Cheapest car insurance may not be the best

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Every car driver has to have motor insurance by law. Yet, either through inertia or ignorance, so many sign up to policies where there are better options.

It’s vital to shop around. Many insurers continue to offer cheaper rates to new customers than the existing ones on their books. Answer all questions honestly and provide the required information. False information – including omitting key facts – can invalidate a claim.

One temptation is to insure your son or daughter’s car in your name and then put them on the policy as an additional driver to gain a lower premium even though they are effectively the sole driver. The RAC say this risks the youngsters being uninsured.

Don’t necessarily go for the cheapest quote. This is the problem with comparison websites which do not spell out key elements which ought to be considered, such as:

provision for a hire car if there is an accident;

Continental cover – if included or only at an extra charge;

level of excess;

emergency accommodation;

medical treatment cover;

provision for a second car in the household.

Legal expenses and breakdown cover are also available but check if you have the former already with other insurance. Weirdly some insurers insist on including legal expenses with no opting out and force up the cost of their premiums accordingly.

Breakdown cover is vital. Compare rates by taking this out separately before agreeing to it as an ‘add on’ with motor insurance.

Third party cover is one way to reduce cost. It may be worth considering if you have a relatively cheap vehicle which you are not worried about damaging. However, there are many downsides to such a decision.

Your insurer may not help to move the car if it is stuck on the roadside after an accident. They are also unlikely to assist with arranging repairs or disposal of the vehicle. You will not be covered if damage is caused through no fault of your own, such as through bad weather or vandalism.

Such third party cover has the potential to be very costly and create unwanted and unnecessary bills.

Always check how many years of no claims discount (NCD) you qualify for. Some insurers discount for up to nine years.

It may be worthwhile to ‘protect’ your NCD but check on the definition used which depends on the cover purchased. Aviva, for instance, offers a guaranteed NCD with no increase in premium or cancellation of policy even with multiple claims.

If you drive abroad, make your insurer aware and travel with the insurance documentation. Whilst policies may include compulsory third party cover within the EU, there is likely to be an additional fee for comprehensive protection.

One irritating area is the market value paid if a vehicle is written off. So called ‘gap’ insurance ought to be considered if there is a finance agreement on the car. It should pay the difference between the value of the vehicle and the sum owed in finance.

Some insurers will provide a new replacement if your car is under 12 months old and you are the first owner and registered keeper.

The top five reasons for claiming are whiplash injury, broken bones, amputation, back injury and brain damage, according to the Association of British Insurers. Whiplash alone costs insurers over £2bn a year, adding around £90 annually to the average car premium.

“Insurers have to show that someone does not have whiplash, a high evidential burden with a soft tissue injury,” says Nick Starling, ABI’s director of general insurance.

If you should have an accident, use the insurer’s recommended repairers. Churchill, for instance, guarantees such repairs for five years.

Watch for news of where fraudsters operate by faking accidents. They make unnecessary emergency stops at busy roundabouts or slip roads, forcing innocent motorists to crash into them. They then make bogus claims to the other motorist’s insurer including fictitious injuries and passengers.

Direct Line, the Royal Bank of Scotland subsidiary, monitors such data. It warns that fraudsters are moving to rural areas which is worrying as average speeds tend to be higher than in urban areas.

Organised fraudulent claims are estimated by The Insurance Fraud Bureau to now reach £350m a year, adding £44 to an annual car policy.

Among rating factors, occupation is asked which surprises some motorists. This is because of the differences in risk between jobs. A celebrity or sportsperson is rated higher because of the cost of potential claims, notably third party injury, as they are more likely to have passengers with similar occupations for whom an accident could result in substantial loss of earnings or end their career.

To gain new business, several insurers are offering good introductory discounts. Direct Line is cutting premiums by 20 per cent until February 29 with no surcharge for paying monthly. Churchill is offering 12 months cover for the price of 10 to new customers until March 31.

Both Churchill and Direct Line offer quotes for 90 days. Therefore, even if insurance is not due before the offer ends, a policy at the price and payment terms offered can be taken up within the following three months.

Premiums rose 15.3 per cent last year to average £971, according to the AA. It expects prices to continue rising ahead of inflation.

Young drivers continue to suffer high costs, particularly men, but this will change in December when the European Court of Justice outlawing insurance discrimination between the sexes takes effect.

Currently, the average premium for 17-22 year olds is £3,194 for males but £1,879 for females, according to the AA’s Shoparound survey, which is the average of the three cheapest quotes.

Finally, only use reputable and authorised firms or intermediaries. There are so called ‘ghost brokers’ who seemingly offer very cheap policies but could vanish with your money, leave you uninsured and liable for a fine up to £1,000.

Check documents for any errors, ensure your car registration shows and in doubt, check at www.askmid.com