Comparison websites: are you getting a fair deal?

Finding the best car insurance-related products isn’t always as simple as it should be, so read this investigation before you next buy a policy...

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Comparison websites have been around since the 1990s, and many of us use them to check prices quickly and find good deals on motor insurance, holiday hire cars and lots of other products.

One reason they’re so popular is, of course, that they offer convenience, especially for purchases that depend on lots of personal information like car insurance does.

In the past we’d have spent ages inputting all our details into each insurer’s website to get a quote, or phoning them one by one.

With comparison websites, we simply enter all our details once to get a long list of quotes to compare (sometimes with the cheapest at the top) and then click through to buy the one we want.

On the best sites it’s possible to filter the results by a range of criteria so we don’t have to sift through them all to find the best option.

Comparison services are not there simply to help out consumers, though. They make their money from adverts shown on the site and earn commission when a customer clicks through to an insurer’s website and buys a product. Some also have sponsored listings, with companies paying for their products to appear at the top of the search results.

There are certain guidelines that comparison sites need to abide by, and these are set out by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

A CMA spokesperson explained: “Our Digital Comparison Tools market study identified four principles for how comparison sites should behave. [They should be] clear, accurate, responsible and easy to use, to help ensure they are not misleading customers and breaking the law.

“Comparison sites should clearly explain their services and how they make money. This includes how much of the market they cover, any ownership links with the suppliers they show and when and how commercial relationships have affected the results presented. If businesses don’t follow the rules, they could face enforcement action.”

While comparison sites provide a good service for anyone looking for general car insurance, some of them aren’t as clear or useful for other motoring-related products.

What Car? checked out the results that consumers would get if they looked online for guaranteed asset protection (GAP) insurance. GAP cover pays out the difference between what you paid for your car and the sum you’d get from your car insurer if it were written off or stolen.

We did a Google search for GAP insurance and checked out the eight websites that stated they offered a comparison service. We also clicked through to look at confused.com because it’s a well-known site for other insurance product comparisons.

Of all the websites we examined, only three of them – gocompare.com, insuremystuff4less. com and moneysupermarket.com – enabled us to compare prices by providing us with more than one quote for our car (a 2020 Kia Sorento Hybrid worth around £39,000 for a 55-year-old female driver).

Kia Sorento 2021 front

Those websites stated clearly that they worked with a partner company and listed the insurers they would be providing quotes for.

Two of the other sites – confused.com and money.co.uk – provided quotes for only a single provider, although they stated clearly that they had a chosen GAP insurance partner and that’s who you’d get a quote from.

On two sites, mymoneycomparison.com and quotezone.co.uk, we were required to provide a lot of personal and car details, but, for each insurer on the list we were given, a note told us that quotes could only be supplied by phone. We would have to call each insurer before we could compare prices.

Nerdwallet.com did not ask us to provide any information, but when we clicked through to the website, we got a list of GAP providers with links to use to contact them for quotes.

The Google search result headline for gap- expert.co.uk stated: “Compare GAP insurance – with GAP expert”, but when we clicked through to the website, there was no mention of any providers or companies it works with.

There was a large box where we could enter our car’s registration number and an age-group selector. When we entered the details, a holding message popped up stating: “We are looking for suitable GAP insurance for your car”, then we were transferred to motoreasy.com’s quote page with our car details already entered.

Online car buying

We entered the registration numbers of six different vehicles into the gap-expert.co.uk look-up and each time we were directed to the motoreasy.com quote page. Gap-expert. co.uk did not state that it had any connection with motoreasy.com, but our investigation has revealed that they are part of the same group of companies. That should have been stated on the website in accordance with CMA guidelines.

We reported our findings to motoreasy.com and they declined to provide a response for our feature, but they did provide us with three alternative car registration numbers that they said would take users to one of “four partner companies that are not motoreasy.com”, provided we picked the under 25 age category.

Although we did get directed to alternative providers for the three registration numbers, two of the cars were more than 10 years old and therefore too old to be eligible for GAP insurance from the providers we were directed to (directgap.co.uk and shortfall.co.uk). The third numberplate was for a newer car and we were directed to an alternative supplier that could provide cover. Motoreasy was able to provide us with examples where consumers were directed to other providers, but the fact that the vast majority of people are likely to be directed to motoreasy.com, without it being made clear that they’re a company in the same group as gap-expert.co.uk, does not appear to be in line with the CMA’s rules.

We made a complaint about gap-expert.co.uk to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for offering unclear information to consumers, and it decided to launch an investigation into gap-expert.co.uk. The ASA’s initial investigation had not been concluded when we went to press.

Next: Expert tips for finding the best price online >>

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