About a year ago, our own Kevin Gordon posed a question about the Progressive Snapshot – basically, asking whether it was worthwhile to allow “spying for savings.” In the six years that Autosavant has been online, this is the most-viewed and most-commented post ever. In fact, if you Google “progressive snapshot” (without quotes) this article is on the first page of the results. Though many of the 155 comments to date are not in favor of the device or the concept behind it, I thought that having a neutral party evaluate the device would be a good way to provide additional information to the public about the Snapshot.
I am not interested in changing insurance companies, but was interested in getting first-hand experience with a Snapshot in order to write a follow-up piece. I pinged Progressive’s media relations team, and a day later, they suggested that I just sign up for a free 30-day trial of the device (if you want to try it for yourself, click here), but be aware that many of the comments on the other post about the Snapshot claim that it damaged their vehicle’s electrical system, so caveat emptor. Aside from that possibility, to me, I saw the only downsides are that it’s recording my driving behavior, so if there was ever an accident, its records could be subpoenaed (read the terms and conditions here), and Progressive is retaining my records for a period of time (the Snapshot privacy statement is linked here.)
Snapshot test drive data may be useful in determining the cause of an automobile accident. If you’re in an accident, you may have a legal obligation to preserve the information on the device. This information may be sought by opposing parties in a civil lawsuit or by police when investigating the cause of an accident, or we may be legally obligated to provide such information in response to a subpoena or as otherwise required by law. In the event that you have an insurance claim with one of our insureds, we will not use the data to resolve the claim without first obtaining your permission or (if not you) the registered vehicle owner’s permission.
Also a bit alarming:
The device uses a certain amount of current from the vehicle’s battery even when the vehicle is not turned on. Care should be taken in using the device in vehicles that have old or weak batteries, or that may go extended periods without being started.
So maybe some of those commenters were onto something?
The Snapshot arrived in a box that looked like it would contain a Christmas ornament or fancy chocolates. It was even wrapped in orange tissue paper, which seemed a little odd, since it’s not a gift. The Snapshot itself is smaller than I expected – about 2 1/2 inches tall. Once my most recent string of press loaners ended, I plugged the Snapshot into the OBD-II port under the dash of my 2008 Cadillac CTS.
When you start your vehicle, the Snapshot beeps (which is helpful, since it reminds me that there’s a little spy watching my driving behavior).
The Snapshot collects four pieces of data, but only three of them impact your potential discount:
- Number of hard brakes per 100 miles (a hard brake is defined as decelerating more than 7 miles per hour per second)
- Number of miles driven per day (the more miles you drive, the more likely you are to have an accident)
- How often you drive between midnight and 4:00 a.m. (accidents are more likely to occur between those hours)
- Number of rapid accelerations per 100 miles (a rapid acceleration is defined as accelerating more than 7 miles per hour per second). Note that rapid accelerations do not factor into the discount calculation, but Progressive gives the data to you to “gives you a more complete picture of your driving habits” to ”help you make safe choices behind the wheel.”
It’s important to note things that are not tracked by the Snapshot: GPS position or speed. So, they know when you’re driving, how far you’re driving, and how rapidly you accelerate or decelerate, but they don’t know where you’re going or how fast you’re traveling.
I have no intention of changing insurance companies, but I love the notion of “keeping score,” so I tried my hardest to be on my best behavior during my time using the Snapshot. During the test, I lengthened my following distances and even changed my braking habits. When in traffic and it suddenly stops, I spread the stopping power evenly; my normal technique is to hit them harder initially, then release the pedal a bit as I get closer to a stop.
Eventually, I became attuned to the under-dash beeps that come from hard stops. It quickly became apparent that my definition (or, dare I say, a normal person’s definition) of a “hard stop” is quite different from Progressive’s. To me, a hard stop is when you have to hit the brakes hard enough that unsecured items will go flying – in other words, if your lunch bag is on the seat next to you, it ends up on the floor. A hard stop is not a 7 mile per hour decrease in one second.
As a result, I got increasingly agitated during my first two weeks of use. Despite being on literally my best behavior – driving more conservatively than I would if my mother, or even my mother-in-law, were riding along, I continued to experience at least one hard stop almost every day. My conservatively-driving wife used my Cadillac for a few short trips; she reported that it beeped at her when slowing to enter our development.
Proving that I was being a good boy in my driving with the Snapshot, it actually rated my rapid accelerations as “good.” However, rapid acceleration doesn’t help or hurt your projected discount. I did see about a 3 mile per gallon improvement in my observed fuel economy from more moderate driving habits, at least.
My daily commute is about 24 miles each way, so 48 miles in all. I work five days per week, and generally do not use my car for weekend errands or trips out of town. My average mileage came in at 45.9 miles per day. I know that’s on the high end of daily commutes, but I’m in the car about 35 minutes each way. In spite of 45.9 miles equaling 16,753 miles per year – which is not particularly high – my mileage hurt any potential discount as well.
The Last Straw: OnStar Errors
As I hit the two week point, I was already very annoyed at having to drive like my brake pedal was made of egg shells. My plan was to see what kind of discount I’d get at the halfway point, then drive like my own definition of normal for the last half of the 30-day trial.
Then, I got a monthly diagnostic email from OnStar that basically said, “you have some sort of third-party connector plugged into your car. We can’t tell you if there is anything wrong with it.” Having read every comment about the Progressive Snapshot from our previous article about it, and seeing more than a handful that described the device as causing electrical problems in their cars, the next time I got into the car, I unplugged the Snapshot, boxed it up, and shipped it back to Progressive. Sorry, but no experiment or test is worth putting my car’s electrical system (not to mention my own sanity) at risk.
Final Result: Zilch
Progressive allows you to track your performance online, including a count of your miles driven and how many rapid accelerations and hard stops you’ve had. In the first week with the Snapshot, my projected discount ranged from 0% to 4%, then back to 0%. My overall projected discount from Progressive never exceeded 4% before settling in at a whopping 0%. ”Zero-point-zero,” in Animal House-speak.
Had I been satisfied with a 0% discount (or perhaps didn’t have to drive as far as I do, or didn’t have to spend 15+ of my 24 miles in fairly heavy traffic and wanted to switch to Progressive insurance, I would have had to endure an additional six months of Snapshot-caused mental duress. What’s the point of having a 304-horsepower sport sedan (with new ultra high performance all-season tires) when zero of that performance can be used without the device under my dash tattling on me.
My verdict? If you enjoy driving and enjoy your car, don’t waste your time with the Progressive Snapshot. You will not get any discount and you will become increasingly irritated as time passes. Do yourself a favor and shop around for an insurance company that is rated for excellent service and has competitive rates. I’m much happier without the Snapshot back in Progressive’s hands rather than underneath my dashboard.