Like many Americans of my generation, I am chronically underemployed and/or basically unemployed and try to save money wherever possible. However, as many Americans know, a car is a damn near necessity in America, and one of the many expenses that go along with owning a car, is mandatory car insurance.
Even though I have never had an accident and the one speeding ticket which I received at the age of 17 was removed from my record, I am required by state law in Oregon to have car insurance. After spending a week looking for the lowest price, I went with the company Progressive. However, after getting to know my way around Eugene, I rarely need my car anymore and can get around town fine on my bicycle or by walking. I drive my car once, or maybe twice, a week. So I thought it was bunk that I had to pay the full rate of someone who drives every day.
Progressive literally saturates the the airwaves with commercials advertising its Snapshot device: a little thing you plug into your car and it creepily tracks your driving until you take it out. In my quest to save money, I thought, “I bet I could get a discount if I plugged that thing in and they realize that I only drive once a week.” A great plan, to be sure. But the constant commercials for this thing don’t tell you that it screws with your car’s computer causing misfires and also turns on the check engine light.
This creepy tracking/recording device arrived in the mail on a Wednesday, and that evening, I plugged it into my car’s diagnostic port and started the car up, just like the instructions said. Some creepy little lights were blinking like HAL 9000 and I figured I was good to go. I thought nothing more of it.
Then on the following Friday evening, I decided that I needed to drive across town to make a purchase. My wife and I hopped in my car, which hadn’t been started or moved since Wednesday when I put in the spying device. I turned the key, the engine turned over, and started violently shaking the vehicle. A cylinder was misfiring. I gave it a little gas and the engine smoothed out a bit. The check engine light now glowed orange into my face from the dashboard.
Yes, the car that my father and I meticulously maintained for years had been brought down by a creepy insurance company and the spawn of Big Brother. I called Progressive full of loathing. They acted as though they’d never heard of such a thing occurring. A woman told me that I was on a “urgent ticket” and that someone from their Snapshot department would call me soon. I asked if I should drive the car seeing as how the check engine light was on and I wasn’t sure of the problem. She couldn’t answer that one.
The Snapshot department guy called me the next day. He seemed very excited to tell me that I had an 8% discount coming my way. I yelled at him that I didn’t care about the discount and that his company better pay for the repairs on the car. “Can I drive it without damaging it?” He couldn’t answer that one. He finally said that they would pay for any damages if they were found.
It took a whole morning, two auto shops and several sympathetic mechanics to turn the check engine light off for me. I’m happy to say that the car runs fine now. However, if you have a good driving record (like me) and don’t drive much (like me) and are thinking about using this Snapshot spy device to save a few bucks, better think twice.
If you want to go through the stress of an unknown problem with your car’s computer in order to save some money, I don’t think it’s worth the cost: For all of the worrying, stress, phone calls and time at auto shops, my total discount was $6.66. Definitely not worth it.