And with the economic backdrop and the inconvenience of airport travel prompting more Britons to take the ferry and drive to their holiday destinations, concerns are growing about the thousands of people who may be driving without the right level of cover in place. The moneysupermarket.com figures show that a third of British drivers think fully comprehensive UK cover will also provide them with the same level of cover elsewhere in Europe. But these motorists could well be in for a nasty shock should they be involved in an incident while behind the wheel overseas.
Many providers will automatically downgrade a fully comprehensive policy to provide the minimum level of cover required for the country you are driving in - normally third party only.
While both Marks & Spencer and Endsleigh honour their fully comprehensive policies for 90 days of driving in Europe, other insurers aren’t so generous.
Yet worryingly, just one in eight of those questioned by moneysupermarket.com’s researchers were aware that their comprehensive cover could automatically be downgraded to third party only while driving elsewhere in Europe.
Peter Harrison, car insurance expert at moneysupermarket.com said: “No-one wants their great motoring getaway to turn into an expensive nightmare so motoring Brits should not assume their existing cover is valid when driving abroad.
“A number of policies automatically downgrade your cover as you soon as you hit continental soil.
“It’s therefore crucial that motorists study the small print of their policy before setting off on holiday.
“After all, if you were unfortunate enough to have a crash while abroad and were only covered for third party, you could be left with a hefty bill.”
How can I ensure I have sufficient cover while driving overseas?
The most basic level of cover for driving on the Continent is known as an international motor insurance certificate, or a 'Green Card', which your UK insurer should provide on request.
You would be expected to present your Green Card if you were involved in an accident while in Europe, so it is important to contact your insurer to get yours before setting off.
This may also be necessary to activate the cover that comes with your policy.
However, you should also be aware that a Green Card is the lowest level of European car insurance, and may offer less than third party cover in some countries.
If you are not with an insurer which offers comprehensive European cover (within limits) as standard, then extra cover is probably a good idea.
The cost of adding European cover to your UK policy will depend to some extent on the same factors that decide your standard premiums.
In other words, the age, make and model of your car and how long you have been driving will all play a part.
However, the price will also be affected by the length of your trip and whether you want annual insurance, or just need cover for a specific trip lasting say two weeks.
If you are only heading abroad for up to three days, for example, Churchill will provide comprehensive cover free of charge.
What else you should know
Things to check when buying European car insurance include that the countries you plan on visiting are actually covered by the policy.
Some European car insurance policies will only cover you in countries that belong to the European Union, making it particularly important to check this if you are heading further afield.
And don’t forget to make sure that the cover provided by the policy lasts for long enough to cover your entire trip.
Some policies will only last for 30 days for example, whereas others will provide unlimited cover (within reason) for driving on the continent.
What about breakdown cover?
If you have UK breakdown cover, then you may automatically be covered for trips – usually of up to a certain length such as 31 days – to Continental Europe.
Certain credit cards and packaged current accounts also offer this, so it is worth checking what insurance you have through such deals before taking out extra cover.
Otherwise, you will have to pay to add it on to your policy. The cost of adding European cover on to a standard AA breakdown policy, for example, starts from £4.88 for a one-day trip in a one-year-old vehicle with fewer than nine passengers.