Nearly two years ago, in September 2011, I first began using Progressive Snapshot for what was then a competitive insurance policy with Progressive. I also wrote an in-depth review about the experience here, complete with screenshots and some hard data.
Since then, a couple of things happened.
I switched to Esurance in 2012 because of rising rates with Progressive for the period after my Snapshot discount was applied. There was some debate about why that happened, which I’ll get into below. Esurance gave me a better rate (about 15-25% lower if memory serves me right), and better coverage for that rate (I lowered my deductibles significantly), and so I thought it foolish not to jump on the better deal.
At the same time, my post on Snapshot received nearly 250 comments to date from users, supporters, and skeptics alike, who wanted to chime in on the program (and sometimes, on each other). As it happens with many of my more popular posts, the comments can offer much better insight into something than my experience alone. At the very least, I was able to hear from real users about their own experience and get some differing viewpoints on what could very well be the future of car insurance.
There were a number of themes in the comments, from success stories to rising rates, alternators breaking, and the ever-popular debate about “hard brakes.” I’m going to weave all of those themes into this post, highlight some of the most interesting comments, and tell you what I think about many of the issues with the Snapshot program.
Let’s get started.
For those of you who are new to Snapshot or don’t want to read my original post, here’s a quick review of how Snapshot works:
- You sign up, get the device in the mail, and plug it into your car’s diagnostics port (if it doesn’t have one, you can’t participate).
- The device tracks your mileage, time of day drive, and number of hard brakes.
- Progressive tracks and analyzes your data to determine the environment you drive in and your driving habits.
- After 30 days, you get an initial discount from Progressive (applied immediately to certain major parts of your premium).
- The device stays in your car until Progressive tells you to return it, typically until your next policy renewal within 6 months.
- You get your final discount applied to the next policy renewal.
Things that affect your premium are fairly straightforward: less total mileage is better, daytime/off-peak driving is better, and less hard braking is better. The formula that Progressive uses to calculate the premium discounts remains a mystery, but it’s safe to say that all three metrics matter.
My personal results rang in as follows for the initial 30-day evaluation:
- About 20 miles driven per day for each of our cars. (Progressive used 30 miles/day as a benchmark to shoot for, but some readers also reported that this value appeared to be adjusted depending on the driving location).
- Between 1 and 2 hard brakes per day on average. Apparently, Wednesdays were particularly bad, with more than 4 hard brakes on average.
- Most of our driving evenly split between “low-risk” and “medium-risk” driving times.
Our initial discounts were 9% and 19% for our two cars, and our final discounts were somewhat lower at 2% and 12%, which I speculated at the time was due to above-average driving mileage during the holiday season.
All things considered, we saved some money from the initial discount and at renewal time, but as I mentioned before, we ended up switching to Esurance because of rates that went up the following renewal period.
Let’s take a look at some of the major issues that others reported about the program:
The Hard Brake
The hard brake seems to be, by far, the most controversial subject when it comes to Snapshot.
Perhaps it’s the name, since as many have pointed out, hard brakes are seldom hard when it comes to Snapshot. A rate-of-speed decrease of 7 mph per second might be hard to visualize on paper, but consider how long stopping a car going 45 mph would take you. Count it out in your head. If you said less than 7 seconds, you’d probably register a hard brake.
In fact, you might register quite a few, since most have reported that each second you spend pressing that brake pedal harder than 7mph/second is another hard brake in the system.
People like Becky were caught off-guard with this definition:
As it was my first day, I was being extra cautious and did not remember making anything resembling a hard stop. I called Progressive and she explained to me that it must have been a stop from going like 28 mph to 0 mph in 4 seconds (or 7 mph/second).
Jim pointed out just one of the cases where this would backfire:
Their definition seems rather silly. Where I live, the interstate often has short exit and entrance ramps. Unless one decides to travel well under the speed limit (potentially pretty dangerous on an interstate) leading up to the exit ramp, one needs to slow down rather quickly upon exiting. So here you have a situation where you’re in a very low risk situation (no side-by-side or traffic coming the other way) and yet you’re getting dinged for hard braking.
As Pachi and a few others pointed out, and as Progressive supposedly admitted, you don’t even have to touch the brake for a hard brake to occur:
I drive around 60 miles a day on freeway. 95 % of that is cruise. I cancel the cruise when I need to slow down or use the decelerator. The device treats this as hard brake. What nonsense?
To add fuel to the fire, some Snapshot devices are programmed to beep when a hard brake occurs. A few readers have reported that this is feature you can turn on and off by contacting Progressive.
You have to send an email to Progressive asking them to activate the ”beep”. They do it right away.
Thankfully, my Snapshot didn’t have this enabled because like many of you, I might have been tempted to pull the thing out of the car and stomp on it at a red light. Some of you also reported that the beeping is not always accurate:
What a crock! According to my driving reports I had 9 hard brakes in one day. I NEVER had more than one or two “beep” alerts in any day. So guess who’s eligible for ZERO discount due to this?
The whole thing led to some interesting driving habits, many of which were certainly true for me. For example, Jeanette posted:
I feel after driving my daughter’s car with the Snapshot on that it promotes riding the brake, rolling stops at stop signs, overshooting the line at a red light so as not to have a hard brake. It also beeps sometimes just when cruising along at low mph without the brake having been touched.
A few of you took a different angle–the beeping actually helped you understand when hard brakes occurred and you used that to your advantage, whether by actually changing your driving habits or by learning how to “game” the system. For example, Thomas reported changing not only his own habits, but those of his son as well:
My son has developed a very good and defensive driving and I have adjusted/improved my driving too. It doesn’t take me longer to get somewhere and it doesn’t hurt to allow more distance to the cars in front of me and it did not hurt. As a side effect, the gas mileage has improved significantly.
One point of contention with many readers was whether Snapshot tracks your driving abilities or your driving environment. My original post suggested that it was tracking mostly environmental factors, as even hard brakes are affected by things like city driving conditions, frequent intersections, many other cars on the road, etc. F4Jock seemed to agree:
…all of the data they are collecting points them to your odds of having an accident based on 1) Distance driven. 2) Time of day during which you drive that distance and 3) Conditions you drive under AKA “hard brakes.” Essentially your odds of having an accident go up when you drive lots during times when others on the road may either be impaired or there may be lots of them, and in congested areas.
But as a few readers pointed out, smart drivers can reduce the number of hard brakes even in tough driving conditions by avoiding tailgating, being mindful of upcoming lighted intersections, and other defensive driving techniques. Jim completely disagreed with the environment idea:
If you aren’t racing up to lights and getting caught off guard by a light when it turns yellow, or come up to quick to stop signs, you greatly reduce your risk of hard brakes. The higher the speed limit at the controlled intersection, the more aware you need to be.
And so I am willing to modify my original position, and feel that the hard brake metric is probably 50/50 for most people: 50 percent environment and 50 percent driving abilities. If you drive like a lunatic, then your hard brakes will show it, but on the other end of the spectrum, it would be unreasonable to say that you can eliminate all environmental factors that could cause a hard brake, including sudden yellow lights that almost always caused hard brakes for me.
DT pointed out that if you drive in an area with a lot of lights or a poor street system, you should deserve to pay more:
You have to understand that Progressive didn’t design your dumb street system. As heartless as this is, most people really don’t care how the accident occurred if it means they have to pay more. If an area, for whatever reason causes more accidents, then there will be. And someone will have to pay for these accidents.
DT also chimed in elsewhere:
If you’re driving too close to other vehicles, it’s only a matter of time before they stop quick and you have to as well. Most of the time you won’t end up in an accident, but statically you will.
Amazingly, some people were able to average less than one hard brake per month on the program, which is probably also why they got a 30% discount, and I didn’t!
I think Kyle summed up the issue of hard brakes the best. He said:
I find it interesting that people call up Progressive to try to learn how the device works so they won’t get hard brakes. I’m so sure the people answering phone for a living would have technical knowledge on how it [works]. And why would Progressive *help* you beat their system to artificially lower your rates anyway?
Very true, Kyle. I think we’re left to our own devices (no put intended) on figuring out how not to necessarily beat Snapshot, but how to make it more accurate (or at the very least, our version of accurate). Between mileage, time of day driven, and hard brakes, the latter is one of the few things we directly control (we can’t always pick where or when we drive), and a system that tells us we’re not doing well in that metric is sure to frustrate people.
Broken Alternators & Drained Batteries
One recurring topic seemed to get folks in very heated debates. A few readers (myself included, actually) had serious problems with their batteries and alternators while the Snapshot device happened to be plugged into our cars. My own alternator failed completely and I had to buy and install a new one.
I plugged this in this morning around 10:00am. When I can out to my car at 6:30 to go to the park my car would not start. I did not drive it after I plugged it in and the car worked perfectly fine last night. The battery has been changed in the last year and a half.
At first I thought it was my battery (so naturally I got it replaced) but that soon just died as well so I had to get a new battery just to get a diagnosis. I was finally informed that it is my alternator.
I had to replace my battery and alternator just after plugging in the device too… I got it on a friday and my battery was dead after the long weekend. The new battery was dead a few days later.
Steve’s problem was only with one of his cars, but he actually got in touch with Progressive about it:
…had the Snapshot device in when the battery was drained. I called the [Progressive customer service rep] and he recommended I remove the device and see if I still had a discharge. I waited until the next day before starting the car again and it started with no problem. Then I reinstalled the device and waited until the next day to start it and the battery was drained again.
Other readers reported similar failures of their batteries or alternators.
Given that Snapshot is plugged into the car for a number of months, we’re almost certain to find at least a few people whose alternators or batteries died during the same time period. A few readers who seemed like they knew what they were talking about, based on their background and credentials, also assessed the possibility of Snapshot doing any kind of damage to an alternator as next to impossible.
For example, Mike shared his take with us:
Take it from a Mechanical Engineer working in the Electronics Engineering field; this device cannot possibly cause damage to the alternator or charging system of the car.
I’m not sure what my take is on this–on the one hand, there are reliable, experienced people telling us that such a failure is impossible. On the other hand, we have anecdotal evidence that seems to point the finger directly at this little device. Without some concrete tests to prove or disprove this, I don’t think I can conclusively decide either way.
Days You Don’t Drive
A few readers reported that, on days where they didn’t use a car with the Snapshot device plugged in, their stats were not counted toward their discount. For example, Mitch reported:
…if you go a week without driving then you get no credit for those days…[Progressive] told me to start the car and let it run for a [minute] then turn it off.
This seems completely counterintuitive, since if you don’t drive your car, you should be considered a lower insurance risk, and I hope that Progressive has since fixed this problem. For example, you might not always be around to turn the car on and off every day, yet you’re still not driving it anywhere, like Becky:
I travel frequently for work and my car spends a lot of time at airport parking which means I don’t drive as much.
Clearly, Becky’s discount would be affected, even though she might not be a high risk driver. Beyond that, there is also a worry that constant starting and stopping is not necessarily good for your car. Then there are people like Brenda, who reported that even starting their car didn’t help:
I still went out to my car, started it, heard the snapshot beep, waited a few seconds and went back inside. Even by doing this it did not register my last two days of 0 driving.
It’s possible that there are limitations based on how the device operates in the car, but it’s something that should be remedied if possible. Otherwise, we’ll have to get creative with the workarounds just to get the maximum discounts.
Another recurring thread was the concern for personal privacy of our data, driving habits, location and more. Some readers dismissed the program outright for this very reason, like Willie Boy:
I don’t trust any “big brother” tracking device on my vehicle. The whole concept is an invasion of privacy, disguised to maybe save a few bucks. Not for me or my family.
Others rejected this notion, noting all the other ways were are tracked today on the Internet, through public cameras and elsewhere. Kyle replied:
If you think the world is going to turn into big brother, you’re too late. That happened a long time ago…Progressive has like a hundred bagillion customers… It’s just computers that are looking at all that data.
Others were willing to use Snapshot but were still concerned about what data the device was collecting and how it could be used. While Snapshot clearly stated that it collects no GPS data about your driving, some people were not convinced. Jenson valued his privacy over the potential discount:
I will not try it, and will cry when it’s mandatory. I like to spin tires and slam brakes at 2am. You can tell me my rate will not go up, I won’t eat that bull waste.
A few of you were concerned about whether the data could be used against you after an accident:
Do they check the device for how fast you were gong? Do they look at your speed if you are speeding since they have that ability?
In my response, I mentioned that some police departments were already using data from the onboard airbag computer for this purpose, and that it was a big privacy debate earlier that year. I’m not sure if this practice is still ongoing, but you can be sure that the debate will continue as our cars get more and more computerized every day. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the car equivalent of “black boxes” soon to analyze crash data.
After I updated the original post with my 12-month progress, our rising rates, and our switch to Esurance, another debate began about whether Progressive was really just using the program to raise rates on bad drivers, or whether my own rising rates and those of other readers were just natural increases in insurance costs in our respective areas.
Readers seemed to be split on this issue. Hans wrote in about netting almost zero after his “discount”:
I got a good discount, but they also increased my rate, so I am saving very little… I am very disappointed.
Kieran responded to a reader who received a whopping 30% discount:
Wait for the final results where they vastly reduce the discount and then finally raise the rates.
Ultimately, Kieran was proven wrong, as the 30% discount stuck after 6 months of driving. Chris didn’t have the same luck:
…they gave me a 13 % discount on my plan only after jacking it up 200 bucks for no reason.
Holly was frustrated with Snapshot after they raised her rates:
My snapshot account claims I saved over $200 upon renewal, but they raised my rates by $350, so the cost to renew exceeded the previous (initial) policy.
Adriana regretted not checking around with other companies before starting Snapshot:
I went to Geico’s website and requested a quote for the same coverage that I currently have with Progressive. I was surprised that Geico’s price is the same as Progressive’s price after the 30% snapshot discount. [Progressive] could not explain the reason for the remaining $300 increase except that “their costs went up.”
Libby cited what seemed to be a common thread of rising rates due to “state increases.” Here was her insight:
Exactly the same thing happened to me! I live in Florida and the rep told me the increase was due to a Florida rate adjustment, even though my sister also lives in Florida and wasn’t ‘adjusted’ when she renewed 2 months ago – she didn’t have snapshot.
Others echoed the experience of their own rates rising while friends or family didn’t experience the same “state increase.” Since Progressive isn’t about to share why it did or didn’t make certain rate adjustments to our policy, we’re really left with just one choice as a consumer: take it or leave it, meaning we go out looking for a new policy.
Manual Transmissions and Snapshot
Users also reported a lot of problems with Snapshot when using the device with a manual transmission. Glen, who was refused any discount after the evaluation period, was told that the device will often register erroneous hard breaks due to the manual transmission in his car. Becky added this:
Checked my husband’s snapshot yesterday and he had a ridiculously high number of hard brakes. I called Progressive about it and they acknowledged that manual transmissions record shifting as hard brakes when they aren’t, but didn’t offer any solutions. The rep said that we’d still get the discounts for amount of driving and time of day.
Contrary to Progressive’s promise, however, Becky received no discount, even with all low-risk driving and 50 miles per week of driving, far better than many of those who reported getting the full 30%. Clearly, the hard brakes had an effect.
There were a number of other complaints that didn’t follow a wider pattern, but are worth mentioning if you’re interested in the program.
One reader known as “M” was seriously frustrated with Snapshot:
We were slated for a discount that [Progressive] took away because we did not keep it in for 6 months. [We removed the second device] after the computer told us to and[Progressive stated] we voided the program because it was not time to take it out.
The lesson to be learned from M is…make absolutely sure you’re supposed to take out the device before you do so. As a side note though, when I replaced my alternator with the Snapshot device still plugged into the car, it did not see this as being unplugged (or maybe it did, but Progressive definitely didn’t penalize me for it). So don’t freak out if your battery dies or something similar happens–you might still be okay!
A few readers began to speculate on whether mileage was not the only metric when it came to driving–that frequency was almost as important as duration. In other words, the “number of trips” metric could affect your discount.
One reader, Cassie, reported driving less than 25 miles per day on average, but that she would frequently shut off her ignition if waiting in lines to drop off her kids, etc. During one day, she logged more than 19 trips, essentially demonstrating that each time you turn your ignition on and off counts as a trip, and could affect your discount. Cassie didn’t get any discount after her first 30 days.
On the other hand, readers also reported that Progressive reps told them that the number of trips is not counted in the discount, so keep this in mind.
Of course, there was no shortage of success stories, people who were ecstatic about the program and couldn’t wait to share the news of their 30% discounts with the rest of us. This was valuable information, as we could speculate on exactly what Progressive valued in their driving data to deem them worthy of a full 30% premium discount.
We also got some valuable information from Peter, who called Progressive about his discount and found out:
I was told that hardly anyone has ever qualified for 30%, and that the average discount is 8%.
Keep that in mind as we look at some of these cases.
For example, Adriana posted her results of a full 30% discount:
- High risk driving time: 0
- Miles driven per week: 23.8
- Number of hard brakes: 0
This is as close to “perfect” as you can probably get with Snapshot, especially with mileage results that good and no hard brakes. Progressive’s “benchmark” is 30 miles per day to get a good discount, so averaging what comes out to 3.4 miles per day is awesome. Obviously, Adriana deserves 30%.
Jim’s statistics, on the other hand, were a little more realistic:
- Miles driven per day: 20-25
- Number of hard brakes: about 1 per 100 miles
Jim’s driving earned him a 29% and 30% discount on his two cars, which is encouraging.
Steve reported the following results for a 22% discount:
- High risk driving time: 12 minutes per weekl
- Miles driven per week: 158
- Number of hard brakes per week: 3.1
Another Jim, who had just finished his initial 30-day evaluation, reported results that weren’t nearly as good:
- Total days driven: 4 (out of 30)
- Total miles: 102
- Total hard brakes: 2
- Time driven: mostly weekends
Jim’s discount was 22%, which obviously frustrated him because others were driving far more frequently. This definitely supports the theory that if a car is not driven on a particular day, then those day’s statistics would not count. That would bring the daily mileage and hard brake average way up for Jim’ case.
Libby reported the following stats to get a 10% discount, with 19% projected at renewal:
- Miles driven per week: 150
- Hard brakes per week: 3
- Driving time: Medium/low risk
Unfortunately, Libby’s premium including her final Snapshot discount went up from her original premium by almost 8%. Libby was given the standard “state adjustment” language when she called to complain, but cited anecdotal evidence, as others did, of friends/relatives who recently renewed without similar “state adjustments.”
Thomas was one case where we could see the potential results of some high risk driving. He received the full 30% discount with these stats:
- High-risk driving time: 40 minutes per week
- Miles driven per week: 155
- Hard brakes per week: 3
Justin got the full 30% after 30 days as well:
- Miles driven per week: 141
- Hard breaks per week: 1.03
F4Jock’s case in interesting because he had Snapshot plugged in to three cars at the same time. Since we can assume he drove in roughly the same geographical area, this is a good case study to look at differences between discounts:
- Car 1: 30% discount; 80 miles/week with 0.17 hard brakes
- Car 2: 25% discount; 28 miles/week with 0.50 hard brakes
- Car 3: 15% discount; 81 miles/week with 1.70 hard brakes
Between car 1 and 2, we can clearly see that hard brakes make a significant difference in the discount, even with much less driving. With car 3, the effects of both higher mileage and more hard brakes resulted in the expected lower discount. So if there is one metric to focus on, it’s the hard brake.
Finally, Matthew clocked in with a 21% initial discount with these stats:
- Miles driven per week: 179
- Hard brakes per 100 miles: 1.2
- No high-risk driving time
What are we to make of all of this? Is Progressive Snapshot worth it for you, whether or not you currently have Progressive insurance? I think David summed things up well:
In a prior life I was a public relations consultant, and it is clear to me that a corporate initiative that has generated the level of unhappiness I’ve seen here, even if the gripers are a minority, is not good public relations. Marketing programs such as Snapshot are concepts designed to build customer loyalty and good will, and when that doesn’t happen to a very substantial degree, there are obvious flaws.
There are two fairly clear sides of the fence here:
- People who barely drive, drive exceptionally well, or in great conditions, and qualify for the full 30% discount, or something close to it.
- People who get frustrated about the device because they believe they are good drivers, but Snapshot doesn’t reflect that.
I would also include a third group–poor drivers–but I didn’t feel like many of them commented on the blog, either because the were self-aware enough to avoid trying the device in the first place, or the device simply confirmed what they already suspected and they didn’t want to be publicly embarrassed.
DT had this to say about all the complaints:
You’ve got your paranoids that think they’re being watched 24/7, your idiots that believe that a device plugged into a diagnostics port could somehow destroy an alternator??? (which makes as much sense as blaming it for ruining your relationship with one’s daughter), others that think a rate increase in the area was meant just for them, and the rest who are upset they didn’t get as much savings as they would have liked to have.
One thing is certain–we’ll never know the real reasons for any of these issues–broken alternators, rate increases, blown discounts, etc. It’s all speculation, for better or worse.
Given what I know today, would I try Snapshot again? I would still have to say yes–even with the increased rates and the blown alternator, I still feel like there is value in this program.
I would suggest you study the cases above–where there are problems that you’d expect to have yourself (snowy conditions, city driving, manual transmission, etc.), I would think twice about Snapshot, or at least go into it with a very open mind and a “nothing to lose” mentality.
But if you feel like your driving fits into the “30% crowd,” you just might be the one that gets 30% off their premium next. The worst case scenario is that you’ll have to switch insurance companies and many did on the thread after rates rise (for whatever reason–again, something we’ll probably never know for sure). Remember that the most important metric is not necessarily mileage, but could be hard brakes, which you can’t really get an idea of until you try Snapshot.
I will say this–I think Progressive’s Snapshot is the way a lot of car insurance will be sold in the future. Like health insurance (at least until the Affordable Care Act takes effect in January) was sold based on your current health issues, I think car insurance will be sold based on your actual driving, in addition to the safety level of your car, demographic data, location, etc.–all the things they already take into account. Insurance companies simply love data that accurately predicts accidents, and if this is what it takes, they will encourage it, whether through law, or simply through market forces by providing deep discounts.
Beyond that, I encourage you–my dear readers–to keep talking about Snapshot. Together, we have learned a lot about the program, and the discussion should definitely keep going!
Best of luck to all.