Modification madness

Man repair car

11/05/17 Do you know what counts as a modification?

Bigger, faster, streamlined, the latest tech, the wow factor, the sheer joy of driving. As a nation, we love cars – and our love affair with cars is stronger now than it’s ever been.

There’s an estimated 31.7 million cars on the road in the UK. To put that in perspective, there’s 65 million of us. So that’s almost a car for every two people, regardless of age.

Millions still tune into Jeremy and co. or Matt LeBlanc and the gang for our weekly fix on the fastest, most high tech models – and the occasional retro vehicle love-in. And when it comes to what’s parked on the driveway, everyone from classic car enthusiasts to speed junkies will occasionally make improvements to their motors.

Insuring a car is a legal obligation, of course, and in recent years, we’ve seen a noticeable increase in complaints to insurance companies about ‘modifications’ – the catch-all term insurance companies use when talking about changes we make to our vehicles. But what is a modification? The answer is technically anything that you’ve changed on your car that could affect the premium (is it costlier to replace or riskier to insure). Needless to say, that could be anything – so it doesn’t seem very fair, does it?

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 when I mentioned it to them.

Insurers must highlight any significant terms and conditions

Though that’s an extreme example, the fact of the matter is sometimes insurers don’t play fair when it comes to what’s classified as a significant modification. Which is why I’m here to help you if you’ve not been treated fairly.

Here’s a quick guide to your rights.

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 odds aren’t (and shouldn’t) be stacked in the insurer’s favour. 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. The questions must be straightforward enough so anyone can understand what they need to tell the insurer – 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, T&Cs are already far too long. But if it’s not clear, I’d expect to see the insurer applying their rules fairly – and not looking for a reason to avoid paying out.

Some mods are thought to make a vehicle more susceptible to damage or theft. For example, those 80’s ‘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 even having a roof rack can be considered significant enough to disclose by the insurer.

There’s no such thing as a definitive list of modifications but it won’t come as a surprise to learn that turbocharging your engine tops the list of mods you need to mention. Visible improvements also have a big impact, both inside and outside of 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 quid is a false economy if your claims gets turned down.

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

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