Explained: How Do Car Black Boxes Work?

Black boxes. You might not get onto an aeroplane if you knew it was missing this essential bit of kit, but when it comes to cars, you probably despise them. If you’re a driver with one, you’re surely eager for the day when it’s ripped from under your car’s bonnet. If you’re stuck behind a driver with one attached to their car, you’re probably cursing your luck (or them) even though they won’t be doing anything wrong.

It’s not a popular piece of technology, but they do make a huge difference to the way you drive when you’ve got one fitted. And like anything else, there are pros and cons to consider before you make a decision about whether your car needs one.

Car speed dial

What is a Car Black Box?

A black box for your car is a small device that acts like a GPS tracker, allowing your insurance company or anyone else with permission to view and examine your driving habits. They look a bit like an old mobile phone, minus a screen, and they connect to the car’s power source to bring them to life.

These days, you can get ones that are self-fitted and will generally be suction-cupped onto the windscreen, or ones that should be fitted by a professional. This kind is almost certainly going to be hidden out of sight under the bonnet. Some even come in the form of a smartphone app, but if this is offered, it’s more than likely going to be as an accompaniment to the physical device, allowing you to view your own driving statistics that have been gathered by the box.

What Are the Benefits of Fitting a Black Box In Your Car?

As it turns out, this little piece of plastic filled with sensors and wires can actually have a pretty significant impact on some very important things.

First of all, you’re going to be following the rules of the road to a tee. Anything that’s not ‘by the book’ will be flagged up by the device and you’ll be advised to adjust your driving techniques accordingly. While that may sound frustrating and restrictive, it’s actually a good thing.

Not only is it preventing you from unwittingly breaking any laws and landing yourself in hot water with the police, it’s also going to keep you safe. If you fall into the category of ‘young’ new driver, that’ll keep your parents happy and save them from worrying too. Furthermore, it’ll help you develop good driving habits that will see you well for the rest of your driving life.

Secondly, it’ll dramatically lower your insurance premium. We mentioned that it’ll keep your parents from stressing, but having a black box connected to your car will do exactly the same for your insurer. The small tracking device grants confidence in your insurance provider, with your forced careful driving leading them to believe you’re less likely to damage the car and make a claim.

Car insurance for new drivers, especially if you are in your teens or early 20’s, can be ludicrously priced. It’s not uncommon for your first insurance policy to be more expensive than your first car! MoneySuperMarket’s study found that on average, using a telematic data gathering device can lower your insurance by around £150 annually for young drivers. As with any average calculation, there will be outliers that – if found – could save you much more. It pays to shop around.

Read More

What Are the Disadvantages of a Black Box?

Let’s stay on the topic of money for a moment, because if you’re considering a black box car insurance policy, saving financially is probably the only reason. If you’re about to hit the road for the first time as a qualified driver, you might be surprised by how little a black box actually saves you on your first-ever year of insurance. That’s probably because you’ve overlooked an extra fee: black box installation.

This cheeky hidden cost could cost around £50, or it could set you back as much as a couple of hundred pounds. If it’s the lower end, you’ll probably be given the option to pay it as a one-off, up-front payment, but if your insurance company is charging you more, it’s likely to be rolled into your first-year premium. This means your second-year premium could drop drastically, but that doesn’t help you afford what they’re asking for right now. When you bear in mind that there’s a self-fitted version, it makes you wonder just how hard it could be… Likewise, another cost you may have to pay at the end of your spell with your insurance company is a removal fee.

Black boxes also restrict what you can do with your car. A lot of black box insurance companies won’t like you driving at certain times of the day, effectively giving you a night time curfew. Ironically, this is the one thing a lot of young drivers hope to be free of now that they have the independence to drive. You might also be limited to where you can drive, with certain places being deemed more risky for inexperienced drivers. Or, they might limit how many miles you can drive per day, because thanks again to the law of averages, if you’re driving more, you’re putting yourself into more potentially dangerous situations, therefore increasing the risk of an accident. Break any of these policies and you may incur additional costs.

The trade-off here, though, is that a policy with more restrictions may cost you less. You need to evaluate your options and think about what you’re realistically going to be using the car for when deciding if a black box is right for you.

How Do Black Boxes Work?

These devices aren’t much to look at, but there’s a lot going on under their mundane plastic casing. They use telematics technology, which involves sending, receiving and storing data which can then be remotely accessed, and when applied to the motoring world, it’s used to track driving techniques and habits, as well as journeys and places visited.

If it sounds a bit too much like Big Brother is watching you, well, that’s exactly what it’s like. Your every move is being tracked, monitored and analysed by a group of people from an office somewhere and that, understandably, puts a lot of people off. There are even reports of smartphone app black boxes accidentally tracking customers when they’re journeying around town on foot!

But, maybe it’s not so bad. After all, at least they’re not like aeroplane black boxes which also record audio from inside the cockpit. Your mobile karaoke sessions can carry on in privacy. This is what they do record:

The following data is gathered to evaluate your driving style and performance.

The following data is gathered to calculate whether you’re being exposed to more high-risk situations.

  • Location
  • Length of Journey
  • Total Journeys Made
  • Time of Day
  • Overall Mileage

With all this data at their disposal, your insurance company can undertake a complete evaluation of your driving and monitor your risk level. If you’re found to be braking hard on a regular basis, or if your mileage suddenly starts to increase after a period in which you barely drove at all, your insurance company can charge you.

In fact, if any of the above statistics start to look a bit unusual on their end, and they re-evaluate your likelihood of crashing, you could end up with extra fees to pay.

How to Install a Black Box In Your Car

If you’re looking at getting a black box that’s hidden away in the engine bay, the short answer is, you don’t. The insurance company that you choose will want to arrange an appointment so that they can send out a technician to fit it for you (hence the fitting fees mentioned earlier). If you were to somehow get hold of the black box in advance and try to fit it yourself without the insurer’s approval, they would almost certainly consider that worthy of policy cancellation. Leave it to the experts. Then, you’ll be provided with instructions on how to access the data and view your own driving habits post-journey.

However, if you’ve got one of those new-fangled, self-fitted ones, you’ll need to know how to get them up and running. More advanced versions simply stick to the windscreen, behind the car’s rear-view mirror, and pair with an app on your phone via Bluetooth, but other types of self-fitted black boxes can be connected via the vehicle’s OBD (On-Board Diagnostics) port. You may also find yourself with a black box that is definitely not box-shaped, which plugs into the 12v port. For the younger drivers, that’s the socket that you’ve heard older generations refer to as the ‘cigarette lighter’.

If your insurance policy has a virtual black box in the form of a smartphone app, it’s as simple as installing and logging in. Your phone’s built-in GPS will do the rest.

Car driving

Can You Remove a Black Box?

Removing (or even deactivating) your black box during your insurance policy is a definite no-no. The moment you disconnect the black box, your insurers will be notified and will likely be contacting you to check what’s going on. Failure to reconnect the black box might lead them to increase your premium (or rather, remove the black box discount) or even cancel your policy altogether. Plus, if you were to have an accident while the black box was deactivated, they’re unlikely to pay out on any claim you make. You need to understand what you’re getting yourself into before you sign up to having one of these things fitted.

If your policy has run its course and you’ve found a great insurance deal that doesn’t require tracking data to be gathered, you can of course leave your current insurers. If you’ve been using a simple self-fitted box or app, then you can remove or uninstall them, respectively. You should have been given instructions on how to do so, but it’ll probably just be a case of unplugging any power connection and removing it from the port or windscreen.

But, if you’ve got a professionally-fitted black box, you’ll usually be given two options. As soon as the policy ends, the black box will be switched off, and it can remain on your car forevermore if you’re fine with that. You can get it removed if you want, but naturally, you’ll be expected to pay for the removal.

Technically, once you’ve cut ties with your old insurers, there’s nothing stopping you from performing a DIY removal. Just don’t damage the car in the process, or your new insurance company won’t be too pleased.

Can You Sell or Scrap a Car With a Black Box?

If your black box insurance policy has expired and you want to sell your car, you don’t need to have it removed. As we mentioned earlier, once you end your contract with the insurer, they’re no longer interested in the black box. You should, however, notify any prospective buyers of the vehicle that it has a black box installed. If they decide that they do want the device removed, you may need to pay the technician callout fee, or sell elsewhere.

If your first car has reached the end of its lifespan, or if your black box couldn’t prevent an accident which has damaged the vehicle beyond repair, it’s probably time to think about selling your car for scrap or salvage. Scrap Car Comparison can find you the best price in just 30 seconds using our scrap value calculator, then our buyers will collect your worn-out car at no extra cost, from anywhere in the country. Find out how much your car is worth and sell it today with Scrap Car Comparison.

Get Quote Now

Get Offers For
Your Scrap Car In
Less Than 30 Seconds


Your request is processing

Your request is processing...