Motorists could be spending more than $800 too much on car insurance each year, Consumer NZ has found.

The independent watchdog compared the monthly premiums charged by 13 major insurers, as well as the excess fee on a claim. The results showed shopping around could save drivers at least $200 a year. For young women it could be as much as $840 a year.

And although a more expensive monthly premium once meant a lower excess fee, the study revealed this was no longer the case.

Researchers found the best deal for a 22-year-old woman with a $6700 Subaru Impreza was the Co-operative Bank's third party, fire and theft insurance ($18 a month).


The Co-operative Bank also came out on top for comprehensive cover ($70 a month).

Middle-aged and older drivers were also likely to be paying hundreds more than they needed to. Consumer NZ found that AA insurance was the cheapest for both a couple in their 30s and an elderly couple. Westpac offered the lowest monthly premium for a 50-year-old man and for a family of four drivers.

Quotes vary depending on the value and model of the car and where the owner is based. Discounts are given for secure garaging, an alarm and a good driver history.

Insurance and Savings Ombudsman Karen Stevens said many people were paying too much because they did not get the value of their car adjusted each year - so they could be paying premiums for a $10,000 car when the market value had dropped. Unless it was insured for an agreed value, the insurer would take depreciation into account.

People who forgot to notify their insurer of any traffic or driving offences might also find themselves out of pocket when making a claim. "They don't want to know about parking tickets, but they want to know about everything else," she said. "If you don't tell them they can treat the policy like it never existed."

Another common mistake was not updating the company on modifications to cars. The addition of a stereo could be enough to make the policy null and void, because the insurer could argue it would not have offered insurance on the same terms if it had known about the change.

Interestingly, restricted drivers who crash when they are breaching their licence conditions do not necessarily forfeit their insurance cover. Section 11 of the Insurance Law Reform Act states that if you can prove the breach of licence conditions did not contribute to the accident, the insurer will have to pay the claim.

Stevens could recall a case where an insurance company was forced to pay out for a restricted driver, driving late at night, because poor road work signs were found to be the cause of the accident.


Points to watch
* Get at least three quotes.
*Read the fine print and check that the policy gives you the cover you want.
*Get windscreen cover.
*Ask for a discount for paying the premium annually rather than monthly (10 per cent is standard).
*Consider whether getting an alarm could save you money.

Honda Jazz No1 on motoring's top of the pops

The jury is back on Consumer NZ's best and worst car of the year. The Honda Jazz gained top marks in the small-car category, with the safety features and spaciousness impressing the judges. The 2012 model also rated well on the New Zealand Transport Agency's online database, with five stars for safety and four-and-a-half stars for fuel efficiency. The NZTA estimates fuel costs of $1950 a year, based on driving 14,000km.

Urgent Couriers driver Chris Michaels, 48, has been zipping around Auckland in a Honda Jazz for 18 months and describes it as an "overall great car". Parking in tight spaces was a breeze, but it was roomy enough for luggage and passengers. "I'm racing around the city all day and it's smooth and good to handle."

Mazda 2, Suzuki Swift and Daihatsu Sirion were also recommended, as were - in the mid-size category - the Mazda 3, Ford Focus and Honda Civic Euro. For SUVs it was Mazda CX5 and Hyundai Sante Fe at the top.

Red flags were put over the Mini Cooper, VW Golf and Polo, Peugeot 308 and Holden Cruze. Poor reliability was a common issue.

- Herald on Sunday