From simple cosmetic changes like a lovely new set of wheels to big jobs like engine changes, there’s a ridiculous amount of choice when it comes to car mods. The world really is your oyster, but there is one sizable hurdle to consider before your start reinventing your ride: insurance.
Hopefully most petrolheads should be aware that something like a hybrid turbocharger or a bodykit needs to be disclosed to insurers, but it’s not as simple as you might think. There are plenty of far less obvious alterations that the company providing your cover will want to know about.
Car Throttle’s sister publication Auto Express teamed up with the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) and Ageas insurance to investigate further.
Here’s what was discovered:
Here’s one that’ll be news to a lot of you - extra stuff that has been added to a car in the configurator may still need to be declared.
This will depend on the company, as there are - annoyingly - two distinct definitions of ‘modifications’ used by insurers. According to BIBA, some claim: “a vehicle is considered modified if it has been changed in any way since it was first supplied by the vehicle manufacturer,” but others go by the line: “any alteration to the manufacturers’ standard specification to your car, including optional extras fitted to the car when new by the vehicle manufacturer or dealer, which improves its value, performance, appearance or attractiveness to thieves.”
If a car has any equipment above its standard spec fitted, your insurer may want to know about it.
One modification that shouldn’t inflate your insurance bill is winter tyres. Something called ‘Winter Tyres – the Motor Insurance Commitment‘ is adhered to by 70 insurers, and it states that winters “do not require an additional premium provided that the tyres meet, and are fitted in accordance with, the relevant manufacturers’ specifications and are in a roadworthy condition whilst in use”. That said, some of these companies may still want to be notified if your car has them fitted.
Winters aren’t the only change you can make without being clobbered by a bigger premium. Many practical accessories like roof racks, tow bars and locking wheel nuts can be added at no extra cost “with most insurers,” BIBA says. Again, though, it’s seen as “prudent” to disclose them to the company that covers you. You’re probably sensing a theme here.
Here’s another one that may come as surprise to you - a sticker may not ‘add 5bhp’ as we sometimes hilariously claim, but adhesive additions do count as a modification and thus, they must be declared. One scenario BIBA puts forward is a car adorned with the sticker of a particular sports team, which might make it a target for vandalism from supporters of the arch-rivals.
“Badges indicating increased performance” are also something which insurers deem to raise the risk. Yep, that’s right - slapping an AMG badge on a C180d or an M logo on a 318i can actually bump up the price of your premium.
Modifications can cost you dearly when buying a policy. Auto Express crunched the numbers to see the difference some typical modifications can make, based on a 1.0-litre Ford Focus ST Line owned by a 37-year-old living in rural Hampshire. The list makes for grim reading.
Partaking in some ECU tuning? That’ll be 18 per cent more, please. How about a turbo upgrade? That’s a whopping 177 per cent increase. A wheel change will see the price rise by nearly five per cent, but bizarrely, ‘performance badging’ accounted for a bigger increase at almost eight per cent. Even aftermarket infotainment systems can nudge the price up, since they make the car more desirable to thieves.
If your car is modified to a particularly committed extent, you may find many firms are unwilling to provide cover at any cost. The answer is to ditch mainstream companies and go for a specialist insurer or broker used to dealing with mods - you might be pleasantly surprised by some of the quotes you get back.
There’s a good reason why the general advice is to disclose anything and everything that might be considered a modification - if you don’t, there’s a risk of your policy being voided.
A BIBA case study involving ‘Mr C’ involves an insurer refusing to pay out in the event of a theft. When reporting the theft to the company, Mr C noted several modifications the car had, which he had not disclosed when taking out the policy.
Mr C complained to the Financial Services Authority, which in the end deemed that his non-disclosure was “inadvertent”. Since proper disclosure of the mods would have increased by premium by 75 per cent, the insurer was ordered to pay out part of the claim “to reflect the proportion of the (correct) premium that he had actually paid.”
The case highlights why it’s prudent to err on the side of caution when it comes to insurance and modifications. If you’re in any doubt, speak to the insurer. That being said, it isn’t black and white - BIBA says insurers “recognise not every policyholder is an expert,” so it’s up to customers to supply information that’s “best of their knowledge and belief.”