Are car gadgets affecting your car insurance rates?

Terri Huggins

For some drivers, there's nothing better than that new car smell and being surrounded by the gadgetry featured in many of the newest models. However, what many drivers don't realize is that some of those high-tech devices may affect their insurance premiums -- for better or for worse.

Not sure which features might earn you a premium discount and which might jack up the price? Here are some of the most popular features in vehicles today and how they could influence your car insurance rates.

Social networking

Automakers are experimenting with technology that allows smartphone apps to "talk" with vehicles. A General Motors ad that aired during the Super Bowl in January 2011, for example, showcased the Chevrolet Cruze and a new voice-controlled Facebook feature the company is testing. The feature allows drivers to have their friends' Facebook statuses read to them.

Although having instant access to Pandora stations, Facebook and Twitter at the push of a button might not directly affect insurance rates, it does raise some concerns about distracted driving.

"Facebook utilization would be a red flag for any officer of the law and would not be encouraged," says David Bruen, president of Bruen Deldin DiDio Associates, a Connecticut insurance agency.

Gadgets that let drivers be constantly connected with online media could make them less focused on the road. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood already has expressed his concern, telling the Wall Street Journal that there is "no reason" drivers should be engaged in social networking while behind the wheel.

Distracted-driving accidents leave dings on your driving record and leave you a high-risk driver in the eyes of your car insurance company. If a constant flood of information prevents you from keeping your mind on the road, turning your car into a social media hub could end up costing you -- in the form of higher premiums.

OnStar

State Farm and GMAC Insurance use OnStar technology to gauge how much you drive and adjust your premiums accordingly. The less you drive, the less you pay for car insurance.

But some of the other perks of OnStar technology (turn-by-turn directions and anti-theft features) may not translate directly into insurance discounts. Still, it doesn't hurt to ask, according to auto industry analyst Lauren Fix, whose The Car Coach website features vehicle reviews and safety tips.

"Make sure you contact (your insurance company) so they know you have it," Fix says. "And just because you have a subscription or any kind GPS doesn't mean you are using it. They just don't know if you are using these devices or not."

Anti-theft devices

If car alarms are built into a vehicle at the time of purchase, you'll likely be eligible for a rate reduction, according to Fix. If you add the alarm after you've purchased the car, you might not be. You can get a certificate saying you've added an alarm to the vehicle, but it's up to your insurance company to decide whether to honor it, according to Fix. In some cases, you may have to wait until you renew your policy to get the discount.

With proper certification, a car with LoJack (a vehicle tracker that can help police recover your car if it's stolen) can warrant insurance discounts on the optional comprehensive portion of your car insurance policy. According to LoJack's website, these discounts could be as much as 25 percent in some states.

Sound systems

You might want to think twice before investing in a new sound system and matching speakers. It's possible that it may raise some eyebrows for insurance providers. Then again, it may not warrant extra fees at all. To be on the safe side, check with your insurer.

"It makes sense to raise insurance rates on cars that are too loud, but there is no way to track down what you add on as aftermarket parts," Fix says.

Expensive equipment means you have more to lose if your car is stolen. But unless you're requesting extra comprehensive coverage to cover any loss from theft of the stereo system, adding sound systems shouldn't cause a spike in your auto insurance premiums, says Pete Moraga, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Network of California.

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