What Is a Telematics Device?

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A telematics device is an instrument that records information about your driving behavior, including how fast you drive, how hard you brake, and the distance you drive. It's installed in your car. 

Insurers use telematics devices in special safe driver programs, including Snapshot from ProgressiveDrive Safe & Save from State Farm, and SmartRide from Nationwide. Commercial fleet operators also use telematics devices to track vehicles and monitor safe driving behavior. 

But you don't have to be a professional truck driver or interested in saving money to benefit from a telematics device. Some offer also information about your vehicle's health and suggest routine maintenance.

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Where are telematics devices installed?

Safety expert Katie McEntire installing the MOTOsafety vehicle GPS tracker into a car's OBD port.

The OBD II Port is located under the steering wheel. Image: SafeWise

Telematics devices plug into a vehicle’s on-board diagnostics port (OBD II Port), which all vehicles that are newer than 1996 have. This port is typically located beneath the steering wheel of the car, making the device easy to install. As soon as the telematics monitor is installed, it will start recording information about your driving habits and passing them on to a connected app or to your insurer.

What are the advantages of telematics devices?

  1. Insurance savings: Provided you are a good driver, you can get a hefty discount on your insurance when the device reports your travel history.
  2. Safe driving reminders: If you aren’t a great driver, an insurance-provided telematics device can help you remember to avoid hard braking, heed the speed limit, and drive safer overall.
  3. Monitoring teen drivers: Some parents use the GPS feature in telematics devices to make sure their teen drivers aren't going anywhere off-limits or going over the speed limit.
  4. Commercial fleet logistics: Telematics devices play a crucial role in commercial fleet logistics by tracking the vehicle's location and speed.

How do I get a telematics device?

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There are several options for getting a telematics device in your car. Your insurer may also offer a specific model through a program like Drive Safe & Save or SmartRide. In that case, contact an agent to get a telematics device for your car.

The second option is to buy a car that has one built into the vehicle. Newer cars may have this technology built right in.

If you don’t have a car that already includes this technology, then you can simply purchase a device from a tech store or online and install it yourself.

Check our guide to the best vehicle GPS trackers to compare models. Our top choices also give driving scores and maintenance reminders. 

Read more: 

Are smartphone apps replacing telematics devices?

In some cases, yes. We've seen car insurance companies shift away from telematics devices and toward smartphone apps for their safe driver programs. The apps tap into the phone's GPS system and accelerometer to measure speed, hard braking, and rough acceleration. 

Some of these apps can also tell you how often you use your phone when you're behind the wheel, helping you become aware of distracted driving habits. On the downside, though, the apps can't give you vehicle maintenance reports. 

Staying safe on the road

Telematics devices are just one element of a safe driving plan. You can also make your car more secure by adding aftermarket safety devices, like dash cams or car theft prevention products.

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Cathy Habas
Written by
Cathy Habas
With over eight years of experience as a content writer, Cathy has a knack for untangling complex information. Her natural curiosity and ability to empathize help Cathy offer insightful, friendly advice. She believes in empowering readers who may not feel confident about a purchase, project, or topic. Cathy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Indiana University Southeast and began her professional writing career immediately after graduation. She is a certified Safe Sleep Ambassador and has contributed to sites like Safety.com, Reviews.com, Hunker, and Thumbtack. Cathy’s pride and joy is her Appaloosa “Chacos.” She also likes to crochet while watching stand-up comedy specials on Netflix.

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