What is car insurance?

We all need car insurance to drive on the road but finding the right type of cover can be tricky. This guide aims to give you a greater understanding of the basics and help you make a more-informed choice when selecting a policy.

Share this guide

We all need car insurance to drive on the road but finding the right type of cover can be tricky. This guide aims to give you a greater understanding of how car insurance works and helps you make a more-informed choice when selecting the right cover.

How to choose car insurance

We all need car insurance to drive on the road but finding the right type of cover can be tricky. This guide aims to give you a greater understanding of the basics and help you make a more-informed choice when selecting a policy.

How does car insurance work?

Car insurance pays out if your car is stolen, vandalised, catches on fire or if you are involved in an accident. As a minimum, it protects you against any damage you cause to other road users, the public or their property – what are called third parties.

You only need to claim your policy when an accident is your fault. If another driver is to blame, their insurance should pay instead. Find out more in our how to claim guide.

Do I need car insurance?

Yes. It is illegal to drive on UK roads without it.

If you drive without car insurance you could face a fine of up to £1,000 or have your vehicle seized and destroyed. The GOV.UK website has more details on the punishments you could face.

The only time there is no need to insure your car is if you officially declare it not in use through a statutory off road notification (SORN). The vehicle must, however, be kept on private land, and not on any public highway.

GOV.UK website - Uninsured drivers

What does car insurance cover?

Car insurance covers you against financial losses, but the level of protection depends on what type of policy you choose.

If you cause an accident your insurance company will cover the costs. All you will have to pay is the excess – a fee set by the insurance company – plus any voluntary excess, which is an additional amount set by you. If you claim, your premiums are likely to increase.

Car insurance cover is available in different levels, and the level you choose will determine how much of the costs are covered by your insurance company.

What types of car insurance are there?

There are three levels of car insurance cover:

Comprehensive cover

Sometimes called “fully comprehensive” or shortened to “fully comp”.

Main features: Covers you, your car, your passengers and property, as well as any third parties involved in an accident. Also protects your car against vandalism and theft.

Suitable for: Most drivers. Three-quarters of UK drivers choose comprehensive cover because it offers the most complete protection. Some comprehensive policies will allow you to drive other cars, but not all.

Third party, fire and theft car insurance 

Sometimes shortened to TPFT.

Main features: Covers third parties involved in an accident, but also provides protection for your car against theft and damage caused by fire. It will not pay out to cover the damage to your vehicle after an accident or act of vandalism.

Suitable for: Those looking for a cheaper policy, although fully comprehensive insurance can still sometimes cost less. Check out our guide on the different levels of cover.

Third party

Main features: This is the most basic level of car insurance and covers liability for injury to others and any damage to third party property only. This level of cover is the minimum legal requirement for motorists in the UK.

Suitable for: Drivers who drive infrequently, or those looking for the cheapest possible cover. Not all insurers offer this type of policy. It is not always the cheapest.

Other types of car insurance cover

There are different types of car insurance cover, designed for specific drivers or vehicles. These include:

    How long does a car insurance policy last?

    Most car insurance policies last for one year, although you can choose to leave your policy early subject to cancellation fees, which can be as much as £55. Find out more about fees and cancelling your policy in our managing your policy guide.

    If you need car insurance cover for a shorter period you can take out a short term policy that can last just a day or a few weeks. Our short-term car insurance guide has everything you need to know.

    How much does car insurance cost?

    The cost of your cover comes down to one thing: risk.

    If you are viewed as a high-risk driver by an insurance company, it will charge a higher premium because you are seen as being more likely to have an accident and make an expensive claim.

    Car insurers use the following factors to determine your risk profile.

    The car you drive

      Personal information

        Your driving

          Your policy

            10 easy ways to cut your car insurance costs

            How does a car insurance group affect your premium?

            Each car is assigned a car insurance group by the Group Rating Panel, which is made up of members of the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and Lloyd's Market Association (LMA). There are 50 groups. Group 1 is the cheapest to insure, and group 50 is the most expensive.

            Cars are assigned a group based on several factors including:

              Examples

                If you want to keep the cost of your insurance as low as possible, look for cars in the lower insurance groups. You can find out which group your car is in on the Parker's website.

                Parkers website - Car insurance groups

                Can you get car insurance for every type of car?

                There are certain types of cars which are tricky to find cover for. Not all car insurance companies will offer policies for:

                  To get insurance for these types of vehicles it may be necessary to find companies that provide specialist cover, though your premiums are likely to be more expensive than insurance for factory models.

                  Many insurance companies will refuse to cover young or newly qualified drivers for certain vehicles, particularly high-performance cars with large engines, and those that agree to provide cover will ask for very expensive premiums.

                  If you have previous driving convictions, even speeding points on your licence, you may also find your cover is more expensive and your options are limited. There are insurers that offer specific cover for drivers with more serious convictions, but again the premiums are likely to be high.

                  Is it worth adding extra cover to my insurance policy?

                  Many car insurance providers offer extra cover options. These come at an additional cost to your main premium, but they could give you valuable protection if you use them. Common add-ons include:

                    Insurers may offer one or more of these add-ons as standard, so it is worth shopping around if you think you would benefit from added cover.

                    If you want specific extras, like breakdown cover, consider comparing standalone policies first as they may be cheaper than adding them to your car insurance policy. Doing this also provides you with a wider range of cover options to choose from.

                    Here is a more detailed look at the extras available, and whether they are worth adding to your policy.

                    Which car insurance extras are worth having?

                    Should you pay your car insurance monthly or annually?

                    Paying for your insurance in one go annually is usually the cheapest option if you can afford it. This is because when you pay monthly you will usually be charged interest on top of your premium, with some insurers charging up to 30% APR.

                    You can avoid this by using a 0% purchase credit card to pay for your insurance and then clear the balance within the interest free period, although some insurers may charge a small fee for paying by credit card so check to make sure the overall cost is worth it.

                    Should you get a 0% purchase credit card?

                    Compare 0% purchase credit cards

                    Car insurance FAQs

                    General FAQs

                    Yes, but it is illegal to claim on more than one policy if you have an accident.

                    This is the number of miles you declare you will drive during your policy. If you drive over the limit your insurer could deny any claim you make.

                    The main driver is the policyholder and the person who drives the car most often. Named drivers can be added to the policy and can legally drive the car.

                    Add-ons FAQs

                    Yes, most fully comprehensive policies cover them as standard. If it is not included it can usually be added as an optional extra for an additional cost.

                    It can. You can get windscreen cover as part of your car insurance policy, with some insurers offering it as standard or as an optional extra.

                    Not many policies offer breakdown cover as standard, but it can often be added as an extra. Alternatively you can purchase a standalone breakdown cover policy.

                    Most do as standard. If a courtesy car is not included in your policy it can usually be added as an extra.

                    It can, providing you have added legal cover to your policy.

                    Cover FAQs

                    Yes, but If you regularly drive off-road in a 4x4 vehicle you should look for specialist 4x4 insurance.

                    You will be covered for commuting provided you have stated this on your application. If you make regular business trips you may need business cover.

                    The safe answer is no. Even if they have a fully comprehensive policy they may not be covered to drive any other car than their own.

                    Yes, vandalism is covered by most policies.

                    Towing following a breakdown or accident is usually covered by your breakdown policy. If you have this as part of your car insurance then you will be covered.

                    Protect your home and belongings for less by comparing home insurance policies to cover a range of property types and individual circumstances.