22 February 2016 by Parkers Team

  • Young driver
  • shopping around
  • crash pic
  • Find out what could invalidate your insurance policy
  • Make sure you don’t get caught out by the small print
  • Modifications and not updating your address could cost you

Insurance can be a minefield of small print, exceptions and conditions when it comes to getting cover, so it’s no surprise that many of us only briefly scan the terms and conditions before signing on the dotted line.  

It’s all too easy to end up in a situation where your insurance is invalidated, leaving you facing a hefty bill, penalty or worse.

So, what can invalidate your insurance and what small print do you need to watch out for?

Keep your details updated

One of the easiest ways for an insurer to pull out of paying for a claim is if your details have changed and you’ve failed to let them know.

This includes if you move home, change jobs or even if your relationship status changes; all of which can determine how much you pay each month. For example, if you move from a house which has on-road parking to a new home with a garage your premium could go down.

You can also invalidate a policy if you don't report an accident that could result in someone making a claim - even if you've settled it yourself.

Tyres and maintenance checks

Not only do you need to ensure that your car is fitted with the right tyres as specified in your handbook, you also need to make sure that the tread depth stays above the legal limit of 1.6mm. Reduced tread depth of your tyres means less grip on the road - an insurer is not likely to pay-out if your had an accident and you’re tyres fall short of the legal limit. 

Fitting tyres that have a lower speed rating can also void a policy as they may not be suitable for use on that vehicle.

Regular maintenance checks of the key fluids in your car, like engine oil, screenwash and coolant are important for a number of reasons: they could help to avoid costly trips to the garage and when your car runs at its optimum it should perform more effectively when it comes to fuel economy. You’re also keeping your insurance valid by keeping the car regularly maintained – if the car breaks down because you failed to refill the engine oil, you’re most likely going to be left footing the repair bill.

Who is the main driver?

Insurance can be pricey for young and inexperienced drivers and it’s quite common for parents to add their children to existing policies as the second driver to help lower the cost. It's vital you make sure that the person driving the car the most is the primary policy holder, though. If the additional driver is actually using the car daily for their commute to work or college and is regularly maintaining the car then they should be named as a main driver.

If the main driver has been misrepresented then the insurer can cancel the policy or charge the extra premium as a lump sum. They can also refuse to pay out for any accidents that have occurred.

Exceeding mileage limitations?

In the majority of cases it's not an issue if you exceed your mileage limitation - a simple phone call usually sorts it out. If you are involved in an accident though, and haven't declared the additional mileage, some insurers could deny the claim.

Modifying your car

Insurers charge higher premiums for modified cars, so not informing them of any changes to your car could be tempting.

But if you don't inform them it can make a claim much more difficult and sometimes even void your policy. Even if you only do something minor, insurers potentially have reason to invalidate your policy as the risk has changed. Crystal clear transparency is important here, you don’t want to be left uninsured if the worst was to happen.

Driving without a valid MOT

Driving without an MOT won't always make your insurance invalid. In most instances the insurers will still pay out in full - and if your car is stolen, or damaged, the payout will usually only be reduced to reflect the value of the car without a current MOT.

However, some policies state in the small print that an MOT must be in force.

If you drive on public roads without an MOT there will be a fine if you’re caught by the police, the only exception is if you’re travelling to a pre-booked MOT test, this must be a direct route though, and to your nearest garage that provides the test.

Driving without a valid licence

If you drive your car without a valid or current licence then your insurance will be void. Likewise you can also invalidate a policy if you drive unattended on a provisional licence - as all policies carry a condition that state you must be supervised by a fully qualified driver.

Leaving your car unlocked

Almost all policies include a clause that will exclude cover if the keys are left in the vehicle, or if it is left unlocked and unattended. You may think that it's rare to leave your car unlocked or with the keys in it, but have you ever left it outside running to defrost during winter?

Driving without appropriate glasses

Drivers who need to wear glasses can invalidate their policy by driving without them - as you won't meet the requirements for your driving licence.

Driving your own car abroad

Most policies in the UK will offer some degree of cover that allows you to drive in Europe.

It's best to contact your insurer before you leave and tell them the details of your trip, though. They will then be able to tell you what level of cover you have and whether they can extend it to more comprehensive levels.

Driving other cars or 'D.O.C.'

Sometimes your policy will entitle you to drive a car belonging to someone else (usually excluding your spouse) - but with third-party cover only. Your own policy will not cover any damage to the car, although the owner's insurance may cover it if the car is stolen or requires repair.

Sometimes the policies state that other cars can only be driven in an emergency and you must have the owner's permission to use the car. You cannot use it to drive cars that are on a hire-purchase agreement.

Most policies do not require the third-party car to have its own insurance but it is worth checking - as a policy that allows you to drive otherwise uninsured cars is more useful than one that allows you to drive only currently insured cars.

Know your weights

Overloading the car when you’re off on your annual family holiday can be easily done, but if you exceed your car's maximum carrying capacity then you could end up in trouble with the law.

Police can pull you over if your car is obviously overloaded and then there’s the safety aspect to consider too.  Overloading can compromise your ability to steer the car and there’s a higher risk of overturning or losing control at sharp bends.

Overloading could also affect your insurance validity if you were to have an accident as a direct result, plus you could also incur a penalty of three points on your licence and a £60 fine. In extreme cases you could be punished for driving without due care which would result in nine points and up to £2,000 in fines.

If you’re considering towing a caravan or trailer, you also need to make sure you don’t exceed the trailer's own maximum authorised mass or the car's maximum towing capacity which will also include the weight of the trailer or caravan as well as your luggage inside whatever you're towing.

Shop around for the latest deals

Shopping around is an important part of finding a good deal on your insurance. Parkers has teamed up with the car insurance comparison experts mustard.co.uk to help you find a competitive price on your car insurance.

If you’re considering buying a car on finance, check out our dedicated section too, as some PCP deals include insurance so it’s worth having a look online at the deals.

Need more information? These articles may help…

Why you should buy a 16-plate car

Top 10 low-insurance cars

What affects the price of your car insurance

Telematics and car insurance

Car insurance: everything you need to know