Add a gadget to the mix, and I’ll even get excited about car insurance. For the past few months, I’ve been driving around with a Metronome (from Metromile) in my car. It’s a little device that plugs into the diagnostic port, which in my case is in the area above where my left leg rests when I’m driving. It then tracks stuff about your car: how fuel efficient it is, how much you drive, where and when you drive, and if there are any diagnostic codes that need your (or your mechanic’s) attention. All of this information is displayed in a web interface or a mobile app. It’s free.

It’s so easy to use. Installing it takes about 10 seconds; you just plug it in. It’s already connected to your account when they ship it to you, so there’s no awkward pairing process. It’s ready to go out of the box. You don’t even need to connect it to your phone, as it comes with its own cellular radio. I’m not sure which network it’s on, but it doesn’t matter because the service is free too.

I like it. I used to leave a Garmin GTU 10 in my car so I’d know where it was, but that got bricked a few years ago during a software update and I never replaced it. When I’m on vacation, I’ll check the Metromile app just to make sure that my car is where I left it. I also get cool stats. Someone who was considering buying a car asked me how much I spend on gas per month. In the past, this is something that I would struggle to answer. But I was able to open up the Metromile app and tell him that in August I used $33.37 worth of gas and in September $28.81. And I now know that in October, I spent a whopping $43.64 due to a $20 trip to Petaluma. I assume that the app estimates this based on the amount of fuel I use and local gas prices. It’s not connected to my bank account, and I don’t manually enter this data. Normally I’m so disconnected from the cost of each trip since I pay for it on less than a monthly basis, but having a dollar amount attached to each trip makes me realize how expensive owning a (gas-powered) car really is. Here’s what October looked like for me:

330 miles14 hours 49 minutes28 miles per gallon$43.64 fuel cost

Now of course with the free device there has to be an upsell. Currently, in some states they offer per-mile insurance. If you don’t drive a lot, this can work in your favor. It turns out it works in my favor. I used to pay about $80/month for Esurance. With Metromile I have had monthly statements of about $50-55, and that’s with higher coverage levels than I had with Esurance. As with other companies, you can get your ID card within the app, but I keep paper copies with me because handing over an unlocked phone to anyone makes me uncomfortable.

Signing up for the insurance was relatively easy, but I did run into a couple of bugs. First, I got an error when I was signing up that wouldn’t let me proceed after I entered all of my information. I emailed them after hours, and the next morning they left me a voicemail with a direct callback number to an agent. I was actually able to get it to work that next day after manually typing in my VIN (that was the only difference I could think of), but I called back anyway to let them know that all was good. The agent was really nice, and knew exactly who I was when I mentioned why I was calling. The second bug I ran into was that when my account switched over to a paid account, it hid all of my data from the time before my policy started. The agent told me that they were aware of the issue, but it looks like it’s still not fixed on the web interface. I can get older data on the app, however.

One criticism I still have is that as far as I can see, there’s no chart of how much the insurance is costing me per trip. While they’re eager to point out how much the gas is costing me, they don’t call out how much they cost. Another nitpick is that the data isn’t always super-fresh (the most recent trip is often missing), but I’m guessing that’s because I usually park in an underground garage that has weak cell coverage.

If you want to try the Metronome yourself, you can order one on their website. Using the “Free App Beta” option should bypass any insurance quote stuff. It looks like they’re currently only sending devices to California, Oregon, Washington, and Illinois, but you can sign up even if you’re in another state. I’m not sure if any of this works outside of the US; I’d imagine that would be difficult due to there being different cell carriers.

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