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Car buyers' guide

Avoid the pitfalls with our car buyer's guide

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start when you’re buying a car. But whether you’re buying new or second-hand, the following car buying guide could well come in handy:

Choosing a car

  • If you want to buy new, go for it. You have the widest possible selection of cars to choose from. Manufacturers also offer all kinds of deals, including cashback or extended warranties

  • First things first – identify your needs. If you’ve got a growing family, then a two-door model is probably not for you. And weigh up factors like reliability, safety and how much mileage you’re likely to do too

  • One of the costs you’ll also have to factor in will be insurance. Will it just be you who’s driving the car? Will it be parked on the street or in a garage? With a new car, you’re unlikely to need breakdown assistance as most new cars usually come with something similar, but what about protecting your no-claims discount?

  • Cars are a significant investment, so you’ll want to read up on them first. Visit for their reviews of various models.

  • Decided on a car? Time to talk to a dealer. When you do, ask the important questions: Is the delivery price included? How long a wait before the car will be delivered? Is road tax included? And registration fees?

  • Go for a test drive. Never buy a car blind. Get to see and feel it before you commit to anything

  • If you like what you see, start haggling. Dealers generally expect this as part of the process, and it’s in their best interests to shift cars if there’s an interested prospective buyer. So, see if you can get some extras thrown in for free. Things like metallic paint, protective coatings for the paintwork and upholstery, a good deal on finance, floor mats, mudflaps, and – this is an important one – a full tank of fuel. You’d be surprised how many cars are sold with barely enough fuel to get them out of the showroom

  • Make sure the paperwork’s all up to scratch. The registration should tally up with the one in the logbook (V5C document), and also make sure you get all the correct manuals and codes for the radio. And don’t forget the car-keys!

  • Like all purchases, make sure you get a receipt

  • And if you’re not happy with any part of the process, let them know straight away. If there’s a delay, or if they’re trying to fob you off with a model which isn’t the one that you bought, kick up a fuss. It’s your car, you’ve paid a lot of money for it, make sure it’s exactly what you signed up for.

Buying a used car

  • It’s vital you do your research when you’re looking at second-hand cars. First of all check on to see what the going rate is for the car you’re interested in. This will alert you if it looks like someone is asking too much, or indeed too little

  • Give yourself a budget and stick to it. Make sure your budget includes things like road tax, other running costs and, of course, insurance. Little things like where you park the car at night and the area you live in can affect your quote.

  • Time to talk to the seller. Bring a list of questions: How long have they owned the car? Has it had an MOT recently? Is it taxed? What condition is it in? Why are they selling it? Has it been involved in an accident? What extra features does it have? Is it in full working order?

  • Make sure you get a landline number from the seller, not just their mobile

  • One of the most important things you can do when buying a used car is to do a vehicle check to make sure it’s all legit. Go to and put in the car’s registration number. This will tell you if the car is stolen or has outstanding finance on it or has been written off. It will also tell you its full spec. and the kind of price you should be paying for it. And you can get the vehicle’s  identification number (VIN) too so you can match it against the car you’re buying

  • Always visit the seller at his home, never at a motorway service station or lay-by. Check the mileage and the tax. Does everything match up with what the seller told you over the phone? And always visit in daylight – all the better to spot scratches and dents

  • When you visit, follow these steps: Try to take a look at the car before you meet the seller and get distracted by what he’s saying. Start the car to see if the engine is fine. Crouch down in front of each front wheel and check that they’re fully aligned with the rear wheels. If they’re not, chances are the car’s chassis has been twisted in a crash. Are the gaps between the body panels all flush, or does it look like a bad patch-up job? Check that the tyres have a 1.6mm tread. Look all over the car for signs of rust. Inside, check that the seatbelts work, the steering wheel is sturdy, the front seats can be safely adjusted and that all the switches work. Look for signs of oil leakage under the bonnet and the car. If the oil level is low on the dipstick, it could be a sign that the driver hasn’t been looking after his car properly. And if you spot a white mayonnaise-like substance around the oil filler cap, this could signify that there’s something wrong with the head gasket – which can be very expensive to replace

  • Now go for your test drive. Listen out for unusual sounds, but also try to get the feel for the car

  • If you’re satisfied, it’s time to haggle with the seller. Ask him what he’s expecting and then undercut him. Factor in any qualms or niggles you might have about the car. He’ll either accept your lower offer or give you a revised figure

  • Once you’ve agreed on a price, make sure all the paperwork is in order. You’ll need the logbook (the V5C document), the car’s service history, MOT details, the registration number and vehicle identification number, and – if the seller has said that tax is included in the price – a valid tax disc. Don’t accept photocopies. Look in the logbook. The seller’s name should match; if not, he’s not legally entitled to sell you the car. Check the service history book. If you see lots of dealer stamps, it means that the car has been properly maintained

  • Finally, when you make your payment, always ensure that you get a receipt. Make sure the seller’s address and details are on them too
Armed with the right information, you can take a lot of the risk out of buying a car.

Car breakdown cover

Advice on what to do if you breakdown

Breakdown advice

A breakdown can happen to anyone, and it can take even the most experienced of drivers by surprise.

If you include breakdown cover it means someone to assist you and help you get back on the road safely can be just a phone call away.

What to do if you break down

It is vital for your safety and well being that you try to remain as calm as possible and follow recommended procedures.

If your car breaks down or develops a problem that prevents you from continuing your journey:

  • Try as far as possible to get off the road and to steer yourself into a safe position on the verge.

  • If this is not possible and the engine suddenly dies, switch on your hazard lights.

  • If you break down at night, also remember to switch on your sidelights.

  • If you have a mobile phone and a signal, call us or your breakdown cover provider immediately.

  • Do not ring 999 for police and other emergency services unless anyone has been injured, you believe that you are in danger or that your vehicle presents a hazard to other motorists.

  • If you have a reflective warning triangle stored in the boot, and you think it's safe for you to walk on the road, place it at least 45 metres (50 yards) behind your vehicle.

  • If you have to walk to a pay phone, take all passengers with you and lock all your doors leaving your hazard lights on. (Never leave children alone in the car).

  • When you make contact with your car breakdown services, try to give them clear instructions regarding your location, including any landmarks such as a church or roundabout to help them find you.

  • If you've been unfortunate enough to have broken down in the middle of the road, then you must get out of the car safely and quickly. Leave from the doors closest to the verge and wait in a safe place as far off the road as possible.

  • Don't forget to retrieve your warning triangle if you've used one, after the assistance from your breakdown cover services have got you back on the road.

What to do if you break down on a motorway

  • If you are approaching an exit, try to get off the motorway or pull into a service area. If that's not possible, steer your vehicle onto the hard shoulder, as close you can to the nearest emergency telephone (located approximately every mile along the hard shoulder).

  • Pull in as far as possible. Also turn your steering wheel hard left to avoid slipping back onto the carriageway.

  • Switch on your hazard lights but do not attempt DIY repairs, however simple, as this could put you and other passengers in danger.

  • It is safest to get out of your vehicle to await car recovery. If you have a reflective vest put it on and exit via the left-hand side door. Tell all passengers to stay well away from the carriageway and try to get everyone up the bank and ideally behind a barrier. Keep children under close supervision at all times.

  • Once you're in a safe place, use your mobile phone to call us or your car breakdown service provider.

  • If you don't have a mobile or can't get a signal, walk on your side of the carriageway to the nearest emergency phone. You'll find arrows on the posts at the back of the hard shoulder to direct you. Never attempt to cross the carriageway.

  • Free emergency telephones connect you direct to the police or Highways Agency. Tell them where you are and also advise them of your situation, particularly if you are a female or elderly motorist travelling alone.

For further information about car breakdown advice and Highway Code rules and regulations, visit the Directgov website.

Click to read more details of extending your Zurich car insurance policy to include breakdown cover.

All about excesses

How to make insurance excess work for you

At Zurich, we understand that motor policy excesses - what they mean and how they work - can be confusing, particular to new customers who are buying motor insurance policies for the first time.

What is a car insurance excess?

The 'excess' is the sum of money you are obliged to pay or have agreed to pay in the event that you have to make a claim on your motor insurance policy. E.g. if your car is repaired after an accident and your excess is £150, then you will have to pay the first £150 towards the costs of those repairs. If the repair bill is £1000, you will pay £150 and we, your insurer, will pay the remaining £850. The excess is a fixed amount of money that is your contribution to the claim.

Depending on your car and your age different types of car insurance excesses may apply. These include compulsory excess, young driver excess, vehicle excess, and voluntary Excess.

What is a compulsory excess?

A compulsory excess is the minimum excess payment we require from you in order to provide you with a motor insurance policy. Zurich has a £150 policy excess.

What is a young and inexperienced driver excess?

This is a compulsory excess for young drivers under the age of 25 or drivers over 25 who have held a full UK licence for less than one year.

What is a vehicle excess?

This is a compulsory excess that applies to specific vehicles. If you have a high-performance or luxury car you may be required to pay a further excess in addition to any compulsory or voluntary one.

What is a voluntary excess?

As its name suggests, a voluntary excess is an amount of money that you decide to contribute as the first part of any claim. This will be in addition to any compulsory excess.

Who should consider increasing car insurance excess?

Agreeing to pay a voluntary excess to your insurance provider can be a smart way to get an overall lower insurance premium for your motor policy cover. By offering to pay a voluntary excess, car insurance can be cheaper.

Car crash fraud

The latest advice on car crash fraud

It’s shocking to think that any motorist would risk injury to themselves and others by staging a car accident with the deliberate and criminal intent of claiming on their victim’s insurance. Yet this type of insurance scam, known as ‘car crash fraud’, has been a menace on UK roads for several years. Sadly, the numbers of incidents are on the increase.

These dangerous crashes and illegal car insurance fraud has resulted in injury and, in some instances, fatalities.

Car crash scam practices make victims of us all: According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), ‘induced accidents’ contribute to the insurance industry’s annual insurance fraud bill of some £1.9 billion a year, which adds around £44 to the average car insurance premium. (Source: ABI Nov 2011).

At Zurich, we are committed to informing our customers about all such risks to your driving safety and wellbeing, as well as providing you with information about what you can do to protect yourself from such crimes. We, along with other leading UK insurance companies, don’t think that customers should be paying for motor insurance fraud, which is the unfortunate reality until crime rates fall to significantly lower levels.

The insurance industry is fighting back. It has committed to a co-ordinated plan of action to stamp out organised insurance crime in the UK via the establishment of the Insurance Fraud Bureau (IFB), set up to share information on suspicious claims and work with the police to crack down on these crimes.

The facts about car insurance fraud

Insurance fraud is becoming increasingly complex. Induced motor accidents are an example of organised fraud, which is where an innocent motorist is forced to crash into the back of the fraudster’s vehicle (Source: ABI Nov 2011)

Picture the scene: you’re approaching traffic lights or are on a roundabout when the car in front of you slams on its brakes – sharply and without warning. The car in front has no brake lights so you’re not prepared and consequently slam into the back of them. It’s unavoidable. But is it really your fault? For victims of car crash scams, all is not as it seems.

The perpetrators of these scams often work in teams with passengers who corroborate their side of the story and conveniently placed ‘witnesses’. They then claim insurance from their victims both for damage to their vehicle and personal injury, such as whiplash, whether real or not.

What to do if you’re suspicious about an accident or have been a victim of car insurance fraud:

While it is practically impossible to avoid such situations other than to practice standard road safety, such as ensuring you maintain a safe distance from the car in front of you, there are recommended procedures to follow if you think you’ve been a victim.

As you normally would in the event of an accident, calmly exchange details with the other driver and call the police and emergency services immediately if anyone has been injured.

Try to retrace the event – were any of the passengers in the car in front turning round to look at you before the car braked?

Write down all the details, including descriptions of the driver and any other passengers in the other vehicle - their age, gender, clothing and any other detail that stands out.

Ask the driver of the car you’ve crashed into to write down their log of events.

Contact your insurance company and inform them it might be a fraudulent claim if you’re in serious doubt about the true cause of the accident.

Never take independent action: notify your insurance company, and they will investigate and liaise with the police, if necessary.

At Zurich, we take these matters very seriously and will make investigations on your behalf.

Four steps to the right car insurance policy

Getting the best car insurance for you

All UK motorists are legally required to insure their vehicles according to the terms of The Road Traffic Act. It is your minimum legal requirement to take out a motor insurance policy to cover the costs of repairs to other drivers' vehicles and medical costs in the event of personal injury.

This is called third party insurance. It covers the costs of the other driver in the event that an accident is your fault.

Once your basic liability to others is met, it's then your decision as to whether you want to take out additional cover against other risks for which you would also have to foot the bill if uninsured.

So ask yourself the question: at what point do you want your costs to end and the payment from your car insurance company to begin?

Step 1: How much cover

  • Do you drive long distances and rely on your car for getting to work?

  • Do you frequently drive in remote or rural areas?

  • Do you live in a place where crime rates are higher than average? If you don't know the answer to this question you can find out via the Home Office's crime statistics website here (There are a number of steps you can take to lessen the likelihood that your car will get stolen or damaged even if crime is relatively high in your area on the Vehicle Crime Reduction website here )

  • Are you planning to allow other people – your partner or family members under the age of 24 to drive your vehicle?

  • And when it comes to replacement value, is your car still in its prime or past its best?

Ask yourself these questions and make a decision about each of them to help decide the best car insurance quote for you. They all influence the kind of cover you will need and the cost of your policy.

Step 2: Which policy

Zurich offers a Comprehensive car insurance policy. You can consider the premium you are prepared to pay and amend this by altering your quote by increasing the voluntary excess, adding or removing NCD protection and considering the additional cover options we offer. Remember that the cheapest car insurance quotes are not always the best car insurance quotes for you.

Step 3: What additional services and support?

Insurance companies offer a whole range of added extras to their insurance cover, so you can create the best car insurance quote for you. They aren't always things that you want or need – and they all influence the final price of your policy. At Zurich to give our customers the best service at the most affordable price, our policy provides cover for claims made against you plus cover for damage to your vehicle (sustained in an accident, by malicious damage, fire, theft or attempted theft), and protection against uninsured drivers. You can choose to add additional cover if you want to.

Step 4: What about breakdowns?

As fees charged by independent garages for car breakdown and towing services can be notoriously hefty, it’s worth considering investing in additional breakdown cover to protect you and your vehicle as it is not usually included in the cheapest car insurance quotes. In the event that you break down far from home, or in a rural area, you’ll not only need emergency road-side repairs and support but also transport home if your car needs to be towed. If you don't already have membership of a breakdown and recovery scheme, you may want to add this on to your insurance policy.

Zurich offers a range of additional breakdown services provided by the RAC that you can add to your policy.

Winter driving tips

Be prepared for British weather with our winter driving tips

Driving in severe weather conditions, such as driving on ice can tax the most experienced of drivers. In the winter months, it is vital that all motorists follow tried and tested safety procedures to ensure their own safety and the well being of other motorists on the road.

The Met office issues advice and severe weather warnings and we recommend that motorists regularly check weather reports and updates, particularly if they are planning to drive long distances or to remote areas in poor weather conditions. Visit

In the event of a severe weather warning, it is wise to postpone travel by car if possible. If your journey is essential, you need to ensure that both you and your car are adequately prepared to cope with the road conditions ahead.

Driving safety tips

Whether you're on a motorway, dual carriageway, B-road, driving through a town centre or rural area, reducing your speed is the golden rule. Remember, that when driving on ice, or in snow or heavy rain, your stopping distance can be ten times longer. Therefore, it is vital that you ensure that all your manoeuvres, such as braking, steering and accelerating, are gentle and controlled.

As traffic movement will be slower, it is also wise to allow extra time to get to your destination, even if it is your usual commute to work or the school run.

Key tips:

  • Poor weather can also dramatically reduce visibility even in the daytime. Switch on your headlights so you can see and be seen.

  • But don't blind other drivers with your fog lights, only switch them on when visibility is very low.

  • Leave a bigger gap between you and the car in front of you to allow you more stopping time.

  • Accelerate slowly. Pulling away in second gear is a safe way to increase your amount of wheel traction.

  • Continue to drive in low gears to help maintain traction, especially on hills, and use gears to restrain speed on downhill sections rather than using your brakes.

Car maintenance

Essential car maintenance doesn't stop at the all-important MOT. It pays to book your car in for its service to check your engine and brakes are in tip-top condition well before the worst of the winter weather strikes. Also ensure that you: 

  • Regularly check the tyre pressure. 

  • Keep your oil and water topped up at all times. 

  • Keep the windscreen washer topped up with washer fluid and the wiper blades clean. 

  • Keep your car clean: all windows as well as the windscreen and headlights must be grime-free for maximum visibility. 

  • Get any chips on the windscreen repaired: what looks like a tiny chip could leave you with a shattered windscreen en route.

Essential In-car kit

It is not only wise to drive in warm, comfortable clothing - be aware that long coats can be cumbersome and restrict your driving - but store extra supplies, too. Pack a blanket, waterproofs, wellies or walking boots - in the event of a breakdown and you have to leave the car to seek assistance you'll be glad you were prepared. Similarly, you should also pack a hot drink in a secure thermos flask and a supply of food - especially important if you're travelling with children. 

Motorists who regularly drive long distances, on country roads or travel at night, should also invest in a reflective jacket and a reflective emergency triangle and keep them in the boot. 

You could also store some of the following in the boot of your vehicle: 

  • a torch 

  • a spare tyre 

  • snow chains 

  • a spade 

  • a bag of grit 

  • jump lead 

  • de-icers 

Stay tuned in

It's never been easier to obtain news updates when on the road. However, it is also advisable to plan your trip carefully and be prepared: If you're travelling somewhere for the first time, plan your route in advance. 

  • Take a road map as well as using sat nav. In the event you breakdown, this will help you identify junctions and landmarks, which will assist breakdown services in finding you quickly. 

  • Ensure that your mobile phone is fully charged before you set off. 

  • Also take a stash of change for pay phones just in case you find yourself in an area with no mobile phone signal. 

  • If you have purchased breakdown cover, add your membership number and 24 hour helpline into your phone contacts for speedy access. 

  • Also tune your car radio to a local station for regular weather and traffic updates. 

  • Always tell someone where you are heading and estimated time of arrival if you are driving long distances to rural areas.