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The mistake doubling your auto insurance premiums

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Saving on car insurance

When was the last time you shopped for auto insurance? There's a good chance you're overpaying.

Insurance experts typically recommend shopping for a new policy every year or so—and maybe more frequently if you see a big rate jump when it's up for renewal. But few people do. 

A 2012 Deloitte survey found that 24 percent of people "never" shop for insurance alternatives, and another 34 percent "rarely" do. Only 18 percent shop their policy annually. 

"We have a combination of fear and boredom," said J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of America. Shoppers recognize the importance of shopping around, but it can be a daunting task.

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That inertia is expensive, however. Prices can vary by more than 100 percent from one company to the next, said Hunter. Savings can run several hundred dollars—or more. A CFA study released Monday found that in 9 percent of 1,377 lower-income ZIP codes studied, the average premium quoted for the minimum, state-required coverage was $2,000 or more. But in 14 percent of zip codes, at least one insurer quoted a price above $3,000. 

The average policyholder is overpaying by $368 a year, according to a 2013 NerdWallet.com study. (See chart below for some of the most and least expensive metro areas, by average insurance rate.)

Priciest cities for car insurance GRANT 20140919 EC

Metro area Compared to $797 national average
"Detroit-Warren-Ann Arbor MI"165% higher
"New York-Newark NY-NJ-CT-PA"36% higher
"Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Port St. Lucie FL"34% higher
"Los Angeles-Long Beach CA"25% higher
"Atlanta-Athens GA"17% higher
"Chicago-Naperville IL-IN-WI"16% lower
"St. Louis-St. Charles-Farmington MO-IL"18% lower
"Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton Pa-OH-WV"24% lower
"Cleveland-Akron-Canton OH"31% lower
"Charlotte-Concord NC-SC"43% lower

To make shopping around easier, start by visiting the web site of your state insurance commissioner. They often have consumer guides to finding a good policy, as well details on typical pricing and complaints for individual insurers, said Hunter. That can help you narrow a search down to three well-reviewed companies with good rates, to follow up with for a more detailed quote. 

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Be sure to let your current insurer know you're shopping around, too. "They may have options to put you into lower prices," he said.

—By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant

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