Advice for motorists as the big freeze bites

Insurance companies are bracing themselves for a huge surge in the number of motor insurance claims as Britain is hit by the heaviest snow fall in 20 years.

In many parts of the country motorists are being advised to only take to the roads if absolutely necessary. But if you do have to venture out in your car and you’re unfortunate enough to have an accident what should you do if you need to make a claim?

Dig out your policy

The snow may be great fun for kids but for motorists it means dangerous driving conditions including icy roads, terrible delays and vehicle problems. If you have had a bump, a serious accident or discovered damage to your vehicle, it is essential that you check your policy at the earliest opportunity and see what you are covered for.

If you have been involved in an accident get all the contact details of those involved and if the police were present, make sure you have any relevant documentation provided by them to hand when making your claim.

If you need to make a claim, call your insurer straight away and have as many details as possible to hand. Most major insurance companies have a 24 hour help-line and many will take your details over the phone to speed up the process.

No ‘white lies’

Remember, be honest, as your insurer will send you out an accident report form and you will need to make a written insurance claim. Any inconsistencies in the details you gave over the phone and in your written statement will look bad and you could have your claim thrown out.

Keep any receipts and photocopy any documents that you send in with your accident claim and submit photographic evidence if you have it.

Be patient

Insurance claims take time so do not assume that your car repairs will be paid instantly or in full. It all depends on the circumstances, the condition of your car, the cover you have paid for and practicalities of processing your paper work.

Your insurer needs to agree to pay your car repair costs so until then any bills are your responsibility. You should get concrete conformation about the state of your insurance claim before proceeding with your car repairs. Remember that you will be required to pay the pre-agreed excess even if your insurer will meet the repair costs, and this payment will normally be made straight to the garage that is repairing your car.

If your car is deemed a ‘write off’ and no longer road worthy – the rules are the same and a pay-out is made on the basis of the car’s value at the time of the accident and its general condition.

If your policy includes the provision of a courtesy car, check how many days this is free for – some will only cover you for a number of days. After that the bill goes to you. Others only provide a courtesy car while your car is being repaired – if it is written off you will not be eligible.

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When not to claim

Almost all car insurance policies include an excess – often £250 – so you depending on how much the damage will cost to repair, you may decide not to claim. Remember, if you do make a claim your premium is likely to rise when your policy is up for renewal and unless your no claims bonus is protected you will also lose some of that discount. It is therefore often not worth claiming unless the cost is significantly higher than the excess.

Breakdown assistance

Breakdown cover is now an essential. With road travel more hazardous than ever, signing up to a reputable car breakdown cover company could mean saving hundreds on private garage pick-up and repair bills.

Competition between these companies is hot and it certainly worth comparing deals. Some include extra services for the elderly, disabled and vulnerable drivers. In snowy weather, breakdown insurance can be a life-saver.

The Met Office is warning that the treacherous travel conditions could continue all week, so if you do have to venture out in the coming days, here are some tips to minimise the risk of you being stranded in freezing conditions:

  • Regularly check the oil level, anti-freeze, hazard lights and tyres for tread depth and pressure. Check the spare tyre is in good condition too.

  • Remove all snow and ice from the vehicle to ensure maximum visibility and not cause a hazard to other drivers. Ensure headlights and number plates are clear of snow.

  • Allow extra time before your journey to prepare.

  • Plan your route to use as many main roads as possible as these are more likely to have been gritted.

  • Keep adequate distance from the vehicle in front and take particular care to look out for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.

  • In cold or icy conditions, drive carefully and ensure you don’t accelerate, brake or take sharp corners suddenly.

  • Its also a good idea to have the following in your car should you encounter any trouble, an ice scraper and de-icer, mobile phone with fully charged battery, torch, first-aid kit, tow rope, blankets, warm coat and boots, jump leads, snow shovel, warning triangle, an old sack or rug (to put under the wheels if you do get stuck).

  • If you are taking a long journey, break it up the distance by taking regular stops at service stations and keep your radio on for weather reports.

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