Which insurers deliver when it turns to custard?

By Phil Hanson

It's a bit late to find out only after the dull thud and sound of shattering glass that your insurance company's a dud.

So each year at this time the Motor Trade Association (MTA) carries out a national survey of more than 160 panelbeaters to find out how well insurers deliver in the time of need.

This year a specialist company, Medical Insurance, was again the best performer.

AMI Insurance was top among mainstream companies, closely followed by Vero/AMP Insurance.

Sixteen insurance companies were rated and the results are listed below (see 'How they rated').

The general public isn't able to enjoy the benefits of the country's car-claim top dog.

Medical Insurance is part of the Wellington-based Medical Assurance Society, a membership organisation mainly of medical professionals that's been in business for some 90 years and now has more than 22,000 members.

IAG NZ, which trades under the State, NZI and AMI brands, was the biggest mover, jumping into fourth position from seventh a year earlier.

Sureplan, FMG, Lumley and Toyota Insurance also placed above the industry average benchmark.

"It is interesting to note that the gap between the top insurer and bottom has decreased significantly," said Bob McCoy, the MTA's collision repair manager.

"This may indicate that insurers are working hard to build the relationships with collision repairers."

The repairers were asked to rank each insurer in efficiency of claims processing, financial and customer relationship management and to provide insight into such activities as claim completion times, fairness of assessment rates and labour rates, fairness of parts, paint and other margins.

McCoy commended insurers for "achieving good results" and said, "it's important that the safety of motor vehicles or occupant safety is not compromised by low level repair practices that are sometimes geared at keeping the cost of insurance claims down.

"Low repair estimates may compromise the use of the manufacturer repair specifications required to properly restore vehicles to pre-accident condition."

The MTA said feedback suggests repairers enjoy the personalised service that they have with AMI assessors. However, some respondents were concerned that "this relationship would soon cease" following IAG's acquisition of AMI.

Feedback also showed repairers are feeling the pressure of low labour rates, exacerbated by low parts margins and rising costs associated with running their businesses.

For those concerned about staying mobile while the damage gets fixed, the top five courtesy car schemes in the survey were offered, in order, by Pioneer, Toyota Insurance, Medical Insurance, Zurich and the National Auto Club.

How technology keeps us safer

Electronics and computer controls have been a big help keeping cars from panelbeaters.

However, most dings are still the result of human error, so the new-age safety aids are no substitute for driver skill and staying alert.

ABS braking, stability control, brake assist, roll mitigation, reversing cameras and trailer sway control are some features helping keep vehicles ding-free.

Cruise control that keeps your vehicle a predetermined distance from other traffic is gradually migrating down from expensive luxury cars, as are electronics that watch blind spots and warn when something's there.

Nissan's X-Trail SUV is the latest with a camera that keeps an eye on how close you are to a curb and damaging an expensive alloy rim. Other cars parallel park themselves.

General Motors is working on a system that uses smartphones to identify pedestrians and cyclists on congested streets or in poor visibility. It's based on technology that allows wi-fi devices to communicate directly with each other almost instantly from a radius of about 200m.

And German manufacturers have developed an in-car emergency brake system that warns a driver when a vehicle ahead stops suddenly, even if it's unseen on, say, a blind corner or over a hump.

How to avoid a claim

The aftermath of an accident - or crash, as government agencies want them known - is never a happy time no matter how good the insurance company.

Even when no injuries are involved, there's always hassle and heartache.

It's a cliche but it's true; defensive driving is the key to avoiding collisions.

Defensive driving simply means using good driving techniques. Here are some of them:

Stay calm: Accept small delays and inconveniences such as heavy traffic or staying behind a slower car. Give way to cars that are about to do something silly, even if you technically have right of way.

Belt up: A belt helps keep the driver in the seat, behind the wheel in difficult moments, allowing him or her to better control the vehicle. If that fails, the belt might be a lifesaver.

Watch the other guy: Advanced driving instructors often caution, "assume everyone else on the road is an idiot". Keep checking the rear-view mirror; one of those idiots might be tailgating or sliding out of control in your direction. You might just have time to do something about it.

Don't you tailgate: Keep a space bubble between your car and those around you. The bubble needs to be a bit wider than your car's stopping distance, whatever speed it's doing.

The bubble is your friend: A core technique taught by hazard avoidance instructors is keeping a space around your vehicle. For example, on multi-lane roads, don't drive alongside another vehicle unless overtaking.

Watch out in bad weather: Ice, snow, tarmac made greasy by fresh rain: all test a driver's skill and concentration. Heavy rain pounding on a windscreen can blind a driver as surely as sun-strike.

Keep the vehicle in good condition: How will your tired wiper blades cope with the pounding rain, above? Bald tyres, and even those that are just legal may be the final link in a chain of events that kills you. Losing control due to a worn steering or suspension component that breaks is not fun.

Don't drive drunk: If you like to down a few before driving home, get one of those interlock devices before the court orders it.

Watch the speed: The faster you go, the less time you have to react to a tricky situation. Are your reflexes up to it? Be honest.

Avoid distractions: The no texting, no chatting on the cellphone rules aren't just to inconvenience drivers. Fiddling with the sound, satnav, eating a hot pie or looking at what that person on the footpath is wearing are not good ideas either, even if not specifically banned by law.

Don't drive tired: Corners don't straighten themselves just because you've dozed off for a second.


1. Medical Insurance

2. AMI

3. Vero/AMP

4. IAG, NZI and State, up from seventh

5. Sureplan

6. FMG, down from fourth

7. Lumley, down from fifth

8. Toyota Insurance, up from 12th

9. Tower

10. National Auto Club

11. Zurich

12. Allianz, down from 10th

13. AA/SIS, up from last place

14. Pioneer

15. Ansvar, down from 13th

16. QBE, dropped from eighth

- Hamilton News

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