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How do black box and telematics insurance devices work?

Learn about the different types of black box device, how they work and the different policy types that could help you to save

Like most types of insurance policy, no two black box policies are the same. Insurance policies offer different features and benefits, but there are some unique features that set black box policies apart from other policies.

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What is black box insurance?

Also known as telematics, the nickname black box insurance was given to refer to the small device insurers install in the policyholder’s car to measure driving behaviour. While there are now many types of black box policies that don’t use this device, we still use the name black box to describe these types of telematics policy.

Because black box policies base insurance premiums on actual driving behaviour, they can be a great way for drivers in high-risk groups to prove to their insurer that they can drive safely, ultimately reducing the cost of their insurance. In fact, drivers aged 17-21 with zero no claims could save an average of £1,282 by choosing black box insurance over a standard policy (based on quotes generated by uSwitch between November 2016 and January 2017).

Installed telematics insurance box

The traditional black box and telematics policy involves having a small device installed in the car to monitor driving behaviour. The box is about the size of a mobile phone and usually installed out of sight behind the car’s dashboard. The black box automatically records your driving without you having to remember to switch it on.

Your insurance company will arrange for the black box to be installed in your car, usually at your home. Your policy begins from your chosen start date so you won’t need to wait for the box to be installed. You won’t have to pay any extra for installation as the price of the box is factored into your premium, but may have to pay a fee if you change cars during the policy and want to have the box installed in the new car.

Most installed black boxes can also act as a tracker and can make it easier to retrieve your car if it is stolen. Some installed black boxes also offer accident alerts, which can alert the emergency services and tell them your location if they detect a serious impact.

Self-installed black box insurance

Self-installed black box policies work in the same way as installed boxes, by recording your driving behaviour. As the name suggests, a self-installed black box is a device you install in the car yourself. Self-installed boxes are also known as plug-in or plug and drive devices and will be provided by your insurer. Self-install devices are simple to use — just plug it into your car’s USB port, OBD socket or 12V adapter.

The price of the box is usually included in your premium, and you won’t have to pay to install the box it if you change cars — simply unplug it and install it in your new car, but remember to inform your insurer if you change your vehicle.

black box insurance app

Black box insurance with a mobile phone app

Some insurers can track your driving behaviour by using an app installed on your mobile phone. You don’t need to have a device installed by your insurance company, simply follow your insurer’s instructions to download the app to your smartphone.

Black box telematics apps use the built-in GPS on your mobile and some more advanced versions use your phone’s accelerometer to detect speed and any impacts.

While some apps black box apps have an autostart feature that detects when you’re driving and starts monitoring, some will require you to start the app before your journey.

You don’t need to do anything with the app while you’re driving so you shouldn’t be distracted behind the wheel.

Types of black box insurance policy

As well as different types of device, insurers also measure and reward good driving behaviour in different ways.

Whether your driving is monitored by an installed box, self-installed device or an app, most black box policies will provide you with feedback via an online or mobile dashboard. You may be provided with a driving score or rated on a red-amber-green system, but the common aim is to improve your driving and become a safer road user.

  • Pay as you go policies: Your policy will be mileage-based, and you may be able to earn or pay for ‘top-up’ miles. These policies are ideal for drivers with limited mileage.
  • Rewards-based policies: Your driving will be measured and you’ll be rewarded for consistent positive behaviour. Your insurer may evaluate your driving monthly, annually or quarterly, and you could receive refunds on your premium or even rewards such as free pizza or coffee.
  • No claims bonus builder policies: Your behaviour will be assessed throughout the year with the aim of offering a tailored premium when it comes to renewal time, and the idea is that this will be more affordable based on your driving score. This is a good option for new drivers or those who want to build up a year of no claims.

You can compare different types of black box insurance and their features with uSwitch. Get started by entering your registration number or searching for your car’s make and model below.

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