back on the road quickly. “If you’re working with someone who doesn’t specialize in it, you could be out of business for weeks,” he says. “Not many owner-operators I know can take that.”
Learn the A.M. Best financial rating for the insurance carriers the agent represents. Some motor carriers or shippers will require a minimum rating of “A minus” or better, says Michael Oliver, senior vice president of 5 Star Specialty Programs, a managing agency and program administrator that represents insurance companies and distributes insurance products through retail agents. You should also visit the insurance carrier’s website to gauge how prominent trucking insurance ranks among its products.
Oliver says to inquire about specific coverages. If you’re going to be leased to a carrier, that company will probably provide the primary liability insurance, and you will be responsible for physical damage and collision insurance (the latter two not required by law). The question of who will provide the cargo insurance, which is required by law, will depend on who is responsible for the goods being transported. You will be responsible for non-trucking liability and occupational accident insurance.
“With liability and physical damage insurance, there are standard coverages from carrier to carrier,” Oliver says. “Cargo is where there are differences, such as restricted limits of liability, limits for specific goods, bills of lading and who is responsible.”
While you’re interviewing agents, you should notice how many questions they ask and how interested they are in you and your business. Knoedler says one caller complimented her on how many questions she asked during their conversation. “From a customer’s point of view, someone who doesn’t ask a lot of questions and is making a lot of assumptions may not be protecting your interests,” she says.
Miller adds that you should listen to see how an agent responds to trucking industry jargon. “When you’re talking about an MCS-90 endorsement (required of hazardous waste and materials transporters) and the person in the other end of the line doesn’t understand that lingo, that’s a pretty good sign [the agent’s not experienced in trucking].”