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 54 percent to more than 90 percent.

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 Auto-Owners, Chubb, West Bend Mutual, and Western National. Shops rated Allstate, Encompass, and GEICO 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 with the Minnesota Department of Commerce during 2012, 2013, and 2014, the most recent years for which data were available when we checked. It also reports a “complaint rate,” 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 complaints per $10 million 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.

Minnesota laws place restrictions on insurance companies for policy terminations and non-renewals. With regard to cancellation, the law allows relatively easy termination during the first 59 days of a policy while a company checks the accuracy of its policyholders’ applications. Termination is then very difficult until the end of the “policy period.” Minnesota law allows for termination only under certain serious circumstances, such as non-payment of premium, misrepresentation, fraud or false claim, failure to report any accidents/violations that occurred during the last three years, failure to disclose involvement in a lawsuit, failure to cooperate in a claims investigation, failure to identify other household members who will be covered, health problems that affect driving ability, or changes in the insured vehicle that make it unsafe.

But the restraints are much looser with regard to non-renewal. The company may non-renew your policy for any of the reasons stated in the previous paragraph. Other circumstances that allow for non-renewal include failure to provide underwriting information as requested, termination of the insurer’s contract with the policyholder’s agent (unless the driver is over age 65), and accumulation of “points” (from traffic violations). The insurer may not base termination or non-renewal solely on credit report information.

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.