Car insurance Features explained
Get the car insurance cover you need
The first step when buying car insurance for the first time is to consider the type of cover you want. There are three types to choose from:
Third party car insurance
This is the lowest level of cover. It insures against damage and injuries that you, or your passenger, cause to another person or their property in an accident. It doesn't pay for any damage or injury to you or your car.
Third party, fire and theft car insurance
This is like third party cover but it will also pay to repair or replace your car if it's stolen, damaged or destroyed by fire.
Comprehensive car insurance
Comprehensive cover extends third party, fire and theft insurance to cover damage to your own car in the event of an accident.
Even if you're thinking about third party, fire and theft, it's also worth getting quotes for comprehensive cover. You may find that comprehensive cover doesn't cost any more than third party, fire and theft these days, especially if you have a few years' no claims bonuses behind you.
The no-claims discount (NCD) is one of the most important features of your car insurance policy. The amount of NCD you can expect varies widely between insurers. One year's claim-free motoring could give you a discount of as much as 57.5% or as little as 27%, depending on which company you're with.
Typically, you can reach a maximum NCD of 60% to 70% if you have four years of claim-free motoring. Some insurers offer a higher maximum NCD for older drivers.
Claiming on your insurance will invariably invalidate any NCD you've built up (see protected no-claims, below).
Your NCD will be cut if you make a claim, but the size of the cut varies between insurers. Check with your insurer what happens if you have to make further claims within a three or five-year period – as it may mean a further cut in your NCD.
You can limit the impact of a claim on your NCD by paying extra for NCD protection. You'll typically have to pay 10% to 15% to protect your NCD – and it's usually available only after four years with the same insurer. However, this protection can make a huge difference to the premiums you pay for your car insurance.
If you protect your NCD, making one claim in a year will have no effect. Making two claims in a year won't affect your NCD with some companies, but with others your NCD could be reduced to as little as 45% if you make two claims in the same year.
No claims bonus protection does not protect your premium, as if you make a claim your insurer will take this into account when calculating risk. In short, it protects the percentage off whatever discount you have accrued.
A replacement car is a useful benefit if your car is off the road after an accident. Most insurers will provide a courtesy car – but only if your car is repaired by an approved repairer. If you don't choose one of the insurer's approved repairers, you won't get a courtesy car.
Some insurers offer a courtesy car only if your car is damaged in an accident, not if it's stolen. Others charge an extra premium for providing a courtesy car after theft. All of our car insurance Recommended Providers offer a courtesy car after both accident and theft.
Some car insurance policies include cover for medical expenses, such as dental work or physiotherapy you might need as a result of an accident.
Choice of repairer
Some insurers will pay for repairs to your vehicle only if you use one of their approved repairers.
If the worst happens, you'd expect to be compensated for personal belongings that have been lost or damaged, but this isn’t always the case unless you use a Which? Recommended Provider.
All of our car insurance Recommended Providers provide personal belongings cover as standard. Typically, though, policies with this type of cover still exclude items such as tickets, money, stamps and vouchers.
The type of cover insurers offer varies. Only a minority of insurers will replace your items with new ones. The rest will take the age and condition of the item into account when deciding how much to pay out. As such, it's worth checking how much cover your policy offers for car contents.
In-car audio equipment
Car insurers differ in how they cover in-car audio equipment. Most companies will limit the amount of cover for audio equipment not fitted by the car manufacturer – typically £500 or more, but it could be as little as £100.
It’s important to check with your insurer whether your sat nav is covered. Many insurers distinguish between accessories fitted as standard and those added later.
Even if your sat nav is covered by your motor insurance, it may not be worth making a claim.
Policy excesses may include the first £100 of a claim – almost as much as a cheap sat nav system can cost – and the resulting loss of your no-claims bonus can be more expensive than any minimal recompense you may receive.
Motor legal protection covers the cost of legal action resulting from a car insurance claim.
Most car insurance policies have age limits: they will insure people only over a minimum age and under a maximum one. Sometimes, though, the upper limit is lower for people taking out a new policy than for someone who already has a policy with the company.
Driving other cars
Most policies allow the policyholder to drive other cars with third-party cover. However, many insurers limit this cover to emergency situations.
Also known as additional drivers, named drivers don't have a car insurance policy in their own name, but rather are added on to somebody else's policy, usually a family member or partner. This allows them to drive that person's car without a separate insurance policy of their own. Adding named drivers to your policy can actually reduce the cost of your premium rate.
Some insurers also now allow named drivers to build up their own no-claims bonus. However, named drivers don't have the same third-party cover to drive other cars, even in an emergency.
If your car is written off or stolen, car insurers will usually pay you the 'market' value for the car. This normally comes from industry-accepted price guides, which are for a typical car of your type and age. But the amount they offer you won't take into account, for example, whether your car was in particularly good condition (which would mean you'd get more for it if you sold it).
To get your car's current market value you should use the Which? Car Valuations tool. This tools allows Which? members and non-members to tailor a valuation to the car in question, quickly and easily.
If you really think the insurance company is selling you short, you can complain. Try to gather evidence of what your car was really worth – good sources are adverts for cars similar to your own that are being offered for more than the amount the insurer says it's worth.
If that doesn't work and you want to take matters further, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).