Just because you haven’t had any accidents or gotten any traffic tickets doesn’t mean that you won’t be hit with a big auto insurance rate increase. About half of the major auto insurers in the US have started raising rates by as much as 20% for trouble-free customers, even though their risk profiles have not increased. The insurers judge that those customers are unlikely to balk at the higher price. The process is called “price optimization.”

How it works: The insurer uses personal consumer data and statistical models to estimate how much of a price increase a policyholder might tolerate and how likely it is that the customer would respond to an increase by looking for lower-price coverage. About one-quarter of consumers never shop around for auto insurance and just accept an increase in premiums.

Although state regulators typically require auto insurers to file rate schedules that charge customers who have the same coverage and risk levels the same rates, companies have many ways of getting around those restrictions, and using price optimization is one way to increase their profits. What to do…

Avoid complimenting your insurer’s customer service agents. It sounds far-fetched, but one of the criteria used to identify customers who will accept higher premiums is whether you’ve written to upper management, spoken with a representative commending the company or praised the company on well-known social-networking sites. Other potential negatives: You never call the company with complaints, and you buy your insurance through an agent rather than online.

Comparison shop and find the same insurance coverage for less. If you find a lower price, use that as leverage to convince your insurer to pull back on a price increase, especially if you threaten to switch.

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