If you buy a second-hand car, you still need to check that the ‘modifications’ are acceptable to your insurer. Photograph: Alamy
And if any of those bumper stickers, vinyl wraps, or murals on your vehicle are there to promote your business check your insurance covers you for commercial purposes, too.
If you’re organised enough to ensure you carry out any changes at policy renewal you could save money, as most insurers impose “mid-term adjustment fees which can be between £25 to £30,” according to Pratt.
“ ‘Modifications’ is a word greeted with caution by some insurers,” says Ian Crowder of the AA. From their perspective, any changes you make to your vehicle could be seen to increase its value or boost its potential theft risk, so your insurer may want alterations detailed on your policy and could even increase your premium accordingly.
Age UK denied that religion was a factor in the decision. A spokeswoman for the organisation told The Independent: “The situation regarding Rev Parry’s claim was in no way related to the Christian nature of her graphics.
If you go ahead without the company’s agreement it could be within its rights to withdraw your insurance cover, so always ask before making any modifications.
The issue gained attention earlier this month when the Rev Wena Parry, 75, was told that stickers saying “Christ Must Be Saviour” and “Christ For Me” could be regarded as “modifications” and could invalidate her insurance policy.
1/10 A pancake 2/10 A dog’s bottom 3/10 A stingray 4/10 + (vegan ‘wheat meat’ rather than the devil) 5/10 A banana skin 6/10 Chocolate milk 7/10 Wall paint (sold for $8000 on eBay) 8/10 A vine covered telephone pole 9/10 Jared Leto 10/10 A marble countertop 1/10 A pancake 2/10 A dog’s bottom 3/10 A stingray 4/10 + (vegan ‘wheat meat’ rather than the devil) 5/10 A banana skin 6/10 Chocolate milk 7/10 Wall paint (sold for $8000 on eBay) 8/10 A vine covered telephone pole 9/10 Jared Leto 10/10 A marble countertop
However insurers set their own rules. At Direct Line, stickers on a vehicle would count as a cosmetic modification and be judged on “an individual basis”, whereas other insurers such as LV= say stickers don’t count. Even the humble roof rack could incur the wrath of your insurer if you don’t declare it. It’s just one of a list of modifications the Post Office, for example, will want to know about, along with changes to the internal upholstery, parking sensors, tow-bars and stickers, badges and murals.
Relatively minor modifications could prove costly in admin fees alone (if your insurer decides they should be listed on your policy) even if the premium stays the same. However, if on renewal you let your insurer know of any imminent modification change it may waive the additional admin fee.
Age UK’s insurers, Ageas have now reviewed the claim and offered a settlement of £725 and has waived the £100 policy excess and outstanding direct debit balance as a gesture of goodwill.
Age UK’s spokeswoman added: “While all car owners have the right to self-expression and place whatever they wish on their cars, we would urge all drivers to make their insurance providers aware of any graphics applied to their cars.”
Her insurers wrote a letter demanding to know why they had not been told about the modifications, warning: “The policy may be declared void.”
“Our insurer concluded that our request to declare all modifications was not made clear enough to Rev Parry and therefore she did not know which vehicle enhancements should have been declared.”
Fitting a roof rack to your car or putting some stickers on its doors can seem a fairly innocuous activity, but these “modifications” can ring alarm bells with insurers.
Crowder says “having a sticker saying you’re a member of the National Trust, or a ‘baby on board’ sticker really shouldn’t make a difference”. However it’s still worth checking.
“If you’ve altered your car in any way since it left the factory or showroom, this can be deemed an after market modification,” says Matt Oliver from GoCompare.com. And if you’re buying a vehicle second-hand you still need to declare any modifications that have been made by the previous owner. “The fact you didn’t make them might not be taken into account by your insurer,” he says.
The insurance company was only made aware of the stickers when Rev Parry submitted a claim on her policy after her exhaust was damaged and thieves stole a part of the car’s engine.
It is not the first time people have seen their insurance invalidated for what some might term trivial reasons.
Any changes you make to your vehicle, from a roof rack to a sticker on the door, should be approved by your insurance company
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If stickers can count as a modification, does this mean you should be on the phone to your insurer every time you pop one on the windscreen to advertise your local radio station?
If you’re planning to make changes to your car don’t just assume it’s OK to go ahead. Small print in Direct Line’s motor policy says: “You must tell us what modifications you intend to make and obtain our agreement prior to making them.”
Rev Wena Parry’s stickers, which read “Christ must be Saviour” and “Christ for me,” apparently counted as a modification to the vehicle, like enhancing an engine or adding a spoiler.
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“There might be somebody within that company that hates Christianity,” she told a BBC Wales programme.
Almost all insurers will not pay out if the owner leaves their vehicle unlocked and unattended, even if it is just for a few minutes.
The devout Christian paid £120 to adorn her Vauxhall Zafira with the religious stickers.
An insurance company has denied claims it threatened to void a vicar’s policy because she put religious stickers on her car.
Another common reason for invalidation can be something as simple as driving into standing water, where there is a flood warning sign. Insurers can term this “negligence” and refuse to pay up.
While switching insurers can save money it’s worth remembering that they may take a different stance on modifications. “Just because your last insurer was fine with any modifications you made to your vehicle doesn’t necessarily mean your next one will be,” Oliver says.
Mon 16 Feb 2015 06.58 GMT Last modified on Sat 2 Dec 2017 06.04 GMT
Insurance applications can be refused and “while fewer than one fifth may be turned down, of those that are around a half would relate to modifications”, Crowder says.
The minister from Neath Port Talbot in South Wales believes that she was discriminated against by her insurance company, Age UK, because of her beliefs.
If you fail to declare any changes you risk your claim being rejected in the event of an accident and “failing to disclose any modifications when applying for insurance could count as fraud”, warns Kevin Pratt of moneysupermarket.com
In 2013 Paul Scholes was left red-faced when his car was stolen after he left the keys in the ignition to defrost his windscreen.
Modifications tend to fall into two categories, “power related” or “cosmetic”, according to a Direct Line spokesperson. Changing the engine size or fitting alloy wheels sound like obvious power-related changes that you should tell your insurer about; but when it comes to cosmetic modifications it can be a grey area. Cosmetic changes can cover anything from “stickers and slogans to tinted windows, parking sensors, tow-bars and spoilers”, Crowder advises.
It’s the same with Admiral, which expects customers to tell it before they modify their car, including any cosmetic changes and resprays.
“Every opportunity I have I want to tell people about Jesus. I reckon there must at least a million people who have read the texts on my car,” Rev Parry said.