The Best Auto Insurance
Best Overall — The Hartford
The Hartford ranked second-highest for claims satisfaction in J.D. Power’s 2016 study with a score of 891 out of 950. (USAA ranked number one with a score of 895, but we couldn’t make it a top pick due to its military-only eligibility requirements.) The study involved over 12,000 recent claimants, but excluded those whose vehicles were stolen, incurred only glass damage, and those who “only filed a roadside assistance claim.” When you break that down, it means that out of all the people who sustained substantial damage to their vehicle, The Hartford’s customers were the happiest.
The Hartford falls behind Nationwide with regard to GAP insurance, but bests its main competitor with new car replacement, stacked uninsured motorist, and rental car coverages. Stacking uninsured motorist coverage isn’t legal in every state, but those who can take advantage of it can increase their levels of underinsured or uninsured motorist coverages with minimal cost. If you live in a state that forbids having UM/UIM coverages that are higher than your liability coverage, stacking allows you to increase your UM/UIM without having to buy more liability.
The Hartford offered all but two of the 16 different discount types we looked for, including a rare discount for those who drive electric vehicles. No other nationally available insurer offers more discounts, except for Progressive (which didn’t make it into our list of finalists due to subpar financial strength ratings). The two discounts it doesn’t offer are loyalty and military.
If The Hartford has an Achilles’ heel, it would be the online quote process. We tried over a dozen different approaches, but were always met with, “We are unable to process your insurance transaction online. In order to finish your quote, please contact us by phone.” Truth be told, it kinda feels like The Hartford never intended to give a full quote online at all, which we’d consider a misleading way to generate leads.
Runner-Up — Nationwide
Nationwide has the third-highest J.D. Power satisfaction ratings in the nation (behind USAA and The Hartford), and that’s mainly why it’s our Runner-Up pick. Amica is the only other company we reviewed that landed in J.D. Power’s top echelon, but it didn’t have the financial strength to knock Nationwide off the second-place pedestal. Nationwide’s financial stability ratings (an A+ from A.M. Best and S&P) are right on par with The Hartford. Any of our five finalists will be able to pay your claim without breaking a sweat, but having top marks in both claims and financial strength is commendable in our book.
A Note on Rental Car Coverage
Most personal auto policies automatically include collision coverage for rentals, so make sure to check with your current provider before handing out more cash for a useless coverage. You might also have inherent liability coverage through your homeowner’s policy, or even your credit card, so check there as well.
Nationwide is also the only auto insurance provider aside from Progressive that offers “Pet Injury Coverage.” So if Whiskers sustains a broken leg after someone rear-ends your car at a stoplight, you won’t have to pay the vet bill out of pocket. You can also buy full-on pet health plans from Nationwide a la carte.
If you’re a frequent traveler, it’s important to note that Nationwide is one of only two countrywide insurers that does not offer rental car coverage. (The General is the other.) Yes, you can buy statutory minimum liability insurance from the rental company, but Neil Abrams, an auto rental consultant for Abrams Consulting Group, told US News and World Report that “in a significant event, that’s not going to do much for you.” He went on to say that in the technical sense, “it’s not insurance.” On top of that, rental car companies’ agreements are riddled with fine print, so the path with the least amount of stress is leaving that coverage up to your primary auto insurance provider. Unfortunately, Nationwide can’t provide it.
Nationwide customers also can’t take advantage of prepay discounts, low-mileage discounts, new car replacement coverage, or stacked uninsured motorist coverage. None of those are deal breakers by any means, but all are available from The Hartford.
Other Auto Insurance Companies to Consider
USAA only services members of the US military and certain family members, including:
- Active, retired, and honorably discharged officers and enlisted personnel.
- Cadets and midshipmen at US service academies, in advanced ROTC or on ROTC scholarship, plus officer candidates within 24 months of commissioning.
- Former USAA members who had auto or property insurance.
- Widows, widowers, and un-remarried former spouses of USAA members.
If you qualify for USAA, you should seriously consider it. Here’s why: It has the highest possible ratings from A.M. Best (A++) and Moody’s (Aaa), and the second-highest rating from Standard and Poor’s (AA+). On top of all that, it boasts the top claims satisfaction score from J.D. Power. To be clear, USAA is in a league of its own, and only disappointed us regarding two of our favored policy options: GAP insurance and a prepay discount. If not for the eligibility requirement, it would have been our top recommendation.
Allstate’s a really close competitor to The Hartford, but doesn’t offer nearly as many discounts. For example, Allstate doesn’t offer discounts on driving habits, family, multiple vehicle, organization, or electric vehicles. It does come out on top in the finance department, however, with a slightly better FSR rating from S&P, and it’s the only provider aside from Amica to offer interior vehicle coverage. This option protects against interior wear and tear, like ripped upholstery, which is different from damage covered by comprehensive insurance.
It’s also worth mentioning that Allstate’s quote process is the best in the business. Each step is broken down intuitively, making it easier for those who don’t have a great understanding of what auto insurance is or how it works. It’s also the only one of our finalists that lets you edit your policy from your smartphone.
Travelers has excellent financial standing (an “A++” from A.M. Best and a “Aa2” from Moody’s), and scored just above the industry average in J.D. Power’s claims satisfaction study. It offers all the basic coverages and discounts we were looking for, but a lack of customer support tools, including live chat, mobile quotes, tutorials, a knowledge base, and GPS functionality in the app, kept it from standing out. All of these things are helpful when filing a claim from your smartphone. Outside of USAA, it’s also the only insurer that offers a military discount.
Amica didn’t pass our financial strength filter: It has excellent marks from A.M. Best, but it returns no ratings at all from S&P, Moody’s, or Fitch. That left us scratching our heads, but it doesn’t mean Amica isn’t worthy of consideration. It has the same J.D. Power claims satisfaction score as Nationwide. What’s lacking, however, are a few common discounts (including prepay and low mileage) and a policy management dashboard like The Hartford and Nationwide, which means you have to speak with an agent to edit your policy. Another minor miss for Amica is in the payments department: Customers are required to make payments online; you can’t mail them in or pay them by phone.