Insurers have moved to cover methamphetamine contamination of stolen cars, amid a rise in meth-related claims.

IAG, New Zealand's largest insurer whose brands include AMI, State Insurance, NZI and Lumley, changed its policy last year to cover such contamination.

"The growing issue of methamphetamine and its associated problems have been ongoing for quite some time now," said an IAG spokeswoman. "It's important we provide options so customers can ensure they have the right amount of cover should they suffer sudden accidental damage due to meth."

The insurer had 15 meth-related vehicle claims last year - around 0.00005 per cent of all claims.

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It only provides cover for sudden, accidental damage - for example, when a car is stolen.
"We do not provide cover for the insured or anyone they lend the vehicle to when smoking meth in their car."

Michael Burke, executive manager motor claims at Vero - New Zealand's second largest general insurer - said claims for meth in cars were rare, but the cleanup costs could sometimes be so high that a contaminated car had to be written off.

"As with any other damage, the vehicle owner would need to be able to prove that they could not have known about or predicted the damage and that it wasn't caused by them or someone else covered by the policy."

Amelia Macandrew, customer relations manager at AA Insurance, said it also covered its customers if they had a car stolen and needed damage rectified - including meth contamination.

"We use the same standards as those outlined by the Government."

Last year the Government launched a new standard for dealing with meth contamination in houses, but there is no official level for cars.

The level for high-use areas, such as bedrooms, living areas, kitchens, bathrooms, laundries and shed/garages is 1.5 micrograms per 100 cm2 (1.5 micrograms of methamphetamine per 100 square centimetres of surfaces sampled).

AA Insurance said it had received a handful of claims for meth contamination of stolen cars in the past year, similar to the number it received the previous year.

"As this type of contamination doesn't occur frequently, it doesn't need to increase premiums."

Macandrew said testing a car for meth contamination cost around $200, with decontamination typically from around $600.

"Extensive meth contamination that cannot be safety decontaminated, such as that caused if a vehicle has been used to carry chemicals, may result in the destruction of the vehicle as we won't risk the health of our customers."

Terry Jordan, operations manager at the Insurance Council, said he didn't think meth contamination of cars was a huge issue for insurers, but was potentially a growing concern.

Insurers are having to write off some stolen cars due to meth contamination. Photo / 123RF
Insurers are having to write off some stolen cars due to meth contamination. Photo / 123RF

"A lot of things stolen are stolen for drug purposes," he said.

Jordan, who was part of the committee which set the standard for meth contamination, said that standard had focused on property, not vehicles.

He said some insurers may have faced big claims from truck and trailer accidents where the driver was smoking meth to help them stay awake, and had an accident.

"It is not something that comes up all the time."

Jordan said insurers would not automatically test every recovered stolen car and would make a call on a case-by-case basis.

He doubted that people smoking "P" in a car would create very high levels of residue. "You are not going to die or run off the road."

The side effects of meth contamination are primarily linked to respiratory problems and skin rashes. But Jordan said fairly highly concentrations were needed to cause such problems.

He said the science was still out on what was a safe level to be exposed to, and tobacco or some cleaning products could be just as bad or worse.

"There is a paranoia about meth. Many of us grew up in houses that had parents who smoked inside."

Not all insurers have moved to cover car contamination.

A spokesman for Tower said its policies did not include meth decontamination cover for vehicles.

The spokesman said it had only received one such claim. "The vehicle returned very low results and decontamination was not required."

"We do not see signs of a growing problem."

But Debbie Goodsell, who runs Independent Drug Screening - a nationwide drug-testing service - believes it is a growing issue.

Her company meth tests houses and other assets including cars, baches, caravans and motorhomes. She began testing cars around two-and-a-half years ago.

Goodsell said it was hard to say if there had been an increase in meth in cars because there wasn't any research on the issue, but the business had experienced an increase in people contacting it for testing.

The company is brought in by businesses to drug test staff, and if the results are positive, it can then be asked to test company vehicles used by the worker. It was also working with a lot of leasing companies to test their vehicles.

Goodsell said the most expensive car she had seen written off was a three-month-old Mercedes-Benz which had been stolen.

It was written off by the insurer because the soft furnishings were too expensive to replace.

She said meth contamination in cars came both from people smoking it and "hot-boxing", or making P in their car.

Most commonly, they found it in stolen and recovered cars. She urged people buying second-hand cars to get them tested.

But Greg Hedgepeth, chief executive officer at Turners Group, said it seldom encountered meth in cars, with only a handful of vehicles affected over the past couple of years.

"It is primarily in relation to stolen and recovered vehicles through our damaged vehicle division. Those vehicles are documented accordingly and passed on to specific vehicle dismantlers for their mechanical parts."

A Police spokeswoman said it did not collect data on how many stolen cars had been contaminated with meth.