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It may seem like a wise, cost- saving move: adding roadside assistance coverage to your auto insurance policy. But a few flat tires or jump-starts could end up costing you in the end.

For as little as three to twelve dollars per six month policy period, your auto insurer will  reimburse you  or provide towing, jump- starts, tire changes, and lock out services.

The fee is considerably lower than the $50 or more that motorists pay for a motor club annual membership. But the savings may come with a catch.

Auto insurers may raise your rates, refuse coverage or drop your policy based on what they consider to be excessive road service claims.

Most auto insurers not only track roadside service claims, they in fact, report them to a national database run by ChoicePoint, a subsidiary of LexisNexis (Stock Quote: ENL).

The company through its Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (C.LU.E.) tracks tens of millions of auto accident claims, speeding tickets, and yes even flat tires, towing and various other road service claims reported by auto insurers.

‘’By providing immediate interactive information, C. L. U. E. Personal Auto helps insurers and agents make immediate business decisions,” says Fiona McCaul, the manager of media relations for LexisNexis. McCaul says the information is kept on the report for 7 years.

Every motorist has a C.L.U.E. report. Auto insurers can access the reports when deciding to offer new coverage or at renewal time.  The upshot of this is that road service claims can affect you negatively.

‘’I am surprised and shocked that auto insurers would penalize motorists for road service claims,” said Paul Stevens, director of Policy and Advocacy for the nonprofit Privacy Rights Project. ‘’What’s the nexus between getting a few flat tires and not being a good driver.’’
Actually, a lot, maintain auto insurers.

State Farm, the nation’s largest auto insurer, says a study of nearly two million policyholders in 2003 showed that motorists who received reimbursement for a road service call were 33 percent more likely to have a collision or comprehensive claim, such as auto theft, vandalism, etc. within the following three years. Those with two claims were 54 percent more likely, and those with three road service claims were 77 percent more likely to have another claim.

State Farm spokesman Dick Luedke says road service claims by themselves have no influence on State Farm’s decisions regarding its customers or potential customers.

But he said road service claims, when combined with other factors such as driving record, could make a difference in limited cases.
“The bottom line is that we are attempting to use all of the information available to us to measure auto insurance risk as precisely as we can,” he said.

He cited the hypothetical situation of a motorist with multiple accidents who also had multiple road service claims.  In that case, he said, the additional factor of the road service claims could influence State Farm’s decision to drop the customer. “It could be the tipping point,” he said.

Allstate (Stock Quote: ALL), the nation’s second largest auto insurer, has a similar policy.  It says in a small number of cases it uses excessive road service claims in conjunction with other factors to determine whether it covers someone or how much they are charged. Neither insurer, however, would detail their exact criteria in using such data.

There are a few insurers who do not report their road service data to ChoicePoint. One major insurer, Progressive, says it neither sends nor uses data from ChoicePoint.

Stephens says motorists may be better off joining an auto club like the AAA, or the Allstate Motor Club a subsidiary of Allstate. The auto clubs may charge more but they don’t report their data to ChoicePoint.

“It’s probably a safer choice, ‘’ he said.

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