You can choose from a dizzying array of smartphone apps today, ranging from the ingenious to the ridiculous (such as the iBeer, which lets you pretend to drink a beer). If you prefer practical apps, some of the most useful ones are now provided from an industry long thought of as stodgy – insurance companies.
Auto insurance apps are especially useful, mainly because the times you most need insurance information or assistance are the times you are most likely to be away from traditional methods of contact.
In the early days, car insurance apps were primarily just lists and reminders. However, with today's smartphones containing high-quality cameras and plenty of storage and interactive capability, most car insurance apps have expanded to become near-extensions of the insurance agent's office. In case of an accident, these apps are invaluable for recording and sending information.
All major car insurance companies and many smaller ones have free apps that you can download for whatever operating system or device you have. Virtually all of them maintain the original checklists of what to do in case of an accident and other helpful hints, but they also share these enhanced capabilities:
- Policy Management/Purchase – You can access your insurance information, get policy updates and/or quotes on new policies, pay premiums, and purchase a policy through the app.
- Proof of Insurance – Instead of having to produce your paper insurance card as proof of insurance when a cop pulls you over, you can call up your insurance information on the app for the officer (or anyone else that has a legitimate need to know). Some states or areas may not accept this as valid proof yet, so check with your local authorities – although it seems inevitable that it will be universally accepted.
- Accident Toolkits – These are some of the most useful and comforting uses for insurance apps. You can record all of the information that you will need for the claims process – information from all drivers and witnesses involved, and photos that show the damage to all cars involved and the circumstances of the accident (area, conditions, tire tracks or relevant information that can be used to establish fault – or lack thereof).
- Initiating Claims – By enabling you to start the claims process almost immediately after an accident, insurance apps can help you get your transportation issues settled as quickly as possible. However, different insurance agencies are going to have different policies on how much of your claim work can be handled through the app, depending on your policy and the nature and complexity of the claim. Refer to your policy to make sure you understand the limitations of the app.
- Emergency Roadside Assistance – Most insurance apps allow for connections for roadside assistance and can direct you to appropriate service centers. However, the extent to which these are helpful depends on the roadside assistance program that is included in your policy.
As apps become more popular and mainstream, insurance companies are coming up with interesting features or variations of the apps as marketing tools. Among the interesting variations are "Lily", Geico's "interactive voice assistant" analogous to the iPhone's Siri, State Farm's app for younger drivers to log driving habits and receive safe driver discounts as a result, and Allstate's app tailored specifically to motorcycle riders.
If you have a smartphone and have not already installed an app from your car insurance company, check to see what is available and how it can help you – and if you are getting ready to renew your policy or change insurers, don't forget to investigate these free mobile apps as part of your decision-making process. And when it comes to the iBeer, remember that iDrinking and iDriving don’t mix!