Editor's note: This article first appeared on Insurance.comand is reprinted here with their permission. Click here for the original post.

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If you're looking for the best car insurance rates, a 40 percentdiscount for good students or a 25 percent discount for having morethan one policy with the same insurer will probably catch yourattention. But when you read the fine print, you may find limits onthose eye-opening discounts.

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Insurers tend to use such phrases as “save up to 25 percent,”but you may save far less on your car insurance premiums than youinitially thought.

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Using terms like “up to” and “could save” provide lots of leewayfor insurance companies. “What does it actually mean forconsumers?” asks John Breyault, a vice president at the NationalConsumers League.

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Because the information is so vague, “it makes it very difficultto compare discounts from different insurance providers,” Breyaultsays.

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“Insurance discounts aren't like sale items at the departmentstore, where items can be marked 50 percent off, but the originalprice might have been inflated to begin with,” says LynneMcChristian, Florida representative for the Insurance InformationInstitute. “Too deep of a discount to one driver would mean anotherdriver would have to pay too much. That's why individual drivingbehavior is the key factor affecting what people pay.”

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Despite the complexities of car insurance rates and discounts,everyone loves a bargain. But seeking out all the discounts you'reeligible for could be very time-consuming, Breyault says. “You'releft to do all the legwork.” (See “Cheapercar insurance in 8 easy steps.”)

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To help, here are 12 secrets about auto insurance discounts.

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Discount computer key

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1. 'Up to 20 percent' may mean much less

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Phrases like “up to 20 percent off” don't mean you'll get theentire discount. You might be eligible for a certain discount, butnot the maximum available. And discounts can vary by state and byinsurer, says Penny Gusner, consumer analyst for Insure.com. Oneinsurer may offer a 25 percent discount, while another insurer mayoffer only a 10 percent discount for the same thing. “This givesinsurers wiggle room so they don't have to give out exact discountpercentages,” says Gusner.

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car insurance discounts

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2. Discounts may apply only to a specificcoverage

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While car insurance companies advertise substantial discounts,they may not apply to your entire bill. For example, Geico offersbig discounts for air bags — but that only applies to the medicalpayment or personal injury part of your auto insurance. Itsanti-theft system discount applies to the comprehensive part ofyour premium — but many owners of older vehicles drop comp andcollision coverage to reduce premiums.

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car safety backup camera display

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3. Safety-feature discounts are outdated

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You might be drawn to a vehicle with the latestsafety technology, but your insurance company may not rewardyou for it. Discounts for devices such as air bags and anti-lockbrakes are the norm. But you may not get a break for more advancedfeatures, such as electronic stability control and blind spotmonitoring systems, says Ratnesh Singh, a vice president atQuadrant Information Services, though he predicts they're in theworks. “As companies update their rating plans for new devicesystems, they'll build in the discounts.”

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state law auto insurance discount mandate

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4. Some discounts are mandated by statelaws

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Your insurance company might not tell you about mandateddiscounts, so do your own research. In New York, for instance,drivers who complete a DMV-approved, accident-prevention coursereceive a 10 percent reduction, for three years, off theirliability and collision premiums. In California, state law mandatesthat drivers meeting certain safe driving criteria be charged atleast 20 percent less than unqualified drivers at the sameinsurance company. Still other states require discounts for seniordrivers who complete accident-prevention courses.

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give and take road sign

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5. They giveth discounts, and taketh away

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You might get one discount and lose another one. Singh says ifyou qualify for both a resident student discount — which typicallymeans you live at least 100 miles from home — and a good studentdiscount, which means your grade point average is above 3.0, youmight only get the good student discount. With Progressive'sSnapshot, the company's website says in some cases signing up forSnapshot “will slightly decrease” discounts for paying your bill infull or paying by electronic funds transfer.

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police officer writing traffic ticket

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6. Safe driving discounts don't lastforever

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If you've earned a safe driver discount and are ticketed for amoving violation, you could face a double whammy, Gusner says. Notonly could you lose your discount, your auto insurer also mightjack up your rates at renewal time. According to Nationwide'swebsite, “those citations could raise your rates and wipe out anysavings you might obtain from any safe driving discount.”

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computer keyboard now and later keys

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7. Some discounts aren't effectiveright away

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Companies with usage-based insurance programs cite substantialsavings, but you'll likely have to wait for those savings to kickin. Allstate's Drivewise program offers you a 10 percent discountwhen you sign up. But you aren't eligible for the top discount of30 percent till your policy renews. (See “Pay-as-you-drivediscounts: A guide.”)

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auto insurance agent talking to couple

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8. Discounts aren't automatic — you'll have toask

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Don't assume your agent or insurer has applied all the availablediscounts. Ask to review discounts you might be eligible for and besure to get details — knowing the fine print matters. For instance,your insurer may offer discounts for anti-theft devices, but youneed to know which anti-theft equipment qualifies, what thediscounts are and to what coverage they apply.

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house with 2 cars in driveway

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9. Renters typically get smaller 'bundling'deals

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Insurance companies typically offer a bundlingdiscount if you insure multiple vehicles, or if you haveyour auto insurance and homeowners or renters insurance with them.But Singh says renters generally receive a smaller discount thanhomeowners.

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selecting auto insurance

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10. Switching insurers may earn a new customerdiscount

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Switching your car insurance to another company can earn you adiscount, but don't wait till the last minute. Gusner says you'lltypically need to start shopping for a new policy about two weeksbefore your current policy expires in order to get the discountfrom your new insurer. Examples of new customer discounts are“Switch and Save,” offered by Esurance, and “EarlyBird Discount”from American Family Insurance. (See “Howto switch car insurance companies.”)

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car insurance discount caps

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11. There are often caps on discountamounts

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Some auto insurers will limit the amount of your discount forcertain coverage, says Singh. So, for example, if you have a lot ofsafety features such as automated seatbelts, an anti-lock brakingsystem and air bags, your insurer may limit the total discount tono more than 40 percent off personal injury protectioncoverage.

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man making phone call after traffic accident

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12. Drivers with flaws can't get somediscounts

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Drivers with good credit and clean driving records typically get“preferred” or “standard” auto insurance policies. Those who don'tqualify for standard rates usually must buy nonstandard policies,which are designed for high-risk drivers. These policies generallywill not offer any type of discount or price breaks such asvanishing deductibles or accident forgiveness, says Gusner.

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Related: The 7 hidden costs of 'cheap' car insurance

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