Car insurance exclusions

Don't want your car insurance claim rejected? Know the common exclusions.

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Not only is basic car insurance a legal requirement, the right cover can offer peace of mind that you’re financially protected if your car is stolen or damaged in an accident. But there are times when it won’t pay out. It’s not unusual for the list of general car insurance exclusions to take up a few pages or more of your car insurance policy. While the size of the list may seem a little overwhelming at first, many exclusions are common sense, and easily avoided. Read on to find out the car insurance exclusions you should be aware of.

When might your car insurance not pay out for a claim?

Let’s start with the obvious; to have valid car insurance, you must be up to date with your payments. If you’re paying in instalments and miss a monthly payment, you risk your policy being cancelled. Even if you pay annually, be careful not to miss your renewal date. Driving without insurance, even for a few days, is illegal and you won’t have any protection in the event of an accident.

Beyond that, the specific exclusions will depend to a certain extent on the type of car insurance you have. Basic, third-party insurance will have more exclusions than comprehensive cover, for example. That said, there are a bunch of universal exclusions that apply regardless of the insurance you have. For example, insurance won’t pay out if you are found to have been driving under the influence, or if you deliberately “bent the truth” to reduce premiums when you applied for car insurance in the first place. This guide explains these common exclusions and more.

Are exclusions different depending on the type of car insurance?

Danny Butler

Finder insurance expert Danny Butler answers

In short, yes. The exclusions we’ve highlighted in this guide are common to almost all car insurance policies. However, the specific details of each exclusion, and precisely what exclusions apply, will vary between insurers. That’s why we bang on so much about reading terms and conditions before you buy. Not only can it help you choose the right cover, but it can help you avoid falling foul of unexpected exclusions.

The other key factor that affects what’s excluded is the level of cover you have. As you’d expect, basic third-party cover has the most exclusions, while comprehensive cover has the fewest. Third-party, fire and theft cover falls somewhere in between.

What doesn’t comprehensive car insurance cover?

Comprehensive car insurance protects you against a lot of risks, including accidental damage to your own car and any harm you cause to third parties or their property, plus fire, weather damage, vandalism and theft.

It won’t cover you for general wear and tear (the cost of replacing worn brake discs, say), a punctured tyre after driving over a nail, or (in most cases) putting the wrong fuel in the tank. It also won’t cover any claims that are linked to certain general exclusions. Among others, these include driving a car that isn’t roadworthy, so keeping on top of that wear and tear maintenance is crucial. As standard, you also usually won’t be covered if you use your car for work purposes other than commuting.

What doesn’t third-party car insurance cover?

Third-party car insurance will have all of the exclusions of comprehensive cover, plus you won’t be covered for theft of or damage to your own car, whatever the reason. So if you’re involved in an accident with another car, and it’s your fault, third-party insurance will pay out for damage to the other car. But you’ll have to fork out for any repairs to your own car yourself.

Common car insurance exclusions

Here are some important car insurance exclusions that apply to almost every policy. Some mean you won’t be paid out for any sort of claim made where the exclusion is in play, or could even invalidate your policy. Some of these are more obvious than others, so don’t risk falling foul. If you get into an accident and your claim can be traced to any of these exclusions, then your insurer may reject it.

Other exclusions specifically restrict certain claims, but won’t put your entire policy at risk.

Common exclusions that could result in any claim being rejected

1. Using your car for work (if you don’t have business cover)

“Renting” your car to a friend for a couple of months while their vehicle is off the road? Driving for a rideshare service such as Uber and using your car to earn some extra cash?

In both of the above scenarios, if your car was damaged by an insured event and you only had regular car insurance, your claim would likely be rejected. All standard, comprehensive car insurers exclude claims that arise while your car is being used for hire, fare or monetary reward.

Even if you’re not planning on becoming an Uber driver, there are other, seemingly innocuous, business uses that aren’t usually covered as standard. For example, while commuting to a regular place of work may be included, if you drive somewhere else for work purposes (to a training centre, for example), this may be excluded. And don’t blithely offer to help your boss get some work equipment from A to B using your personal car. This may also count as a business use and risk rendering your car insurance invalid.

Don’t take the risk. Check your car insurance terms and, if need be, buy temporary business car insurance.

2. Modifying your car (without telling your insurer)

Although the approach to modifications differs slightly between insurers, it’s always a good idea to get your insurer’s approval before making any changes to your vehicle.

Any alterations to the standard body, engine, suspension, wheels or paintwork of your car that have an effect on its performance, safety levels, appearance or value may influence your insurer’s decision about whether or not to cover you. This means you’ll need to get the OK first, even if the alterations are essential (to accommodate a disability, for example).

Once you make any unauthorised changes to your car, it becomes a different vehicle to the one your insurer originally agreed to cover. So if you don’t tell your insurer about any modifications you’re planning, future claims could be refused.

3. Listing the main driver of a car as a named driver

Most car insurance policies let you add other people as “named drivers“. This covers them to drive the car under the same terms as the main driver.

In some cases, it can even reduce the policy-holder’s car insurance premiums. If, for example, the main driver is young and inexperienced, adding a more experienced parent as an occasional named driver could reduce the overall risk in the insurer’s eyes, and cut costs.

But, importantly, the person that drives the car the most must be listed as the main driver. Trying to reduce costs even further by listing the experienced driver as the main driver and the less experienced driver as an additional driver, even though the less experienced driver uses the car the most, is a type of insurance fraud. It’s called “fronting”. If the insurer finds out, it’s likely to result in any claims being rejected, whoever was driving at the time. It could also completely invalidate the policy and even result in a fraud prosecution.

4. Trying to squeeze too many people (or things) into your car

It shouldn’t come as any surprise to find out that driving your car while it’s overloaded is a dangerous (and illegal) practice. It is therefore excluded from car insurance cover. The overloading exclusion applies to the following scenarios:

  • Carrying more passengers than the car was designed for.
  • Carrying more passengers than the car is permitted to carry by law.
  • Carrying any load which is not properly secured according to law.
  • Carrying any load that is over the legal limit.
  • Carrying any load that is more than your car is designed to carry or tow.

Take special note of the towing exclusion. If you’re planning to tow a trailer or caravan, check your car manufacturer’s specifications to find out how much your vehicle can safely tow.

5. Hitting the race track

Do you feel the need… the need… for speed? Sorry, Maverick. Indulging in your supersonic speed desires could cause any resulting car insurance claims to be rejected.

Standard car insurance will not cover you if you participate in any kind of motor sport in your car, such as:

  • On a permanent or temporary racetrack
  • In a four-wheel drive adventure park
  • For racing
  • For trials, speed tests, rallies, contests or hill climbs
  • For endurance or skills tests

Unsurprisingly, you also won’t be covered if your claim arises because you were participating in street racing, or driving recklessly (donuts, burnouts and the like).

Of course, some cars want nothing more than to be let out on the race track. If you’ve bought a car with this in mind, get yourself specialist track day insurance to satisfy your speed demons with a financial safety net in place. Otherwise, it might be time to put your need for speed to one side and focus on your need to drive safely and maintain your car insurance cover.

6. Driving a car that isn’t roadworthy

When you take out car insurance cover, one of your obligations under the insurance contract is to keep your car in good condition. This means it needs to be well maintained, roadworthy and safe to drive.

With this in mind, it’s essential to:

  • Replace old, worn-out tyres – the minimum legal tyre tread depth, according to the UK Tyre Law, is 1.6mm in a continuous band around the middle three-quarters of the tyre.
  • Replace broken or defective lights.
  • Replace worn-out brakes.
  • Repair any major rust problems.
  • Fix worn upholstery.
  • Repair major scratches and dents you do not claim under your policy.

Don’t rely on your annual MOT to guarantee that your car is roadworthy. It will only confirm that it’s roadworthy on the date of the MOT itself. If things go downhill in the 12 months before your next check-up, you could still fall foul of this insurance exclusion. Pay close attention to any advisories you’re given as part of the MOT, and keep a regular eye on the condition of your car.

7. Failure to report an accident

With premiums increasing after every claim made, it’s no surprise that drivers might choose to repair minor damage themselves and keep their no-claim bonus.

However, you still have to inform your insurer about any damage from an accident, even if you don’t want to make a claim. If you don’t, it could cause your insurer problems if any third-party decides to make a claim. It could also mean that any later claim made following a more serious accident might be thrown out, if your insurer spots the previous damage.

8. Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs

This one should go without saying – but we’re going to say it anyway because it’s important. If you get behind the wheel having drunk more alcohol than is legally permitted in the UK, expect a claim to be rejected.

This exclusion also applies to drugs or prescription medications that have a significant impact on your reactions or thought processes.

And don’t think you can get away with it by refusing to take a test to check for drugs, alcohol or medication in your blood. Doing so will also likely cause any related claims to go against you.

It’s worth pointing out that the act of drink driving itself doesn’t void any claim made by a third party for injury or damage. Insurance companies are still obliged to pay out for any third-party claim. The problem is, the insurers could decide to seek these costs back from you.

9. Driving without a licence, or driving an unregistered vehicle

If you don’t have a valid licence when you get behind the wheel of your car, don’t expect your insurer to cover you for any incidents that may occur. This exclusion also applies if you have failed to renew a time-restricted licence in time, or if you’re in control of a vehicle you’re not licensed to drive. So make sure you regularly check your licence expiry date and check any terms and conditions that may be attached before hitting the road.

You would also compromise your insurance cover if you don’t:

  • Register your car with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency
  • Renew your car tax
  • Have a current MOT certificate

Forgetting to renew your tax is an easy mistake to make, especially now that tax discs are a thing of the past. Make sure you’ve got all the proper documentation and made the necessary payment to be sure of maintaining cover.

10. Fibbing to your insurer

It’s almost impossible to untangle the complex algorithms that dictate how each insurer decides what premiums to charge. But there are some things that we know will tend to push up car insurance premiums.

While some, such as your age, are near-impossible to fudge, it can be tempting to see some others as open to interpretation.

Don’t. Bending the truth about how far you drive in a year, where you keep your car “most of the time”, or what you do for a living could come back to bite you by invalidating your insurance policy and rendering it worthless.

And don’t risk fibbing by omission either. Moved to a new address or got a promotion at work? Don’t let it slip your mind to inform your insurance company straight away. You risk your insurer refusing to pay out for claims if you fail to inform them about these changes.

You are legally obliged to tell your car insurance provider the truth (as best you can). If your circumstances change, inform the company immediately as your premium may need to be recalculated.

Common exclusions that could mean certain claims aren’t covered

1. General wear and tear or gradual deterioration

Even comprehensive car insurance won’t cover any claims that arise due to gradual deterioration or general wear and tear to parts of your vehicle. Insurance policies are designed to provide financial protection against unexpected events and mishaps. They won’t deal with the general ageing and deterioration that occurs naturally with regular use of your car.

This means you won’t be covered for claims caused by (for example):

  • Wear and tear
  • Rust or corrosion
  • Mould
  • Mildew
  • Rot
  • Damp

So instead of relying on your car insurer to cover every single little thing that could eventually wear down on your vehicle, it’s your responsibility to stay on top of ongoing maintenance and any minor repair requirements as they arise.

2. Tyre damage

Tyres are a tricky area of car insurance. As well as there being a general requirement to keep your tyres in good nick in order for your car insurance to be valid, the tyres themselves may also be excluded from cover in certain circumstances. For example, your car insurance is unlikely to provide any cover for tyre damage caused by braking, punctures, cuts or bursts.

Sadly, even the freshest tyres may not hold up against a particularly vicious pothole or a pot of nails spilled on the road. But making sure you replace your tyres before they get too worn will help minimise the risk of problems.

3. Personalised number plates

Personalised number plates are big business; in 2020, the DVLA sold more than 400,000 of them via its online service. But they don’t come cheap – some of the most desirable plates can cost tens of thousands of pounds.

Which makes this particular exclusion a frustration to anyone that’s shelled out that much. Most insurers won’t specifically cover the loss of a personalised number plate, and those that do may cap the payout.

The way personalised number plates work means that, when you buy them, they are assigned to a specific vehicle. You have to go through an official process if you want to transfer your rights to the number plate to another car, or retain it on a certificate. That means that, if you don’t want to risk losing your rights, and the money you’ve shelled out for those rights, you need to tell your insurer and jump onto the transfer process as a matter of urgency.

4. Filling your car up with the wrong fuel

Eek! You’ve just switched cars from a diesel to a petrol model, and you’ve refuelled on autopilot. Yep, that’ll be several gallons of diesel straight into the tank of a car that can’t use it, and will break if you try to drive it.

It’s a common mistake but, sadly, one that’s often not covered by car insurance. According to financial insight firm Defaqto, 80% of car insurance policies exclude misfuelling as standard. Only a handful offer it as a paid-for extra.

If you make this mistake, whatever you do, don’t drive your car as this could make the problem worse. Even car breakdown cover won’t guarantee to get you sorted, as many of these exclude misfuelling as standard too. Unless you’re lucky enough to have a car insurance or breakdown policy that covers it, sadly you may simply need to suck up the cost of paying for your tank to be drained and cleaned.

Bottom line

Make sure you understand what’s covered under your car insurance and what’s not covered before hitting the road. This is especially important when cancelling policies or switching insurers. Check your terms and conditions carefully to avoid a surprise when it’s time to make a claim, and compare your options to find the best cover.

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