Car insurance renewal time is hardly one of the high points of the year, but it is a great opportunity to save money. We are slowly becoming a nation of shrewd shoppers, enjoying the challenge of netting a bargain.
But when it comes to our insurance policies, a quarter of us are happy to stick with one insurer for years on end, and pay for the privilege.
According to AA Insurance, premiums have actually fallen by 3 to 4 per cent over the past three years. The AA's Ian Crowder puts that down to competition in the market and fewer claims.
'The cost of claims is going up as cars become more complex to repair,' says Mr Crowder. 'But overall the cost of buying insurance is coming down. For now at least.'
There is more good news - GPs are deemed by insurers to be a good risk.
As Simon Gent from specialist insurance services providers Towergate MIA explains: 'We regard GPs as better motor insurance risks. Typically our GP customers have full no-claims discounts on their motor policies.'
According to Mr Gent, GPs tend to look after their possessions more carefully and act more responsibly than average policyholders, too.
That opinion is backed up by Nick Dunn from Heath Lambert Insurance Services (which provides BMA members with insurance cover), but with a note of caution.
'On the whole, GPs are more socially responsible than other professionals, which helps their rating,' he says. 'On the other hand, some elements of the job do have a negative impact, such as late-night call-outs, longer shifts and stress levels.'
When it comes to men versus women, younger, female GPs are likely to benefit from lower premiums - sometimes by up to 15 per cent. However, by the age of 35, premiums even out between the sexes.
To make insurance renewal time as pain-free as possible, you should start with your choice of car. It is no surprise that choosing a lower-performance vehicle can have a significant effect on your premium.
It could also be worth your while to hunt around for a saloon rather than a hatchback, MPV or estate.
As Mr Dunn points out: 'Saloons tend to be slightly cheaper than hatchbacks to insure, because replacement boots are cheaper than replacement hatchbacks. Boots also offer better security for medical bags than hatchbacks.'
Unless you fancy moving into an area with a better claims history, keeping your car garaged or just on a driveway overnight, restricting the number of drivers on your policy, limiting the miles you drive, fitting a recognised security device or even opting to pay a higher excess in the event of a claim can all bring your premium down.
A strong no-claims bonus that is also protected if you do have a claim will help to keep your premium down too.
Shopping around to reduce your premium no longer means spending hours on the phone with a copy of the Yellow Pages. The internet has made life easy once again, with quotes easily available online from big-name direct insurers and brokers, and the choice is widening greatly.
'As well as the major insurers targeting you, everyone seems to be getting in on the act,' says Mr Crowder. 'You can now buy insurance from your bank, the supermarket, or the Post Office.'
However, a word of caution: do not buy insurance cheaply to the detriment of the level of cover.
'Check policies for conditions affecting the availability of courtesy cars, whether breakdown cover is included and whether your medical bags and equipment are covered,' advises Mr Gent. 'More importantly, ask about the claims service and who provides it.
'It is only when you make a claim that you actually discover whether the service you purchased measures up to the promises made when you bought it,' he adds.
It is also well worth shopping for specialist cover for GPs from an insurer who will tailor a policy specifically. For example, Towergate MIA can offer medical bag and equipment hire cover for a small additional premium and even 'blue light' cover for BASICS members attending emergency incidents.
Whatever type of policy or level of cover you require, there is no substitute for doing some homework before you shop - the more time you're willing to invest in finding the right cover at the right price, the more likely you are to save money without regretting it.
- Steve Fowler is group editor at WhatCar? magazine
- Special car insurance offer in next week's issue
DOS AND DON'TS OF BUYING INSURANCE
- Shop around - the more time you spend, the more chance you have of making savings.
- Consider insurance costs when buying your car.
- Protect your no-claims bonus - it is key to keeping your premiums low.
- Limit the miles you drive and the people who drive your car.
- Lock valuables out of sight and always try to park in well-lit, populated areas.
- Buy solely on price - look at what level of cover and claims service is on offer.
- Lie - otherwise insurance companies won't pay out.
- Make unnecessary claims - if the costs of repairs or replacements are less than the value of your excess and no-claims bonus, don't claim.
- www.bmas.co.uk - BMA services.
- www.towergateunderwriting.co.uk - Towergate MIA.
REGIONAL VARIATIONS ON A FORD FOCUS
Average premium for the same person in the same car in different
REGION Average Average Increase
premium 2004 premium 2003
East Anglia £297.98 £294.52 1.2%
Islands £260.88 £249.58 4.5%
London £521.87 £496.05 5.2%
Midlands £357.65 £357.16 0.1%
North East & £364.47 £351.60 3.7%
Yorkshire North West £442.27 £411.41 7.5%
Scotland £323.65 £326.69 -0.9%
South East £350.00 £347.48 0.7%
South West £304.09 £294.65 3.2%
Wales £320.99 £313.86 2.3%
National £369.48 £360.00 2.6%
Northern Ireland Average 2005 premium