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When Must Your Vehicle Have Valid Insurance Cover in the UK

Written by, Marija Petkova

Updated November, 24, 2022

When must your vehicle have valid insurance cover and are there any situations where you can drive a car without a current certificate of insurance?

To help you avoid hefty fines and driving bans, here is the lowdown on insurance and motor vehicles in the UK. 

When must your vehicle have valid insurance?

You cannot drive a motor vehicle on UK roads with valid insurance—it is as simple as that. This means that you need at least third-party insurance at all times, including when the car is parked in your driveway or when you are test-driving a new vehicle. 

This level of coverage offers protection if you’ve caused damage to another vehicle/property or injured another person/animal. It does not cover repairs to your own car or legal expenses—you would need comprehensive cover or legal cover on your car insurance policy to get reimbursed for such costs. 

To sum up, you must have valid car insurance when:

  • You drive your car on public roads
  • Park your car on the street, driveway or garage
  • Someone else is driving a car registered under your name 
  • You are driving the car home from the dealership 
  • You are test driving a car you’re interested in buying 

Bear in mind that it is the responsibility of the registered keeper to ensure the vehicle is continuously insured. In other words, if someone else is driving your car, it is up to you to make sure they are insured to drive it, usually by adding them to the policy as a named driver.

Situations when you don’t need vehicle insurance 

There are some exceptions to this rule. In general, you don’t need to have motor insurance if:

  • A vehicle is between registered keepers or is kept by an authorised dealer and is registered as ‘in trade’ with the DVLA 
  • You have a valid SORN, i.e. have declared your vehicle as off road, although you will still need insurance to get your car back on the road 
  • You have not driven your vehicle on public roads since 1 February 1998
  • Your car has been scrapped, stolen or exported and you have notified the DVLA of this 

Why do I need car insurance?

Put simply, you need car insurance because it is a legal requirement. Under the UK’s CIE (Continuous Insurance Enforcement), all vehicles must have basic cover without any gaps between the renewal of contracts. 

Car insurance is designed to give motorists peace of mind as it will cover damages to yourself, your car and other people on the road (depending on your policy). What’s more, because of the way insurance works, getting into an accident with an uninsured driver ups policy costs for everyone else—the more insurers pay out in claims, the higher premiums are for everyone else. 

What happens if I don’t have car insurance?

The police can easily check if a vehicle is insured or not through the Motor Insurance Database. If you are caught driving without insurance, you could get:

  • A fixed penalty of £100
  • Your car clamped, seized or disposed of
  • Taken  to court where you might get a maximum penalty charge of £1000

If you are caught operating a car that you are not insured to drive, you face a fixed penalty of £300 and 6 penalty points. If the case escalates further and goes to court, you may get an unlimited fine and a driving ban. 

Keep in mind that the police also have the right to impound an uninsured vehicle on the spot

To reclaim a seized vehicle, you need to provide the following documents within seven working days:

  • Proof of identity
  • Valid driving licence
  • Proof of ownership
  • Valid certificate of motor insurance

You will also need to provide a valid MOT certificate (driving without a valid MOT is illegal) and proof of paid vehicle excise duty. 

How do you insure a car you just bought?

As mentioned in the starting, you must have valid motor insurance at all times. So how do you insure a vehicle you have just bought and do not own yet?

This is where temporary car insurance comes in. This is a flexible short-term policy that provides cover from one hour up to 30 days (or more depending on the insurer). There’s no need for an annual contract, so when the policy expires, you can simply apply for a more comprehensive cover.

Just remember to arrange cover before you collect the vehicle from the dealership. 

If you are selling your old car and buying a new one, you could transfer your existing insurance policy to your new vehicle. You will probably get a different quote based on the new car’s specs and a new certificate of insurance. This is also a good time to shop around for better deals, i.e. you could cancel your existing car insurance (and pay the cancellation fee) and then take out a new policy with another company. 

Note: You must inform the DVLA that you have sold your car.

Bottom line: When must your vehicle have valid insurance cover in the UK?

The short answer is at all times. Even if you are borrowing your mate’s car or taking a new vehicle home from the car dealer, the vehicle must be insured. In fact, the only exception to the rule is when you SORN your car or if the vehicle is registered as ‘in trade’ with the DVLA.

My name is Marija, and I'm a financial writer at DontDisappointMe. Although finance might not be everyone's cup of tea, my 10+ years of working in one of the biggest banks in my country, and my interest in extensive research on everything finance/investment-related, have made me somewhat of an expert in the field (if I do say so myself). No longer having the passion to work in a corporate setting, I decided that I couldn't let all of this knowledge go to waste so I started writing. And, here I am! Today I try to share my knowledge with my audience in the hopes of making this topic as simple and interesting as possible. In my leisure time, I like spending time with my family and travelling to new locations.