As if rising gasoline costs weren't enough to dampen our love of the open road, auto insurance rates have been increasing steadily for about the past four years. But there's some good news for many of us -- rates are falling in many places, and overall, the growth rate is dropping. Last year alone, American auto insurance rates rose nearly 8%, on average, but this year's average increase is expected to be just 3.5%.

According to a New York Times article, "After nearly 25 years of rising auto insurance rates, prices leveled off in 1997 and 1998, then dipped to an average cost of $680 per car across the country in 1999 and 2000. But the insurers said costs began to get ahead of them again and they began raising prices to an average of $842 per car last year." Ouch.

Many insurers are cutting rates in some or all regions, but they're generally not doing so with a broad stroke. Instead, some are cutting rates for their better customers (those who manage to avoid accidents, speeding tickets, and claims) while raising them for those who cost them more. Some of the many insurers involved include GEICO, a unit of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A) (NYSE:BRK.B); USAA; Progressive (NYSE:PGR); Allstate (NYSE:ALL); and State Farm.

With gas prices so high, some people will rein in their driving, which will result in fewer accidents. This should help insurers pay out less and can help foster or maintain lower rates. But it's not just those factors -- or the goodness of insurers' hearts -- that's leading to cuts. Some observers see the moves as a preemptive defense against regulators looking with curiosity at insurers' recent rate hikes and significantly increased profitability.

The bottom line for us Fools is that we can probably soon reap major savings on our cars. With some easy online shopping, you may save yourself a bundle right now by finding a more attractive insurer for your beloved vehicle.

Learn more about the topic in our Insurance Center -- it's not the most exciting subject, but you can save yourself a lot of trouble and money by making sure you have the coverages you need. See what advice and experiences Fools are sharing on our Insurance discussion board, too -- we're offering a free trial of all our boards right now.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway.