Modifying your wheels? Watch out for insurance hikes

Brian O'Connell

Car modifiers -- "gear heads" who get a kick out of adding components to their prized possessions -- regularly confront a problem that could be more worrisome than a stubborn carburetor: higher car insurance premiums.

Of course, car modifications come in various shapes and sizes, as do car insurance policies. Each car insurer has its own set of rules regarding how much your premium may go up if you've tricked out your car with, say, custom rims and tires. “Most personal auto insurance policies do not automatically cover car modifications or customizations,” says Eric Madia, director of product and actuarial management at Esurance.

Companies like Esurance sell “custom parts and equipment” coverage that customers can add -- for a price -- to their car insurance policies. Madia says this normally covers custom modifications up to a set dollar amount, which varies from insurer to insurer.

Car insurance company Progressive offers up to $5,000 for coverage of certain custom components under its comprehensive and collision coverage. Country Financial provides coverage on various upgrades, such as a new stereo system. In many cases, insurers may agree to work out coverage details, as long as you provide a complete list of enhancements.

What constitutes a modification?

By and large, the type of car customization that can affect your insurance policy includes these upgrades:

• Custom rims and tires.

• Any engine changes that boost the car's power and performance.

• Interior remodeling, such as new leather seats or a new sound system.

• Window tinting.

• Custom paint.

• A rebuilt chassis or any change that lowers the vehicle (think “low rider”).

When can a modification trigger an insurance hike?

Basically, any modification that adds value to the car could put you in line for an increase in your insurance premium. If you’re not sure the work you want to do on your car merits attention from your insurance company, call your agent or provider before you start.

If you file a claim for the loss of a modified car part -- instead of the standard part your insurer knows about -- don’t expect any money from your insurer.

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