What's wrong with the auto insurance industry in Masachusetts

In 2002 Ilyse was backing out of our driveway and hit a car parked directly opposite about three feet from the curb. There was no damage to our car but the dent in the other car’s door cost $1,250 (because it was an Audi).

With that accident, Amica immediately eliminated our $500 annual safe driver discount for the next SIX YEARS! So, for a claim on which they paid out $1,250, Amica is charging us an extra $3,000.

Massachusetts is the only state that regulates insurance rates. We are paying $2,568 per year for two cars in Watertown, each of which we drive less than 7,500 miles per year. There is something wrong with this.

An article in the Boston Globe in January reported

Romney has a task force working on sweeping proposals to overhaul the auto insurance system. He wants to attract national insurers to Massachusetts by reducing state regulation and letting insurers set premiums themselves.

The article also reports that meanwhile, the insurance industry is fighting changes and claiming that their rates aren’t high enough:

During the 1990s, companies sought to increase their market share by offering discounts of as much as 20 percent, but since 1999 the size of the discounts has steadily declined, along with the number of companies offering them. Auto insurers say the drop-off reflects an inadequate rate structure and an unfriendly regulatory climate.

While group discounts continue, officials at several companies said their ability to keep offering them may be jeopardized by changes recently approved by Romney's insurance commissioner in the way high-risk drivers are apportioned among companies. Many of those changes will not take effect until next year.

Commerce, the largest auto insurer operating in the state, with 28 percent of the market, has sued Insurance Commissioner Julianne M. Bowler to block the new rules.

I’m going to shop around

Plymouth Rock Assurance Co., of Boston, offers 10 percent discounts to members of the Conservation Law Foundation and the Massachusetts Audubon Society, while Premier Insurance, of Worcester, offers a 10 percent discount to employees of Boston University.

A list of approved group discounts is at www.state.ma.us/doi. Select “consumer service” and then “auto.”

UPDATE: I called Plymouth Rock about the 10% discount. The corporate office told me I had to go through an agent. The agents they referred me to said that agents don’t offer the discount and I would need to go through the corporate office. So much for that.

UPDATE: Tried Plymoth Rock corporate again and, with some persistence, got through to someone who was able to generate a quote. $2,476 ($1,019 for the VW and $1,457 for the Toyota). This compares favorably to $2,568 ($1,012 / $1,556) for Amica. But it’s probably worth $100 to keep everything with one company since I get a “multi-line” discount on my homeowners insurance.

Volkswagen Customer Care

I am trying to get Volkswagen to cover the clogged drain problem since it’s a design flaw. Here’s the play by play.

On 9/2 I sent this on the VW Customer CARE web site

My car's water drains clogged and the brake booster was saturated and needed to be replaced. Brookline Volkswagen Audi (617-734-2020, Jeff Buchholz) charged me $848.33 to clear the drains and replace the brake booster.

I have had several cars on which I have put over 100,000 miles and I have never had clogged drains in any of them. My driving habits and the location where I park my car have not changed.

The service representative told me that clogged water drains are a common problem in this car and that he recommends to owners that they clear the drains at least twice a year.  I told him I did not see that in the manual and he said it is not in there.

When I asked him how to clear them myself he said I could not do it myself because I would have to remove the battery and then would have to reset all the electrical systems. So I needed to bring it in to have the drains cleared.

I have brought the car in many times a year since buying it – for the regular maintenance and for many other problems. I asked if the drains had ever been cleared. He said no, they would only clear them if I specifically asked.

I think that Volkswagen should cover this expense as part of my warranty.

And I received this form response

Thank you for contacting Volkswagen! Your suggestions, comments and concerns are important to us and we appreciate the opportunity to serve you.

This reply has been sent automatically to let you know your message has been received. Please do not reply to this email. One of our advocates will contact you within 2 business days of receiving your comments. All messages are personally read and handled to give you the attention you deserve. If you should have an urgent question, please contact us at 1-800-822-8987, M-F 8:00AM – 5:00PM Eastern, Central, Mountain or Pacific Time.
Volkswagen Customer CARE Center
As of 9/13 I still have not been contacted by an “advocate” so I guess I’ll call them tomorrow.

9/14: Called Customer Care today and spoke with advocate Brandon Kummer. He couldn't find any record of my complaint even though I gave him the reference number VW had sent me. So I had to explain the whole situation to him. He will call the dealer and “get their diagnosis” and then get back to me in 24-48 hours.

9/16: Received a call from Brandon Kummer today. Volkswagen is going to cover the entire repair. I am amazed and very pleased.

12/15: Received a check for $848.33 (They said it would take up to three months and it did)

Clogged drains in the Passat

VWvortex Forums: Squishy/Liquid sound when I put on the brakes, white smoke, CEL – Hurray!

returned from Brookline VW. Sure enough, they neglected to check the
squishy brake sound so I had to wait while they did. Turns out the
plenum drains are clogged and the brake booster is under water and will
need to be replaced at $900 plus the master cyclinder may also need to
be replaced which would add $300. And because clogged drains are
considered normal wear and tear, none of this is covered under the

The service rep said he recommends clearing the drains twice a year. And our conversation went something like this:
Me: I never had a car that I had to do that for. Is this a common problem, the clogged drains?
VW: Yes
Me: How would I know to clear the drains twice a year? I didn't see anything in the manual about that.
VW: No, it's not in the manual. It's just something we recommend.
Well I've been bringing the car in to you regularly for various things
(some of which is detailed here:
http://forums.vwvortex.com/zerothread?id=1753640 ) plus for the regular
periodic maintenance, like the 30,000 a couple weeks ago. Have the
drains ever been checked or cleared?
VW: No, we don't do that unless you ask us to.

Squishy sound from brakes in Passat

VWvortex Forums: Squishy/Liquid sound when I put on the brakes, white smoke, CEL – Hurray!

Wow, I could have written the same exact post myself.

have a 2002 GLS Wagon. A few weeks ago on a trip to New Hampshire) just
after getting the car back from the body shop (for some golf ball dents
– guess where I live in Watertown) after driving about a mile the CEL
came on and the car started shuddering. I pulled over, debated whether
to go home and switch cars – a major hassle since we were packed up for
a long weekend with two small children – and then started heading back.
On the way back home no CEL, no shuddering. So we turned around again
and drove to NH and back with no problems.

Just after that I
took the car in to Brookline VW for the 30,000 mile check up which I
know is basically just an oil change but I wanted them to check out why
the CEL had come on. They said they found evidence of some misfiring
and thought it might be a “problem with the lifters” but it was running
now so they just reset it.

Since then no CEL no problems until
this week. Drove home from New Hampshire in last Sunday's big rainstorm
with no problems but the next morning the brakes made the squishy sound
and the CEL came on and the car shuddered. Drove about four blocks and
the CEL turned off but then tons of white smoke started pouring out the
exhaust. Turned around and came home (had to switch two kids in car

Called Brookline VW and they said it sounded like it had
clogged filters (as you described) and the vacuum system had sucked up
water and that I should not drive it but should bring it in “as an
emergency” since the next available appointment was in two weeks.
Before having it towed I started it up for the hell of it. No CEL, no
shuddering, no squishy brakes. Called them again and they said if there
was no CEL I could drive it over. So I did.

They called today
and said the problem was the spark plugs and they had replaced them all
and it's covered under the warranty. No word about water in the vacuum
system but I will assk when I pick it up tomorrow morning.

annoyance is that they won't cover the rental since they diagnosed it
and fixed the problem the same day, even though they told me to bring
it in the day before and leave it.

Disabling Prius beeping

From http://priuschat.com/forums/kb.php?mode=article&k=7


1. Power on the car to IG-ON or READY. IG-ON will do for this purpose.

2. Using the Trip/ODO button, set the Trip/ODO display to ODO (not Trip A or Trip B)

3. Power off the car.

4. Now power the car to READY (brake on). This is required so that step 6 works correctly.

5. Within 6 seconds of powering on, press and hold the Trip/ODO button for 10 seconds or more.

6. WHILE STILL HOLDING ODO *after* the 10 seconds, shift the “gear”
selector from P to R, then back to P. Now release the Trip/ODO button.
7. If the last step was successful, “b on” or “b off” should be
displayed in the location where the Trip Odometer or Odometer is
normally displayed. “b on” is beep on, and “b off” is beep off.
8. Press Trip/ODO to toggle the mode.

9. Now power the car off to exit the toggle mode.

10. Power the car on to READY and confirm the reverse beep status by
shifting to R. The beep should not be audible if “b off” was selected,
and should be audible if “b on” was selected..

Note: The Repair manual page states that if the the 12v battery is
disconnected, the beep will reset to the default of on, and this
procedure will need to be performed again. The repair manual also isn't
clear that Trip/ODO should remain depressed while shifting.

Additional Note: The driver and passenger seatbelt reminder chime can
be disabled or enabled (respectively, defaults appear to be driver on
and passenger off) using similar steps. Instead of shifting from P to R
to P in step 6, simply buckle then unbuckle the appropriate seatbelt
while continuing to depress the Trip/ODO button. There is one caveat to this procedure. No one can sit in the passenger seat while attempting to complete this task.