“I’m insured with 35’s and a 3 inch lift”. Sound familiar? Do you believe it? You shouldn’t, because it’s probably not the case, and here’s why: insurance companies know you won’t take the time to read their fine print!
4WD insurance and fine print
In every single 4WD insurance policy you take out, you will have the opportunity to read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS). If you haven’t read yours, you will be able to find a copy online very easily. This is a very important document, which may give you a bit of a shock.
So what does it say?
There are a number of things that are mentioned in the PDS which are critical to ensuring your 4WD is covered the way you believe it is. Let’s start with the biggest one; modifications.
In the fine print, every single PDS makes mention of the requirement you have to keep your 4WD roadworthy. So what does this mean exactly?
In simple terms, it means that your 4WD must be legal. It must meet the vehicle standards of your particular state.
What is legal?
In WA, we use VSB 14. This makes it very clear that the roof of your vehicle (excluding roof racks etc) can only go up 50mm (or 2 inch) the combination of bigger tyres, a body lift and a suspension lift.
50mm isn’t much; the most common lift kit is 2 inches, which means you are sitting at the limit. Throw some bigger tyres on, and your vehicle is no longer roadworthy.
Essentially, you are limited to 50mm bigger tyres (2 inch) and a 25mm (1 inch) lift!
Roadworthy and insurance
If you have raised the roof of your vehicle over 50mm, your vehicle is not roadworthy (without engineering). If this is the case, technically, your insurance company has the right to walk away from any claims you make.
Let’s allow that to sink in for a minute; if you have an accident, you can be liable for the costs of repairing (or replacing) your vehicle, any other vehicles in the accident and your own medical costs.
I’d even go as far as to say if your modifications really contributed to the accident you could be in a whole lot of legal trouble for other people’s medical costs too!
This is serious stuff
The ramifications of this are incredibly serious, and yet so many people don’t know about it. When you see illegal 4WD’s driving the streets of Australia every single day, you’ve got to wonder how many people know their insurance companies could potentially walk away from a claim.
Imagine if you were to wipe out a nice Mercedes, or even a Ferrari, and your insurance company denies your claim and goes their way. What would it mean for you?
What’s the chances the insurance company will know my vehicle is illegal?
This is where things get interesting. Hundreds of claims go through insurance companies every year for vehicles that are not roadworthy, and they slide by just fine. There’s a pretty good chance that your insurance company won’t even know what independent suspension is, let alone know that your vehicle is running bigger tyres and a lift kit.
However, all it takes is for the assessor to note it down, and you could be in a world of pain. A lot of people are prepared to take this risk. Are you? I’m certainly not; it’s not worth it, when you really understand what you are risking.
I asked my Insurance company and they say I’m ok
So, you ring your insurance company and tell them you are running 35 inch tyres, with a 5 inch lift, and they say no worries; you are covered. Are you really?
Unfortunately, no! The majority of people selling insurance have zero understanding about 4WD’s, and are not qualified to give you that sort of information. Regardless of what you are told on the phone, the PDS will always be there.
It’s actually misleading in a way, but what can you do? Occasionally you will get someone who has the sense to pass on some better information. Most of the time this is just a ‘As long as your modifications keep your vehicle legal we will cover you’. The thing is though, how many people actually know what modifications are legal and what aren’t?
Don’t the modifications have to contribute to the accident?
In general, anything illegal on your 4WD must contribute to the accident for the insurance company to walk. The problem here though, is that you have a much weaker leg to stand on than they do when it comes to fighting for a solution.
If you have bigger tyres, and you back into a pole you’d assume the modifications wouldn’t have contributed. However, if you roll your 4WD and you have a lift and bigger tyres outside of the maximum for your state, you are going to be in a world of pain.
Bigger tyres reduce your braking capacity too, so if you hit someone its easy for the insurance company to blame the larger tyres. Much like car manufacturers are quick to blame aftermarket gear for faults on your 4WD, you have to fight very hard to make any progress here.
How do you make your vehicle legal?
If you are one of the many people driving vehicles around that are not roadworthy, you have two choices.
Option one is remove or change the modifications to make it meet the vehicle standards. The second option is to get your vehicle engineered, which involves speaking to a vehicle engineer and getting them to sign your car off. Usually this will involve doing a lane change test to make sure the vehicle handles well.
How else can you get caught out with 4WD insurance?
So, your 4WD is legal, and you have quality 4WD insurance. How else can they catch you out?
Value of your vehicle
When it comes to 4WD insurance, you can choose how your vehicle is covered. Most companies offer both market value and agreed value. It’s only a tiny discrepancy, but you really need to know the difference between the two!
Market value means that each year, the value your vehicle is insured for decreases, along with the normal level of depreciation that occurs.
Agreed value means that your 4WD stays insured for a set amount (although they do try and slowly decrease it over the years).
A lot of people get caught out when they have a new 4WD, deck it out with gear and then have to make a claim a few years later. Instead of being covered for the 75k they have spent on the 4WD, the market value might only be 45k!
Generally the cost of having agreed value is not much more, and you can be confident if you do need the insurance it’s going to cover what you want it to!
Unlisted accessories and modifications
You are required to tell your insurance company about any changes made to the vehicle. If you install a boost gauge, or a winch, you should be telling your insurance company about it.
If you don’t have the accessories and modifications listed, they can decline that part of your claim.
You aren’t covered everywhere
4WD insurance isn’t equal. Some will not cover you for 4WDing on private property, and others won’t cover you for beach driving. Hire cars in the Kimberley aren’t allowed to go to the Mitchell Falls because its not a gazetted road, and some insurance companies have the same policy
Overloading or incorrect use
Again, using your vehicle for something that it wasn’t intended to do can land you in hot water. This includes having a vehicle heavier than its allowed to be.
A lot of policies state that you aren’t covered when participating in racing events. This means if you enter a 4WD competition and you roll your vehicle, your insurance is going to put their hands up and walk away.
Towing something that is not roadworthy
If you are towing a trailer that is not roadworthy, it can damage your chances of an insurance claim going through. For example, if you were towing a 2 tonne trailer without any form of brakes it would be pretty easy for the insurance company to blame that on the accident, and walk away.
Gear inside the vehicle
If you’ve never taken the time to consider how much gear you have inside your 4WD, and what its worth do it now. For many people, by the time you add up electronics, recovery gear, personal gear, camping equipment and everything else it can be in the tens of thousands of dollars, and your insurance may not cover this in its entirety.
Some companies offer extra gear cover as an option, which can be worth it if you have lots of valuables with you.