Choose the right cover and you'll be home and dry

Are you paying too much for too little on your motor insurance? Sam Dunn helps you find a policy that will go the distance

We skid on wet roads, get buffeted by high winds and now we're overheating. The record-breaking temperatures experienced in the past few weeks have caused thousands of drivers to lose their cool. New research from Prudential General Insurance suggests that accident-related insurance claims increase when the thermometer rises above 30C.

We skid on wet roads, get buffeted by high winds and now we're overheating. The record-breaking temperatures experienced in the past few weeks have caused thousands of drivers to lose their cool. New research from Prudential General Insurance suggests that accident-related insurance claims increase when the thermometer rises above 30C.

"People are less inclined to jump in the car when it's hot, but those who do are more subject to impatience and lapses of concentration," explains Prudential spokesman Phil Southgate.

Summer or winter, it pays to keep a weather eye on your car insurance bills. Mike Naylor, senior researcher at the Consumers' Association, says an average saving of between £100 and £150 can be made by those who shop around for the best deal. "Premiums tend to increase on an annual basis, so it's worth switching to a new insurer every year to cut your premiums," he advises. "Make sure you get the right level of cover for your money, too."

But with more than 75 providers selling car insurance, finding the right policy can be hard. You may spend hours comparing prices on the internet only to find that you can't get cover - perhaps because you have a previous conviction or drive a high-performance car.

Adrian Webb, spokesman for online insurer esure, which only insures drivers with at least four years' no-claims bonuses, says perseverance is needed: "People don't want to take more than two minutes to buy car insurance but you should try at least five companies."

And be wary of insurers offering to match a lower price. "Price matching is an appalling admission of guilt," says Mr Webb. "You have to ask why the price was higher in the first place and whether they are taking away any of your benefits or bumping up your excess [instead].

"People are very motivated by the lowest price, but you [could then] have a high excess. As a rule, never take an excess that's higher than the sum you would be prepared to pay if you bumped your car tomorrow."

To find the most competitive policy for your needs, first determine the type of cover you want, how much of an excess you are prepared to pay in the event of a claim, and whether it is worth paying for extras such as the use of a replacement car. Mr Webb says the majority of British drivers opt for fully comprehensive insurance that pays out for any damage to a third party, to your car and to property.

The internet is a good place to start your search for cover. The financial products website www.moneysupermarket.com allows you to compare more than 50 motor insurers; try also www.find.co.uk and www.confused.com.

Research from Moneysupermarket shows the savings you can make by shopping around. A 21-year-old woman, living in Manchester, who drives a five-door 1149cc Renault Clio and has one year's no-claims bonus, would pay £799 with Churchill. But if she bought her cover through Norwich Union, she'd be charged £1,366.66 - 71 per cent more.

Kate Armstrong, managing director of Confused.com, says: "You really have to [do your] research because you are spending a lot of money. People want to pay the cheapest price possible but, equally, you want to be covered in case of any accident claim."

To keep a lid on costs, Mr Naylor at the Consumers' Association advises keeping your mileage down, taking unnecessary names off the policy - children away at university, for example - and not using your car for work.

A no-claims bonus allows you to reduce insurance costs by as much as 60 per cent, so it's worth protecting if you do need to make a claim. Most insurers will charge between 10 and 20 per cent of your reduced premium to do this; you can then typically make a claim once a year, up to a maximum of two claims in three consecutive years, without your no-claims discount being affected.

Motor insurance can offer protection against theft as well as accidents. Before you buy, check the small print and find out whether your property (for example, an expensive stereo system) will be covered if it is stolen from your car.

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