Shop around for the best protection and value
Turn on your TV for five minutes and you'll probably see a commercial
for car insurance -- some of which are more entertaining than the shows they
interrupt. The reason there are so many ads is because it's very easy for
people to change car insurance companies; and when you do, they want you to
remember their jingle, spokesman, woman, or lizard.
And you absolutely should shop around for car insurance. What we've
learned in preparing this report is that once a company has you, they're more
than happy to raise your rates, a bit here and a bit there, or maybe even quite
a bit. They're hoping you won't notice, won't question, or they're relying on
inertia -- that you'll just sort of let things slide and stick with the status
quo. Car insurance companies also will not check your premiums on a regular
basis to see if changes in the industry or pricing algorithms (which happen with
surprising frequency) might result in a lower rate if applied to your
circumstances. That means you have to do your own homework.
At least once a year, at a minimum, experts say, you should get auto
insurance quotes. The ideal time to do so is shortly after a birthday, as your
age is an important factor in how much you are charged. If you find a lower
rate elsewhere, see if your current insurer will match it. Chances are that
they will. It costs you absolutely nothing but time, and with the plethora of
online quotes sites, it won't take much of that either.
There are a variety of factors that will determine what you pay for car
insurance, including where you live, your age, driving history, type of vehicle
and your credit score. You may also qualify for various discounts, or benefit
from bundling -- that is buying other policies from the same company, such as
home, renter's, boat, motorcycle, or life insurance.
This is the most basic kind of car insurance. If you're at fault in an
accident, this pays for the damage you do to others, both bodily and property.
All states require licensed car owners to carry some level of liability
A step up, collision insurance covers the cost to fix your own car after
an accident, but may not always be necessary if your car is fully paid for and
has a low resale value. You can save money if you can opt out of this, but you
can only do so if there's no lien on your car.
This will cover non-accident-related catastrophes, such as vehicle theft
or storm damage. It also covers lesser incidents, such as if a rock flies up
and breaks your windshield; however, if your policy has a high deductible, that
type of claim might not be worth filing.
Not everyone has insurance, even if they should. This type of policy can
protect you if you get into an accident with someone who has no insurance -- or
not enough -- and lacks the money to pay out of pocket.
and Personal-Injury Insurance
You may not need this if you have a really good medical insurance plan;
in that case, opting out will save you some money. However, if that's not the
case, opting for this benefit can pay for injuries sustained in an accident.
There are many extras you can purchase as well, often for very little, such
as reimbursement for a rental car while your vehicle sits in the shop, towing,
or roadside assistance. Of course, any of these will add to your annual
when looking for insurance
drivers, smaller companies may be a better bet. Policyholders say these companies offer a more personal approach than big
insurers, especially if you form a relationship with a local agent, and smaller
insurance companies often are rated more highly. However, many smaller insurers
only do business in certain states. They may also be pickier about their
policyholders, accepting only those with sterling driving records.
driving record isn't spotless, big companies are worth a look. National
insurance companies typically offer a wider variety of policies, so they can
take on riskier drivers -- though your rates will be higher than drivers with a
clean record. That last part is especially true of drivers that companies are
required to cover under state "assigned risk" programs, which secure
insurance coverage for anyone legally eligible to drive, even if they have a
very poor driving record.
in military families have additional options. A handful
of companies cater exclusively to active-duty military, veterans and their
families. Some insurers also offer coverage options and discounts exclusively
for servicemen and women. For instance, companies may offer breaks on rates
during deployments, saving you from canceling your insurance and creating a
lapse in coverage, which can make getting new insurance tricky.
Best Car Insurance Companies
Comparing auto insurance companies isn't quite like
looking at physical products, like vacuums, simply because there are so many
variables. Customer reviews aren't easy to come by, and many people only post
complaints, not compliments. However, J.D. Power and Associates conducts
several large satisfaction surveys that are helpful in choosing the best car
insurance companies. ConsumerReports.org has a similar survey-based roundup,
rating auto insurance companies on claims satisfaction, price and service.
Insure.com is the best, most recently updated source of consumer reviews. We
evaluated all of these resources to name the best auto insurance for a wide
range of consumers.
Hartford; Nationwide are tops in claims and shopping satisfaction
You won't see any clever commercials touting car
insurance on TV, but it rises to the top this year because it gets the best
reviews across the board from more than one expert source. In J.D. Power's two
car insurance surveys, Claims Satisfaction and Shopping, the Hartford is number
one in the first, and well above the industry average in the second. It ranks
particularly highly for the first notice of loss and service interaction factors.
The Hartford has a particularly wide range of policy option, including a
"rare" discount for electric vehicles. This offers auto insurance
shoppers a great opportunity to save money in more ways than is possible from
other car insurance companies. It's also one of only two car insurance
companies endorsed by the AARP and offers exceptional pricing and service to
the 50+ market. Insurance coverage offered by The Hartford is offered all 50
states. The one complaint we noted is that it can be almost impossible to
complete the claims process online. At Reviews.com, editors were consistently
stymied by the process and had to make a phone call to a live agent. However,
with the variety of discounts The Hartford offers, a knowledgeable agent may be
a plus, rather than a minus.
a close runner up to The Hartford in surveys, coming in second at Reviews.com
and with a score of 874 out of 100 at J.D. Power for claims satisfaction. It's
also just a tick above The Hartford at ConsumerReports.org, with a score of 83,
to The Hartford's 82. At Insure.com, it earns an overall score of 89 out of
100, with 88 percent saying they would recommend it, and 94 percent saying that
they were planning to renew.
Editors of Reviews.com say Nationwide scores slightly lower when it
comes to discounts, but just as well for both critical and unique coverage,
compared to The Hartford. It also offers pet injury coverage, which is only
offered by one other company, Progressive (which we discuss below). However,
Nationwide does not offer rental car coverage.
isn't always better
There are several smaller insurance companies that do very well in
surveys, but aren't always offered in all 50 states. Chief among these is Amica Mutual.
Customers say that the company provides excellent customer service and
low-hassle claims service. 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
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
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 above
average marks. In one owner survey, it gets very good ratings for claims
processing, price and service satisfaction -- although 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.
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 gets top 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. We discuss GEICO's military coverage options in more detail in the
GEICO also offers a wide variety of policy options and
discounts for non-military members, and the company earns solid financial
ratings. While GEICO offers a smattering of local agents -- and they get
lackluster reviews -- it does most of its business online and over the phone
and the company's phone representatives earn kudos for their solid customer
service. Service is also available 24/7.
Progressive is one car
insurance company that also does well in owner satisfaction surveys and with
experts. It's number three on NerdWallet.com's list of cheap car insurance
companies, behind only GEICO and State Farm. However, there are quite a few
options for discounts and they even provide injury coverage for your pets. Best
of all, for those on the tightest of budgets, 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.
Military families are often eligible for steep
No matter what insurer they choose,
military families should always ask whether they are eligible for any special
discounts or policy flexibility. Most companies have some sort of special plan
for military members, but some are much more user-friendly than others. For
example, some companies require more notice than others before deployment
benefits can kick in, and some make it fairly complex to fill out the necessary
For the best, most affordable and
flexible coverage for military families, check out the highly rated
military-only option first: , or the United Services Automobile
Association. USAA scores at or near the top of several car insurance
customer-satisfaction surveys, with policyholders reporting positive
experiences with claims, from the initial appraisal all the way through repair
and payout. They also get kudos for value for the money.
USAA car insurance plans are flexible
and there are several discounts available, customers say, and not just for
being in the military. While it fulfills a niche in the car insurance industry,
USAA retains a nationwide reach and strong financial ratings with most major
rating agencies. Potential customers should note that USAA only does business
online and over the phone, so those who want to build a close relationship with
an insurance agent may need to look elsewhere. However, customer service is
available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and USAA's phone representatives get
high marks for being helpful and knowledgeable. USAA is also a membership-based
insurance company, and members get cash rebates in years when claim payouts are
low. Most insurance companies offer only coverage for your money -- if you
never make a claim, you never get anything back for that payout.
USAA makes repairs easy, maintaining a
list of approved repair shops -- although customers can still opt for their own
choice, as required by law. For an additional fee, roadside assistance, rental
car and towing coverage are all available. Unlike most insurance companies,
USAA works with their own financing network to offer competitive loan rates and
discounts on auto purchases for military members.
Another option worth a look for
military families is GEICO, our top pick for cheap car insurance. One of the largest
insurers in the country, and, as noted earlier, initially formed as a subset of
a larger insurance conglomerate to service government employees, GEICO boasts a
special military program that offers lower rates and special policy flexibility
for servicemen and women, including an overseas insurance program for those who
are touring or stationed abroad and an emergency deployment discount.
Some experts say that military members
are actually better off with direct writers, such as USAA or GEICO, rather than
agent-based auto insurance for two reasons. First, since military members move
a lot, you need to continually sever your ties with one agent in one locality
and then find another elsewhere. In addition, military insurance experts point
out, agents often earn a commission that may result in higher overall rates for
In addition, as with any type of insurance, you may get better rates if
you bundle your car, home and life insurance, and both USAA and GEICO, either
on their own or in partnership with another company, offer a full range of
other types of insurance.
If you have a poor driving record, look to a
larger car insurance company
Many of the top insurance companies
are pretty picky about who they insure. You may be denied direct coverage for
some or all of the following: A poor driving record, a unique, high-performance
vehicle, geography (if you live in a high crime area), your age and the amount
of driving experience you have.
The good news is that drivers who are
in a higher risk category may have the best luck with large companies, and certainly fits the bill: It's the biggest car insurer in the nation
with more than 18 percent of the market, according to Insure.com. Its size
means that State Farm can offer a very wide variety of policies and discounts.
Those looking for a more personal car-insurance experience shouldn't write off
State Farm because it's huge, though; the company has a large network of agents
nationwide for face-to-face service, and those get great reviews for their
knowledgeable and helpful and service. In fact, although direct-service
insurance companies can usually offer lower rates, experts say a good agent may
be able to maximize your good qualities to help ease your rates down a bit more
than an impersonal, online agent would.
State Farm fares better in
customer-satisfaction surveys than many of its large competitors, with
policyholders reporting solid experiences with claims. State Farm has strong
financial ratings, too.
Progressive offers another solid
option for risky drivers. It also maintains an extensive network of local
agents and offers a wide range of plans and discounts. Financial ratings are
solid. Progressive touts its "concierge level" claims service,
although customers report decidedly mixed feelings about their experiences.
One more large company worth a look is
GEICO. Like State Farm and Progressive, GEICO is big enough to offer enough
flexible plans to cover all types of drivers, and it has solid financial
Specialized safety programs are available for
There are few life events more
terrifying than putting the car keys into the hands of your beloved teenaged
son or daughter. According to the CDC, motor vehicle crashes are the leading
cause of deaths for U.S. teens. However, they also point out that most of these
accidents are preventable, and ongoing education in safe driving practices is
the way to do so.
That is why we really like Esurance DriveSafe (Free to existing customers), a teen-oriented safety program we wish was around when we were
the nervous parents of newly minted drivers. It's only available to parents who
already are insured through Esurance; but
it's free to them. The DriveSafe programs is a combination of a telematics
device that tracks your teen's driving habits, and a Smart Phone app that will
send you alerts if they are engaging in risky driving behavior, like speeding,
driving past curfew, accelerating unsafely or other unsafe practices.
The DriveSafe program is not like
other driver-tracking devices in that it won't affect your insurance rates (or
your teen's) one way or the other; rather, if offers an ongoing monitoring for
parents to put their minds at ease, while being a very big incentive for the
teenage driver to drive in a safe, responsible manner. The tradeoff, of course,
is privacy and the indignation your son or daughter may feel when mom and dad
decide they need to be "tracked." Those are issues that each family
has to settle according to its own rules and dynamics; but if you want a higher
level of control in those first years or months your teen is behind the wheel,
this is the program to provide it.
Having said all that, there still is
the reality that teenage drivers need insurance and, because they're considered
high risk, it's relatively pricey. If your current insurer will add your
teenager to your policy, rates will likely be considerably lower -- they can
always reimburse you. There are no companies we found that are better or worse,
rate-wise, when it comes to teen drivers, but larger, direct-sale companies
like Esurance and GEICO might possibly be new-driver friendlier. In addition,
virtually all companies offer good student discounts, which can provide an
additional incentive for a new driver to hit the books.
Expert & User Review Sources
There are plenty of solid roundups for auto
insurance, most based upon customer satisfaction surveys, including ConsumerReports.org (which
is available by subscription only), J.D. Power and Associates and Insure.com.
Others are based upon evaluations by knowledgeable experts, such as those at NerdWallet.com and Reviews.com. Unlike other products we review, there are no specific
customer review sites for car insurance companies, but all of the surveys we
evaluated were based upon owner experience and input.