I have to admit it had been a while since I last bought car insurance in the UK. I had been fortunate enough to work oversees for a number of years and the experience was somewhat daunting to say the least. It was a steep learning curve that served me well a few months later when I had to repeat the process with a new car!
In the old days getting car insurance was a whole-day affair. I remember only too well sitting down with the yellow pages and working through the companies one by one; crossing them off when I was done. I am geeky enough to have entered all the data into a spreadsheet so that I could make fair comparisons at the end... unfortunately I'd often find that the price had changed by the time I was done however having all the data there to hand I could often negotiate a better deal. My spreadsheet often resembled the now ubiquitous comparison site. These sites have cut down a day's work to around an hour and cookies often drop the time down further. One form, hundreds of companies and all the relevant information there to see... but no negotiating any more.
I was left wondering really if things had improved. What was the cost to me that I had paid in exchange for my time?
The one thing that really amazed me was the amount of data available online. I could look up the full MOT history of a car and see if it was insured or taxed with just a few keystrokes. With just the number plate of my new vehicle all of the comparison sites could auto-fill the majority of the fields. This was excellent but also worrying. As I moved from site to site the search engine learned what I was doing and offered me more and more targeted results. My inbox filled with other suggested sites to visit and I even got phone calls. I noticed that Compare the Market, Moneysupermarket and the others that I checked initially varied quite dramatically but that if I left them and returned later the results would start to synch and gradually creep up to the highest offered for each company. I was also left wondering what exactly was happening with all the data I had given them.
The process was easy enough in every case. I entered my reg number, gave some basic details about me and where the car would be then pressed the button. All the major sites (I used the main comparison sites of GoCompare, Moneysupermarket, Comparethemarker and others of that ilk) then gave me the option to pay monthly or in one lump sum. In every single case the difference was dramatic. By having to pay monthly I was throwing away over a hundred pounds more overall. What was interesting, however, was that the cheapest option for a lump sum was not always the same as it was for paying monthly.
There are a number of other companies I visited too. Directline and Swinton do not sign up to comparison sites so I had to visit them directly. In every single case I found this was not worth it. It may just be my own circumstances but I've always found that these direct companies cost far more than the others.
I will be completely honest here; I wish I could have paid in a lump sum. Monthly car insurance is a huge chunk of the household budget. As it was I had to lower my sights from a Volvo to a Honda simply so that I could afford the insurance. Having to find the premium every month is akin to having to buy the car over and over again. I drive a beaten up second-hand banger and due to the way that the insurance market has changed recently I am essentially hiring it from my insurer. To be paying £100 a month for a car that cost £300 just strikes me as bizarre.
One other thing that confused me was the different types of insurance. In the past it was simple - if you were poor you got third party only and lumped it. If you had a little more money you got the additional protection of fire and theft. If you were rich you got fully comprehensive along with all the extra bonuses this gave you. Every single comparison site this time round quoted the fully comprehensive as cheaper than the third party... very odd indeed.
Whilst not as tiring and time-consuming as in the past the process of buying insurance is still a real chore. The comparison sites have taken a lot of the work out of it but now you need to compare them against each other too!