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What is scratch and dent insurance, and do you need it?

Minor damage to your new car is one of the most frustrating aspects of modern day motoring. You can buy insurance cover for this, but is it worth it?

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Modern cars are larger than their 1980s, ’90s and ’00s predecessors, while car park spaces have got smaller as developers try to squeeze more vehicles into their supermarkets, shopping centres and multi-storeys.

And while the convenience of finding a spare bay in a crowded car park is a fist-pumping celebration, it’s tempered by the annoyance and inconvenience of returning to find your pristine car later to find a knock or dent in a door, caused by someone else.

Minor damage, while small, is still frustrating and it might even be your fault. It’s not difficult to accidentally open your driver’s door against a wall, misjudge the placement of a bollard or scratch your car with a wayward supermarket trolley.

Just driving around on the UK’s roads can bring its own damage problems, thanks to stone chips, motorway gritting lorries and unforgiving country lane hedges and verges. Before you know it, your pride and joy has a nasty scratch or dent.

You know it’s not worth claiming on your normal car insurance to have it repaired. Most of those carry an excess, which you might have voluntarily agreed to set at, say, £300. So you are still left with the cost of having the repair done for you privately. And even a relatively small fix can still run into hundreds of pounds.

Is there an answer?

So what’s the answer to this quandry? It’s called ‘scratch and dent cover’, otherwise known as cosmetic repair insurance. But is it worth having?

A scratch and dent policy will often be offered when you buy a new car from a dealer, although you can buy it later. For a separate premium, it protects you against the cost of minor cosmetic repairs to the bodywork of your car for a set period – you usually choose one, two or three years’ worth of cover.

It’s really for the kind of damage that a mobile repairer can deal with on the driveway of your house and doesn’t cover you for major dealer workshop repairs. These are blemishes on the bodywork that can usually be fixed by SMART (small-medium area repair technology) repairs. This is quick, specialist repair work that can be fixed simply and efficiently.

Some cover providers will allow you to make as many claims as you need, as long as the total cost of all repairs doesn’t exceed an agreed amount, while other insurers prefer to allow a set number of claims per year. If damage is deemed too serious for a minor repair, many policies will offer a contribution, perhaps £250, towards the cost of a larger, bodyshop repair.

What’s not covered?

However, there are lots of items that are not covered by scratch and dent insurance, so it is worth reading any policy’s terms carefully before signing up to anything.

Repairs to cracked or deformed bumpers are not covered, nor are headlamps, other lights, windscreen or wheels. Any damage that came about as a result of a road accident won’t make the cut, and don’t even think about claiming against damaged tyres, wheel trims, locks or handles.

If your car was scratched during a theft or attempted theft, that doesn’t count either, although some insurers do allow repairs to so-called ‘keying’ vandalism. Anything that the insurer considers ‘fair wear and tear’ won’t be paid for. And if you have received a special paint job or had your car ‘wrapped’, you’re unlikely to get protection there either.

This type of insurance is for private use vehicles so a car that is used as a taxi or for deliveries probably won’t get cover.

This is another competitive sector of the insurance market place and providers will vie with each either to offer attractive deals, so it’s worth having a look around. Details will differ: the length of a scratch that can be repaired (for example 30cm) is one selling point, allowing damage across more than one panel is another while others won’t stipulate a time limit (and labour costs) for a repair to be done.

Do you need it?

The answer is no, you do not need scratch and dent cover. It’s not a legal requirement and nobody can force you to buy it – although enthusiastic car salespeople will often try to cajole you into it, but that’s because they make a healthy commission from selling it…

However, you might want it, and there are many benefits to having this insurance if you wish to keep your car’s bodywork looking as pristine as it was on the day you drove it away from the showroom. If you’re considering signing up for cover, have a good look at the policies being offered and decide whether it’s worth the money.

Your main car insurer might need to know if and when you make any scratch and dent claims to keep your policy valid, so it’s worth at least checking with them the first time you do.

If you are interested in cosmetic repair insurance, a car dealership is about the most expensive place to buy it (much like GAP insurance or tyres). There are plenty of providers around, so you’ll almost certainly find a much better deal online.

Special offer: Our commercial partner, MotorEasy, is currently offering 15% off the price of cosmetic repair insurance to our readers!

Are there any other reasons for buying scratch and dent cover?

There are two main arguments for buying a scratch and dent policy beyond “keeping your car looking nice”.

Firstly, if you have a PCP or PCH agreement that requires you to give the car back in good condition, it can often be a cheaper way of tidying up minor damage than simply returning the car and paying the finance company a penalty for the repairs.

Secondly, if you’re selling the car yourself (or part-exchanging it at a dealership), the few hundred you spend on a scratch and dent policy could well repay you in terms of a higher selling price.

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Tom Johnston
Tom Johnstonhttp://johnstonmedia.com/
Tom Johnston was the first-ever reporter on national motoring magazine Auto Express. He went on to become that magazine’s News Editor and Assistant Editor, and has also been Motoring Correspondent for the Daily Star and contributor to the Daily and Sunday Express. Today, as a freelance writer, content creator and copy editor, Tom works with exciting and interesting websites and magazines on varied projects.