How to find cover for your topless model

Soft-top cars can be hard to insure - especialy if you're young. Dido Sandler looks at ways to cut costs
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The Independent Online
Springtime makes people behave in all sorts of ways. One type of madness that afflicts the motoring public is a propensity to go out and buy an expensive convertible.

Only afterwards do they realise how hard they'll be hit with insurance. In a survey carried out by the Independent, one insurer said they'd charge pounds 2,033 for fully comprehensive cover for a 30-year-old London-dwelling advertising executive driving a K registration Golf GTI convertible.

Outside London and the big cities, premiums are lower, but they are well above saloon car equivalents.

On top of the premium, the individual would have to pay the first pounds 300 of any claim for accidental damage, and pounds 350 excess in the case of fire and theft. At this rate, within a few years the premiums would equal the original cost of the car itself.

Some companies refuse to quote for this sort of high performance car altogether. Among them is Direct Line, which refers this sort of business to its sister company Privilege, which specialises in non-standard risks. Other companies refuse to quote for 17- to 25-year- olds driving this sort of model. The AA will provide quotes at a price. A 19-year-old should expect to pay up to three times the premium of a 30-year-old.

Some companies, such as Independent Insurance, do not offer personal injury cover in their policy. Others impose massive "excesses". A spokeswoman for Telesure, a London-based specialist high-risk brokers, warns that these high excesses are only reclaimable from a third party if you find the person who shunted, stole or cut their way into your car. Even in these days of high repair bills it means drivers will have to pay the cost of minor accidents in full and risk their no-claims bonus for medium- sized claims.

There is a reason, however, why buying insurance for your shiny soft top is so prohibitive. Prestigious cars are far more likely to get stolen or maliciously damaged than your average Ford Fiesta, and convertibles are easier to break into than most vehicles.

Despite all this, the cars are enjoying a year on year surge in sales, according to Mark Paynton, the editor of What Car? magazine. He says their popularity is partly due to recent hot summers and partly to the high- profile image of two-seater "roadsters" like the MGB, Mazda MX5, Mercedes SLK, and the new BMW23.

If you too are determined to experience the exhilaration of open-top motoring, and like getting unexpectedly rained on, there are ways of reducing your insurance bill.

First, you can save hundreds by shopping around. Prices vary enormously, to the point that you suspect that some companies are trying to put you off with their quotes. For our Golf-driving 30-year-old, the highest price we received was pounds 2,033 from Independent Insurance, and the lowest was Telesure's pounds 630.60.

Privilege says that it differentiates prices more precisely between different types of soft top. A K-registered Golf Cabriolet can be insured for pounds 140 less than a Golf GTI. Some companies offer large discounts - up to 48 per cent with the AA - on cars fitted with ABI-approved security devices. These include wheel locks, immobilisers and alarms. Trackers, which send out radio signals and help to trace vehicles when stolen, earn discounts of 10 per cent. All these items can be expensive, though. You are unlikely to be able to recoup the expense in the first year through premium savings, but subsequent savings should more than compensate.

Motorists should consider further cost-cutting strategies, like keeping the car garaged, limiting the annual mileage, and buying cover for just one named driver. Note, however, that if you tell the insurer that you garage your car, and it is damaged or stolen from the street outside your house, you will have problems persuading them to pay up, especially if it happens at night.

A more drastic approach is to wait until you're old enough to be trusted. Towards the mid-forties and fifties premiums take a tumble. Another factor is where you live. In Leeds you have a 5.5 per cent chance of having your car stolen in any one year. In Aberdeen, you're down to 0.8 per cent. Insurance premiumsreflect the difference.

Anyone with a classic car should probably go for a specially designed classic policy, which offers lower rates on limited mileage.

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