Car repair work on private land not covered by motor insurance, court rules

Car insurance is unlikely to cover vehicle repairs carried out on private property, a recent court case has confirmed.

The UK Supreme Court unanimously decided that under both UK and EU law, "the carrying out of significant repairs to a vehicle on private property" does not count as "use" of that vehicle for the purposes of compulsory motor insurance.

The case stemmed from an incident in 2010 in which a mechanical fitter accidentally set fire to his car while repairing it at his employer's premises. The fire caused £2m of property damage and the employer's insurer made a subrogated claim against the employee under his motor insurance policy.

Under the Road Traffic Act (RTA) 1988, insurance policies are required to cover property damage liabilities "caused by, or arising out of, the use of the vehicle on a road or other public place".

According to, the dispute centred on a clause in the employee's car insurance policy which said: "we will cover you for your legal responsibility if you have an accident in your vehicle and: you kill or injure someone; [or] you damage their property..." and included the required legal certificate of compliance with the RTA.

The High Court ruled that the motor insurance policy did not cover the accident because it had arisen out of the way in which the car was being repaired. This was overturned by the Court of Appeal, which argued that because the policy had no geographical limitations it meant: "We will cover you for your legal responsibility if there is an accident involving your vehicle".

However, the Supreme Court has overturned the Appeal Court decision. It concluded that the policyholder's "use" of the vehicle did not meet the purposes of compulsory motor insurance in this case because it was his alleged negligence in carrying out the repairs, and not the use of the car as a means of transport, which caused the damage.

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