Sunday, March 29, 2015

Lowering Your Car Insurance Bill with Tracking Technology

A few months ago, that time of year came when I had to renew my car insurance policy. The rates had been steadily increasing over the past few years for no clear reason and when it crossed a certain threshold I began to shop for a cheaper policy providing the same benefits.

One way I was able to do this was by using a car insurance company that offered to track my driving habits for 3 months in exchange for reducing my annual rate by up to 30%. This adds up to hundreds of dollars a year in savings.

The best part is that you are guaranteed to at least get a 5% reduction and no increase in your rate, even if you are the worst driver in the world. If you agree to sign up, the device will be sent to you in the mail. You need to be sure that you plug it in by a specified time (e.g.,  one month) after receiving it or you will forfeit any discount that you received just for signing up.

Installation is easy. All you have to do is insert a small handheld device into your car’s diagnostic port. The location of the diagnostic port depends on the type of car but it is always located inside the car. It is typically to the left of the steering wheel but can be near the radio or shift stick. The device manufacturers have a website that allows you to quickly find the location of the diagnostic port for your car if you do not know where it is. It is possible that some cars, particularly older ones, will not have a diagnostic port compatible with the device technology and in such a case you would not be able to participate in the programs. However, for most modern cars, this will not be a problem.

Once you install the device, it may light up to let you know it has installed. You may also receive an email from the device company notifying you that the device was installed. If not, you can log onto the website of the company that makes the device to check if it installed properly.  When you do so, you can also track your progress, like this:

As you can see, the percentage of the discount that you have earned and the number of days left in the program is displayed. Some basic metrics are reported such as how many miles you drove, the percent of miles driven between midnight and 4:00 am (when there are more drunk and tired people on the road), the number of times you rapidly increased your speed (accelerating more than 5mph in a second or less in considered bad), and the number of times you rapidly decreased your speed (hard braking, usually defined as decreasing speed more than 10 mph per second). 

This is why the program is known as usage-based insurance because the deductions are based on how you use your vehicle. Some companies can track your G-force levels when turning. Driving speed can often be measured and driving over 80 mph will typically reduce the discount. Some devices will notify you when you are doing something wrong such as hard braking.

In terms of privacy concerns, there is no need to worry that the device is watching you. It is not fitted with any cameras. GPS tracking will likely come in the future. Insurance companies have promised to keep your data private but it is possible that it may be entered into a centralized database in the future to be shared by other insurance companies. If that happened, it is possible that the data could be used against you (or for you) if you went to switch your auto policy to a different company but this is not something that is presently happening. Some companies will give you a grade in the various usage areas, akin to a report card. For companies that offer report cards, the lowest grade you can get is usually a C.  Some parents may like this because it can be used as a way to measure teenage driving. Performance on the variance metrics gets entered into a formula, which determines the discount amount.

By giving the automobile insurance companies your tracking information, they can use it to gauge patterns of accident risk. Insurance companies hope to build brand loyalty by offering discounts with these programs. It makes sense that better drivers will apply for monitoring, which means that insurance companies who do not offer such programs may be stuck with worse drivers and higher costs. Customers benefit by having rates more fairly determined based on individual driving habits as opposed to being penalized based on group data such as age and gender. If you get into an accident, at least one company lets you requalify for your pre-accident insurance rate, although many insurance companies offer accident forgiveness programs anyway.

When the monitoring period is over, you need to send back the device to the company (usually free of charge) or you will need to pay a fee to replace the device. Don’t expect to get the 30% discount unless you are a perfect driver but anywhere between 10 and 20% is common. I have heard that some companies may ask you to keep the device in your car for ongoing monitoring without an end point, but I would not sign up for that as that is far too open-ended.  If you feel that you could improve your driving, some companies will allow you to be retested at a later point.

Overall, I have had no problems with using this program and encourage people to give it a try to save some money. Some car insurance companies offering this program include Liberty Mutual, Allstate, Progressive, and State Farm.

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