Insuring a three-wheeler

Find out about insuring and riding motorised tricycles, including information on judging whether your three-wheeler is a car or a motorbike, licence laws, MOT and tax details.

Key points

  • Find out whether you need motorbike insurance or car insurance, then enter the appropriate quote journey
  • If you struggle to find the right quote online, think about going direct to a specialist broker or insurer

Three-wheelers have been part of automotive history since Leonardo Da Vinci drew plans for a three-wheeled clockwork-propelled car in 1478.

Both the earliest incarnations of steam and petrol vehicles several hundreds of years later were also three-wheelers, and many of the most striking concept cars revealed at automotive shows each year continue to be based on three wheels.

Yet despite their impressive heritage, the laws, licence restrictions and classifications governing three-wheelers remain some of the most confusing in the UK, and it may be difficult to decide whether you need motorbike insurance or car insurance.

Types of three-wheeler

What makes the laws all the more confusing is that three-wheelers vary hugely, with many being custom-built by enthusiasts. Despite such diversity there are, technically, just two main types:Jump leads

  • Delta - two wheels at the back and one at the front
  • Tadpole - one wheel at the back and two at the front

Such broad classifications are not necessarily of the greatest use when it comes to insuring your vehicle, though, and it's probably more useful to identify three-wheelers by the way that they're driven (or ridden).

Car-derived three-wheelers

Complete with a steering wheel and, in most cases, manual gearshift transmission, to look at and drive these bear more likeness to a car than a bike.

Good examples are the Morgan Three-Wheeler, the Grinnall Scorpion or, perhaps most famously, the Reliant Robin.

Bike-derived three-wheelers

Handle-bar operated, these bear more resemblance to a motorcycle and their handling is closer to that of a bike. These are often extensions of existing motorbike models such as the Harley Davidson Sportster, using the rear chassis of a car such as the VW Beetle.

If it has a closed chassis and a steering wheel it's considered a car and will require specialist car insurance

Just to add to the confusion, many bike-derived trikes use car engines and many car-derived trikes use motorbike engines.

Is it a bike or a car?

Bike-derived or car-derived, the legal answer is simple: they're all motorised tricycles.

However, the laws regarding driving licences, MOT classification, tax class, helmet use and insurance categorisation aren't quite so clear…

Insurance for motorised tricycles

Due to their nature, all three-wheelers will require specialist insurance. Each policy provider has their own set of rules and categories, and their classification differs from that given by the DVLA and the law…

As a rule of thumb, if a three-wheeler has an open chassis and handlebars, it's considered a trike and would require trike insurance.Wallet

If it has a closed chassis and a steering wheel it's considered a car and will require specialist car insurance (often similar to a kit car policy). This is why the Reliant Robin has always been insured as a car.

Key questions insurers will ask concern the vehicle's value, its engine size and whether it's a delta or tadpole construction.

In the case of custom-built three-wheelers, many insurers will request photographic evidence at the inception of the policy.

As with all insurance policies, ensure you understand the levels of cover and have explained every aspect of your unique vehicle.

The fact that your vehicle is more unusual is likely to restrict your choice of policies, and some insurance providers may struggle to meet your needs online.

We hope you try's quick and easy insurance comparison service - use the information in this article to judge whether you think you need to try a quote for a car or for a motorbike.

If the unique nature of your vehicle means that we can't supply a quote, though, you may have to speak directly to a specialist insurer or broker.

Licence laws: Who can drive a three-wheeler?

If you obtained a full car licence (Category B1) or full motorbike licence (Category A) between October, 2000, and 19 January, 2013, you can ride or drive a three-wheeler with any engine size. Before October 2000 trike riders had to hold to a car licence.

Any performance-enhancing modifications can make a difference to insurance and as such would need to be disclosed, but in the majority of cases trikes are one-offs
Tom Clay, Bikesure

If your licence is for cars it must state category B1. A car licence which was obtained in an automatic car will only be valid with a three-wheeler that has automatic transmission.

If your licence (obtained between October 2000 and 19 January, 2013) is for motorcycles it must state category A.

If it's restricted (Category A1) then you can only ride a trike with an engine size up to 125cc or a power output of up to 11kW.

If you obtained a licence after 19 January, 2013, then - regardless of shape, size or how it's operated - to ride a three-wheeled vehicle you'll need a motorcycle licence.

Like all motorbike licences, the laws are based on age, experience, Compulsory Basic Training (CBT) and theory and practical tests.

As many three-wheelers are over 125cc and have a power output of over 15kW, the motorcycle licence needed to ride or drive many tricycles is the full category A.Beginners' guide to motorbike insurance

The youngest you can be to obtain this is 21, and you'll also need two years of riding experience.

Possible law changes

The licence law change upset all factions of the three-wheeler community and, in August 2013, the government responded with a consultation.

The feedback was positive and, according to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, ministers agreed that full car licence holders aged over 21 should be allowed to operate three-wheelers of any shape, size or power. Law changes could be forthcoming in 2014.

MOT and tax laws

The key question the DVLA will ask when establishing classification of a three-wheeled vehicle is its weight.

The sky really is the limit when it comes to building a trike as there are no engine size restrictions. We have seen trikes with 5.7-litre donor engines from Porsches to the more commonly adapted VW Beetles or Reliant Robins
Tom Clay, Bikesure

If its unladen weight is under 450kg it will be examined under MOT Class 3, which is the same level of inspection that motorcycles are tested under.

If its unladen weight is more than 450kg it will be examined under MOT Class 4, which is the same class as cars and all goods vehicles that weight under 3,000kg.

The weight will also establish the tax rate. For tricycles under 450kg there are two tax brackets, under 150cc and over 150cc.

For tricycles over 450kg and registered before March 2001, the tax rate is recognised as a Private Light Goods (PLG) class and categorised in two brackets: under 1549cc and over 1549cc.

If it was registered after March 2001 it will undergo an emissions test and be rated accordingly.

Helmets and seatbelts

Neither bike-derived nor car-derived three-wheelers require the legal use of a helmet.

However it's recommended that one is worn while riding a bike-derived trike where there is less chassis to protect you.

There are also numerous laws regarding seatbelts and types of tricycle, although it's largely accepted now that all three-wheelers should be fitted with them.

The confusing nature of these safety laws and regulations does have an impact on insurance premiums.

Both helmet and seatbelt use will help to ensure a better relationship with your cover provider.

By Dave Jenkins