James Walker: '˜Go faster' stripes can slow down a car claim

Our love affair with cars is stronger now than it's ever been. But what we drive (or want to drive) can represent a big expense.

Souped-up cars, like this vintage Hot Rod, pay a premium
Souped-up cars, like this vintage Hot Rod, pay a premium

In recent years, there’s been a noticeable increase in complaints to insurance companies about “modifications” – the catch-all term insurance companies use when talking about changes we make to vehicles.

Unfortunately, some insurers can be unexpectedly harsh when it comes to defining what a modification is. I was talking to one of Resolver’s users recently whose claim had been rejected because she hadn’t disclosed a sticker on her rear windshield. I agreed that the situation was totally bonkers – and I’m pleased to say that the insurer apologised and backed down. None the less, it’s as well to know your rights when it comes to car modifications. Here’s a quick guide to your rights.

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When you take out insurance on your vehicle, you have an obligation to answer the insurer’s questions honestly. Failure to do so is known as “non-disclosure” and they can reduce a claim significantly or even cancel your policy. This includes modifications.

But the rules were tightened a few years ago to make sure that insurers also have the same obligation to you. They need to ask you clear questions about your vehicle and what you’ve done to it, both during the sales process (on the phone or in person) and in the written documentation.

Insurers must highlight any significant terms and conditions in the “key facts” document that comes with the policy. They must also be clear about what they’re defining as a “modification”.

Realistically, they can’t list every possible scenario – let’s face it, terms and conditions are already far too long. But if it’s not clear, I’d expect to see the insurer apply their rules fairly – and not look for a reason to avoid paying out.

Some modifications are thought to make a vehicle more susceptible to damage or theft. For example, those 80s “go faster” stripes were associated with drivers who’d take more risks on the road. So that meant there was potentially a higher chance of a claim – and would result in a higher premium.

Some modifications are obvious. If you’ve got a “pimped up” super sound system in your car, you’ll need to disclose it. But other things aren’t so clear-cut. Even cosmetic changes, like a new paint job, adding a spoiler or having a roof rack can be considered significant enough to disclose by the insurer.

Turbo-charging your engine tops the list of modifications you need to mention. Visible improvements also have a big impact, both inside and outside the car. If you’ve got a sat nav, make sure you take it with you when out of the car if you aren’t adding it to your policy.

Bear in mind that if you make a significant change to the vehicle during the duration of the policy you’ll need to tell the insurer about it too.

So if your car is your pride and joy, don’t leave any details out when you take out insurance – saving a few pounds is a false economy if your claims gets turned down.

If your modifications miss the mark with your insurer, tell us about it. We’d love to hear your stories. Send us an email to [email protected] or talk to us on our Facebook and Twitter pages. @WalkerResolver @resolvercouk or facebook.com/resolvercouk