Insurers set surprise test: Drivers who fail to renew their MOT certificate on time may find a hole in their insurance cover, as Ian Hunter reports

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The Independent Online
IMAGINE making a claim to the insurance company after a hit-and-run driver has just damaged your comprehensively insured car. It is possible that the insurance company could refuse to pay out if the MOT certificate is out of date.

The insurer could argue that the policy is ineffective because the car is not in a roadworthy condition, using the absence of a current MOT certificate to support its contention.

Every car over three years old must have an MOT certificate. It is an offence to drive a car without one. The Ministry of Transport has licensed a large number of garages to carry out these inspections for a fixed fee, currently pounds 24.

The law also requires that every driver should be adequately insured. Section 148 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 provides that any provisions in an insurance policy that are intended to invalidate a policy because of the car's condition are void. This means that in the case of an accident, the insurance company must still pay out to the injured third party. But it could refuse to pay the insured driver's costs even if that driver has comprehensive insurance.

Worse still, in these circumstances the insurance company could in turn sue the insured person for failing to keep his or her vehicle in a roadworthy condition. Most insurance policies contain provisions similar to: 'The insurance will only apply if . . . you have taken all reasonable steps to protect the insured car from any loss or damage. You must have also kept the insured car in an efficient and roadworthy condition . . .'

The insurance company can sue the driver if he/she has failed to comply with the terms of the insurance policy.

One garage owner commented: 'It is not unusual for an insurance company to contact us after a customer has been in an accident to ascertain whether that customer had a valid MOT certificate.' He said the garage had also been approached by people wishing to buy back-dated MOT certificates.

One problem is that drivers do not receive any reminder that the car is due for an MOT. To avoid claims that a vehicle is unroadworthy, the AA advises motorists to ensure that their cars are regularly serviced. 'Too many drivers ignore strange noises coming from their vehicles in the hope that the noise will go away. It is at that stage they should get the car examined,' an AA spokesman said.

Driving a car without an MOT is only legal if the purpose of the journey is to take the vehicle to a prearranged MOT inspection. Those convicted of driving without valid road tax or MOT are usually obliged to inform their insurance company - failure to do so might affect the validity of the policy. Notification to the insurer could lead to an increase in premiums.

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