Motorists risk hefty bills due to car insurance potholes, Which? reveals

Motorists risk losing hundreds of pounds due to surprising gaps in car insurance, as new Which? research reveals many insurers won’t pay out for common incidents such as misfuelling, mobile phone damage or lost keys.

The consumer champion analysed 73 elements of car insurance across 39 policies and found that certain problems encountered by many drivers are not covered by a significant number of policies.

Despite all car insurance policies boasting personal belongings cover, Which? found that nearly half (46%) don’t cover mobile phones if damaged or destroyed in your car.

One in six (18%) policies also excluded laptops and tablets, while only two of the 39 policies cover cash.

According to the RAC, 150,000 Brits pour the wrong type of fuel into their car each year – an accident that can lead to expensive engine damage.

However, only half (54%) of the policies Which? scrutinised provide misfuelling cover as standard, while around a third (36%) don’t offer misfuelling cover at all.

Many insurers either only pay for draining the fuel from the tank (18% of the policies Which? compared), or for repairing a damaged engine that’s been run on the wrong fuel (18%). Just three in 10 (28%) policies automatically cover both.

While car insurance usually covers the costs of getting to your destination or back home if your vehicle breaks down, onward travel didn’t feature in a quarter (26%) of policies, leaving motorists with a potentially pricey trip in a taxi.

The consumer champion also found that many drivers with smashed sunroofs will find themselves unable to claim under the ‘glass’ section of their cover.

Glass cover is the part of the policy specifically related to the windscreen and windows, and it usually also includes sunroofs – but this was excluded in one in five (18%) policies.

If you lose your car keys most policies will have you covered, but there can be a catch. One in seven (15%) will pay for replacement keys and locks – but not for the locksmith’s call-out charges.

Meanwhile, another 15 per cent don’t provide any cover at all for lost keys, instead only covering stolen keys.

To find the standout providers that can be relied upon to deliver both quality of service and cover, the consumer champion surveyed more than 2,300 policyholders who have made a car insurance claim in the past two years – asking them how satisfied they were with their provider and how likely they would be to recommend it. It also analysed the standard policy of each firm rated.

Of the 16 firms receiving both a ‘Customer Score’ and a ‘Policy Score’, LV topped the table with customers praising the insurer’s policy clarity, ease of online services and value for money. It also achieved a four-star rating dealing with queries. Its ‘Total Score’ (the average of its Customer and Policy Scores) was 79 per cent.

Other top performers included NFU Mutual, Saga and Direct Line which had total scores of 78 per cent, 74 per cent and 73 per cent respectively.

Ageas, Admiral, RAC and Tesco Bank meanwhile achieved the lowest total scores.

Jenny Ross, Which? Money editor, said:

“When things go wrong drivers should be able to count on their insurer, but it is concerning that a large number of policies don’t cover incidents or possessions you might assume they do, leaving customers with potentially eye-watering bills.

“We would urge policyholders to read the small print. If you’re comparing two similarly priced policies, the bills you can rack up by falling foul of car insurance potholes could dwarf the extra amount you would pay for the more expensive cover.

“It’s always worth shopping around when it’s time to renew, but that’s especially true for anyone who’s unhappy with how their insurer has handled a claim.”

Notes to editors

In December 2020, Which? analysed 39 standard and non-standard policies from 32 car insurance companies.

In November and December 2020, Which? surveyed 2,361 policyholders and 2,736 people who had made a claim in the past two years.

Policy Scores were calculated by analysing 73 elements of each insurer’s standard policy. Customer Scores reflect the overall satisfaction, and likelihood of recommending their provider, of policyholders in our survey.

16 providers received both a Customer Score and a Policy Score.

What to do after putting the wrong fuel in your car

About Which?

Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.

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