About to test drive a car?
If you want to test drive a car, whether new or second-hand, on a public highway, it is essential that you are insured to do so, since failing to make sure of this could have disastrous consequences.
You may have course already have a clause on an existing policy stating that you are covered to drive any vehicle that is not belonging to you or hired to you (or words to that effect). This clause does however sometimes have conditions attached to it and you should make sure that you do not breach any of these. In addition cover is almost inevitably limited to 3rd party risks only, so if you damage the vehicle whilst you are driving it you may be personally liable for putting this right yourself.
Your legal obligations
It is important to remember that the onus is on you to make sure that you do not drive whilst uninsured, even if inadvertently, so it is very important that you make sure that you are within the law. How to go about this depends on just who you are buying the vehicle from.
Buying from a dealer
The dealer you buy from may be part of a huge national chain, or it may be a one-man band buying and selling one or two cars at a time. There is a world of difference between them.
A well established dealership should have an insurance policy in place which covers any test driver driving any of their cars. In this case it is normal for you to have trade plates fitted to the car temporarily. Just what level of cover their policy provides, for example in terms of excesses in the event of an accident, may vary from one dealer to another but you must at least have the minimum cover required by law, which is indemnity against third party risks.
A small dealer may or may not have adequate insurance cover. If you are told that everything is in order, and it proved not to be the case and you end up being prosecuted for driving without insurance, the fact that you truly believed that you were insured would not be an adequate defence and you would almost certainly still be convicted, although there may be some mitigation in the penalty you would face. From the insurance point of view you would still have to inform future insurers of that conviction for about five years, in the sure and certain knowledge that this would mean greatly increased premiums.
How to protect yourself
Taking out your own short-term car insurance policy could remove many of the risks that you could run. You would know that you were driving legally, and that in the event of an accident which was your fault the insurance company should pick up any associated costs, less any policy excess.
What happens after you have bought the car?
Once the car becomes your property it is no longer covered by an 'any vehicle not belonging to you' type clause and you must be insured to drive it under another policy from that point onwards.
Many main dealers also sell car insurance. They may offer to arrange a policy for you but you might well get this much cheaper if you have time to shop around and compare prices. A short-term policy should allow you enough time to get the car home and arrange a long-term policy, and this might save you a great deal of money overall.