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When it comes to car insurance, big isn't necessarily better

You won't see any clever commercials touting Amica Mutual on TV, but customers say that the company provides excellent customer service and low-hassle claims service. In fact, customers say the claims service is excellent, from appraisal to payout, which is a relief for those who have had to use it. The company also offers a rental car option, but reviews for that service are not quite as good. However, there are a wide range of options for rental car coverage, so paying more may offer better satisfaction.

Best auto insurance company

Amica Mutual
Amica Mutual

Amica Mutual offers policies in every state except Hawaii. Customers are happy with the variety of available plans and discounts, although some say it's pricier than other companies. Most policyholders say premiums are fair, but some report sudden rate hikes and we read some reports of policies going up a bit with each renewal -- an amount that eventually adds up. Amica Mutual may be a bit picky about who they insure and you might need to have a clean or nearly clean driving record in order to land a policy with them.

Another low-profile but highly rated insurer is Auto-Owners Insurance. Coverage is available in only 26 states, but customers say the company offers a smooth claims process and personable service through its extensive network of local agents. Policyholders also say they're mostly happy with premiums and the variety of available discounts, but some complain that plans aren't as flexible as those offered by competitors. Though 24-hour service is available, customers are expected to work with agents directly when they're available, a potential drawback depending on the type of service you prefer.

Like Amica Mutual and Auto-Owners, Erie Insurance typically flies under the radar. Customers report high levels of satisfaction with service and claims experiences. Erie also grabs the top spot in a national survey of customers' car insurance shopping experiences, with its local agents receiving particularly high marks. In one owner survey, it gets very good ratings for claims processing, but is slightly lower in value -- and some say it is pricier than other options. Erie offers some other impressive benefits that most other insurers charge extra for, such as transportation expenses after an accident, travel costs, personal property and locksmith services. In addition, Erie waives your deductible if you are in an accident with another Erie policy holder. However, the big drawback to Erie Insurance is that it only offers coverage in 11 states, mostly the mid-Atlantic and Midwest.

GEICO a leader in low-cost car insurance

Some of the highest-rated car insurance companies also tend to be pricier than others. If you're on a tight budget, there are a couple of other options that may save you some money. Among those, GEICO stands out in survey after survey for their low cost coverage options. Even people who would like more bells and whistles -- like in-person agents -- say they simply can't find a better rate than GEICO offers. However, in spite of its relatively sparse number of brick-and-mortar offices, GEICO has an excellent reputation for customer service and gets excellent marks for overall customer satisfaction in several auto-insurance consumer surveys. In addition to the standard discounts, GEICO also offers some of the best military and government discounts of any car insurance company. Which makes sense when you consider that GEICO (which stands for Government Employees Insurance Company) was originally created to insure government employees.

Progressive is not a low-cost insurer, per se; in fact, they get rather poor ratings for value and for customer service, which would normally keep us from recommending them at all. However, keeping in mind that owning car insurance is the law of the land, it behooves us to point out that Progressive has a program called Snapshot that can save you an impressive amount of money on your car insurance -- up to 30 percent -- but only if you're willing to give up some personal privacy. The "snapshot" is a small device you install in your vehicle that records your driving habits for 30 days. During that time, it gathers information from various factors, including when you drive, how much, how you brake, among others, to create an overall picture of your common driving habits. If you meet the safe driver requirements, you can earn up to that 30 percent discount. That could be a significant savings for those on the tightest of budgets. There are other companies that also offer similar tracking programs, but Progressive's was the first, and is reported to be a very good deal by those who have used it.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Reviewed Auto Insurance: These are the top car insurance companies, based upon surveys that measure customer satisfaction. We found the top options for every car, person and price range.

Best Auto Insurance for Military Families: Military families sacrifice a lot for their country, and these are the car insurance companies who go the extra mile to make their lives just a bit easier.

Best Car Insurance for Risky Drivers: You may be considered high risk based upon your driving history or where you live. These companies are willing to work with you even if some others won't.

Buying Guide: Shopping for car insurance can be like trying to steer an out-of-control car. We answer many of your questions and offer tips for shopping here.

Our Sources: These are the expert sources and customer reviews we used to determine the best auto insurance. They are ranked in order of their credibility and usefulness.

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