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4x4 car insurance - why is it so expensive?

The green police have hiked 4x4 road tax, whilst fuel and other motoring costs rise every time the Chancellor coughs, so it would be somewhat illogical to expect 4x4 motor insurance rates to be doing much else besides surfing the same wave. The ‘fourby’ polarises opinion everywhere, and the implications of the ‘Chelsea Tractor’ stereotype may partially explain a certain motor insurance industry reluctance to look too closely at the reality of 4x4 use and driver profiles. When setting premium levels, underwriters sometimes appear to think of a number and double it.

The terms 4x4, SUV and similar descriptions relate to a class not a type. There are diverse market specifications too – at one extreme we have a vehicle with the towing capacity of a pickup truck and the seating capacity of a small minibus; whilst at the other, we have a ‘cosmetic’ 4x4-lite with large panels, aeroplane seats, shoulder pads and big tyres. Whether group ratings truly reflect this diversity is another matter.

Equally contentious is the question of off-road use and here manufacturer’s advertising campaigns are much to blame for the perception that everyone drives across a mountain to work. Insurers will no doubt argue that off-road potential means the risk must be covered, but in reality the majority of 4x4s are family vehicles in daily use on tarmac roads. Off-roading, in this context, is exactly the same as for any standard family car – the odd picnic in good weather and driving on and off a camp site once a year.

At an early phase in the popularity of the modern 4x4, it was believed certain design features such as high ground clearance, upright, boxy body shape and high-rise seats would make them unstable due to a higher centre of gravity. Some ‘roll over’ accidents were cited as evidence of a safety hazard. Since those times, UK motor insurers (avid collectors of bad news and statistics) have maintained a deafening silence on the issue. Available US evidence, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, gave figures for 2003 showing rollover fatalities at 36 per cent for SUVs, compared with 16 per cent for passenger cars.

Insurers have used US evidence (1998) to show pedestrians are 27 times more likely to suffer fatal injury when struck by a 4x4 than by any other vehicle. However, this evidence is considered flawed in that it relates to vehicle collisions not pedestrian impacts. As regards a perceived higher theft risk, a National Audit Office 2005 report quoted 4x4s as the least likely target for vehicle thieves.

So, the jury’s out on the justification for 4x4 insurance pricing but, to keep your own premium affordable, making certain your insurer quotes on your individual circumstances is the way to go. Here are a few ideas to keep a little more money in your pocket:

• don’t go off-roading etc. (get your insurer to acknowledge)
• reduce your mileage
• opt for named drivers
• add an alarm/immobiliser/tracker
• add a voluntary excess
• pay annually, not monthly

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