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Pay-as-you-go car insurance

Only pay for how much and how well you drive with telematics or pay-per-mile car insurance.

Why should a driver with a five-minute commute pay the same as a driver with a two-hour commute?

If you want great car insurance as a safe driver but don’t drive much, compare pay-as-you-go car insurance that sets rates based on your usage like how much or how safely you drive.

How does pay-as-you-go car insurance work?

Pay-as-you-go car insurance works by using an installed device, app or a built-in service like OnStar to track your driving, called telematics. The policy’s main characteristic is that it uses the tracked driving behavior to set rates or give discounts, and it works best if you don’t drive many miles each year.

Difference between telematics programs and pay-as-you-go insurance

Pay-as-you-go insurance and telematics go hand in hand. Pay-as-you-go insurance relies on telematics, while telematics can exist on its own.

Telematics refers to technology that’s used to track your driving habits.

Pay-as-you-go insurance is a pricing method, using your driving behavior and mileage to base your rates. Pay-as-you-go insurance uses telematics to track your driving behavior.

The term telematics is often used interchangeably with pay-as-you-go insurance or usage-based insurance, but just because you’re enrolled in a telematics program doesn’t mean you’re in a pay-as-you-go pricing model.

Terms to know with pay-as-you-go insurance

You’ll hear phrases like usage-based insurance (UBI), pay-as-you-drive or black box insurance. You also may find the terms telematics and pay-per-mile used interchangeably with pay-as-you-go policy terms because these policies have similar characteristics.

How much you pay depends

Pay-per-mile car insurance policies charge you a base rate like $30 and then a few pennies per mile, focusing on how much you drive. Many companies also offer free miles if you drive over a mileage cap, like 250 miles in a day, such as Metromile.

However, each company differs in the exact mileage that saves you money — some help you save at 10,000 miles or less per year while others require lower mileage. Also, this policy still uses traditional factors like your age and driving record, and some also factor in your tracked driving behavior.

See which pay-per-mile car insurance policies may be available to you.

CompanyPotential savingsHow it worksWhere it’s available
Allstate Milewiseabout 35%, if you drive 5,000 miles a yearAllstate takes your premium out of your account each day, based on your miles.Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia
Metromile$741 on average, or 57%Use a plug-in device or Ford Connect to track mileage.Arizona, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington
Mile AutoUp to 40%Send in a photo of your odometer reading each month.Georgia, Illinois and Oregon
Nationwide SmartMiles10% for safe driving, more for low mileageUse a plug-in device for tracking and view your usage online.33 states and the District of Columbia

Sign up for pay-as-you-go insurance in 6 steps

Getting started with pay-as-you-go car insurance follows a simple process:

  1. Review the terms.
  2. Sign up with the app or policy.
  3. Receive your black box telematics device from the company in the mail.
  4. Install it by following the instructions provided.
  5. Drive as normal.
  6. Review your driver scorecard to improve your driving and reduce your premiums.

Once the data has settled or becomes consistent, your driver safety score locks in, and you can send the box back to the insurance company. As such, step six is important for reducing future costs.

Is pay-as-you-go car insurance right for me?

Anyone who drives less than the average person may benefit from the pay-as-you-go or pay-per-mile system. Similarly, anyone who wants full coverage insurance but doesn’t drive enough to warrant paying full price might consider this option. Drivers who might benefit most:

  • City dwellers. If you live in a metropolitan city like New York or San Francisco, you may use public transportation more often than you drive.
  • High-risk drivers. Insurance companies charge higher rates for risky drivers, including drivers under 25 and drivers without perfect credit. But UBI rates depend on your actual driving, not your demographics.
  • Remote workers. With a 10-foot commute to your home office, you likely don’t drive much except to run errands.
  • Seasonal workers. Seasonal workers like teachers who don’t drive as much during the summer could use pay-as-you-go insurance during the off-season.
  • Seniors. After you’ve retired, you could drive much less than before and may not need full coverage.
  • Students. Pay-as-you-go options work well if you’re a student who leaves your car at home while away at school or who mostly stays on campus.
  • Those with multiple cars. If you own a car as a backup or for pleasure riding, you could save if you don’t use it much.

Pay-as-you-go car insurance pros and cons


  • Only pay for the miles you drive
  • Lower premiums for good drivers
  • GPS assists recovery if your vehicle is stolen
  • Provides thorough information and evidence in the event of a dispute
  • Improves driving safety


  • Not ideal for people who drive frequently
  • Requires more policy management than standard policies
  • Requires you to pay an additional fee to rent the black box
  • Monthly premiums can change
  • You need to consistently drive safely to get the best value.
  • You may have concerns about data collection and privacy issues.

Ask an expert: How does telematics help me save on insurance?

Joel Ohman car insurance expert

Joel Ohman

One type of lesser known insurance discount is new to most people: allowing the insurance company to put some type of data recorder in your vehicle to monitor your driving habits. If you have safe driving habits or don’t drive all that often then the insurance company will reward you with lower rates.

Virtually every large carrier offers some form of potential telematics discount: GEICO, Allstate, Progressive, Esurance, Liberty Mutual, State Farm, and many others. Additionally, some specialty insurance carriers who offer “pay-by-the-mile” insurance like Metromile use telematics to calculate miles driven and determine rates.

So should you place a device in your car to record and analyze your driving? Privacy advocates are leery of yet one more device tracking us, but you may just determine that savings of 5% or more is well worth what is essentially a “set it and forget it” car insurance discount opportunity. Now just make sure to drive safely, but you already do that regardless, right?

How does usage-based insurance track my driving?

All three tracking methods work in a similar way, such as:

  • Plug-in device. You install a telematics device in your car called a black box. You may need to remove it every so often, so your insurance company can analyze the behavior tracked.
  • Built-in device. Built-in devices like OnStar or SYNC can show your mileage and driving behavior to your insurance company automatically.
  • Smartphone app. Instead of using a separate telematics device, you download your company’s app to collect driving data on your phone.

How can pay-as-you-go car insurance help me save?

A good driver safety score from telematics information will lower your premiums, while a bad score may increase them. However, many drivers save money using this policy because it:

  • Replaces no-claims discounts. It can take up to six years to achieve a high no-claims bonus. But if you’re a good driver, black box car insurance can help you achieve the equivalent in one year.
  • Reduces risk category. If you fall in a high-risk category like a new or under-25 driver, the black box can prove you’re not a high risk based on your performance.
  • Penalizes less after a claim. You can make claims without worrying about a large premium hike since you won’t have a no-claims bonus to worry about. Your premiums may increase after making claims, but your driver score can stay the same.
  • Offers company-independent scoring. If you change insurance companies, some recognize a good driver safety score and offer reduced premiums or higher no-claims bonuses.
  • Works for multiple drivers. The black box works for everyone driving that car. If you name several high-risk drivers on the policy, you could get lower premiums compared to traditional insurance if all drivers prove their safe driving with black box data.
  • Improves driving safety. Drivers can take immediate action to improve once they see their driving habits. Compared to driving with standard insurance, young black box drivers are 20% less likely to suffer a car crash or severe accident.

Pay-as-you-go insurance not for you? Telematics may still offer discounts

If you drive more than 30 miles a day, or more than 12,000 miles a year, then pay-as-you-go insurance may not be the best saving money tactic for you. However, if you’re still a safe driver and want some discounts, then opting for just a telematics program (without the pay-as-you-go pricing model) could be for you. Many programs offer an immediate discount for just signing up.

CompanyPotential savingsTime until discountHow it works
Allstate Drivewise40% or more in cashbackEvery six monthsGet cashback every six months and points for finishing safety challenges
Geico DriveEasyNot specified onlineAt your policy renewalYour trips are tracked through the app automatically, and your score updates after 24 to 48 hours.
Liberty Mutual RightTrackUp to 30%90 daysAfter the test drive, return the device to see your final discount.
Nationwide SmartRideUp to 40%Four to six monthsGet a final discount that’s applied at your next renewal.
Progressive Snapshot$145 a year, about 10%One policy period, usually six monthsGet your discount at your next renewal.
RootUp to $900 a year, about 70%Two to six weeksYou’ll get scored on your driving, then get a discount at the end of the test period.
State Farm Drive Safe & SaveUp to 30%OngoingGet an updated discount at each policy renewal.
Travelers IntellidriveUp to 30%90 daysAfter the driving period, you’ll see your final rate at your policy renewal.

How does a telematics device rate my driving?

Rather than looking at one specific journey, the telematics device looks at many trips combined to discover your driving risk. Not every company uses all the tracked data to determine your rate. Some areas telematics can track include:

  • Acceleration
  • Deceleration
  • Smoothness
  • Braking
  • Speed
  • Where you drive
  • How often you drive
  • Time spent on the road

In addition to tracking your driving, a black box also records your location, the distance driven over the year and GPS data.

Can telematics raise my rates?

Most telematics programs just offer discounts for driving safely and don’t charge you more for driving “dangerously.” However, read the fine print because telematics programs like GEICO’s DriveEasy and Progressive’s Snapshot could mean a higher rate if you don’t drive safely according to their standards.

Driving behaviors that could increase your rates include:

  • Hard braking
  • Driving long distances
  • Driving at night
  • Driving on dangerous roads
  • Changing lanes or speed frequently
  • Taking corners too fast
  • Driving in poor weather conditions

Of course, not everyone can always avoid driving at night, driving long distances or driving in poor weather conditions. If these “poor” driving behaviors are frequently unavoidable for you, then going with the telematics programs DriveEasy or Snapshot may not be for you.

Compare pay-as-you-go car insurance

Name Product Gap insurance Homeowner discount Telematics Has an app? Available states
All 50 states and DC
loan/lease coverage
All 50 states & DC
Discover coverage that’s broader than competitors, valuable discounts up to 30% off and perks like shrinking deductibles that reward no claims.
State Farm
State Farm
Drive Safe and Save
All 50 states
Work with a dedicated agent to find the right coverage for you, including bundling other policies for the best value.
All 50 states

Stack discounts up to 40% off already low premiums, with convenient mobile services like proof of insurance and claims.

All 50 states
Your dedicated agent can help you find the best savings with multiple discounts and rewards programs.

What does the insurance company do with my data?

The app or device may automatically transmit data back to the insurance company or may require you to take it out and hand it to your insurer to download the data. The insurance company reviews this data and uses it to adjust your premiums.

Your insurance company then uses the black box information to assign you a driver safety score, which shows the kinds of risks you pose to the company. The insurer may give you a score for every trip or assign an adjustable overall score.

This wealth of information is a gold mine for car insurance brands, as it lets them calculate risk much more accurately. Telematics car insurance lets safer drivers pay lower premiums to match their personal driving habits.

Is it safe to trust a telematics device with my data?

Some privacy advocates express concerns over the data collected from telematics devices. How do companies use this personal information? If you share these concerns, you can make sure your insurance company offers full disclosure about what happens to the data collected. You’ll find that most insurance companies use measures to safeguard your personal information, rather than selling it.

Another privacy concern is the GPS tracking feature on the device. For some, this sensitive information offers more private information than drivers are comfortable giving. However, some devices let you turn off the GPS feature.

When deciding if usage-based insurance is the route for you, keep in mind that these tracking programs aren’t mandatory. You can opt in and out at any point.

Black box insurance exclusions

The same exclusions apply to black box car insurance that apply to standard car insurance policies. The insurance company may not pay out for:

  • Damage caused from illegal activities
  • Damage that occurred while the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Damage caused by someone else driving your car who isn’t listed on the policy, in some cases
  • Damage related to acts of war or biological, radioactive or chemical contamination
  • Damage from track or road racing
  • Loss because of an unattended and unlocked car in a public place
  • Loss of value from depreciation or wear and tear
  • Repairs from an unauthorized mechanic or damage from shoddy repairs unless authorized by the insurer
  • Damage caused by pets or other domestic animals under your care or responsibility

In addition, insurance companies may refuse to pay out if you showed dishonesty in your dealings with them. Black boxes make some cases of dishonesty easier to spot with clear proof.

Bottom line

Enjoy car insurance premiums customized for your driving with pay-as-you-go car insurance. If you don’t mind transmitting your driving data to your insurance company from a black box, app or built-in device, you could save a bundle on your car insurance.

If you’re not sure whether pay-as-you-go insurance is worth it, compare other car insurance options to find the best policy for you.

Common questions about usage-based insurance

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2 Responses

    Default Gravatar
    IAugust 8, 2017

    I just need a comprehensive insurance for 2 months starting 9/8/17 for driving 3000km coverage only

      JingAugust 8, 2017Finder

      Hi there!

      For short-term low mileage drivers, I’d definitely recommend taking a look at Metromile. They offer comprehensive coverage and you’ll only pay per mile driven.

      Thanks for asking a question on Finder!

      All the best,

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