Why you need to be insured to test drive

Test driving is a really important process for any car buyer.  It’s the only way of checking if a car runs and performs as it should and gives you the driving experience you are looking for.

But even though a test drive may only last for 15 minutes it is very important that you are insured to drive the vehicle.  We look at how the system works in the UK and provide some guidance on checking and setting up insurance cover.

What are UK car insurance requirements?

Insurance policies are linked to individual vehicles – unlike many other countries, in the UK driver insurance policies are linked to a particular vehicle.  Therefore insurance cover is only provided on the car you keep and/or own, but you may not be insured to drive other vehicles.

Continuous insurance – every vehicle that is driven in the UK has to be insured under legislation known as Continuous Insurance Enforcement.  This was introduced in 2011 because of the high number of uninsured vehicles on the road that led to increasing insurance premiums to pay for uninsured accidents.

In trade and off road vehicles – the only instances where vehicles do not need to be insured is if there are formal notifications made to the DVLA to confirm they are not in use.  This is where a vehicle is ‘in trade’ e.g. with an auction or dealers ready to be sold on, or is off the road and not being driven – where a Statutory Off Road Notification (SORN) has been issued.

The risks of test driving without insurance

The risks are the same as those where you drive any vehicle without insurance:

  • A £300 fine
  • Six penalty points on your licence
  • If the case goes to court:
    • Unlimited fine
    • Driving ban

How to approach insurance cover for test drives

  1. Run a Total Car Check – our basic free check will tell you if the vehicle is roadworthy e.g. has passed it’s MOT and is taxed by the seller. If it’s not then you can’t drive the car on the road anyway.  If you are seriously thinking about buying then we advise you purchase our award winning Gold Check which will tell you if it passes our rigorous data check.
  2.  Check your own insurance policy – some fully comprehensive insurance policies provide Drive Other Car (DOC) cover which would mean you are already insured to carry out test drives.  However, DOC usually only provides third party cover (it will pay for damage to other vehicle(s) involved in an accident but not the one you are test driving).  DOC is now quite rare with most policies. 
  3.  If buying from a retailer check they have cover in place – the vast majority of retailers will, by default, have set up extended cover that allows customers to take their vehicles out for test drives.  The Motor Insurance Bureau’s (MIB) AskMID database provides a free tool to establish if a vehicle is insured or not – but as stated in its t’s and c’s it is only the keeper, owner or insurer of the vehicle that should be checking – not a prospective buyer.
  4. Set up temporary cover – if you are not covered then you need to set up temporary insurance either with your own insurer or another.  It’s usually fairly cheap and will normally give you fully comprehensive cover to drive other vehicles for a particular time period.  So once you have shortlisted the vehicles you are looking at buying you could aim to test drive them all within the period you are covered for.

Slipping through the cracks

The biggest problem with the UK system occurs when there is no insurance in place against a vehicle.  One scenario – which is rare but does happen – is that the seller has taken the vehicle off the road (issued a SORN) and therefore isn’t required to have insurance in place.  They then decide they want to sell it.  The buyer test drives it without any cover and there is an accident that doesn’t involve another vehicle.  The police intervene and the driver and owner gets penalised, but what happens about the car?

It is a legal requirement for the DVLA to be notified when a vehicle is written off.  Usually insurers will make this notification through an insurance database which feeds through to the DVLA.   But in the the above scenario there are no insurers to carry out this task and no policies to write off.  So it comes down to the vehicle’s owner being responsible for making the notification.  The vehicle’s owner should notify the DVLA (or risk a £1000 fine), but this does not always happen.  So the car gets lost in the system.  

The vehicle poses little risk if it is so badly damaged it is scrapped and ends up being crushed.  But if the vehicle is repaired and goes back on the road this can lead to a buyer being unaware of its troubled history. The buyer would lose out financially if the vehicle’s provenance becomes apparent or at worst be left with a car that is unsafe to drive.

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