Thinking about shopping your auto insurance? A huge percent of people never shop their insurance needs — and that’s a bad idea considering that modern American business punishes loyalty, rather than rewarding it.
Car insurance ads on TV promise accident forgiveness, vanishing deductibles and other selling points. But those features are just a side show to the main act, which is a company’s reputation with satisfying customers after a claim is made.
Best and worst auto insurers
Consumer Reports took a look at the auto insurance industry by surveying more than 64,000 readers about their satisfaction on the claims process, the cost of premiums and the overall customer experience.
Here are the winners and losers, according to the magazine:
10 top-rated insurers
(#1 is best)
- Amica Insurance
- New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company
- USAA Property & Casualty
- Auto Club Group
- Erie Insurance Group
- PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company
- Auto-Owners Insurance Group of Companies
- Auto Club Enterprises Insurance Group
- Travelers Group
10 lowest-rated insurers
(#1 is worst)
- MAPFRE North America Group
- MetLife Auto & Home Group
- Mercury General Group
- Progressive Insurance Group
- Liberty Mutual Insurance Companies
- Nationwide Group
- Farmers Insurance
- Berkshire Hathaway Insurance Group (Geico)
- State Farm
When it comes to car insurance, be sure the deductible you have isn’t too low. Having a low deductible pushes premiums higher. It could also tempt you to make a claim for a small incident that will leave you in trouble with insurers going forward.
You never want to make a claim on auto insurance for something small — like a cracked windshield or a broken side-view mirror — because the consequences are so ugly.
The insurer can surcharge you for a number of years; eliminate the discounts you would otherwise qualify for; or put a black mark on your C.L.U.E. report, a little-known industry database of claims. The latter effectively limits your ability to shop with the competition for 36 months.
The hidden dark side of roadside assistance
Auto insurers are great about offering add-ons to your policy that seem in theory like great conveniences at a great price. But using these seemingly benign “benefits” could marginalize you in the insurance marketplace and result in jacked-up rates!
Some auto insurers that offer roadside assistance treat your use of it as an at-fault claim and put that through on your C.L.U.E. report — even though you only needed a tow or the fix or a flat tire!
“It’s the Wild West with no rules on what insurers can decide to report on your C.L.U.E. report,” money expert Clark Howard says. “And you have no right of appeal either.”
So here’s the # 1 rule about roadside assistance: Never get it from your own insurer. Get it from AAA or elsewhere.
Shopping around is the best way to get a lower rate
If your auto insurance is costing you too much, you’ve got to look around at other insurers. Here’s how to start the process…
Begin by identifying solid companies
Clark has long talked about the merits of Amica Mutual and USAA. But those aren’t the only two companies you should look at. Consider buying a one-time subscription to Consumer Reports and checking their latest list of the best auto insurance companies to find others that should make it onto your shortlist.
Get your quotes
Once you have a list of candidates, you’ll want to start getting quotes. This typically takes around 15 minutes on the phone per insurer. Have your most recent policy in front of you in case any questions come up about the make and model of your vehicle(s).
Working with an insurance broker is another option. He or she will get multiple quotes for you and you’ll have access to all the insurers they do business with. It’s an easy one-stop shop that lets you still have the flexibility of comparison pricing.
Once you get the quotes back, it’s time to compare them. Each quote should be based on the same amount of coverage so you can do an apples-to-apples comparison. What if a poorly ranked company offers you a great quote? Clark says to avoid them! While the premium might be tempting, you want to be sure your insurer is there for you when the chips are down.
Know when to drop comprehensive and collision
The general rule is when the cost of comp and collision exceeds 10% of your old vehicle’s value, that’s the time to dump it and just have liability coverage. You can determine your vehicle’s value at Edmunds.com, KBB.com or NADA.com.
So let’s take a simple example. Say your vehicle is worth $4,000. If you’re paying anything more than $400 annually (that’s 10% of $4,000) for comp and collision, it no longer makes any financial sense. One notable exception to this rule: If there’s no way you could financially cover the loss of your vehicle, forget the math and keep paying for comp and collision.
Be prepared to take a higher deductible
You should always opt for a $1,000 deductible for the best savings on your policy. At that level, you’ll pay a lower premium and won’t be tempted to file any small piddling claims.
Don’t forget about discounts!
There are a ton of different discounts out there. Here are some you can ask about:
- Antitheft devices
- Multiple policies with the same company
- College students living away from home
- Defensive driving courses
- Drivers ed courses
- Low annual mileage
- Long-time customer
- More than one car
- No accidents in three years
- No moving violations in three years
- Student drivers with good grades