Insurance is pretty boring. If any insurance salesmen are reading this I’m really sorry, but it is; it’s just dull. Off road driving is exciting. Choosing and fitting new accessories for your vehicle is fun. Discussing 4wd insurance is boring. Unfortunately there’s one thing that’s much worse than discussing insurance. That’s not being able to get off road and enjoy yourself, because you’ve had an accident in your rig, and now you can’t afford to fix it because you didn’t have the right insurance and they refuse to pay out.
It’s easy to insure the bog standard family sedan. You call an insurance company, tell them what you drive and they look up the base premium in a book. If you have an accident the insurer will cover the repair costs – or, if it’s not economical to repair it, they’ll pay out the book value. As long as your car is pretty much stock, and is being used for normal driving, it’s all pretty effortless.
You can probably start to see the problems that us 4X4 enthusiasts face already. I drive a Four Wheel Drive Jeep JK Wrangler, and I’m not alone. Lots of people drive Jeep Wranglers and most of them have no trouble getting insurance. Of course most of them don’t have a Wrangler exactly like mine.
This is where being a 4wd enthusiast starts to get complicated. Many people who buy a Wrangler get it because it looks awesome and it’s fun to drive. It has loads of space in the back for shopping or dogs, but it’s still a fairly compact vehicle. As a practical everyday car for singles or couples it has a lot going for it. Maybe they even use the soft top once in a while!
The thing is, I got a Wrangler because it has great off-road performance. It’s distantly related to the original military Jeep, and combines a traditional separate body and frame with modern technology and machinery. It also has proper solid axles. Compared to the original Jeep it’s a much better road car, but it also makes a great platform for creating a really capable off road performer, and that’s what I’ve done with mine.
So you can probably guess how it goes when I speak to an insurance company and they ask if I’ve modified the vehicle from factory spec. Usually, when they ask this, they expect to hear that maybe you’ve fitted a new exhaust. But like most keen 4wd drivers, I’ve done a bit more than that.
First I put in a lift kit. That gave me enough room to fit a set of 33” mud tyres. Then I added LED headlights, and a bull bar to protect them. It didn’t seem to make much sense to have state of the art headlights while the tail lights used old-fashioned bulbs, so I changed those for LED ones as well. Just in case I did end up stuck in something the mud tyres couldn’t get me out of, I added a winch. A roof rack went on, to hold all my camping gear. I did some work on the interior, too – an overhead console, UHF radio and antenna for it. Even new floor mats and seat covers with MOLLE pouches.
Usually, by the time I’m about half way through this list, the insurance seller’s eyes are starting to glaze over. I’ll get a policy in the end, of course, but it’s not a pleasant process for either party. Even worse, if I ever need to claim on it there’s a good chance I’ll find out I didn’t get the policy I really needed.
If you read all the small print of a typical car insurance policy you’ll find there are a lot of things it doesn’t cover. Planning on driving on the beach? Plenty insurance companies won’t cover you for that, so if anything goes wrong on the sand you’re basically on your own – they won’t pay up.
It gets worse. Some companies will only pay out for damage that happens on a road. If you’re driving on private property and have a bit of a bump that isn’t always going to be covered by your policy. The same goes for roads that aren’t gazetted, and for unregistered 4wd tracks – and a lot of popular 4wd tracks aren’t registered as roads. You’ll find any 4X4 driving on private property is also not covered – yes this means even the off road parks like Landcruiser Mountain Park, Levuka, Scenic Rim or even Manar. If you’re keen on getting off the beaten track it’s very likely that a standard policy isn’t going to be much use to you. Worst of all, you probably won’t know that unless you actually have to make a claim and find that they won’t pay out.
A gazetted road is a road which has been named and published as a public road in your state government's gazette. What this means is if the road has been published on a map, and is designated as public, then it theoretically should be a gazetted road.
However, maps can get it wrong sometimes. Just because the road has been gazetted at some point in the past, doesn't necessarily mean that it remains open to the public today. Land owners can apply to council to restrict or deny access to gazetted public roads which run through their property. Obviously, they need a good reason but approval is sometimes given. Council then advise the relevant state body of the change to the road's public access, and this is then also published in the gazette.
The only true way to determine whether a road is truly gazetted and public is to contact the local council for the area. This means a lot of headache for the typical four wheel driver who just wants to be sure they’re doing the right thing and are fully covered by their insurance!
Driving off road isn’t the only way insurers will get out of paying. For example, a lot of 4wd owners have been caught out by a clause that every mainstream broker puts in their policies. This clause says that, for your insurance to cover you, the vehicle has to be roadworthy and compliant with the legal requirements in your home state.
The issue with this is that they’re using a very grey area, legal definition of “roadworthy” that a lot of off road vehicles don’t meet. For example, in Queensland you’re only allowed to raise the vehicle’s height by 50mm, and that has to be done using springs only – no blocks or spacers. As for tyres, the largest you can fit is 15mm over the standard size. If I had an accident on the road, a policy from a big insurer might not pay out; they could say my vehicle was un-roadworthy, so not covered. Obviously, if you’ve just run over the front end of a Porsche, this is not the time you want to learn that your insurance isn’t any use.
Most companies will insure a vehicle with modifications that make it legally un-roadworthy, but when you make a claim they’ll assess it on a case by case basis; if they decide the mod caused the accident they won’t pay. If it’s fully engineered and approved as roadworthy your odds are better – but you still have to be careful. Usually an approval certificate is good for the state it was issued in, but standards vary. In Western Australia you’re allowed a total lift of 50mm across tyres, suspension and body lifts, so a modification done in WA might not be officially roadworthy in Queensland – and vice versa.
Finally, most insurers don’t seem to like the value of accessories the average off-roader fits. We buy vehicles that have the mechanics to go cross-country, but are fitted out to do the school run and battle through the wilds of a Woolworths car park. Getting the most of them off-road means fitting a pile of extra gear – and your regular car insurer isn’t really set up to cope with that. If your vehicle gets written off you’ll be lucky if your policy even covers half the cost of your accessories and modifications. They might pay the full value of the vehicle itself, but that’s not going to be enough to let you replace it like for like.
Obviously all these issues are specific to off road vehicles; the way we modify them, and the places we take them, are just outside the scope of a normal insurance policy. For years I just shrugged and accepted that. There didn’t seem like a lot of choice; the only thing to do was take what the insurance companies were offering, and try not to have a bingle.
I was never really comfortable with this though, so when I heard about a new insurer that specialised in off road vehicles I was obviously interested. It’s called Club 4X4, and the people who run it are all 4wd enthusiasts themselves, so talking to them was a nice change. I had a bunch of questions for them, because the idea of a really off-road-friendly insurer seemed to good to be true, but I have to say I felt a lot better about it once I’d heard their answers. In fact I felt so much better that we’ve now partnered with them, making it easy for all our customers to get the ultimate off-road cover.
What I like most is how easy it all was to set up. First, I went through all the accessories and modifications I’ve bolted to my Wrangler over the years. They didn’t bat an eyelid; covering the full value of the vehicle and all the extra bits wasn’t a problem. That was nice to hear, because with my previous insurance, if the Jeep had spontaneously combusted someday I’d have been about $20,000 out of pocket. Being insured for the real value of the vehicle is a nice feeling.
I was impressed with the contents cover, too. An off-road expedition usually means taking a lot of camping gear, and that stuff isn’t cheap. This time it’s included in the policy. The standard cover is $2,000, and you can increase that if you want. It’s probably a good idea; increasing the covered amount is usually pretty cheap, and by the way, did you ever add up the cost of all your camping stuff? You might think $2,000 will cover it, but my guess is you’ll be surprised how much you’ve invested in touring gear.
Here’s something really impressive: your camping gear is covered even if it’s not in your vehicle. We’ve all done it; decided that we’re camped somewhere remote enough that it’s fine to leave the tent set up when you head off for a day’s driving. If the location isn’t quite as remote as you think it is, and all your gear’s gone when you get back, you’ll still be sleeping in the car that night – but with Club 4X4, when you get home, you can claim for your missing kit.
Any veteran off roader knows a lot about recovery, because you have to. Being an RAC member is great when you’re broken down beside a road, but if anything on your vehicle goes badly wrong out in the bush you’re basically on your own. Usually other 4wd owners will do what they can to help, but sometimes you’re just stuck. That means calling an off-road recovery specialist, and they aren’t cheap – it’s going to cost at least $400 an hour from the moment they start the engine to come and get you, and you can forget about your insurance paying for it. Nobody will cover that! – except Club 4X4. The standard policy includes up to $1,500 in recovery fees and you can increase that to a max of $30,000 if you want. That’s enough to haul you to a garage from just about anywhere in Australia.
As you can probably tell, I’m very happy with this; there is nobody else who will protect off-road drivers so thoroughly. This is how it can work when insurance is set up by people who understand exactly what’s needed. There’s also a bunch of extras. If your vehicle is stolen you can get up to $180 a day for 21 days to hire another. You can choose your repairer. If you insure your vehicle through us you can get a discount on insuring your trailer or slide-on camper, too.
Discussing all this with them was as easy as it gets, too. A lot of insurance problems happen when you get bad advice from insurers who just don’t understand what you’re doing; they’ll tell you something’s covered when it isn’t. At Club 4X4 they do understand. To be honest it’s worth insuring with them just because it’s so stress-fee, and at Tough Toys we’ve done all we can to make it even easier.
All policies are underwritten by the Hollard Insurance Company, who’re a seriously big player – they also underwrite Woolworth’s insurance and a few others. You can be sure a policy you get through us is as solidly backed as any other – it’s just tailored for off-road enthusiasts instead of the average driver. Check out our insurance application page, and get a quote – it only takes a couple of minutes to fill out the form. If you like what you see, and sign up, They’ll even throw in a year’s subscription to Pat Callinan’s 4x4 Adventures magazine. You’ll be insured to confidently go anywhere, so having a few more trip ideas won’t hurt!