How I flooded my BMW – and drowned in a sea of small print

Driving her crazy: Liz Jones is sick of catches in the small print when it comes to car insurance

Driving her crazy: Liz Jones is sick of catches in the small print when it comes to car insurance

We might have thick snow and Siberian temperatures in Somerset this weekend (and I do wonder at the few-days-old lambs currently shivering, without shelter, in frozen fields, to satisfy our mania for eating out of season).

But at the beginning of January we had flooding. Stupidly, I got into my black BMW convertible and set off down my hill. At the bottom, the road was flooded. I drove slowly through the murky, churning water, creating a not inconsiderable wave. All seemed fine.

The road to my nearest town, Dulverton, was also flooded by the adjacent River Exe. Again, I drove through the water.

Only when I got back home did I notice an ominous banging noise coming from the engine, which appeared to be smoking. Oh dear. Why did no one tell me I was not supposed to drive through water Do men know about this stuff Instead of teaching me how to make cheesy potatoes and an embroidered peg bag, why did my school not instil in me basic road sense

I called the AA and had the car, which I bought in 2005 for 26,000, towed to my nearest BMW service centre in Barnstaple. The news was not good. I had destroyed the engine. I notified BMW Insurance, who sent along someone from their ‘valuation team’.

About a fortnight later, I got a call.

‘How much do you think your car is worth’ asked the man.

I have spent more than 10,000 on it this year: four new tyres, new
automatic gearbox, new fuel pump, new power steering [twice], new
windscreen, wiper blades, brakes and number plates . . . you can call
BMW Holland Park and get a copy of the invoice.’

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‘But what is the sum you would be happy with for us to write it off’

‘Well, at least 7,000. I love that car.’

‘Oh-kay. Well, we could not offer more than 6,000.’

‘Why did you ask me what I would be happy with, if you had a figure that was non-negotiable Why That is like calling the hairdresser and they say, “What time would you like to come in” You say, “Ooh, midday on Tuesday would be great,” and they then say, “We can fit you in on Friday at 4pm.” It’s all pointless!’

‘Oh-kay,’ he continued. ‘The 6,000 will be subject to a 500 excess. So we will settle the claim for 5,500.’

I was by now feeling very bereft. I loved my car. I loved the clunk it made when you shut the door. Its effortless purr resulted in me collecting nine points on my licence for speeding, which I have to say, in my defence, I have only ever done on an empty, sunlit motorway.

I called BMW Insurance again. ‘I would like to cancel my car insurance, as I no longer have a car.’

‘Yes, you can do that.’

‘I know I can. I can’t insure a car that no longer exists. I paid a premium of 800, a year in advance. So I am entitled to a 50 per cent refund.’

‘You have made a claim. You are not entitled to a rebate.’

‘But I’ve paid the excess.’

‘You are still not entitled to get any money back.’

No discretion: Infuriating policies are like delaying tactics designed to keep our money in their coffers for as long as possible

No discretion: Infuriating policies are like delaying tactics designed to keep our money in their coffers for as long as possible

I called the customer satisfaction department. ‘Where in my policy document does it say this will happen’

They directed me to page 33, and this sentence: ‘Where an incident has occurred which may give rise to a total loss claim the full annual premium may be payable to us.’

Well, the document is so long, I hadn’t read every single word. The use of the word ‘may’, had I read it, is misleading. Just as on the First Great Western website, where it says cryptically: ‘Two single fares may be cheaper.’ My question is: Are they cheaper or not Why not use the word ‘will’, as BMW insurance services are obviously not open to persuasion

So that was, in effect, a 900 excess. And someone else might have only three weeks left until their policy needed to be renewed.

I am sick of catches in the small print. Of the fact that when I buy anything, the money whizzes out of my account in mere seconds, but when I am due a refund, it can take ‘seven to 14 working days’.

I am still waiting for my cheque from BMW. They said I have to accept a cheque because they ‘do not make payments using internet banking’. This despite the fact I’d paid my premium over the phone.

It is all delaying tactics, designed to keep our money in their coffers for as long as possible. No one is allowed to use discretion. Sorry seems to be the hardest word.