How to: get cheaper car insurance

Alas, the car I've bought insurance for is not this Rolls Royce

Having bought a car at the weekend, I also needed to arrange car insurance. The law in Britain now requires all cars that are used on public roads to have a valid insurance policy; if you don’t, then you must park the car off-road and submit a SORN. If your car is found on a public road, parked or moving, then you can be fined. So I needed to have a policy in place before I would be able to drive the car away.

Like many things, buying car insurance can be simple and quick, but if you’re prepared to put some effort in, you can bring your premiums down significantly. I can wholeheartedly recommend the advice on MoneySavingExpert.com which gives some tips on how to reduce your premiums by tweaking the information you provide. I would advise you to read the whole article, but here are the things I tried that worked for me.

1. Trying multiple price comparison web sites

It’s hard to avoid the various price comparison web sites that advertise nowadays. Whether it’s the one with the meerkats, talking robots or annoying opera singer, these sites are well-advertised. They work by taking your details, and obtaining quotes from a range of insurers on your behalf, which are then ranked to show you the cheapest. The sites make their money from the referral fees that insurers pay when you take up a policy. Considering how much these sites advertise, they must make a lot of money from these referral fees.

It’s worth trying multiple sites, as different sites work with different insurers. I got different results from each. You can also usually get cashback if you click through to a price comparison web site from a cashback site like Quidco (referral link) or Topcashback (referral link). I got about £2 from them, just for getting a quote.

2. Go direct to insurance companies

Once I’d found the cheapest insurer – and the three comparison sites I tried all gave the same company – I also tried to get a cheaper quote by visiting their site directly. Again, going via a cashback site may net you cashback as well. Remember those referral fees? Cashback sites pay those to you.

It’s also worth checking Aviva and Direct Line, who do not advertise their policies on price comparison web sites. As it happens, both gave me unaffordable quotes that were nearly double the cheapest that I could find, but, worth a try.

3. Tweak your job description

I have a rather unique job title of ‘Student Recruitment and Data Officer’, which isn’t on the selection lists that insurers ask for. Originally I put it through as ‘Recruitment Consultant’ working in state education, but I found changing it to ‘Administrative Officer’ in the university sector lowered my premiums significantly (by about 20% in my case). As long as the title still accurately reflects your job role, you should be fine.

4. Add another driver

As Christine hasn’t passed her test yet, it was going to just be me on the car’s insurance policy. However, we found that adding another family member to the policy, as a secondary driver, reduced my quote by another 10%. To be effective, this must be someone that would realistically be likely to drive the car, and who has a good driving record with no penalty points or recent insurance claims. Adding an irresponsible or inexperienced second driver may increase premiums, but it’s worth trying.

5. Include some business use

If you think adding another driver is a bizarre way to reduce your premiums, here’s one that seemed even weirder. I will need to drive for work from time to time (I reckoned no more than 1000 miles per year) and so I included this in the policy. This means that I won’t need to arrange a hire car, so my employer also saves money too. After getting quotes with this included, I tried taking it out and stating that the car would only be for ‘leisure’ use (no commuting and no work-related activities). That actually pushed the premiums up by about 10%, so I put it back in.

Plus the things that I didn’t try

I didn’t try everything. I could have got an even cheaper policy if I had opted in to a ‘black box’ insurance policy. This involves the fitting of a recording device to your car that monitors your location and how you drive – and if you drive safely, you’ll save money. InsureTheBox is one of the better known firms that offers this (a friend works for them), but it’s available from a variety of insurers.

Sometimes, opting for third-party insurance can be cheaper, but it covers less than fully comprehensive insurance which could leave you out of pocket in the event of an accident. And, again bizarrely, sometimes comprehensive cover is cheaper than third-party because of risk factors.

And if you have another type of policy with an insurance firm (say home or travel insurance), some insurers may give you a discount if you take out more than one policy from the same firm. Our home insurance was arranged via a broker when we got our mortgage so I wasn’t able to approach them for a car insurance quote on this occasion.

In the end

As it happened, the cheapest quote I got was via Confused.com, for Diamond insurance – a company that historically only covered female drivers. Both are owned by Admiral Group, incidentally. Overall, the policy ended up being about £200/year cheaper than when I started, which isn’t bad for a couple of hours spent entering information into various web sites. Insurance for new drivers is always expensive and I’m hoping that, should I continue to drive like Captain Slow, my premiums should come down in future years.

A car. An actual car.

A photo of my Nissan Note

Well, I now own a car. After having passed my driving test last month, and with an imminent house move and a little one on the way, we decided that we really needed to get a car sooner rather than later.

Fortunately my parents kindly gifted us most of the money that we needed, so we were able to buy a decent-sized second hand car. After trawling the listings for local dealerships on Auto Trader, we found a local dealership with a good range of cars within our budget. We then narrowed this down to two cars, at the same price, which we took on test drives.

The first was a Hyundai i30, which was good car, and slightly newer with better equipment, but it didn’t drive so well and didn’t have as much internal space. So, we went for a 2008 Nissan Note.

It’s got a 1.4 litre petrol engine (which is fine for us) and a manual gearbox – I’m indifferent when it comes to manual or automatic but both Christine and I are/were learning in a manual car. The boot is big and there’s also plenty of legroom in the back, plus there are Isofix fixings for a child seat. It’s very much a family car, and whilst it may not be very cool or trendy, it should be very practical for us.

I’ve had a bit of time to drive it but the big test will be in a few weeks when we drive down to Staffordshire for a family wedding. I say ‘we’ – it’ll be me driving there and back as Christine still hasn’t sat her theory test yet, never mind her practical test. I may try to arrange a motorway driving lesson with my instructor before then.

After putting up with not having a car for so many years, it feels very weird to finally own one. We’ve managed to make do with public transport, but I am very much looking forward to not having to pay over the odds for taxi fares, or complicated bus and train journeys that take twice as long as driving would.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about car insurance.

Passed

A photo of part of my driving test report, showing just two minor errors

I passed my driving test today, with just two minor faults (you’re allowed up to 15). As you can probably imagine, I’m delighted, and also very relieved.

Technically this was my third attempt at the test, but it’s been almost 8 years since my last attempt and so I’ve had a fresh set of lessons since. My lessons have been approximately weekly since July last year so it’s taken just over 12 months, although that includes a month-long break in March when I was in the Middle East. I passed my theory test in April.

Now I just need to wait for my full license to arrive, which will take two-to-three weeks, and then I can go and buy a car. Having a car will definitely make things easier, especially with a newborn baby come January.

2015 is certainly turning out to be a big year for me.

A photo of me posing with my Practical Driving Test Pass Certificate

Theoretically passed

Two of the big things we’re aiming to do in 2015 are learn to drive, and buy a house. We’re making progress on both: we’ve had an offer accepted on a house (although we’re probably still a good 6 weeks away from getting the keys), and last week I passed my theory test.

I’ve passed the test before, but that was way back in October 2006, when I last had driving lessons. Because I didn’t then pass my practical test, my theory test certificate expired in 2008, meaning I had to take it again.

The test has changed a little bit since last time. Firstly, there are more questions – 50, instead of 35 – and a higher pass mark; you now need to get 43 questions right instead of 30. 5 of these questions form a case study, which was also new compared to last time.

The second part of the test is hazard perception, where you watch several videos and have to identify the hazards that take place. This is to make sure that you’re aware, and would have time to react appropriately in a real situation. This was new when I took it last time – back then, a series of actual video footage was used. Nowadays the videos are mocked up using reasonably realistic CGI – right down to the idiot BMW driver who pulls out in front of you.

I actually didn’t expect to pass. Even though I’d passed it before, in the week running up to it, I heard of two people who had failed it, so I assumed I would too. As it happened, I got 47 questions right out of 50, and scored 58 out of 75 for the hazard perception. To practice and revise, I used the Theory & HPT app from SmartDriving, which was recommended to me by my instructor. It’s up-to-date and comprehensive with hundreds of practice questions, and available on iOS (iPhone and iPad), and on Android. There are many other apps out there that I haven’t tried, but this one seemed to work for me.

Now I just need to pass my practical test. This week’s driving lessons suggested that I’m most of the way there but there are a number of areas that I still need to improve. Hopefully I’ll be able to take the test in the summer, by which time I’ll have had lessons most weeks for around a year.

Back in the driving seat…

A photo of a Rolls Royce outside a hotel in the Lake District

Yesterday was my first driving lesson since 2007. It went quite well, on the whole.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for many years will remember that I had lessons in 2006 and 2007, and took my practical test twice (and failed) in 2007. Afterwards, I ran out of time and money, and ever since I have been fortunate enough to be in situations where having a car hasn’t been so important. But we’re looking to buy a house soon, and being able to buy one that isn’t necessarily close to a railway station would be nice. Plus, as and when we start a family, having a car will be a big help.

We’re both learning at the same time, with the same instructor, but with lessons on different days. There’s no race to see who passes first but we can’t really go forward with a house purchase until at least one of us is driving.

Despite it having been almost seven years since I last got behind the wheel of a car, it was surprising how much I remembered – even if it took a little while to get used to it again. What took weeks of practice all those years ago took less than an hour to pick up again. That’s not to say that I can get ready to book my practical test any time soon, as I definitely will need more practice in the meantime. In particular, I got a bit flummoxed when trying to pass some cars parked on the left, with an oncoming bus and then being required to turn right.

I will need to take my theory test again as the test I took in 2006 was only valid for two years. I’ll need to get around to booking that soon. It’s changed a bit since I did it, with the pass mark now 45 out of 50 rather than 30 out of 35 (I got 33 last time).

My next lesson is next weekend, where I’ll be tackling some roundabouts.