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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. However, each pay-as-you-go policy differs slightly—some offer savings the day you sign up, while others wait up to six months to lower rates.
What's in this guide?
- Compare pay-as-you-go car insurance
- How does pay-as-you-go car insurance work?
- Sign up for pay-as-you-go insurance in 6 steps
- Is pay-as-you-go car insurance right for me?
- Pros and cons of pay-as-you-go car insurance
- Ask an expert: How does telematics help me save on insurance?
- How does usage-based insurance track my driving?
- What does the insurance company do with my data?
- Black box insurance exclusions
- Bottom line
- Common questions about usage-based insurance
Compare pay-as-you-go car insurance
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. 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.
It’s also known as usage-based insurance, 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.
However, you’ll find that different usage-based policies set rates either based on mileage or how safely you drive.
Pay-per-mile car insurance
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.
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.
|Company||Potential savings||How it works||Where it’s available|
|Allstate Milewise||about 35%, if you drive 5,000 miles a year||Allstate 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 Auto||Up to 40%||Send in a photo of your odometer reading each month.||Georgia, Illinois and Oregon|
|Nationwide SmartMiles||10% for safe driving, more for low mileage||Use a plug-in device for tracking and view your usage online.||33 states and the District of Columbia|
Telematics insurance uses a device or your smartphone to track your driving habits, and it focuses on setting rates based on how safely you drive. Behaviors tracked include your braking, acceleration, cornering, the times of day you drive or your phone usage.
Telematics policies also factor in traditional factors like age and driving record as well as your mileage — but these factors aren’t the focus.
Many major car insurers offer telematics programs to set a personalized low-mileage discount, and you opt in to the program after buying your regular car insurance policy.
|Company||Potential savings||Time until discount||How it works|
|Allstate Drivewise||40% or more in cashback||Every six months||Get cashback every six months and points for finishing safety challenges|
|Geico DriveEasy||Not specified online||At your policy renewal||Your trips are tracked through the app automatically, and your score updates after 24 to 48 hours.|
|Liberty Mutual RightTrack||Up to 30%||90 days||After the test drive, return the device to see your final discount.|
|Nationwide SmartRide||Up to 40%||Four to six months||Get a final discount that’s applied at your next renewal.|
|Progressive Snapshot||$145 a year, about 10%||One policy period, usually six months||Get your discount at your next renewal.|
|Root||Up to $900 a year, about 70%||Two to six weeks||You’ll get scored on your driving, then get a discount at the end of the test period.|
|State Farm Drive Safe & Save||Up to 30%||Ongoing||Get an updated discount at each policy renewal.|
|Travelers Intellidrive||Up to 30%||90 days||After the driving period, you’ll see your final rate at your policy renewal.|
Sign up for pay-as-you-go insurance in 6 steps
Getting started with pay-as-you-go car insurance follows a simple process:
- Review the terms.
- Sign up with the app or policy.
- Receive your black box telematics device from the company in the mail.
- Install it by following the instructions provided.
- Drive as normal.
- 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 usage-based insurance 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.
Pros and cons of pay-as-you-go car insurance
- 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
- Ideal for people who drive less or safer than average
- 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?
CEO, CFP®, MBA, MDiv joelohman.com
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 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 the black box tracks:
- 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.
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.
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.
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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