Today, numerous modifications are available for individuals with disabilities to help make their vehicles more accessible, allowing them to enjoy greater freedom of mobility and independence.
One such modification is hand controls, which enable individuals with specific physical impairments (such as those who’ve undergone a lower-limb amputation) to operate a vehicle safely and efficiently. Hand controls allow the driver to “press” the gas and brake pedals by using a lever near the steering wheel. A typical configuration requires the driver to pull the lever to enable acceleration and push it to trigger the brakes.
Suppose you’re living with a disability that hinders your ability to drive. In that case, hand controls are an exceptional tool that can help you get back on the road. But how will they affect your car insurance policy? Can you anticipate a hike in your premium?
Here are the insurance implications to be aware of before adding hand controls to your vehicle.
Can insurance providers deny you coverage if you install hand controls in your vehicle?
In Canada, insurance companies can exercise discretion when providing coverage to drivers who install aftermarket components in their cars, including hand controls. And some may be more accommodating than others.
However, this discretion applies mainly to cosmetic and performance-enhancing modifications rather than those related to accessibility, according to an email statement from an Insurance Bureau of Canada spokesperson.
“Many insurers will not underwrite a vehicle with certain modifications (like racing/performance parts, etc.). IBC is not aware of an insurer declining coverage for disability accessible modifications, as long as the owner is transparent about the modifications.”
How installing hand controls could affect your insurance premium
There are two reasons why accessibility vehicle modifications may affect what you pay for car insurance.
The first relates to safety and performance. Fortunately, hand controls are a safe and reliable technology. In fact, you need to take a specialized driving course to learn how to use them before you earn a certificate that you can then take to an adaptive vehicle shop to have the controls installed. Because of these checks and balances, you shouldn’t face an increase in your premium due to any safety or performance concerns from your insurance provider.
The second reason hand controls may affect your premium is an overall increase in your car's valuation following their installation. As your car's value rises, so too does the payout your insurance provider must provide following a claim. Naturally, it may decide to hike your premium to offset the extra cost.
According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, if hand controls boost your car's value, your insurance provider may increase your premium.
“Typically, if a vehicle is modified for accessibility, there would be no change in premium, unless the modifications increase the value of a vehicle,” an IBC spokesperson explains. “However, all modifications must be disclosed to the underwriting department. As some of these modifications can be $10,000+, some insurers add a ‘stated value’ endorsement, so everyone is aware of the value of the vehicle, in the event of a loss.”
What to know before you install hand controls in your car
If your disability prevents you from operating a vehicle the conventional way, hand controls may be a solution that can enable you to drive again, both safely and independently. However, you should proceed with installing them only if you’re fully aware of the implications for your insurance policy.
If you decide to outfit your car with hand controls, you should inform your insurance provider before the installation occurs, and then update them with all relevant details of the work done, notes Steven Harris, LowestRates.ca expert and licensed insurance broker.
“Any modifications to your vehicle from its original state needs to be disclosed to your insurance company, and that includes changes like adaptive hand controls,” he says. “Your insurance provider will want to know what the modification was, including the process of fulfilling that change. You can prepare for this conversation by having photos of the vehicle and the modified area, the value (your receipt) of the changes, who your installer is and their credentials, and any required government test results for the modification. Your insurance provider will work with you but being prepared will help make the process easier for you both.”
Once your insurance company has reviewed all the paperwork, it can provide you with an accurate quote for your new premium. If it’s too steep, you may want to consider shopping around to see if you can secure a better car insurance rate from another insurance provider.