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Revealed: The most confusing car insurance terms

Paloma Kubiak
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Paloma Kubiak

Do you know your SORN from your black-box? Here we share the common car insurance terms drivers search for the most, and explain exactly what they mean.

The car insurance industry is awash with jargon which can be both confusing and misunderstood.

More than 90,000 searches have been made each month for an explanation of what ‘write-off’, ‘mileage’ and ‘market value’ mean, according to data from comparison site Uswitch.

The table below reveals the frequently misunderstood car insurance terms and policies:


‘Write-off’ is the most misunderstood car insurance term worldwide, with an average of 50,250 monthly searches for its definition. This is over four-fifths (88%) more searches than the term ‘SORN’ [Statutory Off Road Notification] in fourth place, with 5,890 average monthly searches.

The terms ‘write-off’ and ‘SORN’ both relate to cars being taken off the road; either due to an accident, or when a driver decides to register their car as not being used, which could explain why motorists don’t come across the terms often.

There are approximately 126,247 collisions in the UK each year, and a serious collision every 16 minutes. Leoni Moninska, insurance expert at Uswitch, said: “If your insurer thinks repairing the damage will cost more than your car is worth, this will be considered a ‘write-off’ and either scrapped or taken off the road for repairs.”


The term ‘mileage’ is the second most confusing car insurance term to drivers, with its definition being searched 34,430 times on average each month. ‘Mileage’ is searched over a quarter (79%) more times than ‘market value’, in third place, with 7,210 average monthly searches.

Moninska explained: “Mileage refers to the number of miles your vehicle has travelled in its lifetime and can be checked by looking at service records and MOT history.

“If you have high annual mileage, you can typically expect to pay a higher premium on any car insurance policy. This is because the more you drive, the more likely you are to be in an accident and make a claim on your car insurance.”

Market value

‘Market value’ is the third most misunderstood car insurance term worldwide, with an average of 7,210 monthly searches aiming to understand the term. This is almost double (44%) the number of searches for ‘Comprehensive car insurance’ in sixth place, with 3,990 average monthly searches.

Interestingly, both write-off and market value, which typically relate to damaged vehicles, are in the top three

Moninska said: “When a car has been written off, your insurer will usually offer the market value of the car rather than the cost of repair. This is the amount your vehicle would have been worth, or sold for at a reputable dealership, just before it was damaged.”


With SORN vehicles rising by 259,000 in 2020, surprisingly ‘SORN’ takes fourth place as one of the most frequently misunderstood car insurance terms, with 5,890 average monthly searches for its definition.

This is almost two-thirds (59%) more searches than the term ‘Act of God’ in seventh place — with 2,380 monthly searches — which refers to any event that occurs through natural causes which typically can’t be avoided, such as floods or earthquakes.

Moninska, said: “The term ‘SORN’ stands for Statutory Off-Road Notification. Once you declare a car is SORN, you are confirming your vehicle will be kept off the road. If you own a vehicle you no longer drive on a public road, you can legally avoid paying tax so long as you complete a SORN.”

Black box

‘Black box’ is the fifth most widely misunderstood car insurance term, despite the fact that there are more than one million drivers with a black box insurance policy in the UK, with 5,370 average monthly searches.

This is more than five times (81%) the number of searches for the term ‘third party car insurance’ in tenth place — with 1,020 monthly searches — which refers to the minimum level of car insurance legally required.

Moninska said: “Telematics insurance, which is often referred to as black box cover, is a device which is fitted into your vehicle to record your driving behaviour. This is to prove to insurers that you can drive safely and reduce the cost of your insurance.

“The black box also measures how, when and where you drive, and your insurance cost can vary according to this. Motorists who regularly drive at night may face higher costs from insurers as accidents are statistically more likely to occur during these periods.”

She added that the black box also acts as a GPS system which tracks your location and can be used to find your car if it is ever lost or stolen, and to verify claims in an accident.

Moninska said: “In the event of an accident, the black box holds data which can be used to tell how fast you were going, the impact force and what time and where the accident took place. This can help build up a case with your insurer for a non-fault claim.”