Insurance brokering, and brokering in general, isn't a new idea but the internet has certainly seen it come into its own, with a host of comparison websites making enough money to keep their adverts on your TV every hour of the day.

In basic terms, comparison websites automatically sift through a database full of deals based on your details, meaning you can see a custom grid of prices for insurance, credit cards, energy prices and more, without having to do any of the hard work yourself. If you'll excuse the reference, it should be 'simples' to get the best price.

You might think there's little money to be saved here. Why go through a third party, which skims a little off the top, when you could be paying the best company directly? Well, it's the brokerage principle in action.

These companies have their own leverage; your custom means they can campaign for better prices from the companies they promote. It is in your insurer's interest to give the best possible deal to comparison websites if it means they are listed in top spot.

Bear in mind that the prices you're quoted are personal to you, just as the ones we were quoted are personal to us. For this test we checked out a quote for insurance on a rather old, well-loved car; with this and 10 years of no claims bonus, we'd expect a good deal.

We've picked the four market leaders - the four you've probably seen in between your favourite TV programmes - to see the range of prices quoted, and we'll be judging them on the quality of their results as well as the quality of their site interfaces. Don't compare anything before you've checked out our test results - we'll get you the best deal.

Go Compare

First impressions are that Go Compare's site design leaves a lot to be desired. While it's the same width and the same basic layout as the other sites on test here, it does some rather odd things with its targets.

Ten minutes spent clicking around, for example, left us with about 10 separate open windows, which isn't just annoying - it's confusing, too.

Go compare

There's an odd mix of information requirements. Look for energy prices, and Go Compare doesn't ask for an email address or a house number, just your post code. That's great. Look for car insurance and, ostensibly to pass the information direct to the insurer, Go Compare wants a full name, address and telephone number, before asking for any information about your car. That's not so great.

Yes, it's also not too strange, given the amount of information you need to give to get a quote in the first place, but once you're through the pages of required information, the option to stop Go Compare's marketing partners contacting you is hidden behind a link - very sneaky.

At the actual comparison screen, the results are shown in a very clear form, bucking the generally odd site design by being the best on show here (as long as you've got your glasses to hand - a few of the elements are very small in order to fit them in the form). Go Compare also equalled Compare the Market for the best car insurance quote we were offered, which is to its credit.

Go compare 2

This is a site that does a decent job, and covers a very wide range of markets, although we get the feeling it's concentrating more on shoe-horning its odious opera singer into adverts than keeping things up to date - the last 'expert tip' listed is almost a year old.

What's included?

Insurance: Car, home, motorbike, van, pet, life, travel, accident, business, caravan, gadget, health, holiday home, landlord, short term, student, tenant.

Protection: Income, loan, mortgage, payment, unemployment.

Money: Credit cards, loans, current accounts, savings, credit reports.

Travel: Airport parking, car hire, cruises, flights, holidays, hotels); motoring (breakdown cover, car hire, warranty, new cars.

Utilities: Broadband, gas and electricity, home phone, mobile phones, digital TV.

Verdict: 5/5

It might not be the most up-to-date site in the world, but we found Go Compare's results to be by far the best and most well presented - and the car insurance was the cheapest. That's what really counts in this game.

Compare the Market

There's no surprise to see that Compare the Market lives up to the billing given to it by its meerkat mascot - it's simple. It's the most simple, uncluttered site on offer, in fact.

There's no nonsense, and very little window dressing. Where some sites go for a bunch of features that really have no place on a comparison website, you're just straight in to the comparisons here.

Compare the market

This focus on simplicity doesn't always manifest itself in a particularly brilliant way, though. Sometimes it could do a bit more to help you through; unlike its competitors, Compare the market didn't offer any estimates as to our yearly consumption when running an energy test, and its multiple pages of information collection suggest that the site could be tightened up just slightly.

There are also a few very strange oddities that serve to throw you slightly; omit the 'www' from the address and you're sent to a holding page, for example, or click on the 'Compare the Meerkat' banner and nothing happens, because it's not hyperlinked. Yes, these are small things but they might be indicative of bigger problems under the hood.

We can't fault the comparison engine itself, which works through its results quickly and brought us our equal best car insurance estimate - same price, deal and insurer as with Go Compare. Your results may vary, of course.

The deals are, again, presented in a plain and simple style, although you do need to make a few clicks to find out everything you might want to know, so it's not perfect.

Compare the market 2

All in all, though, despite a few strange design choices, Compare the Market does a decent job.

What's included?

Insurance: Car, home, bike, scooter, van, caravan, accident, travel, pet, public liability, contents, buildings, tenants, landlord, student, flat, business, short term, shop, health, over 50s, gap, mobile phone, medical.

Protection: Payment, income, mortgage.

Money: Credit cards, mortgages, current accounts, savings, ISAs, personal loans.

Travel: Holidays, hotels, flights, car hire, airport parking.

Utilities: Broadband, gas and electricity, home phone, mobile phones, digital TV.

Verdict: 4/5

Equal best in terms of price results but the site is full of odd design niggles. What's more, Compare the Market has bombarded us with daily emails since starting this test. How rude!