Modified cars – are you driving one and don’t know it?

Did you know that tinted windows, alloy wheels, installing a badge, or a wrap on your dashboard, are considered ‘modifications’ to your vehicle?

Driving a modified car - A-Plan Insurance

While many consider car ‘modifications’ to be performance related, such as remapping and performance enhancing exhausts, or something that ‘car fanatics’ enjoy doing to their cars, think again.

Many are driving around with modifications that they didn’t know had to declare to their insurers.

What counts as a modification for car insurance?

  • Wrapped parts such as dashboard or chrome trims
  • Replacement steering wheel (sports steering wheel, for example)
  • Badges that are not fitted by the manufacturer (the ones that make the car look higher spec than it is)
  • Tinted windows
  • Roof racks
  • Upgraded headlights (LED’s)
  • Tow bars
  • Added front and rear parking sensors
  • Upgrading stereo and audio equipment (including built-in sat-navs)
  • New upholstery or uprated seats

Why is it important to declare cosmetic modifications?

Should the worst happen, and you need to make a claim, without modified car insurance, these modifications are unlikely to be covered in the repair. Instead, repairs would be carried out to standard, manufacturer spec parts – or unlikely to be included in your insurance pay-out.

This leaves you in a tricky situation of trying to find the extra cash, on top of your excess (compulsory and voluntary) post-accident to carry out your own repairs.

There are also stickers to consider, like the ‘M’ that many purchase to adhere to their vehicle. Labelling your vehicle as M-Sport makes it more desirable for theft and can increase your insurance premium as a result, so it is certainly worth thinking about before you apply it.

If it wasn’t there to begin with then it’s also classed as a ‘modification’. If you do apply it, you will need to let your insurer know.

Gareth Bown, A-Plan’s Specialist Vehicle Insurance Consultant explains:

“We speak to a number of clients who aren’t aware they are driving with alterations that should be declared. This is because the focus of modifications is mostly on performance enhancing elements, like installing a noisy exhaust, for example. Modifications such as stickers and interior changes are not performance enhancing whatsoever, they’re just cosmetic, but they are still an alteration to the vehicle.

“When people realise that adding stickers or decals to their car (including adding stripes!) can impact their insurance, it comes as quite a shock.

“In the event of a claim, the cost associated with restoring your vehicle to include your modifications could be considerable if it isn’t covered. It is also worth considering that, if you are driving on standard insurance and haven’t declared your modifications to the insurer, your insurer may not have quoted in the first place. If the insurer later discovers the car has been modified, they can void the policy.

“The implications of not having correct insurance for your vehicle can be considerable”, confirms Gareth. “If the police pull you over and notice modifications on your car that are not disclosed to your insurance, it could mean that you’re driving without valid insurance. Worst case scenario is that you could be hit with 6 to 8 penalty points, the police could impound the vehicle and you could face higher insurance premiums for the following 4 years as a result. Is it really worth the risk?”

How can you tell if your car has been modified?

Modifications are used as a selling point when a car is being sold, so read the description and ask the question when purchasing if you aren’t sure.

If you are buying a used car it’s always worth getting it checked over by a dealership, garage or trusted mechanic, so include modifications in the list of things to look for. Some dealerships will be able to run the registration or VIN number and be able to see the full factory spec – they will also have the experience to know what is, and isn’t, a factory option.

Ultimately, it is your responsibility to know what you are driving.

Do I have to declare disability adaptions?

Yes, otherwise you could find yourself paying for all of the adaptations again as your insurance will not cover indeclared adaptions in the event of fire, accident or theft. Some examples of disability modifications include:

  • Wheelchair ramps
  • Harnesses and hoists
  • Additional steering wheel controls
  • Adjusted pedals

Conditions that could affect your ability to drive safely also need to be disclosed to your insurer (as well as the DVLA). Check the DVLA’s A-Z list of conditions here.

Do you need specialist car insurance for modified cars?

Some mainstream insurers are unable to insure modified vehicles at all. Others do allow you to declare them. However, most of them are referring to the manufacturers factory options you selected when you bought the car, or you are declaring them to be excluded from cover in the event of a claim.

This can be completely unclear at the time of taking out the policy and you may only discover that you have excluded your modifications from cover when you receive the policy wording.

If you are considering modifying your car with cosmetic touch ups, from wraps to badges, sports steering wheel to alloys, it’s worth looking into a specialist modified policy. Many allow you to apply further modifications to your vehicle without complication, while the more mainstream insurers may cover a few alterations, but may not accept more.

Are modified cars expensive to insure?

It depends on your modifications. Your insurance needs to tick the boxes you need it to.

If you are still thinking about modifying your car, however minimally, talk to your current insurer and ask them whether they will cover it or not. If the answer is no, you could hold off doing your modifications until renewal and switch to a specialist provider. Alternatively, ask them what the cancellation charges are to cancel early.

If you aren’t spending a lot on modifying your vehicle, declaring them so that the insurance knows they are there but will not cover them in the event of a claim, may suit your needs.

If you are spending more, whether investing in performance or cosmetic upgrades, and it would be expensive to reinstate it to its modified glory in the event of fire, theft or accident, then cover your modifications with a specialist policy.

It’s a common misconception that a modified vehicle policy costs the earth – you may find there’s no change in premium – but the important thing is that you tell your insurance about it and remember, if in doubt, declare it.

If you have any questions, A-Plan’s Specialist Vehicle centre loves all things weird and wonderful when it comes to modified vehicles and build projects. They are more than happy to help with any mod queries you may have. Give the team a call directly on 01635 874 646.