MOTORISTS involved in accidents have been warned to avoid taking hire cars while claims are resolved, after one driver ran up a bill of £400,000.

Susan Harries crashed her £10,000 Audi into a parked car but blamed it on someone else — and drove a hired Mercedes for three years while the claim was sorted.

 A driver ran up bill of £400k for a hire car while her accident claim was sorted

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A driver ran up bill of £400k for a hire car while her accident claim was sortedCredit: Getty – Contributor

She was driving on the A5 in Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham, on December 27, 2016, when she hit a Honda that was pulled over on the pavement.

She denied responsibility, saying the other car reversed into her path. But when the case reached court nearly three years later, she was found to be to blame.

By then, her bill had spiralled to an incredible £400,000 after hiring a £300-a-day Mercedes C220. Instead of sorting a replacement car via her insurance, Mrs Harries took out a deal with an independent credit hire firm.

Some drivers choose to use a third-party credit hire firm rather than their insurance company if they think an accident was not their fault. They might not want to pay the excess or worry that it could affect their no-claims discount. There is nothing illegal about doing so.

These companies usually claim the costs of repairs and a replacement hire car from the insurer of the driver who was to blame for the accident — but motorists will end up with the bill themselves if they are found to be at fault.

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Around 500,000 claims are brought through credit hire firms every year and there is no legal limit to how much they can charge for repairs and replacement car hire. Third-party firms have been blamed for pushing up car insurance premiums by around two per cent a year, adding £7 to policies.

Hot tips

IF you are caught up in an accident:

  1. Collect all the information you can at the scene, take photos of the road and cars involved, note number plates and get names and contact details for drivers and witnesses.
  2. Tell your insurer at once.
  3. Beware of misleading ads online. Call the number on your policy documents. Keep a copy in the car.
  4. Make a claim. If you have comprehensive cover, your insurer should provide roadside recovery and a replacement car if needed. Your premium pays for this, so use it.

Insurers called Mrs Harries’s case “astonishing”, with Aviva’s Richard Hiscocks adding: “This highlights how far credit hire organisations are willing to go to pursue profit.” As Mrs Harries was found to be at fault for the crash, she has been left responsible for the £400,000 bill — enough to buy 11 new Audi A5s or two Ferrari F8 Tributos.

At Nottingham County Court in September, Mrs Harries accused Honda driver Kevin Baguley of being to blame. She claimed he had reversed into her path from behind a parked car. But Mr Baguley said he was pulled over to check for a flat tyre.

She denied this and supplied statements from four witnesses who backed up her story. But in his judgment, Recorder William Edis QC said the witnesses were linked to the firm that recovered Mrs Harries’s car and put her in touch with the claims management company which loaned her the Mercedes. He found Mr Baguley was not to blame and Mrs Harries had crashed into the Honda through her own “negligent driving”.

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Aviva’s Richard Hiscocks said it was “right and responsible” for insurers to take claimants to court when “costs have escalated out of all control”. He said: “We have a responsibility to our premium-paying customers to keep our costs low, which ultimately helps reduce pressure on insurance premiums.”

Motorists have been warned to be wary of credit hire firms — which can contact drivers directly following an accident or lure them in with online adverts. Not only could drivers end up with a large bill; the firms’ fees push up costs for all drivers because insurers are forced to increase premiums.

Aviva found the average cost of organising a replacement vehicle was £564 if drivers used their insurer, compared to £1,385 through a third-party firm.

Samantha Moss, from Bond Turner, who represented Mrs Harries, said: “She did not have the funds to buy a new car and, indeed, needed a vehicle to carry on her day-to-day life. This is why she hired an alternative vehicle.”

She also took out a separate “after the event” insurance policy, which is expected to cover the car hire cost.

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