Motorists risk having their car insurance premiums hiked simply by downloading a software update as insurers take an inconsistent approach to the issue, a new Which? investigation has found.
The consumer champion was alerted to this emerging problem by Tesla Model 3 driver Chris Yearsley, who told his insurer LV that his car had received a routine update – in this case adding a few minor bug fixes and Polish as a language option.
LV treated this software update as a modification – similar to fitting a turbo or spoiler to the vehicle – and raised the premium by £96, taking the total cost of his cover from £722 to £818.
Following advice from Which?, Chris successfully challenged the increase, which resulted in LV reinstating Chris’ old premium, and offering a £36 discount as well as £100 compensation.
The outcome may have saved countless drivers – not just Tesla owners – a small fortune, as LV changed its terms as a result, meaning current and future customers won’t have to report routine updates.
But a subsequent Which? investigation into the terms and conditions of 31 other insurers found none explicitly mentioned software updates in their documentation, despite the issue having the potential to raise the price of cover – or even invalidate it.
Although a requirement that drivers report modifications that affect the ‘appearance, performance or handling of your car’ is not unusual, when the consumer champion asked seven major firms whether their customers needed to report software updates, it found a range of stances.
Direct Line requires drivers to report paid updates – but not free ones. Hastings Direct, NFU Mutual, RIAS and By Miles said drivers need to report software updates that are ‘nonstandard’ in nature, or affect the ‘performance’ of the vehicle.
Esure remarked that it’s an evolving area that it is monitoring carefully, while Admiral emphasised that it is important to download manufacturer updates, which could affect the car’s security. Neither require drivers to report them.
Given routine ‘over-the-air’ (OTA) software updates such as the one at the centre of the LV case are manufacturer-issued and in many cases do not impact performance, Which? believes premiums should not be affected if reported, particularly when updates may occur numerous times across a year.
It is also advising drivers that, until insurers standardise their policies on updates, they should be alert to this issue and complain if they have been treated unfairly.
Jenny Ross, Which? Money Editor, said:
“It doesn’t seem fair for the cost of a car insurance policy to rocket simply by informing a provider about a software update that has no bearing on its safety or performance.
“It’s positive that LV has changed its terms following this incident, which could save customers a hefty sum of money, but our investigation highlights that the rest of the industry aren’t being quite as clear cut.
“While we expect any firms with similar policies to follow suit, until they do motorists should keep a close eye on any attempts to increase premiums as a result of this type of update, and challenge it if required.”
- LV said: “In the past we have required Tesla customers to notify us when they received an Over The Air (OTA) update affecting the performance of their vehicle. We now recognise that it isn’t fair to expect customers to contact us for every update, so as a result of this valid challenge we are changing our approach. Customers will no longer need to let us know about routine OTA updates from Tesla. We will also be proactively contacting the 12 customers who have contacted us in the past year to notify us of an update, and arranging rebates for any who were charged. However, customers who have purchased optional performance upgrades from the manufacturer will need to let us know, as these will not be deemed ‘routine’.
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