DRIVERS are being warned they could be left high and dry by insurance companies if they invalidate their cover by carrying out minor modifications to their cars.
Even fitting a towbar or roof rack could mean losing cover if they don't inform their insurance company, it is claimed.
In response to queries from Independent Motors following a major UK report, the Consumers Association of Ireland (CAI) is urging people to:
* Err on the side of caution and tell their insurance company of all and any changes - no matter how small or apparently irrelevant
* Inform their insurance company by letter or email and
* Make sure to keep a copy of correspondence in case there is a dispute.
The association's deputy chairman Michael Kilcoyne says: "You could have a car for two or three years and be paying a premium and all of a sudden you have a claim.
He adds: "But you could be told that it is invalid when the car is assessed because you didn't tell them of a minor change."
He warned that a real 'nightmare' could arise in a situation where damage to someone else's car is involved.
"The insurance company could say a modification made the insurance invalid. So you have technically been driving without insurance and could even face prosecution."
He says that his warning is directed at all drivers but especially at those younger ones who often like to spruce up their motors with bits of body kit or rear spoilers.
These are elements that come under the umbrella of alterations and could invalidate a driver's cover.
Mr Kilcoyne is also calling on insurance companies to highlight the implications of modification on their renewal notices. "And they should have to clearly specify what are deemed to be modifications so that people know exactly what they are dealing with."
The issue came to the fore this week when insurance company Gocompare warned of how easy it could be to invalidate cover.
That company's spokesperson Matt Oliver explained that insurers don't just class body kits, exhaust systems or suspension changes as modifications.
He went so far as to say that "changing a vehicle from its factory specification, opting for alloy wheels, a satellite navigation system or leather upholstery", could catch people out - even though that would seem to be extreme.
"But it's because, when they the calculate the cost of car insurance, companies take many factors into account.
"Any add-ons or modifications to your car - even aesthetic changes such as specialist paintwork or decals - will affect the cost of replacing your vehicle should it be damaged or stolen," he said.
He added: "Different insurers have different views on what constitutes a modification.
"So it's always wise to tell your insurer of changes or additions you make to your vehicle at the time of making them.
"Otherwise you could find yourself in the situation of having a claim rejected and possibly your car insurance declared void.
"And that could affect your ability to be insured full stop, and not only for car insurance.
"Shop around and look for the best deal that suits you and your car, stickers, alloys, spoilers and all, and if in doubt over any modification speak to your insurance provider."
Mr Kilcoyne added that the extra premium or charge for modification should be extremely small and well worth it to protect cover.