How to File an Auto Insurance Claim in Less than 5 Minutes

Close your eyes and imagine filing a car insurance claim. What do you see? Hours on the phone, confusing documents sent by snail mail or fax, and a long wait to get paid? That’s one of the huge pain points Metromile is out to eliminate. With our easy, mobile-friendly claims process, filing a claim only takes minutes — and it’s not uncommon to see same-day payment. Let’s take a look at just how easy it is.

Step 1: Fire up the Metromile app.

On the bottom menu, tap the Insurance icon (it looks like a shield because, you know, we’ve got you covered). Go ahead and choose the type of claim you need to start.

Step 2: Follow the prompts

We’ll hold your hand through providing all the information we need, while our AI tailors the questions to your specific circumstances. If you were in an accident, we’ll also provide a handy accident checklist to make sure you and others are safe.

Step 3: Submit

This last button is how you send us your claim. Click “I Agree” and breathe easy.

That’s it. You’ll receive an email confirming that we have received your claim and are hard at work making it right. You’ll occasionally receive updates from us to keep you in the loop as things move along.

It really is that easy. In five minutes or less, you can file a claim and get on the road to resolution. Low rates, great service, and lightning fast claims. What’s not to love?

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Julianne Sawyer is a freelance writer, app producer, and real-life Metromile customer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

What is a Salvage Title? (And Do I Have One?)

If, like me, you were raised by bargain hunters, coming across a dirt cheap car might just be your dream come true. But a deal can come with downsides.

As it turns out, we hear from plenty of drivers who don’t know that the super low-cost vehicle they’ve just bought has a salvage title — or who don’t know what a salvage title is at all. Perhaps worse, some drivers who are familiar with salvage titles are surprised to find out while insurance shopping that they own one.

What is a salvage title and how can you figure out whether your car has one? Let’s dig in.

What is a salvage title?

A salvage title vehicle has a history — typically a pretty unhappy one. Salvage title vehicles have sustained serious damage (usually in the form of a gnarly accident) and have been deemed “total losses” by their respective owners’ insurance companies. When a vehicle is considered a total loss, it means the extent of the damage is so bad that: (a) the cost of repairs exceeds the car’s actual cash value prior to the accident; (b) the cost to repair the car exceeds a certain threshold percentage, determined by state regulation, or c) it’s unsafe to repair.

You can end up with a salvage title if you buy a used car that has one or if your car was seriously damaged in an accident.

The pros and cons

If you see the words “salvage title” on a used car listing, you’ll ultimately be taking a risk. Here are a few cons to consider — along with one significant pro.

Con: You just can’t be sure. In many cases, a vehicle can look perfectly fine on the outside and have jaw-dropping damage under the hood and beyond.

Con: You’ll have a salvage title for the long haul. A salvage title is essentially a salvage title forever, even though it’s technically rebranded as “rebuilt” once the DMV approves all repairs and deems it safe to drive. Selling can be a challenge.

Con: Insurance coverage could be an issue. Insurers just can’t tell what’s going on under the hood of your car. Insurance companies are generally cautious. Some just don’t cover salvage titles; others charge extra for the risk.

Pro: That price tag — enough said. You can get a serious deal if you’re okay with taking a gamble, so for die hard bargain hunters, this pro might be worth all the possible cons. 

So, How Can I Tell?

Believe it or not, we regularly hear from drivers who incorrectly believe their title is clean. Any chance you’re not 100% sure of your car’s status? A few quick ways to check:

  • Get a vehicle history report. Take your VIN to Carfax, AutoCheck, or another provider and pull the vehicle’s history. This costs a few bucks, but might be worth it for the peace of mind. If you don’t want to pay, it’s possible your state’s DMV can check the status for you, too.
  • Find an independent mechanic. It’s a good idea to do this before buying any used car, but better late than never when it comes to having your car inspected. A mechanic can safety check your car, and may have access to information you don’t about its history.
  • Look at the physical title. Most of us don’t often look at our physical titles, but finding the status of yours might be as simple as pulling it out of that closet or drawer that holds important documents.

Still car shopping? If you could use some expert guidance on insurance during the process, feel free to get in touch.

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Michelle Konstantinovsky is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist, UC Berkeley alumna, and Metromile customer. 

What’s the Story with Other Types of Insurance?

We’re obviously big fans of car insurance — and so is your state government, which requires you to carry at least some level of liability coverage. But while the decision to carry car insurance is fairly straightforward (do you own a car or not?) there are plenty of other types of insurance where the waters of decision become murky.

Renters insurance, life insurance, disability insurance — and what the heck is umbrella insurance anyway? If you’ve got car insurance taken care of, here’s a primer on a few other common types of insurance.

What is renters insurance?

Renters insurance typically covers your items in the apartment or house you rent. If a pipe bursts inside your apartment and water ruins everything inside, renters insurance can help cover your damaged items. Thief breaks in and steals your laptop? Renters insurance can save the day. 

Though home-ownership occupies a central space in the American mythos, being a renter has many perks — no property taxes or homeowners association fees, minimal responsibility for upkeep, and more. 

Renters insurance can be incredibly affordable; sometimes just a few dollars a month.

What is life insurance?

Life insurance provides some money to your loved ones in the event of your death. Those with shared debt, those whose loved ones depend on their income, or those with future plans that would get bungled by their untimely death are all people who might consider life insurance.

Life insurance is designed for you if, for example, you and a spouse co-signed a mortgage but they would have trouble making the payments alone; if you have a child whose education you’d like to provide for when they’re grown; or if you’re a business owner who wants to ensure your business partners can keep the business afloat.

Certain types of life insurance (namely, term life) can be fairly affordable if purchased in your 20s or 30s.

What is disability insurance?

Disability insurance replaces all or a portion of your income if you’re unable to work due to illness or an accident.

There are two types of disability insurance: short term and long term. Short term, just like it sounds, is designed for shorter periods of income loss — generally 90 days — while long term kicks in after that and can last for years, sometimes until Social Security kicks in.

It’s not uncommon for employers to provide disability insurance that covers a fraction of income (in fact, this is required by law in five states); consumers have the opportunity to buy up to 100% of income on their own, either through a payroll deduction or on the private market.

What is umbrella insurance?

Umbrella insurance is a form of liability insurance that sits on top of your existing car, renters, or homeowners insurance policies. An umbrella insurance policy goes above and beyond claims directly relating to your home or auto insurance, and kicks in if those policies ever hit their cap.

Umbrella insurance usually protects your assets in the event of a lawsuit, and is usually designed for people with significant assets.

The Bottom Line

Insurers offer different policy packages and coverage options, and we can’t speak to your precise needs; be sure to speak to a licensed insurance agent about which policy is right for you, if any.

Knowledge is power, and we hope you’re feeling empowered to make insurance decisions that are right for you. And when it comes time to shop for car insurance, we’ll be here with great rates and premium features.

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Julianne Sawyer is a freelance writer, app producer, and real-life Metromile customer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. 


By-the-Numbers: Scooting into Savings

Have you seen those little motorized scooters zipping around your city yet? Maybe you’ve dreamt of buying or renting one to obliterate your traffic woes. But not everyone’s a fan; many have attempted to have the scooters banned from major cities. 

Don’t drink the haterade, folks.

It won’t surprise you that we’re big fans of alternate modes of transportation — including scooters. Here’s why you should be, too.

Insurance costs

If you’re already a Metromile customer, you know that keeping your monthly mileage low is the way to keep your car insurance bill down. The fewer miles you drive, the more money you save. See where we’re going with this? In fact, people who switched and saved with Metromile saved $741 on average last year.

You could save some serious cash by switching to a scooter for your daily commute instead of driving. 

Gas costs

What has two wheels, handlebars, and is powered by electricity? An electric scooter, of course! You could majorly cut down on the cost to fill your gas tank by commuting to work with an electric scooter. They’re better for the environment, and for your wallet, too.

For example: if you switched to an electric scooter for your 8-mile round trip commute to and from the office, you’d be saving 40 miles per week — or about a gallon and a half of gas. If you have a longer commute or you idle in traffic during your commute, your savings could be even greater.

Parking costs

The beauty of electric scooters is that you can park them pretty much anywhere. How many scooter trips does it take to equal the cost of one day of city parking? Let’s crunch the numbers using our home city of San Francisco as an example

One day of San Francisco city parking ranges from about $25 to $40. An unlimited monthly pass for a Bird scooter currently goes for $25 in San Francisco. That’s a month of commuting costs for less than one day of city parking, a no brainer. Of course, not everyone lives in San Francisco, but most car commuters are familiar with parking headaches of one sort or another.

Environmental costs

Motorized scooters are 100% powered by electricity, which makes them clean(er) and green(er) than a gas-powered machine.

Take our 8-mile round trip commuter, for example. Their commute emits something like 130 lbs of CO2 every month, which is not to mention non-tailpipe emissions like brake dust. Imagine the environmental impact if lots of commuters chose scooters!

Car depreciation

Depreciation can be an overlooked expense of car ownership. On average, each mile driven costs 8 cents — not a ton on an individual level, but a large expense over the course of a year. Just look to your odometer to estimate the depreciation expense you’ve incurred during the last year.

The unquantifiable

Saving money is great, but it’s hard to put a price tag on the feeling of the wind whipping through your hair, the satisfaction of zooming past a traffic jam on a zippy little scooter, or the mental health benefits of feeling like a kid again during your otherwise grown-up day. We wouldn’t be surprised if swapping car time for scooter time just feels good!

Is zipping through traffic on your little motorized scooter looking pretty good right about now? We think scooters (and their close friends, bikes) are a key tool in the low-mileage driver’s toolkit. And of course, we’re around to insure the driving you can’t replace with a scooter.

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Julianne Sawyer is a freelance writer, app producer, and real-life Metromile customer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

InsureTech Connect 2019: Are Insurers Building the Next Amazon Experience?

Metromile recently attended InsureTech Connect 2019, the largest conference dedicated to insurance-technology, and met some of the more than 7,000 insurance leaders in attendance. As “the world’s largest gathering of insurance leaders and innovators,” many insurance companies and insurance-technology startups announced their latest partnership and product improvements. We asked Xavier Keil and Jason Thom from the Metromile Enterprise team to share some highlights.

What was everyone the most excited about at InsureTech Connect this year?

Traditional insurance companies are quite interested in using artificial intelligence and automation to stave off new, tech-first competitors. Major insurance providers are worried an upstart will be able to overcome the regulatory challenges and meet the capital requirements necessary to disrupt the industry drastically.

People were also fascinated by the growth of InsureTech Connect since 2015. They saw the ever-growing number of attendees as a signal that insurance-technology is getting bigger and bigger. There are a lot of new opportunities for insurers and startups to collaborate and thrive together.

What is your top takeaway from InsureTech Connect?

Sincerely, this is probably the most exciting time to work in insurance since the invention of the automobile. Conferences like InsureTech Connect have informed insurers about trending technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the Internet-of-things, especially in the last three to five years. And insurers now have sharper eyes to distinguish between hype and reality and are laser-focused on which technologies offer the best solutions to their problems. New technology is beginning to open new lines of business, which comes with significant risk, but also an enormous opportunity for the whole industry.

Did anything surprise you at InsureTech Connect?

We were surprised to find a significant focus on technologies that are rather far from implementation, such as drone-based accident-site surveying or self-driving vehicle products. We worry the industry may be missing out on benefits that can be realized right now from proven, existing technology like artificial intelligence and automation, which can drive real customer experience improvements.

From your meetings at InsureTech Connect, what excited people the most about Metromile?

Most InsureTech Connect attendees, especially those from the U.S., recognize Metromile as the pioneer in insurance-technology and were excited to learn that we’re licensing our technology. Traditional insurers are worried about disruption, so naturally, they were very excited to hear that we work with other insurers. Different types of insurance carriers also came to the conference looking to improve their operational efficiency and customer experience and wanted to learn from our success. 

Auto insurers or not, they’re looking for our help future-proofing their businesses.

Based on what you saw at InsureTech Connect, what are the biggest opportunities for insurance companies?

People accept a customer experience from insurance companies that they do not accept anywhere else in life. If Google asked you to fax them a form to open a Gmail account, they would probably have next to zero customers, but insurers routinely require people to send them faxes.

Traditional insurance companies have a great opportunity to improve their customer experience from the initial quote through to the claims process. Companies with the best experience bring new customers faster and keep them for longer. The insurer who improves their user experience will have the best customer-retention and enjoy a compounding advantage over time.

What is the future of insurance and the insurance industry?

The future of insurance will be highly personalized products, delivered with more modern customer experiences, powered by artificial intelligence.

If someone wants three days of motorcycle insurance and increased health coverage while visiting a friend, they should be able to buy it immediately and through a mobile app. If someone is about to fly a drone, they should be able to purchase coverage for just that flight.

Artificial intelligence will also be used by insurance companies to accurately price these products and reduce the workload for their employees. It will do this by collecting and processing massive amounts of data. 

The best insurance carriers will also use automation to empower their customers. People are proactive and want to take action, so insurance companies should create processes to give their customers a sense of ownership. Each business interaction should benefit the customer.

The Bottom Line

Look out for insurance companies to provide highly personalized products and better customer experience, ideally on par with the service of companies like Amazon and Apple. Insurers will need to offer an online experience that is seamless and user-friendly, just as we have come to expect from our consumer-technology.

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Xavier Keil is Director of Product Consulting, Enterprise and Jason Thom is Senior Manager, Strategy and Operations.

Why Did My Car Insurance Bill Go Up?

Some surprises are pleasant: an unexpected raise, an upgrade to first class, a new puppy. And some — like a mysterious increase in your car insurance bill — are anything but. Some of the most common questions we hear from customers have to do with bill changes, and while there’s no one-size-fits-all answer (insurance is complicated!), there are a few common causes for a price increase.

An accident or traffic ticket. This is the big one. If you were at fault in any fender bender during your term, your insurance company would likely factor that into your rate when your policy renews. That’s because your driving record is one of the most important factors insurance carriers use to calculate your risk. A speeding ticket or other violation may have the same impact. In both situations, you may lose the “good driver discount” that takes three years of flawless driving to qualify for.

A change to your policy. Did you recently add a new driver to your insurance? Any switches to your plan or additions of different types of coverage? Any tweak to your previous plan changes the risk.

You qualified for a discount, but you don’t anymore. Sometimes the low rate you grew accustomed to was tied to a discount on your policy — but if something in your life changed (e.g., you went from married to single, you moved to a new ZIP Code, your defensive driving course took place several years ago) you may no longer qualify for that discount. 

Changes at the state level. It’s common for state-level factors, which individual drivers don’t have control over, to affect insurance prices. Everything from natural disasters to widespread insurance fraud impacts risk, and each state has a distinct regulatory agency that insurers work with to set rates. Since these factors are collective, they tend to produce more modest rate changes than individual driving habits.

Location, location, location. ZIP Code is a primary factor used to evaluate risk. If your area has experienced a rash of stolen cars, has more accident-prone drivers, or is more crowded with cars, you may see that additional risk reflected in your bill. 

If your bill recently went up, chances are one of these factors was behind it. (All of these factors can also contribute to a lower bill — but as you might guess most customers are a-ok with a lower rate.)

We know a rate increase is frustrating, which is why we offer our customers some control over their bill by charging per mile; we can help you get started.

Still have questions about your bill? We’re available by chat, email, and phone to help.

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Michelle Konstantinovsky is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist, UC Berkeley alumna, and Metromile customer. 


Simple Ways to De-Stress Behind the Wheel

A few years ago, Time Magazine ran an article titled “10 Things Your Commute Does to Your Body.” Spoiler alert: none of them were good. In fact, they were downright disturbing. The thorough roundup of research indicated a long list of frightening risks: high cholesterol, increased blood sugar, depression, anxiety, and more. You probably knew your time behind the wheel wasn’t doing you any big health favors but did you expect it to affect your physical and mental wellness significantly?

The root of many of these issues is, perhaps unsurprisingly, stress. From traffic jams and rude drivers to street closures and unexpected car trouble, driving can suck the life out of you. Luckily, there are some simple ways to keep your cool:

  1. Remember to breathe…literally. The first thing that many of us do when faced with stress is to hold our breath. Shocking news: this complete oxygen deprivation won’t help you cope or calm down. The good news is, you have the power to control your breath no matter where you are — even if where you are is stuck in rush hour. An easy go-to technique is to breathe deeply and fully through your nose, pause, and exhale slowly.
  2. Listen to soothing music or an entertaining podcast. The research on whether music and podcasts are driving distractions is mixed, so you have to figure out for yourself whether these auditory additions will greatly improve or further mess with your experience. (Might we suggest music or a light podcast and avoiding oft frustrating subjects like sports or politics?)
  3. Improve your posture. It may sound small and silly, but modifying your position in the driver’s seat can go a long way toward improving your overall outlook. Notice if you’re gripping the steering wheel and gently loosen your grip; lean back and avoid hunching and slumping your shoulders; unclench your jaw. And if you really want to treat yourself, consider an ergonomic cushion or seat back to feel great every time you get behind the wheel.
  4. Create a stress-free schedule. Running late has a way of magnifying the small stresses of driving. Try getting out the door 15 minutes earlier and see how it affects your mood — easier said than done, of course!
  5. Consider an alternative. De-stressing behind the wheel can help, but we’d be remiss not to mention driving less in the first place…it’s our thing. Perhaps you’d appreciate public transit? A morning bike ride? A carpool buddy? It’s tough to oversell the benefits of ditching a car commute altogether.

There’s a bonus if you take that last bit of advice: more money in your wallet from saving on gas, maintenance, and insurance. We can help with the savings; we leave the relaxing habits to you.

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Michelle Konstantinovsky is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist, UC Berkeley alumna, and Metromile customer. 


Not Your Father’s Car Insurance: How Technology is Upending the Industry

Jeff Briglia is our Chief Insurance Officer.

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It’s no secret that mobility is on the cusp of a revolution. Increasingly, autonomous vehicles are transforming the role of the driver, just as ride- and car-sharing platforms are changing car ownership.

What’s less obvious is that these same technologies are also upending automobile insurance. If a car is driving itself half the time, or all of the time, should the driver be held liable for an accident that is caused when the vehicle is in autonomous mode? If a person travels mostly by ride-sharing, and uses her own car very little, shouldn’t she pay a lower premium?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. An even bigger revolution is being driven by information technology — real-time driving data, or telematics, that makes it possible to know both how much and how safely each individual person (or car!) is driving. 

That promises to profoundly change the century-old approach for how insurers rate drivers for safety and how much they charge.  

Put simply, instead of lumping drivers into different risk-groups based on proxies for risk like age, education, and even gender, telematics makes it possible to rate drivers based primarily on their actual, individual driving practices. 

Done correctly, this will greatly increase fairness for consumers. Imagine this: one of the most expensive times to have auto insurance is when you have a teenage driver on your policy. Taken as a group, teens get into accidents at a much greater rate than adults. Today, your teen is assumed to drive like the average teen and, as a result, you pay for it. In the future, your teen driver’s insurance rate will be based on how she actually drives; not only is this a fairer way to price insurance but it also creates stronger accountability for people of all ages to drive more safely. 

Equally important, the new technology will enable insurers to recognize the kaleidoscope of new approaches to mobility. People who rely heavily on ride-sharing platforms, and only seldom drive their own cars, can now pay less because they drive fewer miles. 

We already have the fundamental technology. Metromile, which insures drivers based on the number of miles they drive and the quality of those miles, gives customers a device that plugs into the car’s diagnostic port and transmits a real-time stream of data about what’s happening. How many miles does each customer drive? Is any rapid acceleration or hard braking taking place? Is it a riskier time of day? Other technologies make it possible to spot signs of distracted driving or falling asleep at the wheel.

In fact, I can imagine a day when we don’t price at all on the basis of which risk-groups a person is in. If we have access to individual data and understand what it means, an extremely careful twenty-something millennial could end up paying less for car insurance than a 45-year-old Gen X’er  who appears shaky behind the wheel.

Telematics can also transform the way we, as insurers, interact with our customers. If we see signs of less-than-ideal driving practices, such as a lot of sudden accelerations and hard stops, we can gently advise them on ways to improve safety and get better mileage as well. If drivers know they may be rewarded for following better practices, and they are receiving concrete tips, they are likely to become safer drivers.  

Until recently, the biggest hurdle to this kind of personalized insurance has been knowing how to process all the incoming data. We’re talking about staggering amounts of data sent from millions of cars every minute of the day. Simply storing all that was a gargantuan task, and analyzing it was many times harder.

That has now changed. The plunging cost of computer processing power, and the explosive advances in artificial intelligence and “deep learning” computers, enable us to make sense out of what would have seemed like chaos just a few years ago.

To be sure, we have a ways to go.

For all the computing and algorithmic power at our fingertips, this is an entirely new approach to modeling driver safety. New approaches require new principles for risk analysis. The leaders in this new field will be companies that can both collect all that data and then actually learn the digital traits of safe drivers. Even after accomplishing all that, insurers will need to translate those risk-profiles into practical underwriting principles. 

It’s also important to acknowledge that insurance is a regulated industry, and most state regulators are still grounded in traditional group-based insurance models. We are already working with several states to test-drive new kinds of policies, but this is a learning process for them as well as for consumers.

Metromile is in a strong position here. Because we started from the ground up with a model based on individual driving rather than group patterns, we enjoy a big headstart in understanding almost every conceivable kind of driver in almost every conceivable situation. We have data on more than 2 billion miles of driving so far…and we’re still in the early stages.  

As a 20-year insurance industry vet, this is by far the most exciting time for innovation and improvement that I have ever experienced. 

We’re putting drivers back in the driver’s seat.

What to Do if You Don't Get the Other Driver's Info

 
You’ve probably heard it a million times: if you have the misfortune of getting into a car accident, you’ve got to immediately swap info with the other driver. That means exchanging details like license plate numbers, contact details, and of course, your insurance information. But what if, for whatever reason, you’re involved in an accident and you don’t get the other driver’s deets? 

There can be a lot of chaos that ensues post-accident. Whether you’re too stressed to remember all the items on your checklist or you experience the unfortunate event of a hit-and-run, there are still steps you can take to make sure you’re taken care of. 

  1. Make sure you’re okay. This may sound obvious, but when the shock of an accident sets in, you may lose sight of what’s happening in the present moment. Take a moment to check yourself and any passengers for injuries, and, if you’re able, to move your car to a safe spot. 
  2. Call the cops. We get it — it can feel silly to involve the police in something as seemingly minor as a fender bender. But a police report can be an essential part of filing a claim, so if everyone’s in okay shape, call the police non-emergency line (use 911 if there are injuries or serious damage). It’s best to get a report number if you can.
  3. Write down what you remember. Pull out a pen and paper, open the Notes app on your phone — do whatever you have to do to start jotting down memories. Any details about the scene of the accident and the vehicle or individual involved is fair game, so things like the license plate number, the color, make, or model of the other car, or anything about the driver can be useful. Do what you can to focus and get it all down on a blank page. 
  4. Take photos. One of the biggest perks of constantly carrying around a smartphone is the ability to snap high quality pics at a moment’s notice. Take pictures of everything you can — the outside of your car, any damage it sustained, the surrounding area of the accident, etc. In the case of a hit-and-run, even the tiniest details could help police find the other driver.
  5. Look around for witnesses. Not only do you have a phone in your pocket — chances are, just about everyone else in the vicinity does too, and it’s very possible someone else recorded evidence of your accident. But even if no one nearby captured a photo or video of the incident, bystanders may be able to tell you about details you somehow missed, like which way the driver went after the accident, or identifying characteristics about their car. Jot down your witnesses’ info just in case your insurance carrier or the police need to touch base with them later. 
  6. Contact your insurance company. Whether the other driver took off after the accident or even flat out refused to hand over their info, you should absolutely still notify your insurance company about the accident. Not only does your insurance carrier likely require you get in touch within a reasonable time, they can make things easier by taking some of the work out of your hands.

And if you want some added peace of mind, perhaps it’s time to give Metromile a shot; one of our unique features is a virtual assistant named AVA who makes filing claims a snap, and can often verify where and when an accident happened and details like how hard the impact was. In some cases she can even ensure instant payment and help you schedule repairs.
Accidents are never convenient, but following the steps above — and considering whether you have the right insurance provider — will make for the smoothest possible claims process. 
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Michelle Konstantinovsky is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist, UC Berkeley alumna, and Metromile customer. 

The #1 Rule of Buying a Used Car

 
If you’re trying to spend less on driving, the thought of buying a vehicle can be a little overwhelming; buying a car can be a huge expense. According to a recent Kelley Blue Book report, the average price of a new car increased to $37,577 from 2017 to 2018. Yikes! And while used cars can certainly cost a pretty penny too, they at least offer a much more affordable alternative…if you know what to look for. 
There’s one major to-do that far too many drivers fail to check off their list before forking over the cash for a used car, and it’s surprisingly simple: run a vehicle history report.

What is a vehicle history report?

Every used car — no matter if it’s in pristine condition — has a past. By reviewing the vehicle history report, you get direct insight into that past. Carfax.com and AutoCheck.com are the two most popular sources for reports, but there are other sources out there as well. They all dig up important information about your potential new car using its vehicle identification number (VIN). While the report can’t tell you exactly what’s happening under the hood of a car, it can offer a wealth of knowledge that reduces the risk around determining the car’s current state. 
Here’s what you’ll typically find in a vehicle history report:

  • Accidents. You can’t expect every minor fender bender to go on a vehicle’s permanent record, but any major accidents have usually been reported to an insurance company. Those accidents will wind up here. 
  • Number of owners/type of uses: Knowing how many people have owned the car and how they might have used it can make a big difference in your decision to buy. Was the car mostly kept in the garage by one occasional driver, or was it put to work as a rideshare vehicle? Knowing the facts — and whether it may have been passed down along a long chain of family or friends — may influence your buying mindset. 
  • Maintenance records: Service visits aren’t always listed on the report, but if the previous owner took the car in to the dealership, you’ll find out about it. 
  • Odometer tampering: One major advantage of the report is its insight into odometer rollbacks. Less-than-reputable lots might tamper with the car’s distance measurement to sell older cars at higher prices. If this ever happened to a vehicle, it will go on its history report.  
  • Salvage title: Even if a vehicle endures a “total loss” (meaning the insurance company declared the cost of repairs would exceed the cash value of the car), it could still very well be drivable. But you’d probably want to know about it, right? Luckily, insurance companies issue something called a “salvage title” that notifies future buyers of the incident. This goes on a vehicle history report, too. 

Bottom Line

Ordering a vehicle history report typically costs between $25 and $40 — sometimes less if you’re checking multiple reports at once — or you may be able to snag a report on the dealer’s or lender’s dime. It’s a good idea to stay informed; you’ll be less likely to be blind-sided by any serious issues, and can save money on maintenance down the road.
And of course, a safer car can mean lower insurance rates (whether you buy that insurance by the mile or through a traditional insurer). The one-two punch of a vehicle history report and great car insurance can help you stay safe before and after you’re in the driver’s seat.
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Michelle Konstantinovsky is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist, UC Berkeley alumna, and Metromile customer.