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Motoring overseas? Then get your cover up to speed

Many drivers wrongly assume their policy provides comprehensive protection in Europe. Laura Harding shows how to get a continental upgrade

If you are one of the three million British drivers heading off to the Continent this summer, ready to explore in the comfort of an air-conditioned car, make sure your cover is as good as the scenery.

The most common mistake is to assume your fully comprehensive insurance will cover you in the Tuscan countryside or the French Riviera.

All UK car policies provide the minimum protection required by law in some EU countries, which is road traffic accident cover. So even if you have the most comprehensive insurance at home with firms such as esure, Direct Line, Swiftcover, Barclays or Admiral, you may only have third-party insurance abroad. If you hit another vehicle or cause injury, you will not have your own costs covered, only those of the third party.

Peter Gerrard, head of insurance at price-comparison site moneysupermarket.com, says British motorists often take it for granted they have more protection than that. "Never assume you are covered abroad – always check your policy. It's very easy to think that because you have paid your premium, your insurance will be valid overseas."

Most car insurers can easily upgrade your policy so that when you drive in continental Europe, you are covered to the same extent as you are in the UK. This, though, comes at a price. Norwich Union charges £25 for a year's cover for trips not exceeding 90 days, while a typical add-on with Direct Line costs around £19, based on a 36-year-old driving a Ford Fiesta. The RAC will upgrade basic cover for £25 per year to offer the same level of protection in most European countries as customers receive in the UK.

Tesco also offers a comprehensive add-on to UK insurance. The policy includes roadside assistance and recovery, emergency repairs, a replacement vehicle while the car is off the road, delivery of replacement parts, legal advice and expenses, and help if the driver is ill. For up to eight days the package costs £45, increasing to £65 for a trip of up to 22 days. Meanwhile, for an additional cost of up to £23, esure, Direct Line, Swiftcover and Barclays will upgrade your policy to cover you for up to 90 days in Europe. Admiral will insure you for 30 days.

But for full peace of mind you could check out the Post Office, Marks & Spencer, Churchill, Endsleigh and the AA, all of which automatically apply the same level of cover when you're driving in Europe as you enjoy in the UK.

Don't forget to take your insurer's contact details when you go on holiday; in the event of an emergency, you will need to get in touch.

If you're venturing further than the EU, you will need a green card from your insurer. This is a document recognised internationally as proof of your insurance and it specifies that your cover meets local legislation. Some firms levy a nominal fee for supplying the card.

Should you decide to rent a car instead of taking your own vehicle abroad, the price will include fully comprehensive insurance – but be aware of an inflated excess charge. This varies from country to country but can be as steep as £1,000 on the Continent. The specialist provider insurance-4carhire.com says almost four out of 10 holidaymakers are unaware they could be liable for such costs if they have an accident.

"If you rent a car you will automatically get insurance, but you should be wary of excesses," says Mr Gerrard at moneysupermarket.com. "You might want to buy an excess waiver policy, where you pay a bit extra but then will not face an excess if you make a claim."