Snow over the Christmas can seem enchanting, well, in theory. In practice, a lot can go wrong when the temperature drops.

Every year readers contact me in their droves about everything from wonky boilers to excessive energy bills. I’ve covered both those subjects in previous columns, so this week, I’ll tackle the two other main causes of cold weather carnage. Car theft on cold days and bust pipes.

Why car thieves love cold weather

When it gets colder, defrosting the car can be a drag when you’re rushing to get to work or take the kids to school. There are lots of different techniques when it comes to clearing off the snow or frost. However, one of the most popular methods is to slip the keys in the ignition and leave the engine running while watching the car through the window. Unfortunately, this is often followed by the sound of the car being driven off by an opportunistic car thief.  Every Winter, countless people heating up their car find out the hard way just how quickly it can get stolen.

‘Keys in car’ thefts occur outside the home, shops, post boxes, by cash machines, even at petrol stations. And when it comes to making an insurance claim, you might find you get a frosty response. All isn’t lost though. While most insurers include clauses in their contracts about leaving your car unattended with the keys in (or even open) you can still appeal if your claim is turned down. It’s on the insurer to prove that the car was left unlocked too, so if the way the thief gained access is inconclusive, make a complaint. It’s been repeatedly proven that even the most modern car locking systems can be outwitted by enterprising robbers. 

How to deal with a broken or cracked pipe

The cost of energy has meant that people have held out till the last minute before putting the heating on this year. That’s a danger, because when you finally turn up the thermostat, things can go drastically wrong.

This is the peak time of year for boiler or home emergency claims. However, now it’s even colder, you may find that you have a problem with a burst or cracked pipe.

Claims for damaged pipes are complex as your home insurance may cover damage caused by the leak, but not the problem itself. Home emergency cover might help you with the broken pipe, but only if the pipe is on your property. If not, then the problem becomes the responsibility for whoever is in charge of the damaged section.

If you need to make a claim, note down a few key facts. How much of an emergency is this? Do you have water cascading down the walls? Go to the front of the queue. Can’t see a leak but you have no heating? Do some troubleshooting to see if there are other problems (a damaged thermostat, a boiler that needs rebooting) then seek help. Call your home insurer first and explain the situation. If urgent, ask if you can call out your own engineer if the insurer’s contractors are not available.

If you do have a cracked or damaged pipe, then repairs can also be contentious. Finding the leak can leave you with holes in the walls, damage to property and other issues. Make sure the insurer explains what their policy is for repairing both necessary and accidental damage.

Finally, not all cold weather problems are boiler or pipe related. Heavy snow can result in your roof, fence, shed or garage suffering damage. As a general rule of thumb, if the structure was a bit rickety then the insurer might say the claimable event is as a result of ‘wear and tear’ and turn down your claim. If you don’t think this is fair, don’t put up and shut up. Make a complaint and go to the free Financial Ombudsman if you are unhappy.

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.

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