Car insurance excess explained

A high voluntary and compulsory car insurance excess could make your car insurance cheaper, but it’ll increase your costs when you make a claim.

Amanda Bathory-Griffiths

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What’s a car insurance excess?

If you need to make a claim on your car insurance, the excess is the amount you agree to pay towards the claim. It’s made up of two parts - compulsory and voluntary.

You only pay the excess for your losses and when you’re at fault. For example, if you’re responsible for an accident and damage your car. But there are exceptions.

Key points

  • The excess is the amount you have to pay when you make a claim on your car insurance. It’ll be refunded if you’re found to not be at fault
  • Generally, you only pay an excess for your damages and when it’s your fault
  • You usually pay the excess upfront to get a claim started – so make sure you can afford it
  • You can take out excess protection insurance to cover the cost

What’s the difference between compulsory excess and voluntary excess?

The compulsory excess is set by the insurer. It’s based on the make, model, age and condition of your car.

You choose your voluntary excess when you take out a policy - it's the amount you agree to pay on top of the compulsory excess.

You don’t have to add a voluntary excess, but it usually lowers your premiums if you do. The higher your excess is, the bigger the discount.

You’ll have to pay both to make a claim.

“Make sure you can afford the excess you choose - assume you’ll have to pay the excess straightaway, even if you’re not at fault”
Matt Oliver, GoCompare’s car insurance expert

When do you have to pay the excess?

You’ll pay your total excess (compulsory, plus any voluntary) for:

  • Fire damage
  • Theft
  • At-fault accident claims
  • Write-offs

Insurers usually ask you to pay the excess immediately to start a claim. The investigation process - which reviews what happened and who was at fault - comes next.

Sometimes your excess is deducted from the total repair bill instead, so you pay it at the end of the claims process. It depends on your insurer, the circumstances of your claim, and the policy.

If the cost of repairs is less than your excess, you can’t claim on your car insurance.

Paying the excess when it’s not your fault

If the other driver has admitted fault and has already told their insurer, your excess might be waived. But usually you’ll have to pay it – so make sure you can afford it.

When your insurer is certain you’re not at fault, you’ll get it back.

If the other driver isn’t insured

If you’re in an accident with an uninsured driver, some insurers will protect your no claims discount, waive your excess, or both.

The same applies if the driver leaves the scene and can’t be identified.

When you won’t pay an excess

You won’t have to pay your excess when someone else claims against you.

If you’ve got third party only (TPO) insurance, you won’t have to pay an excess either. That’s because your losses aren’t covered and, when someone claims against you, your insurer covers it.

If you’re found not to be your fault, your insurer claims the excess back from the at-fault party’s insurer, along with other costs.

Assume you’ll have to pay your excess first to get your claim started.

Types of additional excess

Depending on the type of claim you might have to pay a different or additional excess.

We checked 363 comprehensive policies on Defaqto to find out what excess you would pay in different situations.[1]

If you’re under 21

If you’re under 21, sometimes you’ll have to pay an additional excess on top of the compulsory and voluntary payments.

A third of policies made drivers under 21 pay an additional accidental damage excess ranging from £350 to £499.

Make sure you check for any additional excess before you take out a policy.

Windscreen repair

91% of policies charged an excess for windscreen replacement and it was between £75 and £89 on on half of them. 

If your windscreen can be repaired instead, it’s better news - 55% of policies had no excess for a repair.

Non-approved repairers

When your car is damaged, call the insurer first.

If an unapproved garage or mechanic repairs your car, your insurer might ask you to pay an additional excess.

Although most of the policies we checked didn’t charge an additional excess for using a non-approved repairer, two of them doubled the excess.

If your insurer wants you to use an approved repairer, it’ll be written in your policy documents, so check first.

High-excess policies

If you’re a young, inexperienced driver, or if you’ve got driving convictions, it’s difficult to find affordable cover.

You can get lower premiums if you agree to pay a huge excess, but sometimes it’s several thousand pounds.

Unlike standard car insurance, some high-excess policies will require you to pay it even for third party claims. It can be more than the cost of repairs.

It reduces costs for the insurer if you’re in an accident.

Always read the terms and conditions - if the cost of a policy seems too good to be true, it probably is.

What if I can’t afford to pay the excess?

If you can’t afford to pay the excess your insurer might offer you a payment plan, but they could refuse to process your claim.

Always check what excess you’re committing to pay when you take out your policy.

Keep it affordable - don’t put your voluntary excess up too high.

Excess protection insurance

Excess protection insurance covers the cost of your excess, up to a limit you choose, when you buy the policy. You pay your excess first, and when your claim is settled, your excess protection policy refunds you.

You can buy it as a standalone policy or as a paid-for extra from some insurers.

Even though you’ll get some, or all, of your excess back, you might still lose your no-claims bonus and your car insurance premiums will probably go up when you renew.

When you buy car insurance with us, we’ll give you £250 free excess cover[2], so if you ever need to claim, you won’t be left out of pocket.

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[1]Last checked 27 August 2019

[2]Up to £250 refunded after claim settled. Car insurance purchases only. Excludes breakdown, windscreen and glass repair/replacement. Full T&Cs apply

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