Why Darren Bent's Merc is important

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Darren BentEngland and Aston Villa footballer Darren Bent's soccer star taste in cars has highlighted how bad insurers are when customers claim.

But you don't have to drive a £72,000 Mercedes to know that when your car is in to be repaired, being given the smallest, cheapest courtesy cars is not a fair replacement. Insurers get the disrespect they deserve for treating customers with such disrespect.

Bent has been the subject of an ongoing legal case. Although he is only really involved as a technicality, it has kept the story in the public eye. The striker was involved in an accident in 2007 which damaged his £72,000 Mercedes. A credit hire firm Accident Exchange got in touch and hired him an Aston Martin DB9 for 94 days.

Court cases

Giant German insurer Allianz – over here it used to be the cricket sponsor insurer Cornhill – insured the driver who caused the accident. It challenged the period of hire, the rate and the need for the hire. It went all the way to the Court of Appeal and was settled last week. It was really a case between Allianz and Accident Exchange.

Both sides claimed victory. The Judge said the Aston Villa player was entitled to hire the Aston Martin. Accident Exchange got the bulk of the money it had charged. Allianz won some cuts to the total bill. Whoopee!

Accident Exchange is involved in more Court of Appeal cases this week, effectively against insurers that used another supposedly expert witness company called Autofocus to show the court that Accident Exchange was overcharging for cars hired to accident victims. Autofocus has since gone into administration.

Once again, insurers are fighting battles in the court to try to keep the costs of claims down. But they are ignoring the real issue – they have let this parasitic credit hire businesses boom because they don't provide decent customer services to their clients.

First principles of insurance

The principle behind an insurance claims is that you should be no worse off than before. So if you do drive a luxury car and the accident is not your fault, you should continue to drive a luxury car while yours is being repaired. If insurers provided drivers with suitable replacement cars, there would be no problem.

But they don't. And it is not just luxury car drivers who are ripped off. I had an eight-seater Ford Torneo – a Transit van with car seats, carpet and all mod cons. I was hit in the side by a driver reversing out onto the main road. The replacement car I was offered was a Ford Ka, a two door, dinky car with barely four seats.

It was no use to me so I made do without a car for the two days it took to repair and re-spray my van. I'd have been entitled to use a credit hire company to hire an equivalent eight-seater vehicle. The insurers don't tell you that.

Insurers rely on the fact that most customers won't do any more than grumble about the inappropriateness of the car they have been given. Insurers are fobbing us off with inferior cars and then trying to make life difficult for the firms offering the service the insurers should have provided themselves.

Added costs

Now, without a doubt, these credit hire firms swoop like vultures. And they provide cars at, shall we say, the top end of the price range. They aim to make a handsome profit from insurers and are, no doubt, adding to the cost of claims.

Insurers could provide decent replacement cars, of a suitable and similar standard, themselves and do so much cheaper than the credit hire industry. But they'd rather not. They'd rather just continue to leave customers worse off and fight through the courts anyone who uses a credit hire firm to get the car to which they are entitled.

That is just typical of the insurance industry. I was at a meeting in the Worshipful Company of Insurers once, with the great and the good of the industry, and the chairman asked if anyone had ever had a good claims experience when they had personally had to make a claim. Nobody had.

You'd think there be a lesson there.

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