How does car insurance work?

car key

For most of us arranging driving lessons and hopefully going on to pass our driving test in as short a time as possible is one of our major goals when we’re younger, and is often seen as a rites of passage achievement up there with bagging those all-important A-level results (and securing a place at Uni) or equally landing our first full-time job (and so getting our foot on the first rung of our career ladder).

Almost everyone dreams of getting behind the wheel of a vehicle one way or another and  experiencing something which serves us well throughout our lives, providing us with the independence to come and go as we please after the age of 17.

Shaking off the long-held parental shackles and taking to the road under out own steam (or petrol/diesel/LPG/electricity) can’t come quickly enough for some of us, but just because we’ve got a driving licence in our hot little hands and legal permission to take to the highways and byways of the UK doesn’t mean we can without the appropriate car insurance in place first.

Aha. Car insurance. Two words which strike fear into the hearts of younger drivers; and not just the newly-qualified or inexperienced either, as most demographics have witnessed policy premiums increase in recent years, largely thanks to those drivers who still wilfully choose to do so uninsured.

It’s more often than not the knock-on effect of would-be claims potentially brought against negligent, uninsured drivers which leaves everyone out of pocket and pretty much ensures that premiums remain ‘competitively priced’ at best, ‘extortionate’ at worst. But whichever way you look at it, for the law-abiding motorist there’s no escaping the legal requirement for a car insurance policy.

The question is – and what many of you will want to know right now – is just how does car insurance work?

Car insurance can be a straight-forward and painless acquisition – if you do your homework

Well, as we’ve already emphasised, a  motor insurance policy is necessitated by law, as it ultimately provides cover for the driver and other named drivers, which would come into immediate force (and worth its weight in gold) should you be involved in a traffic accident which results in driving-related damage or bodily injury to all parties. It also comes into its own should your vehicle be damaged or stolen as a result of foul play too.

Just for the record, the ONLY scenario where a bona fide motor insurance isn’t enforced here in Great Britain is if you declare your vehicle off-road (known as SORN).

And by that we don’t mean getting down and dirty across rural postcodes but rather if you were planning on taking your car off the road for a passage of time for a multitude of reasons, but looking to maintain official ownership of said vehicle whilst it wasn’t been regularly driven.


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Oh, and while we’re on that very subject, if you do then return your car to road use then you must immediately inform both your insurance provider and the DVLA.

First things first though, and before any of this you must arrange a suitable motor insurance policy which means before this you must do your research and find what you believe to be the best policy for your individual needs. Once this is earmarked you are then obliged to fill in an application form (usually online these days) being as honest and as thorough as possible, because should something later be found to be incorrect then you could risk invalidating the insurance policy you wind up with. To this same end, and in the event of you lodging a claim on your motor insurance – if it materialises you withheld information (or fabricated the truth somewhat) then you could find yourself in the unenviable position of not receiving any claim compensation from your car insurance provider due to irregularities. You’ve been warned.

So, you’re now probably wondering as to just what factors influence car insurance policies, to which the answers are as follows. Historically these comprise of key elements on which insurance providers can construct a profile of you, the proposer/would-be insured party, to get a better idea of the perceived risk that you may or may not represent, based on core data.

Various established factors help to determine how much a would-be policyholder pays for car insurance premiums

The type of vehicle you drive/wish to be insured on is chief amongst such vital criteria, as the insurer needs to determine what insurance group your vehicle belongs to.

The more powerful the car, alas the higher the group and subsequently more costly the insurance premium.

Age also plays a massive part in the motor insurance policy run of things, as we mused at the top; younger and less experienced drivers habitually pay more derived on the statistically-proven evidence that greater numbers in this demographic are involved in accidents on the roads, and therefore more claims are received with younger drivers cited.

Your occupation will also play a part in how much your premium costs, with those people employed in insurance industry-considered ‘high risk’ roles bearing the brunt of high premiums.

From footballers to journalists to chefs, there are a myriad of legitimate reasons and explanations as to why these positions more than others are deemed dangerous enough to warrant more expensive premiums.

Everything from unsocial working hours to the typical locations in which vehicles are usually left unattended come into the equation in this instance. Continuing this theme, and the ‘use of the vehicle’ is also taken into account from the outset, including how often the car is driven and moreover when, where and how far it’s driven; all of which can have incremental effects with regards to the premium.

By and large, the more you travel during peak times, the more likely it is that your car insurance quote/premium will rise as a consequence. Meanwhile an individual’s driving history (acknowledging any convictions), where the driver lives (or more pertinently, where the vehicle will spend most of its time) and whether or not you’re willing to opt for a higher level of voluntary excess all contributes to the final premium calculation.

Another crucial factor which needs to be established from the outset is which type of motor insurance policy is right for your situation, with there now being four predominant branches from which to select. In order of most complete package and benefitting from the most expansive and all-consuming features and clauses, ‘third party only’ is universally considered the entry level policy, with ‘third party fire and theft’ the next most far-reaching. However by far and away the most all-inclusive of car insurance policies is ‘fully comprehensive’; and the one which remains the most readily subscribed to here in the UK (for more information read our guide: what does third party and comprehensive insurance actually mean?)

The newest car insurance policy option is ‘telematic insurance’ which as a relative newcomer is quickly gaining momentum and a fan-base; especially among the young target audience at which it’s primarily aimed. Reliant on driving data captured on black box technology in-built to the insured party’s vehicle, the feedback on their driving style, pattern, behaviour and ability behind the wheel and other general logistics determines what premiums they pay in effect.

The more they convince they’re insurer that they are a safe, conscientious and adept driver then the greater chance they have of reducing their insurance premiums (for more information read our guide: how black box car insurance works)

Breaking down the main three car insurance types into their sum parts, and third party only is essentially the minimal cover stipulated by law and extends to providing liability cover for injuries sustained to others in the event of a traffic accident of which you played a part (including passengers), any damage sustained by third party property and liability if you’d been towing a caravan or trailer. Third party, fire and theft adds fire damage, theft of the vehicle and any damage incurred by the policyholder’s car brought about by the act of theft to the aforementioned third party only standard features. Recognised as the most extensive level of motor insurance policy, fully comprehensive incorporates all the previously mentioned features along with the addition of loss or damage to your vehicle, windscreen cover, personal effects, accidental damage and medical expenses.

After you’ve decided on which type of policy you want, given your insurer all the details asked of you as part of the applicative process and made the necessary financial/banking arrangements, then the deal is rubber stamped and you’ll receive the legally-binding documentation to confirm your motor insurance policy; but not before being forwarded a cover note which is a temporary means of proving that you are insured while you await the official confirmation to arrive.

It’s a driver’s responsibility to ensure that all insurance paperwork is kept in a safe, yet easily accessed place thereafter. The only over aspect of the rudiments of car insurance that you need to be aware of is the protocol for making a claim on said insurance policy if and when actioned. The bottom line is that as soon as you are unfortunate to be involved in any form of accident (or discover that your vehicle has been damaged or stolen) then to report this to your insurance provider ASAP. Your car insurance provider will then seek to log details of your specific claim and make the necessary arrangements then and there, especially in light of any repairs that may need to be undertaken as a direct result of an accident having taken place.