Motorists are being warned to consider car insurance features as well as cost when selecting a policy to ensure they don't end up out of pocket.
The range of car insurance policies now available to drivers is greater than it has ever been, according to analyst Defaqto.
But this also means that there can be significant differences between what each car insurance firm offers in terms of optional extras.
This includes breakdown cover and provision of a courtesy car when the policyholder's vehicle is out of action.
Courtesy cars & breakdown cover
Defaqto's research found that more than two-thirds of policies now offer a courtesy car if a customer's vehicle is stolen or written off.
Four years ago, fewer than half of all car insurance policies offered a courtesy car.
But in many cases, a courtesy car is an optional extra that will increase the cost of cover.
As a result, many motorists will do without in a bid to cut costs.
There has also been a rise in the number of insurers that offer breakdown cover either as an option or as a standard part of the policy.
Two-thirds of insurers now offer breakdown cover, compared with 54 per cent in 2009, according to Defaqto.
Consider your car insurance needs
Defaqto's Mike Powell says motorists "should avoid basing their purchasing decisions on cost alone".
"A policy that doesn't cover their requirements is likely to end up being the most expensive option in the end when they cannot claim if and when something goes wrong.
"Rather, as a starting point, consumers should look to understand the features they need and then identify policies that offer an appropriate level of cover in those areas."
Do you need a courtesy car or breakdown cover?
Whether you would need a courtesy car if your own vehicle was stolen, written off or needing repair is likely to depend on how much you rely on it.
For example, if your car is vital to your job or daily commute, a courtesy car might be essential in a way it would not be for those who only drive at the weekends or for social reasons.
Similarly, not every driver would need breakdown cover.
Even if you do, it is worth comparing prices for standalone breakdown policies to see if this is cheaper than adding the cover to your motor insurance.
'Don’t sacrifice essential cover'
Gareth Lane works on car insurance at Confused.com.
He says: "When buying any insurance policy it's important to know what level of cover you're getting as this will vary depending on the insurer.
"Insurers may also charge you extra for some features but don't be tempted to keep costs down by sacrificing essential cover.
"This will only cause you to be underinsured if you have to make a claim," he says.
Lane adds: "By using a comparison website you can quickly compare all of the policy benefits and find a policy that's right for you in minutes."
Three ways to keep car insurance costs down
According to Lane, the best ways to keep your premiums down are:
- By being a careful driver. "Insurers like drivers who don't have accidents and who don't make claims," he says.
- By driving the right car. "The more powerful and expensive your car is, the more it will cost to insure as powerful cars can go faster and cause more damage in accidents, which means claims cost more." Lane adds that modifying your vehicle to make it more powerful and faster can have the same effect.
- By paying the right way. Lane says: "If you choose to pay monthly to avoid paying your year's premium in a lump sum upfront, your insurer will charge you interest for the privilege."
Read Car insurance extras: Weighing up the worth.
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