A weekly guide to all that’s rotten about car ownership, plus some good bits
Speaking for myself, whenever car insurance time comes around I get stressed. For the last ten years my insurance bill has increased by an average of 20% every year. And every year I call my insurance company threatening to ditch them if they don’t offer me a discount as a loyal customer with no accidents, and three cars worth a couple of thousand pounds each.
Each year the assistant at the end of the phone line asks me to hold on while he or she checks with their senior colleague. Back they come and reduce the increase by 50%, thus my insurance rises by a 10% increase annually while the value of my cars decrease by about 20%.
One day I shall be paying twice the value of the car in insurance premium. If I think that’s bad, getting insurance for a new young driver is hell. Start at £2,000 and work upwards. To avoid the cost one daughter was on my insurance for ten years.
Getting insurance companies to accept my cars are reducing in value is impossible – a six-year-old Smart Car, a 12 year-old 3-door SUV, and an even older veteran car that is forever breaking down rather like me. They still increase the premiums. What the reason? What’s the excuse?
Somewhere in the UK there are droves of fake claims for whip lash, and parking bumps that didn’t happen, and you, dear reader, and me, pay for the scams. Would an independent Scotland get a better deal, fewer drivers therefore fewer claims? Who knows, but it’s a nice thought.
Experts tell us to ‘shop around’. If you can muster a free hour in your angst ridden day to do that you discover insurance companies are extremely coy about giving you a quotation. Some ask what your other quotations are? If I lie and say £100 fully comprehensive you get the expected response, “Sorry, sir. We just can’t match that.” Don’t tell me insurance companies are not colluding over price levels. Where’s the competition?
There is competition of sorts but rarely in premium levels. It lies in the service companies offer. A recent Auto Express survey covered a number of categories: (a) Ease of purchase, (b) Telephone experience making a claim, (c) Keeping you informed, (d) Speed to settle claim, (e) Friendliness and helpfulness (f) Value for money and (g) Overall satisfaction. The results are fascinating. For a start biggest isn’t the best.
The company with lowest rating all-round was the one with the ironic name, CO-OP Insurance. Getting insurance proved easy but in every other category the Co-op failed miserably. Two thirds said they would not renew their policy. Big boys such as General Accident didn’t fair much better. This is a company that’s been around over 100 years. You’d think they’d have cracked customer satisfaction by now. Taken over by the AVIVA group might have something to do with the state of presentation. My experience, and by comments made to me by staff, AVIVA have a way of reducing the quality of service overnight, just ask anybody using SAGA Insurance for the over-fifties.
Churchill, the company with the really annoying monosyllabic, nodding bulldog as a promotional mascot, are considered good at paying out a fair sum but make it a minefield to get there. Ease of purchase is their worst side, odd when they were the earliest to sell direct by telephone.
The Post Office reach almost a 90% satisfaction rate. Customers liked the value for money, that is, all the extras thrown in for the one price. Nevertheless, customer retention isn’t great, suggesting something is wrong in the scheme of things.
Tesco Bank and Direct Line are almost neck-and-neck in the likes and dislikes stakes. Tesco is one of the UK’s largest insurance companies. It jumped from number 27 a year ago to number 10 this year. They fell down on ease of purchase and value for money – rather like their produce, I’d have said, and just did.
Direct Line has over 10 million customers attracted by their boast of ‘cutting out the middle-man’. Where they fall down is in speed of paying out, crucial area, when you think about it, to secure customer loyalty. Both companies were outstripped by Sainsbury’s Bank. It administers its own insurance service rather than using an existing one. Customers like it, putting it into sixth place.
Police Mutual sits at number 2. Readers may never have heard of this insurance company let alone tried it out, but it’s been insuring cars since we stopped calling them coach and horses. 93% of customers gave the company a good report and said they will use it again. The company scored high in all categories.
At the top of the list sits the good old NFU Mutual. You’ll recognise the company by its National Farmer’s Union wheat sheaf logo. Like the Police Mutual it seems mutual companies with no shareholders to siphon off profits offer the best service with the best value for money. One claimant averred it took ‘only one call’ and her badly damaged car was replaced by a hired car, with NFU Mutual keeping her up-to-date until it was repaired. This is the third year running NFU Mutual has swept the board with almost 100% in all categories, a stellar result, and the third year I forgot to check with them what they’d charge for my three runabouts.
Next premium renewal they’ll be in my diary for a call. Readers should give them a try. By the way, there’s no news yet about insurance extras for European driving, or indeed travel insurance, but expect a hefty increase post Brexit.
GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS
Most Loved Car Features
A fun survey has uncovered a host of features in cars we appreciate the most. The luxury of a rear view TV screen is high on the list. It troubles me. When somebody pushes my dining chair in for me I still look back to check where it is. The VW Golf’s golf ball shaped gear top is one. Hold a sharp pebble in your hand and then a round smooth one. Which is nicest to hold? It seems we like the golf’s knob end, if you’ll excuse my figure of speech. Next came the old-new VW Beetle flower vase. I loved it soon as I saw it, a seriously subversive innovation, but VW bottled it soon after, removing it in the later versions. Mad cyclists placed Vauxhall Corsa’s Flexfit dual slide-out bicycle rack next, though to my mind there’s something contradictory in hitching a bicycle to a car, especially one as small as a Corsa. The wealthy among us nominate the door-stored umbrella in their Rolls-Royce only to be miffed learning the same is found in a humble Skoda Superb. Ambient lighting scored well as did Renaults perfume dispenser that helps camouflage those 40 mph farts drivers let go silently. I await chairs not held aloft on runners from here you can fetch out that dropped pound coin, or absconding peanut.
20 mph Zones Versus Electric Only
The City of Edinburgh council is asking folk how they feel the 20 mph zones have faired. I find drivers either flout them or stick to 18 mph hour to show how super-respectful sods they are. Some get 30 mph and 20 mph mixed up, and Sunday drivers drive smug as hell in the zones because that’s the speed they’ve always driven. For the most part 20 mph roads are calmer, pedestrians less likely to get smacked out of their flip-flops. That other capital city, London, is considering banning all petrol and diesel cars from the city centre in place of electric cars. If only they’d install charging points first. I bet Edinburgh is next to aim for an all-electric dimension. Watch this space.
A Car Company for Scotland
The resurrected sportscar company of TVR has secured a 3% shareholder stake from the Welsh government, enough to secure a 100 jobs in their purpose built Welsh factory, £500,000 to be precise. Not bad since a single TVR car has yet to reach a buyer. It got me to wonder why Scotland can’t do the same, attract a car company to located to Scotland. We have great roads to test cars. Let’s create an industry. If not car makers why not car design engineers? We have fine tech companies; it can’t be hard to envisage a company specialising in electric innovation. The Chinese are keen to develop new ideas, new materials for cars, and our First Minister has met with interested investment groups from that great continent. We once had Arrol cars in the early days of automobile transport, and then the Hillman Imp, a rear engine city car with a lot of potential that was poorly developed before it was put into dealer’s showrooms. That was in the days British car makers left a car’s development to the buyer.