If you've paid an auto insurance premium lately, you know the cost of covering your wheels has been going up. And if you've been reading all those stories about outraged California motorists, you know you're lucky to live in Utah . . . your car insurance rates could be worse.

Even so, there are a number of things you can do right now to cut the price of your insurance coverage, says David H. Crocker, spokesman for the Western Insurance Information Service (WIIS) a non-profit group that serves consumers and insurers in Utah and nine other western states.For example, says Crocker, consider the insurability of a vehicle before you buy it. Insurance premiums are usually much higher for high-performance vehicles and sports cars as well as models that have a loss history of high collision or bodily injury claims, are favorite targets of thieves, or require expensive repairs and parts.

To get that information, loss data for 200 makes and models is available in the Highway Loss Data Institute composite chart, compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Publications Department, Watergate 600, Suite 300, Washington D.C. 20037.

Another obvious ploy, albeit often overlooked, says Crocker, is to shop around for insurance. It's a competitive business and if you have a good driving record, you might be in a position to save money by changing insurers. (But don't let your present policy lapse until you have been accepted by another company.)

Here are some other tips from WIIS:

- Put higher deductibles on your coverage for collision, fire and theft. A deductible of $500 instead of $100 or $200 will save money. Insurance, says Crocker, was designed to compensate you for large losses, not for the small losses everyone encounters in life.

- Take advantage of discounts many companies offer for good drivers, car poolers, non-drinkers and non-smokers, graduates of driver education programs, mature drivers, sole female drivers, credits for insuring both home and car with the company, multi-car discounts and for having anti-theft devices on your car.

- Consider discontinuing your collision insurance on an old car and carry the risk of collision loss yourself. If your car is badly damaged, a deduction may be allowed as a casualty loss on your federal income tax.

- Keep your car longer. Rates are higher on new cars.

- Don't drive after drinking, and don't let your friends do it either.

- Don't cheat your auto repair shop. If you conspire to inflate the cost of your repair and pass it on to the insurance company, all policyholders will suffer.

- Seek compensation, not reward from insurance. Excessive claims and awards that go far beyond fair compensation for the injury or damage, says Crocker, end up costing all consumers more money.

- Support efforts to make replacement auto parts more affordable. When car repairs are needed, consider the use of competitive parts that are of the same quality as the manufacturer's parts. This, he says, encourages free market competition and helps control rising repair costs.

- Lock your car.