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driving concerns

I was lucky enough to make it through most of 2020 with my job, but I finally got laid off in December. We’re trying to cut back on expenses. Are insurance companies still offering deferrals and discounts like they did last spring? – Matt, Oshawa, Ont.

Most insurance companies have stopped offering COVID-19 relief – but there’s a chance some could offer help again.

“I think most of the relief measures are over,” said Adam Mitchell, a broker with Mitchell & Whale in Whitby, Ont. “They were offered early on, and some had a second round.”

In the early days of the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, some insurance companies let you defer your payments and pay them later.

Some offered 90-day deferrals, while a few let them last longer. At the end of the deferral period, the payments had to be made.

Several insurance companies also offered discounts and rebates.

For instance, for one month last year, Desjardins General Insurance gave drivers a refund of between 25 per cent and 40 per cent of their monthly premium.

“Desjardins has completed its premium-refund program – in total, we refunded $155-million in auto-insurance premiums to our clients across the country,” Joe Daly, spokesman for Desjardins General Insurance Group, said in an e-mail.

While those programs ended as restrictions eased and drivers returned to the road in the summer and fall, could they return now that restrictions are back?

“As far as future relief measures go, everything is fluid at the moment with the lockdown announcements in various areas,” Daly said.

Drive less, pay less?

Generally, there haven’t been big rate hikes since the pandemic hit. Instead, most companies froze – or even slightly lowered – maximum rates,

“While we did see some rates go up in 2020, the majority of the rates that did go up were approved prior to the pandemic hitting,” said Anne Marie Thomas, senior manager of partner relationships at Insurance Hotline, a rate-comparison site.

Why did rates drop? Fewer people driving meant fewer claims.

“Most of the companies have this sort of statistical anomaly where it’s looking like this year will be profitable for them,” Mitchell said. “So you’re probably going to see more rate decreases.”

But even if your rates drop a few dollars over the next year, that doesn’t help if you’re struggling now.

If you’re not commuting to work anymore, you could save on your rates by lowering the annual kilometres allowed on your policy. You’ll have to call your insurance company to let them know.

So how much could you save? It depends.

“If you’re a 22-year-old male, they don’t care how little you drive because you’re statistically a bad driver – the biggest risk isn’t the amount of time you spend on the road, it’s you,” Mitchell said, “But if you’re 45 and you’ve been driving for decades, you may be able to knock your insurance in half.”

If you won’t be driving your car at all, you can park it and just pay for fire and theft.

“You wouldn’t be covered for liability,” Mitchell said.

There’s also pay-as-you-go insurance. For now, it’s only offered by CAA in Canada, Mitchell said.

“It’s like a pre-paid cellphone – you buy 1,000 km at a time,” Mitchell said. “If you’re driving less than 9,000 km a year, it’s cheaper than most other things out there.”

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com and put ‘Driving Concerns’ in your subject line. Emails without the correct subject line may not be answered. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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