Ah, But Is It Manufacturer Approved?

by John Macartney (standardtriumph@btinternet.com)

I recently received a letter from the insurance company I use for my two old Triumphs. I feel we are fortunate in the UK in being able to place insurance business for older vehicles with organisations who specialise in them and mostly, the terms of use are supportive for their continuing use and enjoyment. This is more than can be said for various organisations who are hell-bent on driving these old cars off the road for all time! However, my annual premium can be very small if I only choose to do a maximum of 5000 miles a year and payouts for damaged vehicles are extremely fair, PROVIDING the car has already been valued by a recognised car club. In my case, I prefer to pay a higher premium, as this gives me unlimited annual mileage and virtually no restrictions on use. I can't use my cars for business purposes - but then, I wouldn't want to.

Anyway, the letter I received wanted to know if my cars were 'protected against theft' and invited me to allow the cars to be inspected by 'qualified engineers.' I learned that following an inspection and subject to any anti-theft installation being approved, I might possibly enjoy a premium reduction of up to ten per cent. Not an offer to be sneezed at! I guess the saving would cover at least two oil and filter changes!

But ever anxious of being legally able to defraud an insurance company - and especially with its blessing, I completed the reply card and mailed it back to the insurer - and heard nothing more. Some weeks later, I was minding my own business in the former farmyard behind my home and was attempting to deal with a most uncooperative constant speed governor on my "TR engined" Ferguson tractor. This is covered by a separate policy with another company, so outside the scope of the offer I had received from the firm covering the Triumphs. Anyway, there I am in the yard, carefully adjusting the governor's 'bumper screw' when I became aware of two men in suits, standing at the rear of the tractor. Quickly putting the hand-throttle to idle, I asked if they were looking for someone.

As it happened, they wanted to talk to me - and waved the reply card I'd sent off some weeks earlier. They were a friendly pair and handed me their business cards as part of their introduction. Study of the cards revealed both were some considerable way up the pecking order in the Automotive Division of a major insurance underwriter. They asked various questions about the cover I had for my three 'classics,' politely enquired about the cost of my annual premiums and asked many questions about the Triumphs and the Ferguson.

They professed to know all the vagaries of 'classic' cars and as our conversation continued, it was clear the thing that most worried them was the tacit matter of theft. "How do you protect your cars? one asked, "and although it's outside the scope of our visit, how do you protect this tractor from the casual thief? Do you have a manufacturer approved anti-theft device on any of them?" I replied I didn't - but added I had taken measures of my own that I was confident the manufacturer would approve if asked. Interested at this revelation, they asked if I was agreeable to them acting the role of thieves and attempting to start the engines on all the vehicles. They claimed they were confident they could quickly find out what I had done to 'protect my investments' and as the cars were penned in by the Ferguson and my neighbour was also on hand, I agreed to fetch the keys and let them try their luck. I returned briefly to the house and on going outside again, noticed both of them were by the Triumphs. The tractor was still idling, so I stopped it, turned off the fuel tap and opened the carburettor float chamber to purge it of fuel.

Presently they returned to my side. "Just for fun, let's start with the tractor," I said. "The key's already in the ignition - so start it." "Should be pretty simple," said the more senior of the two with a confident air - and he clambered onto the driving seat. They both got on and off that driving seat for more than a quarter of an hour, during which time 'Daisy' remained stubbornly silent. "Where's the starter switch - or starter button? It must be here somewhere." "It is," I replied. "You've both touched it several times." They looked at me, non-plussed. "Tell you what," said one, diving into his wallet, "if we can't start this damned thing in five minutes, I'll give you this five pound note - to keep."

"Fine," I replied, "the clock's running as of now." Ten minutes later, with 'Daisy' still silent - and the fiver safely in my pocket, they stood back to watch the procedure. "First, you turn on the fuel supply. Always turn it clockwise to allow gasoline through. If you turn it anti-clockwise, the carb will fill with cold kerosene and you'll run the battery flat before it fires. Turn on ignition. Open hand throttle and move gear lever to fifth." 'Daisy' erupted into life. "How long did it take you to devise that set-up?" asked the boss. "It's neat." "I had nothing to do with it. That's the way you start all Ferguson tractors made over the ten years between 1946 and 1956. The diesels have an additional feature for the cold start." We moved to the Triumphs. They couldn't start those either! This seemed strange, bearing in mind they both claimed an intimate knowledge of vehicle wiring techniques and a reasonably fundamental knowledge of the car's fuel injection system. I did everything I could to assist them in their searches, short of telling them what I'd done. "Don't tell us," they said. "We understand these old cars, we want to find it out for ourselves." With that sort of bidding, I gave them total access to the engine bays, car interiors - and even provided a flashlight for some dark corners.

Periodically, the starter motors whirred - but neither engine started. On the fuel injected saloon, I have three separate safeguards. The high pressure fuel inertia switch is the first switch-off point and anyone conversant with a fuel injection system ought to know where to find it and how to operate it.. The second safeguard is the electric fuel pump in the boot and the third is a break in the low tension ignition wire to the distributor. These two circuits are operated by keys to two old ignition switches that reside inside the lockable glove boxes. On the 2000 saloon, there's only a hidden switch under the glovebox for the low tension ignition supply. Both those men spent over thirty minutes crawling around both cars trying to find out the locations and types of immobiliser - and failed.

Strange. Here were two people who professed to know everything there was to know about 'hot wiring' a car - yet they were completely foxed. I have to say I felt quite pleased with myself. When they eventually capitulated and asked me to show them what I'd done to 'protect my investments' the cars started - of course (!!!) and they seemed both impressed and re-assured. Shortly afterwards and with much hand-shaking, they took their leave. But did anything come out of this arguably time-wasting exercise? Yes and No.

Yes - they liked the measures I'd taken and wholeheartedly agreed they'd found the cars impossible to start - until I had shown them how. But with indulgent chuckles and a few patronising remarks, I was left in no doubt that as the systems weren't factory approved, the opportunity to save a little on my annual premium would probably be refused!

I then pointed out that thirty years ago when my cars were made - and yours as well, the most any manufacturer did to ensure a car was 'unstealable' was to fit a steering column ignition lock - and as both my cars had those in place and in full working order, they 'complied.' Still no budge.

I then produced an old business card showing I was once employed by the manufacturer concerned, suggesting that I was about as close as they could get to having two cars with what I am confident would have met with 'manufacturer approval' - but still no budge. However, there was light at the end of the tunnel - or was it nothing more than the headlight of an approaching train? The soft sell then started. If I was willing to buy for each car, a combination handbrake and gear lever clamp, aided and abetted by another locking bar that clamps to the steering wheel and is wedged against the inside of the windscreen, then perhaps they "might be able to argue my case."

A leaflet was given to me explaining these items and I noted they were available to me at a special discounted price of five percent off 'retail.' This meant that if I did take advantage of this munificence, they'd be into me for about �120 ($180) - after the discount. I then did some simple arithmetic and proved to my satisfaction that if I purchased these devices, the increased expenditure for the two cars as an offset of the premium reduction I might enjoy, will take at least seven years to cancel out the other.

There's a logic in here somewhere - but I confess it eludes me, apart from the obvious financial kickback accruing from the sale of these security locks. From the conversation I had with these two men and learning at least twenty other people were also similarly travelling round the country checking potentially eligible cars, it was clearly costing someone a fortune in salaries, travel expenses, overnight accommodation and time - and of course, that 'someone' is me. A month ago, I received another letter from my insurer. In this treatise of three sheets of paper, when only one sheet would have sufficed, I learned that "following an exhaustive survey of policyholder's vehicles for anti-theft deterrents, we regret we have no option but to increase our premiums at your next renewal date by ten percent. We are unfortunately forced to take these steps, as classic car thefts are clearly escalating and we are discouraged that policyholders as a whole, have done little of a convincing nature to effectively protect their investments."

As something of a 'numbers man' I'm wondering where this all leads us? I'm of the view that this survey has been so expensive to undertake - commissions on sales of anti-theft locks notwithstanding - and the insurance company is so out-of-pocket, it's the customer (again) who has to come to its rescue to financially bale it out! But during this general rigmarole that went on for quite a long time in my yard earlier this year, it became very clear the insurer sees an anti-theft device as one that 'fixes' the vehicle to the ground on which it stands by making it more than difficult to physically move. I pondered that while the tractor wasn't easy to start for someone unfamiliar with them, there were plenty who did know how to make off with them and that I ought to do something about it. I wasn't too sure how I'd go about it, bearing in mind there aren't too many places of concealment on a 'little grey Fergie' - but the answer came the following weekend.

I was at a 'classic' car rally and met up with an autojumbler who specialised in selling old lamps of all types. To my delight, I uncovered two genuine Ferguson plough lamps that are normally mounted on the rear edge of the mud splashers by the rear wheels. Money changed hands and twenty four hours later, both were in position on 'Daisy.' The dashboard pull switch now illuminates one of them. The other doesn't - and that's where I've hidden the low tension ignition cut-out. But this in itself didn't 'fix' the tractor to the ground. I think I've done that too. At least, I thought I had. 'Daisy' normally lives in a barn with three other 'little grey Fergies' belonging to my friend Bill. Just to make sure, they are now all parked with their ploughs attached to them and through the plough structures, we have now attached a substantial length of steel hawser that came off a three ton drag-line bucket. This is wrapped around a massive steel roof support, held together with a monstrous padlock and would probably need an atomic bomb to dislodge!

Pleased with our efforts, we then invited the tractor insurer to come and inspect our handiwork with a view to possibly securing a discount on the tractor insurance premiums. Well, you can live in hope? A few days later, a most genial individual arrived to inspect our handiwork and he was most impressed. So impressed in fact, that he said he would contact the underwriter with a view to definitely giving us a premium reduction. Only this morning, I received another letter.

"I refer to the recent visit of our Mr Sefton to your property to inspect the security measures you and Mr. Longford have instituted to deter the theft of your four Ferguson tractors. Mr. Sefton was most impressed to see what you have done and I share his confidence. Your thoroughness is most commendable and I am certain that through the measures you have taken, the likelihood of your Fergusons being stolen is reasonably remote. However, I feel I should tell you we are experiencing a fairly constant and meaningful level of claims resulting from the spontaneous combustion of hay and straw - even in well ventilated barns.

Our representative noted the presence of about three hundred mixed straw and hay bales in the barn where the tractors are stored. Of course, in the event of fire, it is reasonable to assume all the tractors would be a total loss and for this, your existing cover is more than adequate. Fergusons are now 'classics' and from the very low level of claims made by owners for outright theft, there is very ample statistical evidence to demonstrate your concerns and those of Mr. Longford are probably ill-founded. I regret that under these circumstances, we are unable to consider your request."

In filing this letter, it occurred to me to check out the conditions of my life insurance. What if I sold the cars and the tractor - and took to riding a horse for my means of transport? As I live in the depths of the country, such a conveyance is entirely reasonable and many people in the district ride them. Perhaps they don't tie them up outside the supermarket - but why not set a trend? I set to with a magnifying glass to study the small print and came across an exclusion clause.

"The insured is required to notify the insurer if the riding of a horse, or the use of a horse for regular travel by the insured is likely to be an important aspect of daily life. If so, special terms and an increased premium will apply."

You really can't win, can you? I've come to the conclusion that perhaps the life of a trappist monk must be a safe bet for any insurance company - but I guess they got that covered as well. Something along the lines of seized knee joints through spending too much time saying your prayers?

John Macartney

© 2002 John Macartney for British Car Week


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