Weekend dilemma confronts car buyers: Mary Wilson examines problems encountered in obtaining insurance outside normal hours

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The Independent Online
WHAT do you do if you want to buy a car on a Saturday? Your insurance company doesn't function at weekends and it is illegal to drive a car without insurance.

One way around it, if you are buying from a garage and have another car, is to leave it with them as if they were taking it for repair.

You can take the new car as a replacement and you will be covered under the garage's insurance. On Monday you can get the car insured yourself and then send a cheque to the garage to buy it.

Another way which Tim Wilkin, a 26-year-old mechanic, discovered to his cost, is to look in Yellow Pages. He saw an advertisement from an insurance broker, Stone Motor Policies of Essex, which was open from 8am to 8pm six days a week.

'The car, an old BMW 525, belonged to a friend of mine who was moving to France,' he recalls. 'I was anxious to get hold of it on the Saturday.

'My father, a member of the National Farmers' Union, suggested I waited until Monday to insure the car with them. But I wanted it then and there.

'I rang the company and agreed to pay a premium of pounds 310 for third party only and paid by Access. The car only cost me pounds 100.

'On Monday I decided to cancel the insurance. I had always previously had my 60 per cent no-claims bonus protected, but this company couldn't give me that. Before I had insured with the NFU.

'When I rang them up to cancel they first of all said they had no record of my call taking the insurance. Then they said they had no proof, so couldn't give me a refund unless I sent them a copy of the debit note from Access.

'They then said they needed a copy of the no-claims bonus from the NFU. When they had these, they told me, they would refund me pounds 215, which meant it had cost me pounds 95 for two days' insurance.

'I sent them the documents and heard nothing more. This was at the beginning of November last year. Both I and my father have called them several times. The last thing they said was they had never received the two documents, so this week we sent copies of both by recorded delivery. We are waiting for my refund.'

Tony Quinn, accounts manager at Stone Motor Policies, says it was acting on behalf of Norwich Union, which needs the documentation before it will make a refund. For a policy cancelled within three days it charges 10 per cent of the annual premium. For cancellations over three days and within one month it charges 25 per cent.

But Norwich Union's records show that only one month's insurance was requested in the first place. A spokesman said: 'We only received the documentation in January. If we are given proof that another insurance was taken out three days later we are quite happy to adjust the figures.'

If you know where to look there are high street brokers open on Saturdays and quite a few direct telephone sales insurance companies open at weekends.

Preferred Direct Insurance opens seven days a week - on Saturdays from 8.30am to 4.30pm and on Sundays from 10am to 1pm. The company does not take credit card payment over the phone, but will issue a cover note from the day you call.

If you should cancel by the time you receive the documents, you will be charged pro rata.

Direct Line Insurance, which opens 8am to 8pm weekdays and 9am to 2pm on Saturday, is about to start opening on bank holidays except Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day. It will operate a rota system with one branch open every bank holiday.

A Direct Line policyholder could be charged up to one month if there was no good reason for cancelling, but if the person never took delivery of a car, for example, or there were other genuine reasons for cancellation they would either waive the premium altogether or charge pro rata for the few days.

Direct Line Insurance: 081-686 2468. Preferred Direct Insurance: 0276 685333.

(Photograph omitted)

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