Nearly two years ago, I revisited my auto insurance premiums as I do every few years.
I decided that switching to Progressive was the most logical and inexpensive choice among the 4-5 providers I quoted.
Through two fender-benders, they have remained competitive in pricing and fantastic to work with in their claims process.
In September 2011, I noticed a new opportunity on their website–the Snapshot program. Since then, Progressive has started to aggressively advertise the program on national TV, and more people are becoming aware of it every day.
For 30 days, we decided to give the program a try and see what we could save:
- Progressive promised that premiums could only go down as a result of using Snapshot, never up.
- We were also promised privacy, since there are no GPS functions on the device, only the ability to track basic car functions like speed and mileage.
Excited about the prospect of shaving hundreds from our bill, we signed up and received the device in the mail a few days later.
Installation was a very simple process. The unit is roughly the size of a golf ball and plugs directly into the car’s computer port under the steering wheel. It remains comfortably out of the way while driving.
Important Update: If you want a quick review of this post and the 250+ comments that follow, read my updated Snapshot post.
What does Snapshot track?
The Snapshot program is marketed as a way to save you money for “good driving,” but this is not exactly true. If you’re already a decent driver, how well you drive will actually matter very little to Snapshot. On the other hand, where, when, and how much you drive is more important. Let’s look at what Snapshot tracks to understand why:
The device tracks the number of trips and total miles you drive every day, and averages out the data. The suggested daily maximum to qualify for a discount is 30 miles.
This makes sense from the insurer’s perspective–the more you drive, the more likely you are to be in an accident, so anything above 30 miles qualifies you for the premium you already pay.
Based on some user’s results, it also appears that Progressive adjusts this benchmark based on the area you live in.
2. Time of Day
Snapshot categorizes your driving into “high-risk,” “medium risk,” and “low risk” zones. High risk is driving between midnight and 4 AM, the time of day when the most costly accidents happen.
Medium risk are all weekdays, during the morning and afternoon rush hours. Low risk is essentially everything else, including weekends.
While you techncally “choose” when you drive, this category also has little to do with how well you drive, but rather how many other people are on the road, and in what condition they’re likely to be in (alert, tired, etc.).
3. Hard Brakes
A hard brake is defined by Progressive as any decrease in speed over 7 miles per second. This is the only metric where you presumably have direct control while you drive, by being careful not to tailgate and using the brake lightly.
However, by Progressive’s own admission, hard brakes are less likely to be a measure of how well you drive, and more likely to indicate where you drive–in rush hour, bumper-to-bumper traffic, or on open, rural roads. Gridlock traffic will generate hard brakes no matter how hard you try to avoid them, while there are simply less opportunities to slam on your brakes if you don’t live in a busy city.
A cursory review of the Web would indicate that anything under 4 hard brakes per day is acceptable, but Progressive doesn’t give any hints about what is or isn’t a good level of hard braking.
Progressive collects the data on a constant basis by uploading it from your device (I assume this happens via satellite) and aggregates it so you can easily see your totals, averages, as well as the details of every drive you take during your evaluation.
The initial evaluation period is 30 days, after which a discount is immediately applied.
I’m more than willing to share my results with you, both as an example of the potential savings, and as an introduction to the Progressive online tracking system.
Over the last 30 days, here are some key stats from our driving:
- We drove an average of 24.5 miles per day with Car A, and 19.7 miles per day with Car B.
- Car A had an average of 1.6 hard brakes per day, and car B averaged 1.1 hard brakes.
- We did not drive at all during “high risk” hours (between 12 AM and 4 AM).
- Most of our other driving was split between medium-risk and low-risk hours.
Curious to see how the Progressive system presents the data? Take a look at some of these screenshots:
Trip Log: Shows your daily driving history, including links to more detailed data.
Weekly Averages: Shows aggregate data for your driving.
Speed Chart: Shows the times and speeds you drive throughout the day.
Trip Details: Shows detailed information about individual trips you’ve taken.
Hard Brake Averages: Shows the days where you’ve been most likely to perform hard brakes.
How did we do in the end? Not too shabby. After 30 days, our “initial” discount was calculated and immediately applied. We received:
- 9% off the premiums for Car A
- 19% off the premiums for Car B
Legally, these premiums could only be applied to bodily injury, property damage, personal injury protection and collision coverage, which makes up the bulk of the insurance premium anyway. At this rate, we’ll save about $250 per year on our coverage.
You can see that the premium discounts generally correspond to our driving results–the car will less mileage and less hard brakes got a substantially bigger discount.
We’ve been asked to keep our device plugged in until our next renewal in about 3 months, at which time we expect to see a permanent discount applied to our policy. Based on our continued driving, our initial discount could either go up or down. I’ve updated this post below when this happened to let you know if things have changed.
Other Thoughts & FAQs
To wrap things up, here are other thoughts I had on the program:
Hard brakes are a weird metric. I understand what they’re trying to measure, but consider the fact that stopping at a sudden red light is also counted as a hard brake, and is pretty much unavoidable. On the other hand, it’s possibly these very situations can lead to accidents, particularly rear-end collisions. Hard brakes also appear to be measured per second–in other words, if you’re braking hard for 3 seconds straight, the system will count this as “3 hard brakes.”
Mileage is eye-opening. I drive a lot more than I would have predicted. In fact, I spend about an hour and a half in the car every weekday. In retrospect, this makes a lot of sense, since I often drive home for lunch just for the break from work it provides. Having seen the data though, I’m much more inclined to spend lunch at work in the future to save those 40 minutes for something more productive.
Mileage, part II. My wife, on the other hand, drives much less than expected. Her office is mere minutes from our house, and she does a great job of grouping errands as to spend the least time, and therefore mileage, running them.
Can drivers game the system? Most definitely. It’s conceivable that you can time your Snapshot installation at a time when you expect to drive less miles. You can also force yourself to be a more careful driver for the duration, using the brake gently and avoiding tailgating. But on average, Snapshot should provide a fairly accurate picture of someone’s driving behavior in the metrics Progressive cares about–how much, when and where. And it would be difficult to let go of all your bad driving habits for a period of 3-6 months, which is probably what they’re counting on.
January 2012 Update
It’s January, and as promised, I’m updating this post with the latest information about our discounts. We received our final notice today, and we’ll be saving 2% on Car A’s premium, and 12% on Car B’s premium.
Obviously, it’s not as good as our initial discount, but we have been driving more in the last few months, and that no doubt contributed to the decrease.
We’ll be getting our pre-paid boxes in the mail shortly and will be sending the devices back to Progressive.
Alternator problems. My alternator gave out during the Snapshot evaluation period. A couple of other people have reported similar issues, but a few readers have also said that there’s no way that the problem is related to the Snapshot device, and it’s pure coincidence.
August 2012 Update
As of this August, I’m no longer with Progressive.
After more than 6 months of driving with the Snapshot discount applied to the policy, my August renewal came in significantly higher in price than the existing policy. I shopped around with GEICO and a few other companies and finally decided to switch to Esurance and get a policy that was more competitive.
I’ve been extremely happy with Esurance since switching and would recommend that everyone include a quote from them when shopping around for insurance.
If you have used the Snapshot program, I’m curious to hear from you about your experience. If you haven’t, are you planning to try it? If you’re not a Progressive customer, would a program like this convince you to switch? How do you feel about the privacy issues of having this device in your car?
Share all of your thoughts in the blog comments! Important update: If you’d like to read a comprehensive rundown of the 250+ comments posted here since 2011, please read my 2013 Snapshot review.
Note: Please note that this post contains affiliate links to some of the companies I mentioned, all of which I personally recommend.