Insurer insists on car security

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BRITAIN'S biggest motor insurer, Norwich Union, is refusing to insure high-performance hatchback cars against theft unless owners fit a security device made by just one company and costing more than pounds 300. The company is insisting that owners of 45 'hot hatchback' models, including the Ford Escort XR3i, Volkswagen Golf GTI, Fiat Uno Turbo and Peugeot 205 GTI 1.9, are so likely to be stolen that owners must pay an average of pounds 360 to fit a Vecta engine immobiliser.

The Vecta is a black box which cuts out the car's ignition, fuel and electrical systems unless the key is in the ignition. Its wiring is thought to be virtually impossible to bypass or rewire. Other immobilising devices on the market are less effective, Norwich Union argues.

It is common in other branches of insurance to require customers to take security measures (such as burglar alarms) as a condition of insurance and the company says it decided to make the Vecta a requirement instead of raising premiums or refusing cover altogether. But one effect for motorists who have invested in a Vecta will be to lock them into repeated business with the same company until they sell the car.

A spokesman for the insurance company said the cars on its blacklist were three times more likely to be stolen than the standard model. A 10 per cent discount had been negotiated in the cost of fitting a Vecta, which would make its average price pounds 360.

Norwich Union claims pounds 360 is a relatively modest amount compared with the value of the vehicle and cost of insurance. A 40-year old person with four years' no-claims discount who bought a Vecta, would still have to pay pounds 542 a year to insure a VW Golf GTI. A standard 1600cc Golf would cost pounds 353, with no Vecta needed.

Existing Norwich Union customers with 'hot hatches' would not have to fit a Vecta but would get a discount on their premiums if they did, he added.

The Association of British Insurers said a number of companies would not insure 'hot hatches' unless the cars had an alarm, and there was a growing trend for insurers to insist on security devices.

In a different approach to trying to claw back losses from cars written off by joyriders, Lloyd's is considering doubling the number of insurance groups for motorists.

This may mean brokers refusing theft cover to motorists living in high-risk areas. And buyers of Ford's new 140mph Escort RS Cosworth are likely to find it impossible to get cover.

Lloyd's has 17 groups for motor vehicles but may increase these to 34 within months. Prospective owners of high performance cars are being told they must be over 30, have a clean licence and be prepared to fit expensive alarm systems before they are even considered.

Drivers in high-risk areas such as Tyne and Wear, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Glasgow and parts of London could find theft cover will not be available at all.