Hard sell on soft tops

Once upon a time standard insurers wouldn't touch off-beat jalopies. Now it pays to check .
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The Independent Online
Many of those cruising around in convertibles during the summer months should derive an additional blast of fresh air from improving insurance terms. Premiums, having gone through the roof in the standard motor market, are now very much back in line with those of their hard top equivalents.

The same applies to hot hatches, performance saloon cars and other models that have traditionally created above average temptation for car thieves.

Paul Gray, motor manager at ITT London & Edinburgh, says: "Improvements in car security systems, which started to be fitted by manufacturers in the early 1990s, have undoubtedly been proving effective deterrents. The benefits of these have now started to filter through the insurers' statistics.

"Underwriting data has gradually improved over the last 12 months and we now know we can underwrite these risks at the rates required.

"Any model of any mass produced car which has not subsequently been modified is in fact now treated as standard."

The enlightened minority who were obtaining more favourable rates on the flashier makes of car via specialist non-standard players should now be comparing quotes with the standard market at the renewal stage.

Any motor brokerage worth its salt will be able to quote for virtually anything other than kit cars and heavily modified vehicles, using the same electronic quotation system that it uses for standard risks to identify a short-list of suitable policies.

The Independent On Sunday compared quotes for convertibles between Colin Ryan Choice, a specialist motor intermediary with a large non-standard division, and Privilege Insurance, a "direct" non-standard insurer that pays no commission to intermediaries.

It found that no one player could claim an across-the-board advantage and that most quotes came within a few pounds of one another.

"Different insurers and intermediaries use different weighting factors for various criteria," explains Geoff Foster Taylor, proprietor of Taylor Price Direct Choice.

"Some markets, for example, will look favourably upon cars kept in a factory car park during the day-time as opposed to a British Rail car park. Others won't take it into account at all."

This blurring of boundaries between the standard and non-standard market extends to many occupations and types of driving record. Most standard insurers will ignore a single speeding conviction or minor accident and may not penalise more serious one-off convictions as heavily as generally imagined.

Some drink drivers, for example, can achieve loadings that are insignificant compared to other factors such as age or area. One insurer, which prefers to remain anonymous, actually maintains that those with a single drink- driving conviction tend to prove better than average risks as a result of having learnt the hard way.

Nevertheless there remain a hard core of risks for which non-standard specialists will undoubtedly prove the most competitive or the only option.

Drivers with several convictions, normally more than two of any sort, are likely to be declined or treated very harshly by standard insurers. The same can be said for drivers who are celebrity sportsmen or show business personalities. The fact that they are likely to have fellow celebrities as passengers has traditionally made them vulnerable to huge personal injury claims.

Privilege Insurance is adamant that its core territory is in fact far wider than this. Emma Kirkaldy, of Privilege, says: "It is true that standard motor insurers have been widening their horizons to encompass the milder non-standard risks but we estimate that around one third of UK drivers are still better off with a non-standard specialist.

"Furthermore only a small proportion of these are actually aware that there is a non-standard market. We have obviously never enjoyed the critical mass necessary to indulge in advertising on the scale of standard insurers."

She points out that Privilege does not load against those in occupations such as journalism, modelling and the film industry unless other risk factors are involved.

Nevertheless not all standard markets do either. Colin Ryan Insurance Brokers, for example, would expect to place a local journalist at normal terms.

The claims made by standard and non-standard players contradict each other to such an extent that few meaningful generalisations are possible. Those in need of cover should compare quotes from a selection of each.

Privilege, the sister company of Direct Line, prides itself on the fact that it will quote for any non-standard risk. Its non-commission stance means that it is often highly competitive but it is by no means the best option in every case.

Specialist non-standard intermediary Hyperformance Insurance, for example, feels that it currently has the edge on Privilege with regard to drivers aged under 21 but acknowledges that Privilege has the upper hand when it comes to very high value cars worth more than pounds 30,000.

"We all target certain markets and these markets change from time to time, so it's always worth shopping around," explains Tony Allen, senior partner at Hyperformance Insurance. "An analysis of last year's results, for example, has meant we are no longer targeting some classes of young driver for comprehensive cover.

"Covers tend to be similar and you should get a fair product from all the recognised players you would normally come across. Sharp practice has been very much cleaned up by the insurers themselves during the 1990s."

In addition to the non-standard specialists shown in the table below those seeking the best terms may wish to obtain quotes from some of the many specialist schemes advertised in the motor press. These are capable of offering keen rates for specified types of car or classes of driver.

NON-STANDARD SPECIALISTS

PRIVILEGE INSURANCE Direct Insurer, covers all non-standard risks. Tel 0990 998800.

TAYLOR PRICE DIRECT CHOICE Specialist intermediary, covers all except very extreme non-standard risks. Tel 0800 088888.

ADMIRAL Direct insurer, covers drivers in their twenties and high performance cars. Tel 0800 600800.

ADRIAN FLUX INSURANCE Specialist intermediary, covers kit and modified cars, celebrities, extreme convictions. Tel 01553 777888.

HYPERFORMANCE INSURANCE Specialist intermediary. All non-standard risks. Tel 0181-941 2910.

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