UPDATED: Feb 6, 2019
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Since its inception in 2011, the Snapshot program has changed some, and it has gained more competition from other companies jumping on the bandwagon. Snapshot today offers two different options for joining the program; either a device that plugs into your car or the use of a mobile app on your phone that tracks driving information. Either way, the system works much like other usage-based programs. Information regarding your driving habits such as when you drive, how much you drive, and how you accelerate and brake is gathered, Progressive reviews it, and your insurance rates are adjusted accordingly – up to a 30% discount according to the program’s marketing.
Snapshot can be used in one of two ways; the original method, which involves installing a device on your car, or by use of the mobile app. While they work a little differently, both versions have the same goal – monitoring your driving habits and earning you a discount on car insurance.
Before we go on, it is vitally important to note that while the focus is on rewarding good drivers with a discount, Progressive’s Snapshot program can make your rates go up. Unlike other usage-based programs that promise you cannot lose by signing up, Progressive will increase your rates if the information gathered indicates unsafe driving habits in most states.
Before you sign up for Snapshot, check out the specifics of how the program works in your state, listed here on the Progressive site. Some states, like New York, do not have the possibility of an increase, but most of the states in which the program is available do.
What this means is that Snapshot not only does not guarantee a discount after the first policy period, it could actually result in an increase in your insurance rates if the information gathered meets Progressive’s definition of risky driving. According to the website, two out of ten drivers see an increase. That means 20% of those who use Snapshot will actually end up with higher rates.
Progressive does offer an initial discount for signing up, and it promises up to 30% off after the 6-month review period is over, when your policy renews.
Snapshot is offered in most states, although not all states have use of the mobile app available at the time of this review. Drivers considering switching to Progressive can get a 30-day free trial of the Snapshot program, after which Progressive will give them a quote that includes the anticipated discount from the program should they decide to switch and use Snapshot. The free trial is not available to current customers.
How Snapshot Works
The original version of Snapshot, the telematics device, records some basic information about your driving. It is plugged into the vehicle for a period of six months – the length of a Progressive policy term – after which it is sent back to the company. During that time period, it records when, how often, and how safely you drive your car.
In addition to recording information, the device will beep three times whenever it senses hard braking – based on Progressive’s definition of what constitutes hard braking. This is meant to be a reminder to the driver to be more aware of their braking behavior. The information collected can be viewed online for up to 180 days after the device is returned.
The mobile app is downloaded and installed on your phone, and it runs in the background every time you are driving your vehicle. All that is required is that you take your phone with you every time you drive, and the app will operate automatically. In addition to sending information to Progressive, the app will also allow you to view and track all of the recorded trip information right on your phone.
In order to get accurate information, your phone must be with you when you drive and have sufficient battery life to run the program for the entire trip. Progressive also recommends that you do not use the app version if you frequently drive another vehicle, such as a business vehicle, as it will skew the results. Monitoring can be paused in the app for up to two weeks, a feature that can be used if you are away on vacation or occasionally riving someone else’s car. Too-frequent pausing of the app, however, will result in Progressive prolonging your data collection period or switching you to the plug-in device instead. The minimum required consecutive days un-paused is 75.
Drivers can choose to switch to the plug-in device at any time during the six-month period if the app isn’t working well for them. Drivers can also categorize trips on the app to indicate times when they were not the one behind the wheel since the app collects data every time it is in a moving car.
If you have more than one vehicle, each vehicle and each driver will need to do a separate data collection process.
What Snapshot Records
The Snapshot device records a few basic pieces of information about your driving habits. Primarily, it will record:
- Braking: the system looks for instances of hard braking (braking/stopping suddenly or quickly)
- Acceleration: the device records instances of quick acceleration
- Time of day: The device records when you drive, specifically the time of day that you take trips.
- Mileage: the device records the length of each trip to accurately determine how many miles you regularly drive
- Trip frequency: how often you drive your car
- Location: the device includes a GPS system to locate your vehicle
In addition to these basics, the mobile app records even more information, including providing a map of your trips. On that map, the locations where things like hard braking occurred are highlighted, as well as when and where you used your phone (but not who was contacted).
How Information is Used
Of the information that is gathered only hard braking, acceleration, time of day, trip frequency, and mileage are used for the purpose of calculating your final insurance rate.
Location information regarding where you drive your car is recorded, but it is used only for internal research purposes. This information has no bearing on your rates.
The mobile app records more pieces of information, but these are only for the use of the driver. The app allows you to review trip information to see where you went, where you had instances of hard braking, and where you used your phone. In spite of the fact that most states have some law restricting the use of a phone while driving (texting and driving is illegal in nearly every state), this information cannot be used against you either for rates or legally.
How information is used, and what information is used, can vary from state to state. Again, it is vital to read the fine print for your state before you sign up for this program. As mentioned above, Progressive can use the information in most states to increase your rates and not only to give you a discount.
Snapshot Discounts and Increases
Progressive gives those who sign up for Snapshot an initial discount for the first policy term, which according to the website is an average savings of $25. This discount applies to the first six months, after which the actual information gathered is used to determine your renewal rate.
The Progressive website promises discounts of up to 30%, which is a hefty amount and a level that most drivers probably will not attain. Again, Progressive states that the average discount amount is $130 after the Progressive program is complete. They do not say what the average percentage for the discount is, however. $130 could be any percentage depending on what the initial rate was.
Another thing Progressive’s site does not mention is how much the potential increase is if the program determines that your driving behavior is risky. There is no percentage increase offered, nor does the site indicate whether or not there is a cap on how much they can increase your rate based on the collected information.
Discounts only apply to certain coverages on the policy, and not to the overall rate. The discount, in general, applies to the liability portion of the policy, which makes sense since that rate represents the level of risk you present to the insurance company. The same rule applies to the increases in premiums.
Another point to note is that if you opt out of the program more than 45 days after it was begun, Progressive may ding you with a surcharge on your policy.
Eligibility for Snapshot
Snapshot enrollment must take place when you start a new policy with Progressive. Drivers can choose to enroll in the program or get a policy without it, but after you have already started your policy you cannot go back and add Snapshot.
As previously noted, Progressive does give you the opportunity to have a 30-day trial of the program, after which you can decide to go ahead with the policy or take your business elsewhere. Again, we saw no indication that this is available to current policyholders. Theoretically, a current Progressive customer could choose not to renew their existing policy and opt to start a new one with the Snapshot program running.
Only vehicles that are form 1996 or newer are eligible for Snapshot, either with the device or with the mobile app. Only fully licensed drivers can use Snapshot, and not those with a learner’s permit.
For most cars, installation is very easy.
If you choose to use the mobile app, all you have to do is download it and install it on your phone. From there, the app will continue to run in the background as long as the phone is turned on, and you will not have to do anything more unless you need to pause or un-pause it.
The plug-in device is attached directly to your car’s Onboard Diagnostic port (OBD-II), which is generally located somewhere under the dashboard. Progressive offers a tool to help you find out where the port is on your car and how to plug it in.
Once it’s plugged in, you leave it in place for the duration of the information-gathering period, and then remove it at the end to send back to Progressive.
How Snapshot Stacks Up
Progressive does not have the oldest usage-based program around, but they did revolutionize and popularize it, patenting technology that is used beyond their company today. They have several years on most of their competitors in terms of experience with usage-based systems.
Unlike their competitors, Progressive’s system does come with the risk of a higher rate. This means that it is not a risk-free program, and anyone considering it will need to be aware of this before moving forward.
While Progressive promises discounts of up to 30%, some time spent reading customer experiences with the program indicates no one actually sees that level of discount – or at least not anyone we were able to find online. That is not unusual, and most companies with a usage-based program wind up with similar results. That 30% discount represents a gold standard of driving that is next to impossible to achieve.
What we did see in a review of customer experiences is that while many people did see a discount of, on average, between 10-15%, which is still a pretty good discount, some also reported an overall premium increase on their renewal even though they earned a discount. This may well be coincidental – but it was mentioned enough times to be noteworthy. While the earned discount appeared on the policy, the base rate would increase to the point where the discount had no impact.
Of course, for the 80% of drivers that do earn a discount on the program, that 10-15% can make a pretty big difference.
As far as the program itself and how it works, Progressive seems on par with other systems and does offer both the mobile and device options, which is not the case everywhere. The beeping sound whenever the system detects a hard brake serves as a motivator to improve habits – many users report reducing the number of hard brakes recorded by the system over time due to the beeping of the device. This seems to be an advantage to the device over the app.
The Bottom Line
Enrolling in Progressive Snapshot has the potential to save you an average of about 10-15% on your car insurance rates, and it will at the very least get you an initial discount on your first policy term. Anyone thinking of trying out the program, however, should be aware that it is not risk-free, and 20% of the time the result is actually a rate increase. It is up to the individual to decide whether or not they feel confident enough in their driving skills and habits to avoid that risk.
For a list of companies that we recommend, visit our Best Insurance Companies page.