Saving on gas, saving on insurance

Published Tuesday, December 9, 2014 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal and the Fredericton Daily Gleaner

Several weeks ago, a gadget for my car arrived in the mail.  It was simple to install, and it’s already helping me save on fuel.  

Amazingly, the device didn’t cost me a cent; it was provided by my insurance company.  A further bonus: it’s also helping me save on car insurance.

How it works

The gadget is a small “black box” that monitors some of my car’s functions in real time.  It took just seconds to install; all I had to do was slip it into the service plug of my car (that’s the same plug my mechanic uses when he diagnoses my car with his computer) and it was ready to go.

The device measures my speed, how far I drive, what time of day I drive, how quickly I accelerate and how hard I brake.  It then beams that information to my insurance company, and they in turn send me a weekly driving report via email.

Why it works

It’s not hard to see why information on when and how I drive would be of interest to my insurance company.  Identifying good and not-so-good drivers helps them figure out where their least and greatest risks of claims lie.

But it’s of great interest to me too, and here’s why.  It’s well known that an individual’s driving style is one of the biggest determinants of how many kilometers they can wring out of a litre of fuel.  People with a gentle driving style get as much as 20 per cent better fuel economy than aggressive, heavy-footed drivers.  That’s like driving more than two months a year for free. 

From a fuel economy point of view, the worst habits are accelerating too aggressively, stopping too quickly and driving too fast.  See the coincidence?  The very habits insurance companies would flag as high risk are those that reduce our fuel economy.  Conversely, the very habits insurance companies would seek to promote result in the best fuel economy.

The power of feedback

Remember what happened the last time you approached a school zone with one of those signs that displays your speed and flashes if you’re going too fast?  There’s nothing like a little well placed feedback to help us adjust our habits.  

Many new vehicles now display fuel consumption in real-time.  It’s a powerful tool: tramp on the gas and you instantly see your fuel economy plummet; coast as you approach a stoplight or stop sign and you see it soar.  

Alas, my 12 year old Toyota has nothing of the sort.  But now, thanks to my insurance company, it has the next best thing.  Suddenly, I’m more aware of my driving, and that weekly email is like a report card.  

There’s a fun side benefit too: my wife’s car has a similar device, so now we find ourselves comparing reports.  So far, she’s winning – but I’m getting closer.

Lower rates

There’s one more big benefit to having the gadget in my car: lower insurance rates.  I’ve already gotten a five per cent discount just for installing it – I guess my willingness to do so gives my insurance company an early measure of confidence in my driving.  Depending on how things look after six months, they may decide I don’t belong in a high-risk category and give me a further discount of up to 25 per cent.  

That little black box is just a tiny gadget in my car, but it’s giving me lower insurance rates and helping me burn less fuel.  Along the way, it’s making me a safer, more aware driver.  That sounds like win, win, win to me.