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Car insurance costs may have dropped slightly in the past year, but many are still overpaying by £100s. Now's an ideal time to check out our key tricks, including never auto-renewing and how hitting the sweet spot can bag the cheapest policy.
This guide explains the basics of car insurance, what to watch out for and reveals how you can slash the cost of cover in six easy steps. If you're under 25, check our Young Drivers' Insurance guide for more.
In this guide
- Car insurance: The basics
- 12 ways to cut car insurance costs incl...
- Step 1: The top comparison sites
Young drivers (links to separate article)
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Car insurance: The basics
At its most simple, car insurance covers you if your car is stolen or involved in a road accident. It also protects other road users if you cause damage to their vehicle or property.
The cost of insurance – your premium – is based on how much of a risk insurers perceive you to be. For example, if you are a youngster ready to hit the highway after just passing your test, or you have had more than a prang or two, you will pay more.
However, if you can prove you are not a risk by keeping accident-free and storing your car safely, you will pay much less.
Not to be confused with living the high life during the festive period or a long afternoon at the local all-you-can-eat buffet, an excess – in the insurance sense – is the amount you pay towards any claims you make.
For example, if your excess is £250 and you have an accident that causes £1,000 worth of damage to your vehicle, you will pay £250 and the insurer will stump up the rest.
Be careful when deciding your excess. The larger the excess the cheaper the premium, but a large excess may leave you out of pocket if you need to claim.
As well as understanding an excess, knowing the difference between the three main types of car insurance is a must:
1. Third party
Third party is the minimum level of cover you need to legally drive or even keep a vehicle that has not been SORN-ed (see Gov.uk for more). It can be the cheapest option but it covers very little, only protecting others on the road, and property like walls, homes and streetlights, from your bad driving.
So, if an accident's your fault, third party pays for the damage you cause to another driver's vehicle and their property and protects any passengers. It will not cover you for any damage to your own vehicle so you will be expected to pay this cost yourself.
2. Third party, fire and theft
Third party, fire and theft is an extension of third-party only insurance but also protects your vehicle if it is stolen, or if it catches fire.
Comprehensive is the widest level of cover available. If you have an accident and it was your fault you can claim the cost of repairing your car and any other damage you may cause to a third party. The cover also includes accidental damage, vandalism and usually windscreen repair.
You may be able to drive other people's cars, although this is likely to only be up to the level of third-party coverage. You may also be covered to drive hire cars. These are not standard features so check with your insurer before you buy so you are clear about what is included.
Obviously car insurance will cover you to drive your own vehicle (you have insured) but some comprehensive policies insure you (not the named drivers) – if you're driving the cars of your friends and family – with their permission of course. Check with your insurer that you definitely have this extension of cover.
This is different to bicycle insurance where most specialist policies will only cover the cyclist named on the policy (though bikes insured on home contents can be lent to family members).
You may also be covered to drive hire cars too. However, if your comprehensive cover allows you to drive other vehicles this is usually only up to the level of third-party coverage – so no theft or fire damage is provided.
If you're the generous sort, you can add other drivers to your policy – known as named drivers – and they'll be covered to drive your car. Even if you're not the generous sort, adding a second responsible driver can also help lower the cost of your cover.
As insurers like less risky policyholders, they will reward you if you're able to go a long time without making a claim. For every year you are claim-free your insurer may give you a discount at renewal.
The more years you can go without making a claim, the larger the discount will be at renewal. For instance, an insurer may give you a 30-40% discount if you can go without claiming for the first year of your policy and then give you an extra 10% discount if you can repeat the trick in your second year.
You can also pay a small fee to protect your no-claims discount, meaning you can retain your discount even if you claim. It is worth considering, especially if you have a history of making claims. However, an accident is still likely to see your premium rise, regardless of the impact of your discount.
If you drive your car outside the UK but within the EU (eg, a day trip to France) or other European countries such as Andorra, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, an EU directive means you'll automatically get third-party only cover, even if you don't tell your insurer.
This means you'll be driving legally but under the third-party extension of your policy, so your car won't be covered for damage or theft. This third-party cover applies even if you have comprehensive UK cover. But some policies come with full Europe-wide insurance, covering you across the Continent.
If yours doesn't, call your insurer giving your dates of travel and the countries you'll visit (or plan to pass through, even if it's only for a few hours) to extend the policy cover, but there may be a charge.
Our research shows some providers, including Direct Line, Churchill and Privilege, offer this free if you're only going for up to three days, but that's not a universal rule. You can be charged around £20-£30.
If you extend your trip, you're likely to have to pay extra – possibly around £15-£30 more.
Don't forget about breakdown cover. See our full Breakdown guide for more.
Buying car insurance
You have to be completely honest when you're applying for a car insurance quote.
Car insurance is expensive but no matter how tempted you are to say someone else is the main driver, or to pretend you have no points on your licence, never lie.
It can invalidate your insurance and can even lead to prosecution. However, being specific rather than vague about your job (some jobs are considered riskier than others) can help you cut costs. See our car insurance job picker for more.
Even if you're only driving your car every now and then it must be insured. The Continuous Insurance Enforcement scheme, which came into force in January 2011, means all cars must be covered – unless they're not in use and off the road. It aims to crack down on uninsured drivers by matching up the database of cars on the road with insured drivers.
The only way out is to apply for a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN), declaring your car will never be driven. See Gov.uk for more.
Insurers use this information to help them calculate your premium. The less you drive, the cheaper your insurance so while you always need to give a genuine estimate to avoid committing fraud, it makes it doubly important not to overestimate as you'll also end up overpaying.
The best method is to look at how much you've driven in the past using accurate data, and if your driving habits haven't changed, put the same figures down. If they have, change the figure accordingly. The easiest ways to find out your history is by looking back at old MOT certificates or service documents where your mileage would have been recorded – just compare one year with the next for how far you've driven.
If you have an accident and damage someone else's car but decide to cover the costs yourself, strictly speaking you should still tell your insurer about it.
If you do have an accident and your insurer subsequently finds out about it, it could result in higher premiums regardless as the insurer will consider you more of a risk.
In addition, a problem may arise if you have a second accident and it is found to be related to work undertaken for the first. If this does happen it would most likely result in non-payment of the claim, rather than cancellation of your insurance or being reported for fraud, but could still end up costing you £1,000s.
If any of your circumstances change it is important that you tell your insurer. If you don't and then try to claim, even for an unrelated issue, your whole policy may be invalid.
You should tell your insurer about any change, even if it's just your address. This is crucial as it reduces potential problems in the event of a claim. Trying to get insurance after you've had a policy cancelled is very difficult and expensive.
A change in circumstances includes moving jobs, as insurers believe this can affect your risk. You may also save on insurance if you're in a stable relationship – for instance, living with a partner rather than listed as single.
And watch out for modifications too. For example, putting a tow bar on to your car to pull a caravan or trailer counts as a modification, so it's vital to let your insurer know you've got one. Most car insurance policies don't cover attaching a trailer as standard so double-check – some may charge you a slightly higher premium.
The cost of car insurance for under-25s is dropping fast but it's still eye-watering for some. The average price for a 17-22 year-old is in excess of £1,400. But there are many ways to help cut this cost, including getting specialist young drivers' insurance. For more information see our Young Drivers' Insurance guide.
Now you know the basics of car insurance, follow our step-by-step guide to slashing the cost of your premium, starting with 12 car cover need-to-knows.
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12 ways to cut car insurance costs
Did you know the average driver faces an annual insurance premium of £680 with drivers younger than 25 paying over £1,400 for cover? Here are our top car insurance cost-cutting tips that can save you £100s.
Don't assume third party is the cheapest
You would expect third-party cover to be the cheapest because it is the lesser cover, just covering the person you bump into and their car. Yet don't expect car insurance to be logical.
With some insurers the mere fact you have selected comprehensive, which includes your car too as well as fire and theft, means you'll be assessed as a lower risk (based on actuarial history, which is what an insurer will hold about a particular age group or address, for example, on which they base their premiums).
This can outweigh the fact you get more cover, and make your policy cheaper.
There are no hard rules here, it's a matter of trial and error, yet if you're just looking for the very cheapest cover, never only check third party.
My auto renew quote was £210 for 3rd party only. I went to a comparison site and got comprehensive breakdown cover & free car hire with the same company for £40 less.
Third-party cover is generally most suitable for those:
- With cars worth less than £1,000
- Aged under 25 (though also read Car Insurance for Young Drivers)
- Without a no-claims bonus
- Living in a high-risk area
Comprehensive is a good idea if your car is worth more than £1,500, and is more important the more valuable your car is. Many insurers will only offer comprehensive cover for cars over a certain value anyway.
Getting insurance 21 days ahead can save £100s
An MSE investigation in which we analysed more than 18 million quotes from three of the biggest price comparison sites – Confused.com, Compare The Market and MoneySupermarket – has revealed buying your car insurance three weeks ahead of the start day can save you £100s, compared with buying it too early or leaving it until the day before or on the renewal day.
Based on an average price, the cheapest time to buy your policy is 21 days before the start date, with the price differences closely aligned to how much of a risk you're deemed to be, and when the highest number of insurers will provide quotes (see the full price investigation). If you are already within the 21-day period, act now as the price tends to increase closer to the start date of the policy.
We've full info on how to bag the cheapest policy in this guide - see our comparison sites order below.
Here are a few successes from MoneySavers who've got their insurance around the sweet spot...
Just did mine (24 days early) – saved over £690 over my renewal price.
Cara via Facebook
Multi-car insurance can save £100s – even if you’ve different renewal dates
If you have more than one car in your immediate family or household, this could be for you, and having different renewal dates needn't be a blocker. For some, discounts for adding multiple cars could save £100s, or even £1,000s in some cases, but for others it could actually be more expensive.
What tends to happen is multi-car newbies get hot offers to suck 'em in, but that advantage can disappear at renewal.
Martin's rule of thumb:
If you've currently got a multi-car policy, check separate quotes for each vehicle first – if you've separate policies, check multi-car first.
As comparison sites don't offer multi-car discounts, you'll need to check the multi-car price directly with the insurers below, and then compare those prices with the individual policy costs you get using comparison sites. Here are three steps to follow...
1. Check multi-car policies
This is where all cars are on one policy. The big one is Admiral MultiCar*, while Aviva* and LV* also provide multi-car policies. If your policies start at the same time, it's easy. If not, see below.
If you have different renewal dates, this is how it works
The three insurers above let you set up a policy at your first car's renewal, while the other car(s) stay with their existing insurer, until their renewal.
So you can get a multi-car quote for all your vehicles with different start dates, eg, get cover for your lead car to start in three weeks' time, car two to start in seven months and car three in 10 months. Cars two and three will stay insured with their existing insurer until their current policy ends, at which time they will move across to the multi-car policy, for the remainder of that term.
When you pay for the additional car(s) and when the discount kicks in differs (see table below). Once your multi-car policy ends, all cars will be up for renewal at the same time.
How to compare prices
If you want your multi-car cover for all your vehicles to start at the same time, it's simple, you'll just be given one total cost. For different start dates, you'll be given a total price to pay, which'll cover all the cars (you just pay for however long each car is insured for), and you'll also be given an 'annual equivalent price', as if all vehicles were insured for a full year, to help you compare against other providers.
Admiral When cover starts for extra car When you accept quote or when its cover is to start Yes (plus admin fee) Aviva When cover starts for extra car When its cover is to start No LV At point of quote When you accept quote or when its cover is to start No, but will get less discount at renewal Note: While the discount is applied at different times, in practice, you'll just see the overall price of the policy for a year at the quote stage.
2. Then check existing policies for discounts
Some other insurers do simply give a reduction for each additional policy added, while keeping the policies separate. This can be an especially easy route if an insurer already covers one of your cars, so check the price when the second car's up for renewal.
These are the insurers we have had confirmation offer discounts for a second car: More Than* 15% | Axa* up to 15% | Esure* 10% | Privilege % varies | Sheilas' Wheels* 10%. If you're not already a customer, you can take out two policies in quick succession to get the discount.
3. Finally, check standalone (ie, separate) policies
Sometimes it will work out cheaper to get individual policies for each car, rather than linking them. Use our full comparison system for how to find the cheapest price.
Sometimes multi-car insurance works...
Over three cars (incl our 18yr old son's), we saved £4,600 as Admiral MultiCar policy reduced it to a much more manageable £2,600. Thanks MSE.
... and sometimes it doesn't!
Husband had three cars on multi-car, followed your guide and bought three [separate] policies, saving £1,400.
A responsible 2nd or 3rd driver can cut costs
It may seem counter logical, but covering an extra driver can reduce rather than increase your cost – in some cases by £100s or £1,000s. Here are seven quick tips on how to do it most effectively…
Car insurance is all about risk. That's why it can work. If you're a high-risk driver and you add someone who is a much lower risk as a 2nd (and/or 3rd) driver, they can bring down the average risk and you may get a cheaper policy.
This isn't just for young drivers. While it works well for young drivers (see our Young Drivers' Car Insurance guide) as they are automatically seen as a high risk and know many people, like their parents, who may be lower risk, it can work for anyone. But of course, it's especially powerful for those with costlier insurance.
The better the driving history and lower the risk, the more impact it should have. Those with a good driving record are likely to help make the most savings, but anyone who's a lower risk can help. By law insurers can't discriminate over gender, but age, driving experience and history can make a difference.
This is about trial and error, not logic. Your mum may increase the cost, your brother may cut it, or vice versa. It's just a question of trying different quotes and seeing what happens.
Different insurers respond in different ways. One may cut your costs adding your uncle, another may increase it. A quick way to check is by varying quotes on comparison sites – it's easy to do, see our top comparison sites list below.
The second driver should be someone who would reasonably drive your car.So don't add Lewis Hamilton, unless you happen to be his brother (and even then racing drivers are likely a very high risk so I wouldn't bother) – but your mum, son, best mate or gran should be OK – as long as they would drive the car.
Never add someone as main driver if they're not. This is known in the industry as 'fronting' and is fraud. If you do it and are caught, you can face a criminal conviction and your insurance will likely be invalid.
As a young new driver my insurer wanted £5,000 but after adding mum and dad it dropped to £1,900.
Took your advice and added my mum to my car insurance and saved £500 #mumstheword.
Tweak your job description – some save £100s
Another quick win is tweaking your job description (legitimately of course). An illustrator is often cheaper than an artist, an editor than a journalist, a PA than a secretary.
Have a play with our Car Insurance Job Picker tool and see if small changes to your job description could save you cash. Remember, never lie as this will be considered fraudulent. If it worked for you, share your success stories with our forum users.
Thank you @MartinSLewis after rewording my job occupation on car insurance I have managed to save £400.
I did this too thanks to @MartinSLewis from creative director to marketing manager = saved £300+ Crazy world isn't it?
If you don't have a job, you face a potential fivefold jump in insurance costs by declaring you're unemployed. The same hikes don't apply to homemakers (housewives/househusbands). If that's you, say so to avoid a hike in costs.
However, only enter homemaker if you're genuinely not seeking work or receiving benefits which require you to seek work. Otherwise, it's fraud. Read the full MSE News story: Unemployed walloped with high insurance.
Beware paying monthly
A monthly payment plan for your insurance is essentially a high-interest loan. For example, if your premium is £1,000 and want to pay monthly, you could pay £95/month, which is £1,140/year (£140 more) at a huge APR of 25%.
So either pay in full, or if you can't afford it, use a credit card with a lower APR rate (or better still, a 0% credit card for spending, ensuring your repayments are big enough to clear it within a year).
If paying by credit card, check if the insurer or provider charges a fee for doing so – though the fee is usually less than the interest charged on monthly instalments.
Insurer APR if you pay monthly Insurer APR if you pay monthly Age Co
Esure 27.9% Admiral 17.5% Hastings Direct 29.9% Aviva 21.9% John Lewis 23.6% Churchill 29.2% M&S 23.5% Co-op 15.4% Privilege 28% Debenhams 40.35% Swiftcover 39.58% Endsleigh
Zurich 33% Correct at July 2018
Never auto-renew. Loyalty is expensive
Nothing better illustrates car insurers preying on loyal customers than Sarah Cooper's tweet. "My car insurance renewal is £1,200. New policy with same company is £690. How do they justify this?" They don't. They just do it.
Insurers charge more each year, knowing inertia stops policyholders switching. And even though new rules mean insurers must now tell you the premium you paid last year in correspondence to you, don't rely on this to take action.
If your renewal is coming up, jot it in your diary to remember it. Compare comparison sites and then call your insurer to see if it can match, or even beat, the best quote you found. If it can, you're quids in.
Last year I paid £258 car insurance. The renewal quote was £608. I paid £199 using your comparison site process. Thanks.
Sue via email
My auto-renew price for two vehicles including a 21-year-old named driver son on smaller vehicle was £1,024. I followed the advice given in the guide to get a better deal with Direct Line for £590.
Finally convinced the other half to challenge car insurance renewal quote. Reduced from £520 to £219!
As well as insurers refusing to offer you the special rates that are available to new customers, there is often an administration fee charged for renewing your policy.
Here's a list of some of the providers which impose a renewal fee. If you know of any others, tell us so we can add them to this list of shame.
One Call £30 Swinton £25 Auto Direct
Done Deal £25 Scenic (motorhome provider) £25 Hastings Direct £20 People's Choice
Correct at May 2018
Don't pimp your ride. Lock it down
For those over the age of 50, 'pimping your ride' involves decking it out with fancy alloys, windows and spoilers. The more changes you make to your car, barring security ones, the more you'll be charged. Always tell your insurer about any modifications and whether you made them or not, or it may invalidate your policy.
The exception to this rule is if you've a classic car needing insurance – in this instance, insurers accept modifications as a natural part of classic car ownership and don't penalise you with higher premiums.
Even more savings are there for the taking for normal car owners if you can protect your vehicle by securing it. Fitting an alarm or immobiliser (especially one approved by Thatcham) will reduce the bill substantially.
A modification is anything that isn't part of the standard vehicle specification, including factory-fitted optional extras such as alloy wheels.
Only buy add-ons if you know their value
Insurers often try to sell you additional products such as windscreen or breakdown cover. Avoid buying these if you don't need them and, if you do, always check out the cost of the cover individually first.
Many insurers make a large mark-up by selling add-ons at higher rates than you can get elsewhere. Also, some of these add-ons may already be included in your policy, so read all the terms and conditions carefully.
Insurers can also throw in free add-ons (like those listed below) in your first year as a sweetener but after that you'll need to pay. To grab these freebies follow these three steps:
Make sure you switch insurers every year to avoid paying for add-ons.
Check what's on offer via comparison sites as insurers often have exclusive offers set up with them which you can't get by going direct.
Always try to haggle with your current insurer. Ask if it can offer you a better deal than a rival and, if not, don't be afraid to switch to a provider that will.
Windscreen cover may differ from provider to provider but, at its most basic, it pays out if your windscreen is damaged and needs to be repaired or replaced. Your windscreen is usually covered under your comprehensive car insurance policy but separate cover will pay to repair your windscreen without claiming on your car insurance. This means no excess and no impact on your no-claims discount.
This doesn't bear thinking about but say you had an accident that left you badly injured and you needed to claim damages for your ongoing medical costs. This cover will help you reclaim these costs from the insurer of the driver at fault, with the help of a legal team, so you're not out of pocket. It will also help recover your excess in the event of an accident where a third party was involved and can be traced.
Courtesy car cover provides you with a replacement vehicle while yours is off the road, if you've had an accident or need to make a claim. There are different levels of courtesy car cover – some will only cover you if your car can be repaired, while others will cover for complete write-offs, or if your car is stolen.
Breakdown cover varies but, at its most basic level, it ensures your vehicle can be recovered from the roadside and fixed on the spot (or taken to a garage if it can't be repaired there and then). You can increase the cover to get assistance if your car is spluttering in the driveway or to get a hire car if you need a short-term replacement. For more info see our Cheap Breakdown Cover guide.
As its name suggests, excess insurance is designed to provide the funds to pay your excess in the event of a claim. There are two types of excess insurance: the first, known as 'single cover', only covers one policy, while 'multi-cover' will insure excesses you have across a number of different policies.
If you lose your car keys, key insurance can cover the cost of replacing keys and locks. Key cover typically comes without an excess and some policies can be extended to also cover members of your family.
Set the right excess without breaking the bank
It's worth considering going for a policy with a higher excess. A higher excess will result in lower premiums but make sure you can afford the premium if you need to claim. Many people will find claiming for less than £500 of damage both increases the future cost of insurance and can invalidate no-claims bonuses, meaning it's not always worth making a claim.
So why pay extra for a lower excess? A few insurers will substantially reduce premiums for a £1,000 excess, so try this when getting quotes. The downside of this is if you have a bigger claim you'll have to shell out more, so take this into account.
Grab long-lasting quotes to lock in today's price
Many insurers will let you lock in a quote up to 30 days ahead of the start date, so you can guard against any future premium increases. A few insurers such as as Aviva* and Quotemehappy even have quotes that are valid for 60 days.
Once the quote has been locked in, the price is fixed subject to you not changing any of your details – though you aren’t committed to taking that policy and can always change your mind if you find a cheaper deal (see why buying 21 days ahead is cheapest).
You can switch mid-year, don't wait for renewal
Don't assume switching is only for those at renewal. This is very important when prices are rising, as they are this year. This means you may find switching early saves anyway, especially if you didn't follow the full cost cutting system in the past. There are three points to consider when doing this:
- You can usually cancel existing policies and get a refund for the rest of the year, providing you haven't claimed.
- There will normally be a cancellation fee of around £50 so your savings from switching should outweigh that to make it worth it – the longer you've got to go on your policy the more likely you'll be better off switching to save.
- You won't earn the current year's no-claims bonus if you switch so you'll need to be making a substantial saving in order to make this work.
For many, it will still be a worthwhile move. Here are a couple of case studies to inspire you...
You gave us the confidence to challenge our car insurance mid-policy as we were paying £40 a month. Now we're paying £16.
In November my insurance was £1,200. Now, with a little help from turning 25, I have done a mid-year price check and it's £230!
Insurers usually send out notifications at least 21 days before renewal. This doesn't leave much time, and you can end up rushing to find a cheaper price.
To avoid being forced to decide quickly, put a warning in your diary six weeks before your renewal date, so there's plenty of time to sort out a new provider. Alternatively, use the free Tart Alert which sends a reminder text or email.
The following are just some of the cancellation fees charged by insurers if you cancel cover outside the 14-day 'cooling-off period' and if you've not made any claims during the current year.
Insurer Cancellation Fee Insurer Cancellation Fee Admiral
Churchill £53.76 LV £40 Co-op
More Than £50 Debenhams £50 Post Office £55 Direct Line £48.16 Privilege £53.76 Endsleigh
Quotemehappy £50 (2) Esure
RAC £55 Halifax
Swiftcover £52.50 Correct at July 2018 Note: (1) If moving to another non-Hastings policy. (2) Insurance premium tax will be added to the cancellation fee. It increased to 12%, from 10%, on 1 June 2017.
- You can usually cancel existing policies and get a refund for the rest of the year, providing you haven't claimed.
Get on the electoral roll – it matters
Being on the electoral roll is not just about being registered to vote – it can also make a difference to your insurance premium.
Insurers such as Aviva, Direct Line, Churchill, Privilege, Co-op, Zurich and Endsleigh have confirmed that they use the electoral roll as part of the ID-checking process to combat fraud.
Not being on the electoral roll, or having incorrect information registered, makes it more difficult for insurers to identify you, so they'll probably give you higher quotes or simply not offer cover.
If you're not already on the electoral roll, it's straightforward to do. See our Electoral Roll guide for more information on why it's important, including the all-important how to get on it.
Step 1: The top comparison sites
Once you know the basics from our top 12 tips for cutting costs, it's time to visit the comparison sites which zip your details to a number of insurers' and brokers' websites to find the cheapest quotes. As no single site captures the entire market and prices vary, combining a number of sites is the best way to make a really meaningful saving.
When ranking comparisons, we want to get you to use the best ones, as quickly as possible. We focus principally on price, as depending on who you are, you can get cheaper quotes on different screen-scrapers. However, we also factor in 'softer' features to assess the quality of each.
Ranking on price
We analysed the prices of a large range of insurance quotes given by Compare The Market, Confused.com, Gocompare and MoneySupermarket.
- Step 1. Check how many times each comparison site returned the cheapest or within 5% of the cheapest quote.
- Step 2. Rank the comparison sites in based on their 'score' in the first category.
- Step 3. Assess how often each comparison gave a unique cheapest quote, ie, not just equal cheapest with a higher-scoring comparison.
- Step 4. Alter the order to see if it's possible to increase the speed with which you access the cheapest quotes.
Quality rating (out of 10)
We use this as a tiebreaker, when combining two different combinations of comparisons gives similar results.
If such a combo exists, we have used the quality rating as a tie breaker.
The rating is based on a quarterly survey of other features of the comparisons: including their accuracy when compared to prices when you click through to the insurers. Other features assessed are:
Do the prices quoted change when you click through to insurers' websites?
Do other terms of the quote change when you click through to the insurers' websites?
Do your top quotes have the excess you asked for?
If you've requested no marketing follow-up, do you get one?
Is the price for any add-ons clearly stated?
This is a newish process so we are intending to improve it as we go, and welcome all feedback.
Yes and no. Comparison sites send your details to a raft of insurers, they then use information on your credit file to judge your quote. This leaves a 'soft search' on your file which you can see as a reference if you get your credit report – but this worries many people.
Yet crucially lenders CAN'T SEE these soft searches, so they have no impact on your creditworthiness. The only time a hard search – which lenders can see – may go on your file is if you then go on and actually apply for insurance; specifically 'pay monthly' insurance (because they effectively pay upfront for you and you repay the loan over the year).
More info in our Will buying insurance from a comparison site affect my credit score? 60-second guide.
Some comparison sites include 'free' gifts for every policy you take out. At CompareTheMarket.com there's a soft toy meerkat (you can choose from eight) for each new policy plus 2for1 cinema tickets and 2for1 at 1,000s of restaurants (see Meerkat Movies & Restaurant trick for full details).
Though remember, don't end up paying a higher premium than you need to because you are sucked in by the incentives on offer from one particular comparison site.
Typical driver insurance
This is you if you're aged over 25 with one car, which isn't a company car.
Our system in a nutshell but for a full whys and wherefores see below
Our comparison site order in full technicolour detail
The order of comparison sites listed below is for typical drivers – see the tabs above if the combination of these sites is unable to save you £100s.
Try to really nail down all the quotes
BOOST CHANCES TO NEARLY 100%
Temporary car insurance
Borrowing a friend's car for the weekend or need to hire a vehicle to move house? It's possible to get temporary insurance for one to 28 days.
Most insurers will cover drivers between the ages of 18 and 75 but some set the minimum age at 21. You may also find it difficult to find cover if you have many points on your licence or a long history of claims.
Insure Daily*, Tempcover.com, Confused.com* and the RAC* offer policies.
Now jump to step 4 for how to haggle down the best price.
Multi-car insurance can save £100s
If you have more than one car, this could be for you, and having different renewal dates needn't be a blocker. For some it could save £100s, but for others it could actually be more expensive.
Jump to need-to-know 3 for full details.
Company car insurance
Comparison sites always assume you own the car you're trying to insure. However, many people drive a car owned by their employer, but have to insure and tax it themselves.
This means comparison sites, while useful for benchmarking, don't do the trick. First, try a couple of specialists, then see how prices from the comparisons stack up.
The only insurer we could find which gives quotes online for vehicles owned by companies is LV*.
Go through the quote process and it'll ask who owns the car. The quote you get will be based on this. This by no means translates to LV being the cheapest choice – but it's very useful to get an idea of what you should be paying.
Specialist brokers and insurers: Time for phone-based legwork
This is a good time to look to the old-fashioned, pre-online comparison route – insurance brokers. They can only look at a smaller range of insurers, but they can also dig into the detail, and tell you if a policy covers company cars.
Combine comparison sites
Remember, comparisons don't all compare the same sites, so the best strategy's to combine them. We've analysed them, using a large range of monthly data, primarily focused on which ones produce the cheapest results.
We also factored in separate research on the accuracy and quality of the comparisons. (See how the order is picked.)
No single site captures the entire market, so combining a number of sites is the best way to make a really meaningful saving.
I'm struggling to get cover
If you have a number of points on your licence or you have made many claims before you may find it hard to get cover.
If you've been caught once for an offence such as speeding, it's likely you'll have three penalty points on your driving licence. However, one strike doesn't change your risk profile. It's when you reach four points or more that you should change the way you act.
First click on 'typical driver' and compare the comparison sites listed. If you think you can find cover cheaper elsewhere consider enlisting the help of a broker (search on the British Insurance Brokers' Association website to find someone local).
If you've claimed in the past and this is affecting your premiums, consider protecting your no-claims discount (see Should I protect my no-claims discount? for more).
You may even be able to fast-track your no-claims bonus. The Admiral Bonus Accelerator policy gives you one year's no-claims bonus after just 10 months of being insured. This can speed up how quickly you hit the big discount territory.
However, always choose based on the price you pay now. Factoring in a slightly higher premium today for a reduced one in future is fine – but don't pay way over the odds, as the benefits in years ahead aren't guaranteed.
Even if you don't claim, to keep your no-claims discount, the price of a policy can rise simply because you may be assessed as a higher risk in future.
Despite some confusion, telematics is not a 1980s games show hosted by Noel Edmonds (that was Telly Addicts!). Telematics prices your premiums depending on how you drive.
A device inside your car monitors your actions behind the wheel. So the better you drive, the less you pay for cover. Remember, telematics policies have more aliases than a rap group. If you're looking at 'black box', 'smart box', 'pay-as-you-drive' or 'usage-based' insurance then you're looking at a telematics policy.
It works! Forumite vic.star says: "I'm with Insure The Box – a telematics insurer. I paid £980 for my first year (I was 21 when I took out the policy) compared to the cheapest on comparison sites of £1,400!"
The black box feeds data back to your insurer, which takes this into account to reward you; if you can prove you're more Driving Miss Daisy than Fast & Furious, you can get money back on your premiums, high-street shopping vouchers or better prices at renewal.
How do they judge you?
It's not just a case of keeping your hands at ten and two and shifting smoothly up the gears. Insurers will take the following into account.
- The time of day or night you drive (11pm to 5am may cost more).
- Your speed (stick to the limit).
- Gentle braking reactions (hard and sharp stopping is not good).
- Gentle acceleration and cornering is good (don't treat your local roads like Silverstone).
Telematics providers will charge you more if you speed or start cornering like Lewis Hamilton. In addition, you won't earn rewards if you don't drive responsibly. With insurance so expensive, any money back on your cover should be an incentive in itself.
While your insurer will be following your driving closely, there are relatively few restrictions on when and where you drive.
Step 2: The ones comparisons miss
Comparison sites let you compare 100s of insurers quickly but they don't capture the entire market.
The insurers not on comparison sites
Three of the biggest insurers on the market, Direct Line, Aviva and Zurich, only offer their products directly and aren't on comparison sites. Benchmark your cheapest comparison site quotes against the premiums offered by these sites to see if you can slash costs further.
Direct Line*. If you have any other Direct Line product, you'll get a discount, which does vary.
Aviva*. Grab up to 20% off online and an extra discount of up to a third by adding a second car or van to your policy.
Zurich. Get a courtesy car following an accident on standard policies, if you use one of its approved repairers.
Step 3: Hot deals comparisons miss
Use this MSE Blagged Age Co* link to buy a car insurance policy by 11.59pm on Wednesday 31 October and you'll receive a £55 M&S gift card – it should arrive within 120 days of your policy start date. This deal is for new customers only (those who have never had an Age UK or Age Co motor policy).
An online deal such as this has to track properly for you to get your gift card. A few things can prevent that, so make sure you:
1) Disable ad-blocking software or cookie blockers (if you don't know what they are, it's unlikely you're using them so it's less of an issue). These can stop the deal tracking, so please temporarily unblock them.
2) Don't exit your browser and reopen it while signing up for the deal, as this can stop it tracking correctly.
In the unlikely event that you don't receive the gift card 120 days after your policy start date, please email email@example.com and include your policy number and start date.
Buy a new car insurance policy direct from Co-op Insurance* by 11.59pm on Wednesday 21 November and you'll receive £50 worth of Co-op food vouchers.
The vouchers will be posted within 75 days of your policy start date – note too that the deal's for new customers only (where you have not had a Co-op car insurance policy on the same vehicle within the last 12 months).
Buy a new motor insurance policy directly from the Post Office* and you'll get RAC roadside and recovery cover for the same vehicle, free for a year. This only applies to policyholders aged 49 or under at the time of purchase.
You can upgrade the cover too: it costs £20 to include 'At Home' cover or £40 to include 'At Home and Onward Travel' cover for one year.
Step 4: Haggle
Haggling is not a must – especially if you want to try a new provider – but if you're looking to renew with your current insurer it is well worth getting on the phone to negotiate.
Once you've followed the steps above and got the overall cheapest price, pick up the phone and haggle. If your insurer can beat or match your best quote it saves the hassle of switching policy. If that doesn't work and you're still in the mood, enlist the help of a broker.
I just saved around £300 haggling with Admiral (prompted after the news article on MSE). And they were really friendly to boot.
Step 5: Get cashback
Once you know who your cheapest provider is, you need to check there aren't any hidden cashback deals, as these can be as high as £60.
If your second or third cheapest quotes weren't too much more expensive, see if cashback's available for them too, and find the overall winner.
It's important to be aware that the cashback is coming from the comparison site, not the insurer, so getting the cashback relies on its ability to pay.
Things you need to know before getting cashback...
Cashback is never 100% guaranteed. There can be issues with tracking and allocating the payment. Many cashback sites are small firms with limited backing, and you've no protection if anything happens to them.
Money held in your cashback site account has no protection at all if that company goes bust. Always withdraw it as soon as you're eligible.
While it shouldn't be a problem, if you've used comparison sites before, there is a minor risk that the cashback may not track due to cookies on your computer – so it's good practice to clear those first (read About Cookies).
Step 6: Check your policy
Always double-check the policy terms. Once you've found the cheapest quotes make two important checks.
Double-check the quotes. Click through to the insurance provider's own website to double-check the quotes, as to speed up searches some comparison sites make a few assumptions.
Examine the policy's coverage. Check whether it's suitable. If you want a free courtesy car if yours is being fixed, is it included? While you're there, it's worth playing with the policy details to see if you can lower the price further. Look at the excess, and whether adding drivers cuts the cost.
So how much can you save?
Following the steps above often produces huge savings. Those who normally just accept their insurer's renewal regularly see £100s shaved off the cost. And significant numbers of MoneySavers report getting deals for under £100.
Our record-ever price of 96p for a year is below. Since then we've had some for under £50 but nothing that comes close so if you've beaten it, let us know.
Barbara's story: 96p for a year's fully comp cover
In October 2009, civil servant and grandmother Barbara Wakerell smashed the old £14 record for using this car insurance system (see MSE News: 96p car insurance).
Policy price: For Barbara, the cheapest was £120.96 from Swinton Insurance for a fully comprehensive policy, with protected no-claims bonus, and including a courtesy car.
Insurer cashback: The company had its own £70 cashback promo.
Cashback site: She then got a further £50 via using a cashback site.
All added together, that meant the total cost of the insurance was just 96p. She said:
I'm always looking for a bargain so when I found my car insurance for £120.96 I thought I was doing well. But when I also got £120 cashback I realised I had done really, really well. Can anyone beat that?
How to complain about your insurance provider
The insurance industry doesn't have the best customer service reputation and while a provider may be good for some, it can be hell for others. Common problems include claims either not being paid out on time or at all, unfair charges, or exclusions being hidden in the small print. It's always worth trying to call your provider first, but if not then…
Free tool if you're having a problem
This tool helps you draft your complaint and manage it too. It's totally free, and offered by a firm called Resolver which we like so much we work with it to help people get complaints justice.
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