Travel blog by a global nomad

23 Jan

So you want to move overseas – Part 6: Car insurance

Women say trying on bathing suits is the most soul destroying thing one can do when buying an item. By the time you find a bathing suit which flatters your figure, the joy of the upcoming trip to the beach or pool has been destroyed by hours of gazing at unwanted bits of flesh poking out unprettily from strips of material which barely cover an ants bottom let alone your own. Normally, I would agree – but I think that is only because we so rarely shop around for car insurance!

Now, I jump banks like crazy. I hate banks. If another bank wants to offer me more interest and less fees on my savings, I am on their doorstep the next morning! Car insurance… We should shop around, but although there are only a finite amount of banks (usually) in any country, there may be lots of car insurance dealers, and they all have a different deal, and its all based on statistics – your age, your weight, your favourite colour, your preference for hiking in fields or forests…. Anything but your driving history anyway!

As far as I know, I have only shopped for car insurance 3 times in my life – including at present. This is because I have by and large, gone out of my way to not live in places which require me to own a car – or find jobs where a car is provided for me! You could say I am doing my bit for the environment, but between you and me, if the cost of a taxi once a week means I can spend/invest my money on something that isn’t constantly depreciating and drinking a rather expensive liquid (as a car does), then thats the option I choose!

So in all my life, I’ve only ever owned 3 cars and gloomily reflecting that with a move to Canada, I now need to get my 4th ever car. But despite my desire to have valid drivers licenses, I have not owned a car for 10 years now (and that one I only had for 5 months) and last bought a new car 17 years ago! So the sum of my car history: two 2nd hand cars and 1 new car.

So after buying my one and only new car, I swore I’d never buy a new car again! I hated – really HATED the fact it depreciated by about 30% the moment my front tyre exited the car dealers’ lot… I think that’s the moment I learnt the difference between ‘asset’ and ‘liability’ – and its a pretty safe bet, the vast majority of new cars are not assets! Sure, they can be used sold and some money got back – but never as much as you paid for it. Far better to buy a 2nd hand car that was only a year or two old and wasn’t going to depreciate so rapidly!

But. I have a good job – I can afford to get a new car. I seriously toyed with the idea but… I haven’t owned a car in 10 years, 12 years realistically. Well, you know what a car insurance person is going to think: “Female, no car insurance for 12 years – only one conclusion: they must have been in several accidents and no car insurance company will go near them! Well, neither shall I!”

But for a brief period 4 years ago, I actually flirted with buying back my one and only new car (I sold it to a friend who was willing to sell it back to me when the time came – I knew its history – it was a good car!). I went down to the British Columbia car insurance agency (Only one in the province of British Columbia – ICBC), and was informed that comprehensive insurance would cost me $2,500/yr. I winced. I was only buying the car for $1,500… It was politely pointed out to me that I hadn’t owned a car in (what was it then…) a long time and I would be charged at the top rate until I had done some accident-free years. Eventually we got it down to $1,800/yr for 3rd party, fire and theft insurance, and I walked, informing my friend that alas, it wasn’t worth my while to buy the car.

Prior to that, when I first moved to the US, I had a hard time as well, quickly learning I had to get a local drivers license (the beginning of the end of my Australian drivers license at the time) but I was going to get absolutely hammered – but only for the first 6 months. Ironically, calling around, many also refused to insure me initially until I ‘had a driving history,’ but one nice agent from State Farm Insurance let it slip that once I had 6 months history, they would consider me. So I eventually found an Insurance company that charged me a months salary (I was only a student) for 6 months coverage. I took it, and then when they invited me to renew my policy – at the same eye watering rate 6 months later, I went to State Farm and got insured for half the price…. And State Farm even kept me on their records so when I returned after a 3 years absence, I was able to get insurance without being dinged for ‘bad/no driving history.’ (I’ll admit, they might have lost my records by now!).

So knowing now that I am going to be treated like a statistical bad force of nature means I slowly dismantled the dreams of buying a new car, or even (better yet) a 1 or 2 year old car. There was no point – the more the car was worth, the more I was going to be crying myself to sleep as half my wages drained into some car insurance companies pockets (oh to be like Russia where you can have a 20 year old Lada or a brand new Ferrari, and you will be charged a flat 500 roubles…).

With that decision made, I started trolling the papers and identifying the types of (old) cars I might buy. After identifying a few, I decided to call a car insurance agency to test the waters…

“Hello. I’ve just moved to Canada and want to buy a car and am trying to work out how I get insurance to drive the car away from the person I buy it from…”
“Do you know what make of car it is?”
“No… But surely you can give me an idea of what I am going to be looking at if I tell you it is (blah blah blah)?”
“Ummm. Not really. I can’t give you a quote until I know the serial number, make, model etc of the car.”
“Ah.” I pause. “So if I buy a car from someone on, say, Saturday, I am going to have ask them to leave the car in their yard until at least monday until I call around and get some quotes?”
“Well, yes. We can’t insure you without knowing what the car is.”
“Do you have a Newfoundland drivers license?” the insurance agent begins.
“Not yet, I reply, but I will be getting it before I buy a car.”
“We’ll also need a copy of your driving history.”
“Ah. Bit of a problem, I have tried to find out how to get the British drivers history and can’t find an application on the web.”
“You don’t have a driving history in Canada?”
(Rolling eyes – which part of “Ive just moved to Canada, coupled with profoundly unCanadian accent did he not get). “I don’t have a ‘driving history’ in Canada. Will you accept an international drivers history?”
“Er… I’ve never had to deal with someone who has moved here internationally. I’m not sure if we can accept an international drivers record.”
“If I can get an International drivers history – which will show I’m an exemplary driver with no speeding tickets, accidents, suspensions etc, do you think it will mean you will give me more generous (ie lower) rates?”
“Only if you can provide proof you’ve been insured for the last 2 years.”
“Insured for the last 2 years???? I’ve been driving company vehicles, I can’t provide provide proof of insuring a personal vehicle!”
“Well, surely you were listed on the companies insurance policy?”
“Nope. Never been listed on a companies insurance policy (or if I was, never told, but I suspect I wasn’t!). Look, how about I get letters from these companies declaring I had no accidents while I was driving their vehicles?”
“No. We have to have proof that YOU were insured for the last 2 years.”
“Right then. So to summarise, if I can produce my international drivers history, you may insure me, but at a higher rate?”
“Uh, no, I don’t think we can insure you without proof of you being insured in the last 2 years.”
“OK. So. I can produce a driving record which shows in the last 10 years I have committed absolutely no road sin on the planet from a country with similar driving laws to yours, I can prove that in the last 20 years, I’ve never been in or caused a serious car accident, I can produce a Newfoundland drivers license, but because I cannot produce proof I was insured to drive a car for the last 2 years you don’t think you can insure me?
“I don’t think we can. We really need that proof of insurance to insure you.”
“Can’t you just insure me at a higher rate?”
“No. No, I really don’t think we can. We really need a Canadian driving history and proof of insurance for the last 2 years”
“So you will insure a 17 year old boy who has just got his license and has no driving history, no proven driving record but you won’t insure me with a proven good international driving record, even at a higher rate, because I can’t provide proof of insurance for the last two years?”
“Yes, that what it looks like.”

I had to hang up. What kind of logic is that???

This story is to be continued – I haven’t the heart to continue calling insurance agents at the moment after that, and shall probably resume the search in a couple of weeks time when (a) I’ve been paid, (b) I have theoretically been given my SIN (so a dealer can at least run a credit check before refusing me financing if I can’t find anything in my price range), (c) I have my Newfoundland drivers license. Luckily I am driving a company truck right now which I have use of until it lease expires at the end of February, so have some breathing space.

FOLLOW UP (3 weeks later): Actually… It turned out to be pretty painless. Called up another insurance agent, they took down my details, quoted me a nasty figure- but one $2000 lower than my worst case estimate and not a whole lot more than the one given for buying a 12 year old Ford Escort in BC… I should have called around more, and I probably will in a years time just to be sure when I start to be eligible for discounts, I am getting the best deal. But for now, this was so painless compared to just about every other past experience with insurance agencies, I just took it.

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