Although price should be your primary consideration when shopping for auto insurance, you’ll want to consider it in relation to the quality of service companies provide, especially their claims-handling service. Our auto insurance comparison tool shows you how area auto insurance companies stack up on price and quality.

Our Survey of Policyholders

We asked area consumers (primarily Checkbook and Consumer Reports subscribers) who had recently made auto insurance claims to rate their companies “inferior,” “adequate,” or “superior” on several elements of service. Our auto insurance comparison tool shows what percentage of policyholders rated each company “superior” on each survey question. Click here for a further description of our policyholder survey and other research methods and how to interpret them.

Our ratings reveal big differences in how customers rated companies. For “speed of claim payment,” for example, scores range from 57 percent for Palisades/High Point to more than 90 percent for Amica, Chubb, MetLife, and USAA.

Ratings from Auto Body Shops

We also asked area auto body shops to rate the insurers “poor,” “fair,” “good,” “very good,” or “excellent” on “treating their customers (car owners) fairly.” Our auto insurance comparison tool shows the percent of surveyed shops that rated each company “good,” “very good,” or “excellent,” and the number of ratings each company received.

Surveyed shops gave highest marks to Erie, Fireman’s Fund, and Travelers. Shops rated Ameriprise and Electric lowest.

Complaints

Another way to assess quality is to look at the number of complaints filed against each company with state regulators. While policyholders might rate a company less than “superior” if its deficiencies are minor, filing a formal complaint with a government regulatory agency presumably reflects serious dissatisfaction.

Our auto insurance comparison tool reports counts of private passenger auto insurance complaints filed in New Jersey during 2013 and 2014, and counts of complaints filed in Pennsylvania during 2012, 2013, and 2014, the most recent years for which data were available when we checked. For Pennsylvania, the counts are for all complaints filed; for New Jersey, the counts unfortunately are for only those complaints that the state determined were “valid”—in which it was determined the insurer broke a state or federal law. The problem: If you compare the counts of complaints filed in New Jersey vs. Pennsylvania, you’ll see that New Jersey clearly counts far too few complaints as “valid.” Checkbook is appealing a previous decision made by the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance to deny us complaint data for homeowners insurance. As we continue that appeal, we’ll also demand that the state release complete complaint data for auto insurance companies, and will report those data in our ratings tables when we get them.

The complaint rates we report take into account the fact that companies that do much more business than others are likely to incur more complaints. The complaint rates for New Jersey are calculated as the companies’ total number of complaints per 100,000 vehicles insured; for Pennsylvania, they are calculated as the total number of complaints per $10 million dollars in private passenger auto insurance premiums written.

Non-renewals and Terminations

You don’t want to sign on with an insurer that will terminate your coverage or jack up your rates if you get a speeding ticket or file a claim. Getting dropped by an insurer is at best inconvenient—most insurance companies charge very high rates to customers who had coverage terminated by other companies. At worst you’ll have to enroll in a special plan for high-risk drivers, which is the most costly option of all.

Laws in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania place restrictions on insurance companies for policy terminations. It is relatively easy in all three states to cancel a policy during the policy’s first 60 days while a company checks the accuracy of its policyholders’ applications. After that, termination is much more difficult. Even at the time of renewal, there are restraints and certain procedures that must be followed.

Our survey of policyholders asked them to rate their companies on “not unreasonably cutting coverage.” But because cancellations are fairly uncommon, we don’t recommend spending a lot more money to sign on with a company with a great cancellation record. Fortunately, because some of the lowest-priced companies also receive high ratings on our survey for termination practices, you shouldn’t have to.

Of course, even if a company doesn’t drop you it can still dramatically increase your premium in response to an accident or violation, forcing you to terminate on your own to find a lower-priced company. Our survey results for “not unreasonably raising premium” reveals big company-to-company variation.