Consumer Reports' auto insurance rankings show the little guy is the best guy (again)

Consumer Reports has conducted two recent surveys on the subject of auto insurance. The first was limited to CR subscribers, more than 40,000 of the magazine's readers providing nearly 50,000 responses on some aspect of their car insurance experience with 36 companies. The biggest takeaway is that giant ad spends work, but flooding the airwaves and fiber optic cables with commercials doesn't equate to the best customer experience. The insurers ranked in the top four, with scores above 80 out of 100, are USAA Group, NJM Insurance Group, Amica Mutual Group, and Erie Insurance Group. The first large, non-restrictive national insurer that everyone would know from 60-second spots is State Farm in 14th place.

Three of the four chart leaders limit their customer base. USAA isn't shy about its ad spend, either, but only sells policies to active duty military service members, veterans, and family members of veterans including children and some descendants. It was the only insurance company to ace the test, scoring five out of five in all seven categories: Premiums, claims, service, help & advice, policy review, coverage, and policy clarity. No other insurer scored the highest for policy review or policy clarity, which make sure customers understand the options and how customers would be covered.

New Jersey-based NJM Insurance followed in second place, its customer base limited to residents of Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Amica, out of Rhode Island, is the only one of the top four to sell nationwide, with Hawaii the sole state excluded from its rolls. This top three has locked out the podium in CR's auto insurance rankings since 2004. Erie Insurance Group in fourth this year will cover residents in 12 states between Wisconsin and Pennsylvania as well as Washington, D.C.

Among the big companies that might be known for quirky commercial characters, only State Farm and American Family Insurance Group (16th) ranked in the upper middle range of scores, from 61 to 80, both of them at the bottom of that range, however. In the lower middle range of scores from 41 to 60 come firms like Hartford Insurance Group, Auto Club Group (AAA), Travelers Group, Geico, Mercury, Nationwide, Farmers, Progressive, and Allstate.

Liberty Mutual comes in last on the list at 36th, tied at 40 points with Kemper PC Companies.

Despite the funds thrown at marketing, 37% of survey respondents cited price as the motivating factor for switching policies compared to 8% who noted advertising as a reason for shopping for a new policy. Part of that might be because shopping around isn't something people like to do. In a separate survey CR conducted with Ipsos, more than 25% of respondents had been with the same insurer for 15 years or more, just 15% of drivers claiming to have shopped policies in the previous five years.

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