Ethical Novice: Car insurance

Colin Birch with a light-hearted guide to trying, and sometimes failing, to be ethical. This week Colin looks into the world of car insurance.

It’s that month of the year when I have to renew my car insurance – a time when I wish I owned an electric car, because going through the annual nightmare of phoning up my provider to try and get a better deal is so depressing that it puts me at risk of attaching a length of hosepipe to my traditional petrol exhaust and ending it all. In fact, the only reason I’ve never gone through with it is because I’d have to endure the nightmare of phoning up to arrange decent life insurance first.

However, COVID has made me approach the situation a little differently this year. The lack of human contact in lockdown means I’m almost looking forward to discussing compulsory excess, policy schedules, and no-claims discounts with a call-centre rep, as it’s been so long since I’ve chatted with a total stranger about anything.

This year, too, I’m approaching the task full of environmental zeal, as it’s important to know just how ethical my car insurance provider is. I’d never given this much thought previously. Given how happy they seemed to insure me during my boy-racer days, I’d always assumed they were mad rather than bad, but now I’m older and wiser I need to know more before I sign up.

To be honest though, it’s tough finding out the ethical credentials of the insurers. If the call-centre reps say they’re “very green” this usually means they only started work there last week, such is the staff turnover in these places. And discovering where an insurance company invests the cash you give them isn’t easy.

Surprisingly, those lovable Meerkats on the comparison website ads don’t mention that many of the companies listed could be investing in firms that contribute to the climate change that’s wrecking their habitat. I’m not naive – I know that many of the financial giants backing major car insurance firms have questionable environmental records. Some are so iffy that when I ask the sales staff what excess my policy comes with, I expect them to say: “excess pollution and excess climate change”.

Others invest in armaments and military supplies: presumably, the ones offering good third party, fire and theft policies for tanks and amphibious landing craft? I shouldn’t be surprised. Most of them would probably refuse to pay out for an act of God if they heard you were atheist.

For most of the corporates, the only truly environmental switch they’ve made in recent times is moving to paperless policy documents. Now, this is fine in itself, as my last car insurance policy was so thick that it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, literally as well as metaphorically, but it hardly makes them George Monbiot. Some insurance companies are buying carbon credits, based on our cars’ CO2 emissions and putting them towards tree-planting and other carbon-offsetting schemes. But the cynic in me can’t help thinking that they’re actually planting more trees just to increase the likelihood of me crashing into one so they can bump my premiums up!

Thankfully, there are a few insurers that do have ethical investment policies. Some won’t invest in oppressive regimes ... although the irony of taking this stance while operating call-centres which are almost oppressive regimes in themselves seems lost on them.

These ethical firms are also prolonging the lives of our cars by steering clear of writing-off smashed-up ones whenever possible, and encouraging the use of recycled parts in repairs – this is something to be applauded, even if, just occasionally, the boy racer in me wishes they’d replace all the parts in my little, eco-friendly vehicle, with ones from a Ferrari Testarossa, as it’s the only way I’ll ever get to drive one! So, to sign up for more ethical car insurance, I obviously need to discover which of the providers puts something back. That’s easily done by reading this esteemed magazine ... though, to be honest, I’d love to find out by phoning up all the insurers and asking them lots of awkward questions they won’t like answering... See how they like it for a change.

However, the ones that really caught my eye are made from the faux leather by-products of apples, figs, potatoes, coconuts and even pineapples. These would be perfect for my journey back to health. OK, I might not actually get round to running in them, but given the appalling nature of my lockdown diet, at least if I eat them I’ll be getting a couple of my five-a-day.

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