Modified car is a dream no more Flashy extras not covered

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The Independent Online
KAYREEN WALDRON has been driving for several years, but she knows little about cars beyond having a clear idea of the cars that she likes - those with a little style.

In January this year, she saw a car with lot of style: a second-hand VW Golf CL4+E.

"It was the colour - deep red - it was just so beautiful. I could see myself driving down on a hot summer's day to London with the stereo blasting and everyone staring. I just got a real buzz out of imagining all that."

Soon the car was hers, and those dreams became real. It was one of the easiest sales the garage ever made: Ms Waldron did not want to know anything about the car's performance or its history: all she wanted to do was to arrange a £5,000 loan to buy it.

Two months later, Ms Waldron, an administrator at a manufacturer in Huntington, Cambridgeshire, took her sister Natasha for a drive along the A1 to nearby Peterborough. It was about five o'clock in the afternoon, and the road was busy. As she was overtaking, her car was hit by a sudden crosswind. She lost control. The car spun off the road, turned over and ended up in a ditch. It was a terrifying experience. "The car landed upside down, and when I undid the seat-belts we both fell forward. Without seat-belts, we would have been goners," she says.

The girls escaped with just shock and minor injuries. The car was a write-off.

A week later, Ms Waldron put a claim in to her insurance company, Link Motor Policies at Lloyd's. She expected that it would take some time to approve the payout, but she received a reply within a couple of weeks.

"I read the letter. I read it twice actually before it sank in, and then I just started crying.''

For Link Motor Policies had turned down Kayreen's claim, which came to more than £5,000, because,it said, the car had modifications that the company did not know about when it agreed to the insurance.

It turned out that the previous owner had made cosmetic changes, adding wheel-arch covers, alloy wheels, skirts and a sunroof, which all contributed to the car looking so good.

Ms Waldron, who did not know a great deal about cars, thought they were part of the car's specification: she had no idea these extras were added on and counted as modifications.

"I didn't have a clue whether it was modified or not. As far as I knew and was aware, it was standard. The garage never told me it's got this and it's got that. I thought that was what a Golf 4.4 looked like.''

So it never occurred to her to tell Link Motor Policies about these modifications when she took out the policy. But when she was filling in the claims form, a colleague at work pointed out to her that the Golf had modifications, and she should put them down on the form. This is what she did.

Link rejected her claim and accused her of being "untruthful". It said it would not have accepted her insurance business in the first place if it had known her car had been modified, in effect, to look like a GTi.

It is true that when a car is modified, the insurance premium goes up. Although Ms Waldron had no idea that the sun-roof or the alloy wheels were not standard, these items do make a car more likely to be stolen - and hence a greater risk for an insurancecompany. If Ms Waldron's car had been stolen, it would seem reasonable for any insurance company to refuse to pay some or all of her claim on the basis that her premium was too low.

But in this case, the car was not stolen: it was involved in an accident. Neither the sun-roof, nor the alloy wheels, nor the skirts, nor the arch covers made the Golf go any faster. They made absolutely no difference to the car's performance, because the car was still an ordinary Golf CL inside and did not have a GTi-type engine.

But those arguments made little difference to Link, or indeed to Lloyd's complaints department, which investigated Ms Waldron's claim and agreed with its member.

"I took out an insurance policy with them, hoping that if anything happened they would support me 100 per cent. They've really let me down. I can't afford to take them to court, so I'm left with a £5,000 bill."

And the crumpled Golf is taking up room in her garage while she continues to pay off a now worthless loan.

David Berry is a producer of `Watchdog', BBC1