Vegan car modifications: good for the planet but not your premiums?
Coconut fibre and fishing nets: the age of the plant-based car has arrived but at what cost?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know the number of vegans and wannabe vegans has rocketed in the last few years, especially here in the UK.
Some estimates suggest there is a greater proportion of vegans in the UK population than anywhere else on earth. Plant-based alternatives to animal products or products that compromise animal welfare are everywhere. From the food we eat, the toiletries we wash with and the clothes we wear to the furniture we buy and yes, even the cars we drive.
In fact, one study by the Vegan Society recently found that when motorists were asked about the use of animals in car manufacturing and sustainability, a whopping 70% said they would be interested in buying a vehicle that was entirely animal-free. Most either felt it was unnecessary to continue using animal derivatives or were motivated by environmental or ethical priorities.
But while the purchase of a vegan burger or a leatherette jacket is fairly self-explanatory, when it comes to cars, what are we actually talking about here? How can a car be vegan? Or not?
Goat in the machine
Most of us would assume this is all limited to animal by products such as the leather interiors – the seats, steering wheel and gear stick covers, perhaps door cards and other bits of internal trim.
In fact, a huge number of car models currently available contain animal ingredients or use them to produce materials throughout the structure. The Vegan Society points to dashboards containing liquid crystals based on animal cholesterol, for example, or the rubber and plastic used to make tyres and tubing toughened using tallow (sheep fat).
Paintwork may contain animal-derived pigment, the campaigner warns, and the steel used for the frame could have been lubricated with animal fat.
“The automotive industry is taking steps in a more ethical direction, but products from animals can still feature throughout the manufacturing process,” said Louisianna Waring, Senior Insight and Policy Officer at The Vegan Society, when the survey data was released last year.
So, if you want to switch to a more vegan-friendly car, where on earth do you start?
“We recommend asking staff at a showroom to contact their head office and research which cars are suitable or email HQ and ask the question,” Waring suggests, adding that, for once, a more ethical purchase could be a cheaper one.
“Modest cars and usually the most basic of those (the ones with no extras at all) are the ones most likely to be leather free.”
And as more and more new electric vehicles arrive on the market, the environmental choices made by consumers, including the animal or plant-based origins of materials is coming to the fore. That means many EVs, including those produced by everyday names like Nissan and BMW, have vegan-friendly interiors as standard on several models, or can provide them as an optional extra.
Not only are more and more EVs waving a vegan-friendly marketing flag, but they’re also doing so in more elaborate ways. Where faux leather once only really meant a virgin plastic, interiors made from recycled fishing nets for flooring to coconut and pineapple fibres in place of leather are now within the grasp of a discerning consumer willing to take the time to ask a few extra questions.
But what if you already have a vehicle?
“For me, there’s more of a grey area when it comes to existing cars,” says Greg Carter, a technical specialist for The AA who also happens to be vegan.
“My whole family is vegan, and I don’t want any of my purchasing decisions to contribute to animal cruelty or detriment. But I personally won’t refuse to sit in a car or on a bus that already has a leather interior or was produced using animal products years ago.
“We’re not really seeing any wider evidence of car modifications driven by vegan principles either,” he adds. “Particularly for those vegans whose motivations are environmental, it seems counter-intuitive to rip out a lot of useable and functioning car components, bin them and start again.
“But if you were moved to do so, beware – as with any kind of modification – of the potential impact on your premiums,” Carter warns.
A modification to a motor vehicle, be that car or van, is any alteration that wasn’t part of the manufacturer’s original standard specification or wasn’t fitted as an option by that manufacturer at the point of production.
If it was added later, it’s a ‘mod’ and is likely to affect your insurance. And yes, undisclosed modifications – those you don’t report to your insurer – could invalidate your cover altogether.
A modification could range from parking sensors and other practical add-ons like dual control to cosmetic enhancements such as alloy wheels and body kits.
Many tweaks will increase your premiums because they have enhanced the value of the car, making it more tempting to thieves, malicious damage, or have increased the vehicle’s performance and/or power putting it at greater risk of an accident.
Believe it or not, even the gung-ho addition of a go-faster stripe on your car could affect your premiums because your insurer might decide it’s now a higher risk of being involved in an accident.
At the other end of the risk scale are the alterations that might reduce the chances of a claim, which some insurers might not consider a modification at all, despite that seemingly fool proof definition.
A tow bar, for example, probably means the vehicle is being driven slower than before – at least sometimes, and new parking sensors mean you’re less likely to have to claim for a bump.
The golden rule then, is to talk to your insurer before you start personalising your motor or get in touch with them if the extras are already in place to be sure your cover is watertight if you come to need it.
And maybe reconsider those go-faster stripes while you’re at it.