Coronavirus: What to know about getting a reduced car insurance rate

If you’re driving less as the novel coronavirus pandemic drags on, you may be able to secure a reduced car insurance rate.

As Canadians were ordered to stay home to curb the spread of the virus, the Insurance Bureau of Canada announced in early April that its member companies would offer discounted car insurance premiums.

“Insurers understand that many drivers are no longer commuting or using their vehicle as regularly, which could result in savings,” Don Forgeron, the association’s president, said in a statement.

The key word there is “could.” It’s important to note the types of discounts and rebates and who’s eligible for them vary across companies.

Here’s what you need to know.

Who’s offering car insurance relief during the pandemic?

A few online resources have compiled lists of car insurance companies offering COVID-19 relief and the details of those measures — including Canadian Underwriter, a magazine covering Canada’s insurance industry, and InsuranceHotline.com, an independent group that helps consumers compare insurance rates.

A number of major companies are on those lists, including AllState Canada, Aviva Canada, CAA Insurance, Desjardins General Insurance, Gore Mutual Insurance, Intact Insurance and TD Insurance.

How much can I save?

The relief being offered isn’t uniform across companies. The criteria for the discounts, the amounts and the dates to which they apply depend very much on the company.

As things stand now, Anne Marie Thomas of InsuranceHotline.com said she would classify companies’ approaches in three groups: those who aren’t offering any relief; those leaving it up to the consumer to contact them to obtain a discount; and those who are “proactively” giving blanket reductions to all their policy holders, regardless of whether their driving less or not.

Major companies who fall into that third category include AllState Canada and Gore Mutual Insurance.

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AllState Canada has said that anyone holding an auto insurance policy with them as of April 8 will receive a payment in May equal to approximately 25 per cent of their monthly premium. The payment will be sent automatically to eligible policy holders, according to the company.

Gore Mutual Insurance is also automatically giving registered policy holders as of April 8 a “one-time refund” amounting to 20 per cent of three-months worth of premiums.

Meanwhile, other companies — like Aviva Canada — are requiring their policy holders to contact them and report a change in driving habits in order to get a reduced premium, which can range depending on use of the vehicle.

In addition to discounts, some insurance companies are also offering flexible payment options to customers who are struggling financially amid the pandemic and might be late with a payment or in a position where they have to miss it altogether.

On April 8, the Insurance Bureau of Canada said its members are also waiving the fees they would typically charge when customers have insufficient funds to cover their premium.

Thomas said people who have stopped driving altogether amid the pandemic do also have the option to remove their coverage altogether, but she urged caution to policy holders who chose to go down that road.

“If you remove the coverage, you have to pretend that that car doesn’t even exist in your driveway,” Thomas said. “Not even in an emergency situation should you take that car out because you have no insurance coverage.”

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And when the time comes to use the car again: tell your insurance company right away, the Toronto-based insurance expert emphasized.

“You could find yourself in a much messier state if you get caught driving without insurance,” she said.

Why aren’t auto insurers offering the same rebates?

For starters, auto insurance systems vary by province: some have public auto insurance programs, including British Columbia and Manitoba, and others have private systems.

While private auto insurers are regulated by government, they haven’t been mandated to provide a certain level of relief during the pandemic, Thomas said.

Take Ontario, for example.

In mid-April, the provincial government announced a regulatory change that allows auto insurance companies to provide premium rebates to consumers for up to 12 months after the COVID-19 emergency has ended — but the province didn’t dictate what percentage of rebate companies had to provide.

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Instead, the province’s finance minister said the premium rebates need to be “commensurate with the scale of duress that Ontario families are under” and that he would be watching companies’ responses.

“By virtue of the fact that there is no, or has been no regulatory requirements or directives, each of the companies is approaching this in their own way, with regard to their own options that they feel they can or want to provide,” said Derek Faulconer, president of CRE Insurance Services Inc., based in Ontario.

And even though many companies have come to a national “understanding” about offering some financial relief via the Insurance Bureau of Canada, insurers with operations across the country still have to contend with the different jurisdictions and approvals by provincial regulators, Faulconer said.

“It’s still fluid,” he said.

Insurance broker urges patience

While he said his firm hasn’t received any complaints from clients related to relief measures, Faulconer still urged policy holders to have some patience as insurance brokers and companies figure out who’s offering what relief and how.

“While there’s no uniform approach with all these companies, they’re all over it. They’re on it and it’s in process,” he said, adding he’s getting emails daily from companies.

“It’s just it’s it’s going to be a matter of time. When you think about it, they have tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of insureds that they have to process and get done. And so it’s going to take a few weeks for this to roll out.”

With many customers stuck at home, Thomas suggested drivers could take the time to “shop around” for a different plan.

“It’s always a good time to check for a better insurance rate if you move, if you get married and this is one of those funny life instances,” she said.

“Just check and see, can you get a better rate somewhere else?”

— With files from Global News’ Erica Alini and The Canadian Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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