My folks and I recently argued (in a friendly way) over whether Progressive’s “snapshot” is an actual thing you can hold or simply a service they offer. My parents said it was just a part of a policy—an abstraction. But the commercials show this dongle-like plug-in that keeps track of the insured’s driving habits. I contended that the snapshot was actually a good, and that it would be false advertising to show a good, while it was simply a service they offered. Well, we were both right, depending on how you view the thing—that an insurance company would actually sell something you can hold is novel enough.
This device isn’t peculiar to Progressive—other insurance companies have their own answers to it. I was confirmed in my suspicions that they were not, in fact, falsely advertising a good for a service—at least, not in legalistic sense. But the general impression that the commercial creates associates Progressive with other hard work, the results of which are the production of goods.
Progressive recently rolled out a commercial that showed aprons, accompanied by a piano ditty that would fit nicely along any Spielbergesque tearjerking scene. They show a procession of aprons in various settings: Hanging outside a barn, in a restaurant kitchen, in a forge, in a luthier’s shop, hung on a vineyard hand(?), working at sunrise in Winecountry, etc. All who would wear these aprons make goods or creatively shape them into goods—and they tend to work for small businesses to boot. The commercial wants you to conflate these notions of goods and services, with the added insinuation of being friendly like a small, mom-and-pop business.
An insurance company doesn’t really do that, and they aren’t really a small business. Sure, they commissioned these dongles from somewhere in East Asia. They give you this dongle so they can spy on your driving via your car’s digitized brain, and the insurance company adjusts the meter on your risk quotient accordingly. You drive well, you can save money. Seems like a good enough idea; but we might as well ask whether the government’s surveillance programs will get us to behave better. (After all, if you’re late for work, or up to no good, you can always unplug the snapshot.)
Anyway, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that this program will lead to better driving, which would be good. But is it really honest to associate this dongle and apron thing with hard work that produces goods? How a car insurance company functions is a hybrid between a bank and a credit rating agency (and indeed, failed company AIG was a default insurance company). Instead of assessing lending risk and accordingly adjusting interest rates—the costs of having money to use—a car insurance company assesses the risk of you driving a car and adjusts your premiums accordingly. They don’t make anything. Like a bank, they sit on a pile of money paid in by members, and dole it out to garages and customers who need it while raising their premiums. They take their profits and invest them in other corners of the FIRE sector. They employ a workforce that produces affects in weary and traumatized customers, but that workforce doesn’t wear aprons. Then there are the agents who assesses the damage, but they don’t wear an apron, either. They are photographers who, along with the mechanic, settle on a price to fix your car.
The Asian people who build those snapshot dongles probably do wear some sort of apron. But they don’t really work for Progressive.
The snapshot they make jots down your speed and distance covered. With that information, someone interested enough can typically gather where you’ve traveled. Depending on your habits, that may or may not bother you, but it’s safe to assume that the data mined from your car’s brain could wind up on some bureaucrat’s computer screen without the courts batting their eyelashes. Just saying.
Again, though, the dishonesty is in the symbolism of the apron, worn by Flo, who sells boxes of insurance, bundled as if they were a cords of wood. It suggests they produce something of value to the economy. In reality, they are a just one of many snakes on the head of the FIRE-hydra that suck the life out of people. Part of the cost of being alive, I guess, is overpaying somebody to fix our cars when the proverbial turd hits the radiator fan.
Now, these body shops also overestimate the cost of making a car roadworthy. Typically, half the repair costs go into getting it up to code again, and the other half in making the car look pretty—e.g. repainting the whole thing so the new paneling fades out at the same rate as the old. (If this is actually a serious concern of yours, then our schools have failed to interest you in anything of substance. You are a sad, shallow, pathetic person and I pity you.) So you pay a lot of superfluous costs. “Totaling” implies a whole loss of an automobile, but an insurance company totals a car out at 75% of its value, because it often would cost them a lot just to put you in a rental car while your car is being repaired. So a totaled car doesn’t have to resemble a squashed aluminum can—it often doesn’t need to have much damage at all to be “totaled.” Mechanics overshoot their estimates (not judging—they still gotta eat), the insurance companies overpay, and then extract their repayment from your future insurance premiums, while giving car companies another sale.
Which brings me to a curious phenomenon: A great many people believe that, when it costs more to repair their cars than the Bluebook value of the cars, it must be time to buy a new car. People advise this to others when no insurance company is involved—say, when you forget to put oil in your engine and it seizes up and throws a rod. It’s a mantra that repetition has validated, I suppose, but I’m not sure why people blithely throw out this advice. You may or may not want to fix your old car; but for the price of fixing it in a “totaled” scenario, you’re not going to be able to buy a new car. You can buy a used car or lease one, but you’re not going to have a car in perfect condition. If you lease a car, then you’ll never own it. If you’re not familiar with cars, you’ll be taking whatever the salesman or mechanic says about your new car on faith, and not by sight. In fact, they’re banking on you not knowing much about cars. Your ignorance keeps the economy going strong.
If you own a real lemon, then it’s probably time to buy something that doesn’t break down all the time. But broadly applying an insurance coverage principle to everyday car repair confuses yourself with a company that’s trying to make money off of you. For instance, nobody will pay you premiums for insuring your own car. You have no extraneous income or money pool to draw upon, other than a loan from a bank. So don’t mistake their situation with yours. And while you’re at it, don’t mistake a FIRE company for a farm, a vineyard, a forge, a flower shop, a luthier, or a moped designer. If you regard them as akin to any profession, regard them as a bank that employs ex-mechanics as photographers, and machines that take snapshots of your driving.
Frankly, I prefer the insurance commercials that employ talking animals.