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All this information is very up-to-date - as in the last week! - so I hope it will prove helpful to someone out there.
On Thursday 20 October, I found my ideal first car (a 1999 Ford Ka) and was waiting for some minor repairs to be carried out before purchasing. Having a free afternoon on the Friday, I decided to flick through my local Thomson's to ring around for some insurance quotes. Being a new ball game for me, I wanted to do it properly, so I ended up with about 20 quotes from different insurers (both online and over the phone). I asked other motorists for advice and several companies were recommended. Of course, I used Ciao! and took many reviews into careful consideration. I made a list of questions, knocked out a quick table with space for my answers on the computer, stuck it on my clipboard, found a pen to chew whilst I pondered and phoned the seven that I had whittled down from my very long list of potential insurers. I did this on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.
I settled for Prudential in the end (on Thursday of this week, the day I bought the car) because their quote, whilst not the cheapest (that was Norwich Union Direct, closely followed by Tesco), coupled with the friendly customer service, made me feel comfortable and assured. I am a great believer in going with your gut instinct. Likewise, I believe that you get what you pay for, so don't necessarily go for the cheapest. The Prudential have been handling our financial affairs since 1848, and that surely stands for something.
Although over 25, I am a learner driver (long story!) and holder of a provisional licence only. The Ka is fairly cheap to insure, of course, but I found that, as it has been converted to run on LPG, this has given many insurers an additional opportunity to charge me extra. I could almost hear them rubbing their hands together down the phone line when I mentioned this. As I've taken this matter very seriously and planned it rather like a military operation, I am perfectly happy to name and shame.
Tesco hiked my quote from £535 to £593 (an extra £58) because of the LPG tank. Ford Insure bumped the price from £645 to £699 (an extra £54). Never mind that the job was carried out by an approved fitter and that everything is above board. I thought we were supposed to be encouraged to switch to more environmentally-friendly fuels. I am all for being green, and know that I will save a fair bit by running the car on gas as opposed to unleaded. But to slap an extra £50 onto my insurance seems very unfair. I've got no boot space because of this modification, thanks very much!
Norwich Union Direct did indeed quote me happy (£547 without a courtesy car, £555 with one), but I was put off by the fact that their call centres are based outside the UK. After a not-so-nice experience with an Indian call centre recently (over a mobile phone), I am now distrustful and made a point of asking each insurer where their calls centres are based. In spite of the cheap and cheerful quote, I dismissed Norwich Union Direct, not thoroughly convinced that I'd receive the level of service I expect in the unfortunate event of having to make a claim. I do hope that doesn't sound unfair.
The next cheapest was Tesco at £593. If I could have bagged a load of Clubcard points for taking out their insurance, then I'd have seriously considered. Thing is, you only get Clubcard points if you buy using a Tesco credit card. That's what I was told, anyway. I don't particularly want another credit card and didn't fancy applying for one and asking for my introductory credit limit to be raised (presumably they give you just £500 to start?) just so that I could give them their own piece of plastic to swipe.
But the real insult was when I phoned them up to double-check the quote I'd got online. There was no option to mention the LPG conversion online. The guy on the phone said that, as there is no room on their website for an extra question and drop-down menu, I would have to buy over the phone and would therefore lose my 10% discount for buying online. This was enough to make me tell Tesco where to shove it, basically. I think that's a really feeble excuse. So that was Tesco off my list, but I will consider them again next year. With a year's No Claims Bonus (hopefully!), we'll see how great a difference that makes. I'm still riled about that, though.
Before Prudential (of them, more later), the next cheapest was Churchill - at £662. Now Churchill didn't care one iota about the car running on gas, and with my Mum on board as a steady driver of some ten years with no motoring convictions and a faultless No Claims history, they reduced my premium from £662 to £617. Result! With a 20% discount for doing the Pass Plus course when I get my full licence and a promise that they would calculate the reduction at any time of the year, I was very tempted.
Yet I opted for Prudential in the end as I was most impressed by the three (told you I took it seriously!) people I spoke to and the fact that I could get breakdown cover thrown in as well. Like Churchill, they weren't at all concerned by the LPG conversion and business use is the same price as social, domestic and pleasure (as a supply teacher, I need this and don't really want to have to pay extra for it). So for £620 - fully comprehensive - I have Green Flag breakdown cover included and my Mum as a named driver.
The breakdown cover is the most basic level of cover (John called it 'Roadside', but I think that's 'Rescue' in Green Flag talk). By getting it with Prudential, you get a 10% discount. Still, I think this works out more expensive than the equivalent cover from RAC and the AA, who charge £31.55 and £40 respectively (those are current online offers with 15% off, by the way). Now I think about it, I might cancel this and save a few bob by joining RAC instead. At least you get a van coming towards you with a name you know and recognise. I'm slightly put-off by the fact that Green Flag relies on local garages. I'll have to read the bumph that's on its way to me as I type.
When I first contacted the Pru on Wednesday afternoon, I was quoted £718. The advisor (a flirty sort, but nice all the same) asked how that compared, and I said not very well, mentioning my cheapest to see if he could match it. He put me on hold for a moment or two and, when he came back, said he could reduce it to £614. This was with a 20% introductory discount and an extra 10% promotional discount. This was actually better than if I bought online. I almost fell off my chair! I still had a few more insurers to ring, so I said I would most certainly consider it. They immediately got an extra smiley face for that. He wasn't pushy and I didn't feel pressurised into accepting before I'd further contemplated. I said I'd think about it, and he accepted that. Another smiley face.
I rang again on Wednesday night with my list of questions. The lady I spoke to (from the Reading call centre) had plenty of time for me and we spoke for at least half-an-hour. She was very chatty and gave me examples of the things that other customers ask her. This made me feel better, because there I was with my clipboard and pen, feeling a tad too intense, wondering if I should just chill out. She said that it costs between £50 and £70 for an insurance company to set up a quote, so they prefer customers to think things through thoroughly before deciding to accept a quote and then to cancel a few days later. In any sense, she said I have a 14-day cooling off period if I do take out a policy and should I wish to change my mind within that time.
She said that at least 10 people ask her about their call centres being in the UK each day, which made me feel better, because I didn't want to appear in any way racist. She was honest enough to say that Prudential have call centres in India, but this does not involve car insurance. Again, she wasn't pushy and told me to take my time to decide what would suit me best. She mentioned that Prudential had recently topped a Which! magazine poll for best customer service out of all the other major insurance companies. From the way she spoke to me, and the way the other guy I'd spoken to that afternoon had spoken to me, I understood why. I thanked her for her time and left to think about it. We'd spoken for so long, there wasn't time for me to ring Tesco to find out if having my Mum on the policy as a named driver would reduce the premium! I wasn't bothered, though. I think I'd made up my mind at this point.
If you're new to this insurance lark, then this is what I asked my short-listed potential insurers:
1. Are you aware that I'm a provisional licence holder only? 2. Are you aware that my car has had a LPG conversion? 3. Does it matter that I'm a supply teacher and that I might be unemployed at times? 4. Will I get a courtesy car even though I don't have a full licence? 5. If so, for how long can I keep the courtesy car? Is there a limit? 6. Am I guaranteed to get one, or is it "subject to availability" only? 7. Can I save money by not having a courtesy car? 8. Can I add a courtesy car to my policy at any time i.e. when I have a full licence? 9. Does the price quoted include legal protection? How much can I save without it? 10. Where are your call centres based? 11. If I need to make a claim, is it a freephone number? 12. Are there any hidden charges? 13. If I pay monthly, is it interest-free? 14. Will you pass my details on to other companies/send me details of other services provided by you? 15.Is there a discount for buying online?
When I rang the Pru again on Thursday evening to check through my details, to ask a few more questions and to pay up (because my new car was ready), I was further convinced that the Pru were the ones for me. I spoke to a lovely man named John who convinced me that I should agree to my quote there and then. Not that he made me feel pressurised into my decision. It just felt right. This time I had reached the Nottingham call centre and we talked about the price of watching Forest at home, the parts of London that you really wouldn't want to break down in and how the government should stop churning out more teachers when there are so many out of work. He was a genuinely lovely man and if commission is at stake when working for Prudential, then I'm only happy to have helped him in some way. He was really easy to talk to, polite, considerate and downright nice. He couldn't have been more helpful. If everyone was like John, the world would be a better place.
I checked that my personal details wouldn't be passed on to anyone, and he promised me that they wouldn't. He said that they do not sell their customers' details for marketing purposes and that if anyone contacts me saying they got my details from the Pru, then I should ring back on this number and let them know. Although I had made this clear when I first rang for a quote on Wednesday morning, and then again that same evening when I asked my questions, he said that my details were down to be shared with other sections within the Pru group. He assured me that I had now opted-out and apologied profusely. So you could say that, as nice as the first two people were, they didn't do their job properly and comply with my repeated request. I'll have to wait and see if John did what he said he did. I have a feeling he did.
I checked that I couldn't pay interest-free, hoping that he'd change the rules just for me (I wish!) and was told that, regrettably, this wasn't possible. So I paid in full with my credit card. Never mind, I have been saving for a while and got a good deal on the car itself. Still, it would have been nice to pay monthly without an extra charge, as my work is so unpredictable and I never know when I'm going to get work. The only other insurers that offered this were Direct Line and Privilege. All the others charged 10% and I didn't want to pay another £50 on top.
If I do the Pass Plus course, I'm told I will receive a 30% discount with the Pru. As I'm getting a 35% discount out of them as things stand, I might delay doing the Pass Plus course until shortly before my renewal is due.
One other thing worth noting here is that Prudential guarantee their parts for five years. Three years is the best of all the other insurers.
John took my details quickly, yet methodically. I had no doubt that everything had been recorded correctly. He took my mobile number (steady!) and colour of my car, so that Green Flag could locate me quickly in the event of a breakdown. He gave me my policy number and promised that all the paper work would be with me on Monday morning. My insurance started at 7pm that night so I had a little less than half-an-hour to wait before I could pick up the car. Everything was done and I felt relieved, yet confident.
If you're interested in how the other insurers fared, then after Prudential (my fourth cheapest quote) came Privilege (at £696 with Mum included), followed by Direct Line (£693 for just me) and then Ford Insure (£699 for just me - I didn't bother checking to see if adding Mum would make a difference after speaking to Prudential). Direct Line can bite me because, for the last five days since getting my quote, they have sent me junk mail pertaining to their personal loans, even though I made it very clear before requesting a quote that I didn't want my details passed on to anyone and that I had no interest whatsoever in their other services. The guy who gave me my quote promised that I wouldn't receive anything from them and that my privacy would be respected. I even phoned them on Wednesday morning to say that I'd received two pieces of identical literature from them, which I did not require, and was assured that my details had now been removed from their mailing list once and for all. I got the same piece of junk mail on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I expect I'll get another one tomorrow. As well as a source of irritation, this is such a waste of their money... never mind the trees! Five days, five identical letters! I'm a good girl and recycle pretty much everything, but it's still annoying to think that they have such little regard for my wishes. After speaking to someone who had a nightmare experience with them (they took two years to pay out), I will definitely not be considering them when next October comes around. If someone gets up my nose, they've had it! Direct Line are now in my little black book, along with PC World, Morrisons, the O2 shop in Swansea and 3.
Speaking of which, the Post Office couldn't guarantee that they would not sell my details on if I gave them any information, so I chose not to get a quote from them in the end. I was very surprised by this. They said they would promise not to share it within the Post office group, but could not speak for other companies outside their group. Shame on them.
More Than and eSure wouldn't insure me as I'm a learner driver. Hastings wouldn't insure me because of the LPG conversion and People's Choice were being so pissy about the wheres and where-nots of the LPG conversion, I just gave up after a while. Kwik Fit, A Quote and Endsleigh were all well over £1,000 (£1,270 was the best Endsleigh could offer and they had the gall to 'phone me within minutes of getting my online quote, the cheeky buggers), so they can whistle! It just goes to show that it pays to ring around. £547-£1,270 is absurd.
Diamond was more than £900, the best the AA could come up with was £848, Swinton was a pound less at £847, Sabre was £839 and Admiral £835. These are all fully comprehensive quotes with just me on the policy as the car owner and only driver (I only bothered asking my final/cheapest seven about adding Mum - there was no way I would consider paying more than £700).
Well, I hope my confessed inexperience doesn't deter you from finding any of the above helpful. If you are an inexperienced driver taking out your first insurance policy, then please take my example and check out all the competition before committing yourself to anyone. As you can see, my quotes varied wildly and I'm sure yours will, too.
I have given a 'Good' rating based on my first impressions of Prudential. Of course, I will update this review accordingly, as it's not easy to give an accurate and thorough overall rating when all I've really done is phone for a quote and taken out a policy - I don't even have the paper work yet!
Meantime, if you're interested in the Pru, then it's free to call them for a quote. Their number is 0800 300 300. Lines are open every day of the week between 8am and 8pm Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm on Saturdays and 10am to 5pm on Sundays. I was told that their call centres are based in Belfast, Cardiff, Nottingham, Reading and Stirling. You can also check out their website - just Google the word "Prudential" and you're there.
Thanks for reading and happy motoring!
** 6 November 2005 ** Just a quick update, as promised.
I received the paper work a day later than they said it would arrive (tut tut), and noticed a mistake straight away. I rang an 0845 number and the lady I spoke to wasn't as nice as the people you speak to when you ring an 0800 number for a quote - surprise surprise. In fact, she made me feel something of an idiot. The mistake? Well, the forms declared that neither myself, nor the only named driver (my Mum) has access to another vehicle. Well, I'd made it clear than my Mum has her own car, although I won't be driving it. I was told, a little too quickly for my liking, that this wasn't a problem. OK. Maybe I was being stupid, but this is all new to me, and I wanted to be thorough. I didn't want that error coming back to bite me on the backside in the event of a future claim. I don't know how these people work, so I have to fear the worst for now.
The second thing that caught my eye was that the legal protection I had agreed to add on - which they said cost £16.50 - suddenly cost £22.50. I asked why this was and was told that it had gone up and that I had been wrongly informed. OK, no need to make a fuss over what is more or less a fiver. I asked again if Mum's car mattered and if they needed details on her insurer. She said they did not. So I was off the phone within two minutes, feeling uneasy.
Now I believe that my car is a Ka2 and not a Ka3 as they have listed (as they assumed when I gave them my number plate). Maybe this is also nothing to worry about, but I would like to be completely assured and am tempted to ring them again whilst I still have time to cancel my policy if need be. As I said above, I believe in trusting your gut instinct, and now I'm slightly ill at ease over some petty things that a better advisor would have made clear in a confident manner.
I'll keep you posted if things change.
** 20 November 2005 ** Another update, just to be thorough.
Well, I don't wish to bore you with all the details, but basically...
My car has had one previous owner who had it converted so that it runs on LPG as well as petrol. The previous owner hasn't given me proof that the work was carried out by an approved fitter, although he assures me that it was, and claims not to have any. This seems to be because the modification took place before November 2002, when the government got serious about LPG and started instructing certified garages to issue little green certificates left, right and centre. To get the LPG system thoroughly checked and certified by an approved LPG fitter will cost £200 plus VAT (and no, labour charges aren't included in that price). Alternatively, I can have the system removed for free. As I consider my car's previous owner a friend, I have explained the situation and he is going to see if he can come up with anything that will please my insurers in the event of a claim by contacting the man who did the work and going through his records.
I rang Prudential to enquire about this. When I rang them for a quote, I had told them that, to the best of my knowledge, yes, the LPG conversion had been carried out by an approved installer. This is still true, but I have nothing to prove it. I don't want this sad fact coming back to bite me on the bum if I have to make a claim. I don't want my insurer to use it as an excuse to turn me away. I wanted to know if I need to pay for the system check.
The guy I spoke to was pleasant, but he couldn't answer my question, so he put me on hold. He came back after about four minutes and, rather apologetically, said that they will turn me away if I need to make a claim and cannot provide evidence of the approved installation. Basically, he said, I need that piece of green paper, because they'll want to see it in the event of any claim. That piece of green paper is going to cost £200 plus. Oh well. Maybe I'll just have the system taken out.
Anyway, whilst I had him on the phone, sensing a good soul, I enquired about the mistake I had noticed upon receiving my paper work (that neither myself, nor the named driver, has access to another vehicle) and how I'd been told that it wasn't a problem by a lady who didn't seem all that interested. I told him that my Mum does have her own car, and that I'd made this clear on two other occasions. He said that it did matter and that he would change it. He apologised for his colleague and assured me that the change had been noted. Five days later, I had an amended certificate of insurance dropping through my letterbox.
The lady who said that it didn't matter clearly hadn't done her job properly, so make of that what you will. I wouldn't like to have her on the phone if I had to make a claim and was feeling nervous, that's for sure.