This year, Americans want to spend their Memorial Day weekend away from home, despite reports that gas prices are going to be the highest they’ve been in more than a decade.
This is according to a recent report from AAA, which used economic variables to forecast domestic travel volumes, as well as data from research firm IHS Markit. The study — which qualified Memorial Day travel as going 50 or more miles away from home during Thursday, May 25 and Monday, May 29 — predicts that 39.3 million travelers will be hitting the road this year for the long weekend, which is up 2.7% (roughly one million) from 2016, making this the highest volume of Memorial Day weekend travel since 2005.
And as the amount of travelers increase, so do gas prices. The gas prices averaged at around $2.74 in 2015, dropped to $2.32 in 2016 but are predicted to rise to the highest gas prices since 2005, AAA reported. This is unfortunate news for the 34.6 million Americans (88.1% of travelers) who reportedly plan to drive to their destinations.
“The expected spike in Memorial Day travel mirrors the positive growth seen throughout the travel industry this year,” said Bill Sutherland, AAA senior vice president, Travel and Publishing. “Higher confidence has led to more consumer spending, and many Americans are choosing to allocate their extra money on travel this Memorial Day.”
What You’ll Pay to Get Away
Although the survey reports travelers intend to drive despite high gas prices, this isn’t the only thing they’ll need to consider as they get behind the wheel. According to last year’s accident and traffic data from Waze, a community-based mapping app, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York were the busiest metro areas over Memorial Day weekend, especially on Thursday and Friday. An extra precaution should be taken for most drivers especially because the number of car rentals are increasing this year as well. AAA’s car rental bookings are 19% higher than last Memorial Day and the cost has risen to an average of $66 per day, 7% more than last year.
The 2.9 million Americans choosing to fly to their destinations are also seeing a cost increase. AAA reports airfare rates are higher than last Memorial Day, saying the average airfare for the top 40 domestic flight routes will be 9% higher. If you do plan on flying anywhere this Memorial Day weekend, you may want to read up on the best credit cards to use at every major airport in America to help ensure you get the best bang for your buck when you’re there. Just remember, these travel cards tend to require you have an excellent credit score to qualify. So, if you’re looking to apply for one, it’s a good idea to check out your credit ahead of time. You can see two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.
While driving and flying dominate the survey, AAA projects travel by other modes (including trains, buses and cruises) will rise to 1.75 million this year, the highest level since 2009. The cost for transportation isn’t the only thing on the rise — hotels costs are also going up. The average AAA Three Diamond Rated Hotel for this Memorial Day weekend costs an average $215 each night, 18% more than last year.
Whether you’re getting an oil change, having your tires rotated, or facing a more complicated repair, like replacing the alternator, it’s possible your visit to the auto repair shop will end up being more expensive than you anticipated.
Automobile maintenance costs an average $792 per year, according to the AAA’s 2016 “Your Driving Costs” study, and you don’t need mechanics padding their bills with unnecessary repairs and charges.
Most technicians genuinely want to help, says Lauren Fix, who is known as “The Car Coach” and is the spokesperson for the nonprofit Car Care Council. But there are times when you should question what the mechanic tells you.
Here are five common lies and ways to combat them.
1. “You can use any kind of oil in your car.”
Technicians often say you can use any oil in your car despite what your service schedule or car manual states.
“Run the oil that your service schedule tells you,” Fix says. “Running the wrong oil in your engine can void your warranty.”
2. “You need to fix this now before it’s a problem.”
Sometimes a technician may exaggerate a problem because he wants to talk you into paying for a repair you may not need at that time.
Check your service schedule before saying yes, because it’s the “Bible for your car,” Fix says. If you’ve lost your service schedule or you bought a used car, check out carcare.org for a customizable service schedule specifically for your vehicle. This will act as your guide.
You can save more than $1,200 a year in repairs if you follow your service schedule and are proactive with any problems, the Car Care Council states.
Fix also warns that sometimes a technician will exaggerate to make you understand that there is actually a problem with your car. Ask for a second opinion if you’re unsure.
“Even if he finds a new problem with your car while working on a problem you have already discussed, you have to assume that it is possible,” Fix says.
3. “That damage didn’t happen here.”
Sometimes it’s just a small scratch or ding. Accidents happen, even by people who are paid to repair your car.
A California shop tried to cover up severe damage to Michelle and Albert Delao’s automobile after it fell several feet from a lift in 2015, the couple says. Employees didn’t tell the Delaos what happened to their car, instead saying that the shop was waiting on a part. The store offered to pay for a rental car while their vehicle was being worked on.
When they finally got their car, Michelle says she immediately knew something was wrong.
“I could tell from little things about the way the car was driving,” she says. “It was wobbly, and we could hear glass in the passenger window, which was weird, because we never had a glass or window problem before.”
To try to resolve the problems, they purchased a new set of tires to stop the wobbling. But they got a call a month later from a technician at the shop, they say. The couple learned that the car fell several feet onto its side, piercing the bottom and shattering the front passenger window, along with other damage to the car’s body. When the technicians could not get the car off the lift, a tow truck was called to pull the vehicle down, causing more damage, they say.
When she called the manager and store to ask about the incident, Michelle says both denied anything happened until she showed the owner the pictures from the technician.
After finding out the true extent of the damage, the Delaos took their car to the dealership, which confirmed all the damage at over $20,000, totaling their car. The couple has filed a lawsuit against the auto repair shop.
The incident has given the couple a severe distrust of technicians, Michelle says.
“It’s just sad, really,” Albert says. “It’s like when people need to go to the doctor. We have to have our car. We don’t know anything about it. We’re not mechanics.”
4. “This part cost more than we anticipated.”
An easy way for technicians to make more money is by overcharging for a part or repair. If you’re not sure how much a repair will cost, get multiple quotes in writing.
“Never do anything without getting a quote in writing,” Fix says. “That is how you know someone knows what they’re talking about and will uphold that when you get it in writing.”
If you don’t like to go in blind, you can get a general idea of what a repair or part will cost with research.
“Education and information are power,” Fix says.
Fix suggests RepairPal.com, which helps people not well versed in car mechanics be more prepared for when someone gives them a quote. You can type in your car’s mechanical issue to research the problem and the reliable cost for the part and labor for your area.
5. “The cheap tires will be just fine.”
When it comes time for new tires, technicians may try to talk you into buying the cheapest brands. Don’t listen, Fix says.
“When people come in saying they need to replace tires, they need to use the same tire brand and size,” she says. “The size and brands of the tires impacts your handling, traction, and safety for your car.”
Ask your friends and family. Personal experience is the best way to find a reliable technician, so ask the people you trust.
Check with a dealer. Along with specializing in your car, they can also help with recalls or possibly help find you a new technician if your warranty has expired.
If your vehicle is safe to drive, take it to another mechanic for a second opinion.
If your check engine light comes on, head to your local auto parts store, not a mechanic. Their equipment will find the issue, which empowers you with information before you schedule your car for service.
Dozens of companies — from tech giants like Tesla, Google, and Microsoft to auto manufacturers like Jaguar and Audi — are in a race to put driverless cars on the roads in the U.S.
By some accounts, there could be as many as 10 million cars with self-driving functionality on North American roads by 2020. A more conservative estimate, coming from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, predicts there will be 3.5 million self-driving vehicles by 2025, and 4.5 million by 2030. We’re still quite a long way off from those benchmarks. Tesla, for example, has only installed autopilot software on roughly 90,000 of its cars over the last two years. The software is still in beta testing.
The question now is whether safer, driverless vehicles will lead to any significant declines in auto insurance costs. If driverless cars make roads safer and lead to fewer accidents, shouldn’t that be reflected in auto insurance rates? And, in a driverless car society, if computers are technically “manning” the wheel, shouldn’t the insurance burden be shifted from the driver to the auto manufacturer itself?
MagnifyMoney reached out to several experts in the auto insurance space to see how they expect driverless cars to change the insurance landscape.
A change is gonna come … slowly
Among other benefits, driverless vehicles are expected to significantly reduce auto accidents, as driver error is the cause of 94% of all accidents, according to U.S. government figures. When driverless cars finally become mainstream, car accidents could decline by 80%, according to KPMG, the audit, tax, and advisory giant.
By and large, accident liability won’t go away completely even with powerful computers behind the wheel. That issue came to the forefront with a recent fatal crash in Florida, where a 40-year-old man was killed as a passenger in a Tesla self-driving vehicle.
Don’t expect insurance rates to drop if you purchase a car with an autonomous driving feature, several experts say.
“Insurance premiums will remain flat even with self-driving vehicles,” says Ashley Hunter, president of HM Risk Group, an underwriting firm located in Austin, Texas. Some automakers have made impressive progress in creating self-driving vehicles, but there is still room for error. “It still requires a driver behind the wheel in the event you need to take over,” Hunter adds.
Hunter likens driverless auto insurance to aviation insurance. “Once autopilot technology was created and became pervasive in airplanes, you didn’t see premiums go up – they roughly stayed the same,” she says.
Other insurance industry professionals agree.
“Liability insurance will definitely still be needed,” says D.J. Noland, an agent with McGhee Insurance Agency in North Little Rock, Ark. “The possibility of
the computer to malfunction is very real. Computers are only as good as their
designers and therefore have imperfections.”
The question of liability in the event of an accident is much trickier to answer. Who’s to blame when a self-driving car has an accident and is at fault while operating autonomously — the automaker or the driver?
“It will be interesting to see the insurance industry evolve to adopt new models to address the risk,” says Noland. “Ordinarily, the driver is the answer. Now we’ll have to look at the manufacturer of the car and the software company as possible liable parties.”
For that reason, new auto insurance policies will have to include a new price for these factors, and new underwriting models will be required to develop the pricing, Noland adds.
“Admittedly, without much data this early on, I think insurance prices will decline with mass adoption of driverless vehicles, but we’ll need more data — and a better understanding of the underlying technology — to accurately understand the risk and pricing by insurance companies,” he says.
A “nightmare” for insurance companies
For insurance companies, self-driving vehicles represent a “nightmare scenario,” says Joel Ohman, a certified financial planner and chief editor at CarInsuranceComparison.com, in Seattle, Wash.
Ohman sees a frightening scenario for auto insurance CEOs, where “perfect” robotic drivers will drive down accident rates and thus force insurers to drastically reduce their premiums.
“That’s why robotic driverless cars should be causing car insurance company CEOs to break out in a cold sweat at the mere thought of trying to sell insurance on cars that never get into accidents,” he says.
Other industry insiders say that while driverless-based insurance rates may decrease over time, there will still be risks that need to be covered.
“For example, many self-driving car prototypes have sensors on the bumpers, so they’ll likely be one of the first parts damaged in the event of a simple rear-end collision,” says Ryan Ruffing, a spokesperson for EverQuote.com, the largest online auto insurance marketplace in the U.S. “Furthermore, there may be satellite damage to cover, cybersecurity claims and general wear and tear of self-driving cars.”
In the long run, as cars get safer, drivers should expect insurance rates to go down, Ruffing says. “However, it may be decades before that is the case,” he states. “In the meantime, self-driving car owners should ask their insurance agents what their future plan is, and how they plan to insure self-driving vehicles. They may want to ask their agents if they foresee rates rising or decreasing. If car owners aren’t satisfied with the response, they can always shop around and ask other insurance companies.”
What to ask your insurance agent
Ruffing offers three key questions to ask your insurance agent if you’re in the market for a self-driving car:
What happens if my autopilot goes awry?
Will you cover that type of claim?
Will my insurance rates rise because of that, even though it would not be my fault?Right now, virtually no insurance companies are proactively insuring self-driving cars, primarily because there are no commercially available self-driving cars on the road today. One of the rare insurers already offering robotic driving insurance is U.K.-based Adrian Flux Insurance Services. The policy covers several self-driving features, like self-parking and autopilot technology, as well as satellite-based systems failures and hacks from cyberfraudsters.
“We wanted to help provide confidence and clarity around the ongoing debate of ‘who is liable?’” says Gerry Bucke, Adrian Flux general manager.
Derek Benavides, an insurance agent with TWFG-Benavides Insurance, in Brownsville, Texas, says to tread cautiously before getting into any self-driving cars.
“Unfortunately, the majority of insurance companies don’t have programs in place or rating systems that will aggressively price self-driving cars,” Benavides says. “Before you get into any self-driving vehicle, it’s extremely important to be clear with your agent that they are insuring that vehicle, and get it in writing.”
If you’re single, a renter, out of work or haven’t owned a car in a while — even your perfect driving record won’t be enough to get a good auto insurance rate.
It’s no secret that auto insurers consider a lot more than just your driving record when they calculate your premium. New customers are routinely asked to provide personal details, such as whether they’re married or single, renters or homeowners, unemployed or employed, college- or high school-educated.
It is how you answer these personal questions — not your driving record — that can result in higher premiums, a consumer advocacy group argues in a new report.
In a study of five of the leading auto insurers in the U.S., the Consumer Federation of America found drivers with a good driving record pay 59% more — or $681 per year on average — when their answers to these personal questions point to a lower income status (e.g.: people who answer that they are single, out of work, or have only a high school education). The CFA has long studied how economic status can be tied to higher auto insurance premiums.
For this report, they used the online quote features at Geico, State Farm, Farmers, Progressive, and All State. They created four driver profiles to test — two men and two women, each pair including a high and low socioeconomic status — and requested quotes from each insurer in 15 major cities.
All four drivers shared characteristics in common. They each had a stellar driving record, with no prior accidents or traffic violations. They were each listed as 30 years old living at the same address in each city tested.
Where the two test groups (we’ll call them Group A and Group B, for simplicity’s sake) differed was in how they answered the personal questions on each quote request. In group A, one woman and one man were married homeowners with executive level jobs, a master’s degree and three years with the same insurance company. In group B, the man and woman were single renters with high school degrees, and neither had owned a car in the last six months.
When the insurance quotes rolled in, an obvious trend emerged: across the board, Group B drivers were hit with higher premiums. On average, Group B drivers were quoted an average annual premium of $1,825. On the other hand, the married, home-owning, college-educated drivers from group A were quoted $1,144 per year.
GEICO and Progressive turned out to be the most costly option for drivers in Group B, charging premiums that were 92 percent and 80 percent more expensive, respectively, than premiums for Group A. In one extreme case from the report, GEICO quoted a man living in Minneapolis, Minn. from Group B two and a half times as much as the man from Group A – $1,840 per year compared to $528. The difference between premiums GEICO quoted for a low-economic status and high-economic status woman in Minneapolis was even more staggering — $2,158 vs. $528, amounting to a 300% upcharge.
MagnifyMoney reached out to all five insurers included in this report for comment. Each declined to comment.
James Lynch, senior actuary for the Institute, which represents the interests of insurers in the U.S., said insurers use personal information like marital status and education for a simple reason: they are highly predictive of whether a potential customer will cost the insurer in the future.
“Driving record is an important factor but it’s not the only predictor,” he added, noting insurers use upwards of 20 different factors to assess rates.
Get the best auto insurance rate possible
Short of state regulator intervention, auto insurers will be able to assess risk in their customers however they see fit. It’s up to drivers to do their due diligence in order to get the best rate possible. Even then,
Start with your state’s insurance department website. Since insurance is regulated at the state level, Hunter recommends checking your state’s office of insurance website to find out what average premiums are like in your area. This website should also list a number of reputable insurers you can contact for quotes. Take those names and check them out on the National Association of Insurance Commission’s database, which maintains a history of service issues and complaints.
Never accept your first offer. Asking several different insurers for auto insurance quotes is an important yet often overlooked part of the shopping process. As the CFA found in this report (among others), premiums can vary widely by state by state and insurer by insurer.
Let your good driving speak for you. Some auto insurers today offer usage-based tracking technology that allows them to see just how often and how well (or, how poorly) you drive. This technology can be a boon to good drivers who have low annual mileage and aren’t hit with any traffic violations. You’ll likely qualify for insurance discounts. It is entirely optional to allow your insurers to track you, as it obviously requires you to forfeit some privacy while on the road.