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 to more than 90 percent for Amica 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 CSAA, Mercury, Travelers, and USAA. Shops rated Encompass, GEICO, Infinity, and Progressive 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 the number of “justified” private passenger auto insurance complaints filed with the California Department of Insurance during 2012, 2013, and 2014, the most recent years for which data were available when we checked. “Justified” complaints meet certain criteria established by the California Code of Regulations and usually involve an insurer acting against insurance regulations or in some way breaching the insurance contract. We also report a “justified” complaint rate for each company, which takes into account the fact that companies that do much more business than others are likely to incur more complaints. It is calculated as the number of justified complaints per 100,000 “exposures,” which is generally defined by the Department as vehicles covered by the company.

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.

California laws place restrictions on insurance companies for policy terminations. The state allows cancellation or non-renewal in cases of fraud/misrepresentation, non-payment of premium, suspension or revocation of license or registration, or substantial increase in the hazard insured against. An insurer may not non-renew coverage solely based on age or the fact that there is an outstanding claim on the policy.