Car insurance – choose the right level of cover

You are legally obliged to have car insurance. There are three levels of cover to choose from and oddly enough the best cover – fully comprehensive – is often cheapest. It also pays to know how your no claims bonus works and how to get the excess levels right on your policy.

Do you need car insurance?

Yes – legally you must have at least a basic level of car insurance, called third party insurance, even if you don’t drive the car.

The only exception is if you officially register your car as off the road, with a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN).

The different levels of car insurance

There are three levels of car insurance cover:

  • Third party
  • Third party, fire and theft
  • Comprehensive

Third party – the minimum you can legally have

Third party insurance covers other people (third parties), but not you. If you injure someone or damage their property, they’re covered but if your own car is damaged or stolen, you have to pay for the loss yourself.

Don’t assume it’s the cheapest. Strangely enough, you can sometimes get more cover for less money, so always check.

Is it suitable for you? Possibly, if you can’t get decently-priced comprehensive insurance. This is usually when:

  • Your car is worth less than say £1,000 and you can afford to buy another car if you have an accident
  • You don’t have a no claims bonus, or
  • You live in an area that’s considered high-risk for crime and other risks

Check the risk in your area on the Car Insurance Explained websiteopens in new window

Third party, fire and theft

Third party, fire and theft covers other people. So, in that respect, it’s like third party. But if your own car is damaged, you have to pay for it yourself. The difference is that it does cover repairs or replacement if your car is stolen or damaged by fire.

Like third party insurance, third party, fire and theft isn’t always cheaper than fully comprehensive cover – always compare prices.

Fully comprehensive

The highest level of cover. On top of the basics of third party, fire and theft, it’s the only type that covers you if you damage your own car, even if the accident was your fault.

You can claim for:

  • Repairs after an accident
  • Accidental damage, or
  • Vandalism, say if someone deliberately scratches your car

Plus, if necessary, you might legally be able to drive other people’s cars if you have their permission – but usually you’ll only have third party cover, which means you have no cover if you damage the car you are driving. Check your policy details carefully on this – they’re all different.

Policy checklist

There are some things that usually come with comprehensive car insurance – but not always. They might be important to you, so check your policy carefully.

Check if you’re covered for:

  • Personal belongings that are in the car
  • Car stereo, speakers or sat-nav
  • Windscreen damage and loss or theft of keys, and
  • Vehicle recovery or accident transport

Other questions to ask:

  • Will I get a courtesy car? It’s something to drive while yours is being repaired, but you might only get it if you use an approved repairer. Check how long you can keep the car – some insurers limit this cover to between 14 and 21 days.
  • Do I have to use a specific repairer? Your cover may be affected if you don’t use an approved repairer. For example, some insurers limit the windscreen cover if you don’t use the approved repairer.
  • Can I add named drivers? These are extra people who can drive the car under the same policy, perhaps a spouse or child.

We’ve put together a list of things to check for when you’re comparing car insurance policies – just follow the link below:

No claims bonus – what it is and how it works

The less you claim, the happier your insurers will be. Insurers provide a discount if you do not claim within the policy.

Your no claims bonus grows every year you don’t make a claim. Typically the scale is:

  • 30% off after 1 year
  • 40% off after 2 years
  • 50% off after 3 years
  • 60% off after 4 years, and
  • 65% or more after 5 years

If you have an accident and you claim for it, you generally lose two years’ worth of no claims bonus and your premiums go up. If you have more than one accident in a year, you might lose all of your no claims bonus.

If you have an accident and don’t claim, you keep your no claims bonus but your premiums might still go up. Please note, you must notify your insurer of any accidents even if you don’t claim. Failing to do this might mean a future claim is refused.

Protect your no claims discount bonus

With some insurers you have the option to buy ‘no claims discount protection’. You can then make claims without it affecting your no claims bonus. The terms set will vary, but you are usually allowed to make one claim in one year or two claims in three years without losing your no claims bonus.

Excess – what it is and how it works

Your insurer won’t usually pay for the whole of your claim – you have to pay a set amount yourself, called the ‘excess’. It’s the same no matter how big your claim is.

The amount of excess will vary depending on the type of claim. For example fire, theft, accidental damage, and windscreen claims.

You can sometimes increase the voluntary excess to reduce the cost of your premium.

What you must declare to your insurance company

You must give your insurance company accurate up-to-date details about yourself and your car – otherwise your policy might not be valid, and it could be harder and more expensive to get insurance in future.

Tell your insurer if you:

  • Use your vehicle for business
  • Modify your car (for example you install alloy wheels)
  • Change address
  • Change alarm system or other security, or the place where you park your car
  • Change your occupation or trade
  • Have an accident or have previously made a claim, or
  • Get points added to your licence

Finding the best car insurance for you

If you’re shopping for the cheapest policy – see how to find it in our guide: Car insurance – how to get the best deal

If you’re under 25: Car insurance for young drivers – top tips