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De-icing – How you could invalidate your car insurance

De-icing is rarely a job that anyone finds pleasant. It’s cold and tedious work but believe it or not, it can also sometimes lead to trouble with both your insurance and the law.

Here’s why.

The law

Way back in 2002, a new law was introduced very quietly – so much so in fact that even today many drivers remain unaware of its existence.

This is called the “stationary idling offence” and it essentially means that you can be fined £20-£40 if you leave your car engine idling for more than 2 minutes or so. The objective was and remains, to cut down on pollution and fuel consumption when a car is basically going nowhere.

At the time, this law led to some scoffing what if scenarios, including things such as would the police be walking up and down lengthy queues at say traffic lights, clutching a timer and note book. However, whatever the complexities, the law was passed and it’s on the statute books.

Winter issues

One of the big issues arising from this is of course that of de-icing in winter.

Many of us will, at one time or another, have started our vehicles and left the engine running while the car warmed up and the blowers and other systems de-iced the windows and other surfaces for us. The unpleasant alternative was the traditional scraper and frozen hands.

This approach might, if the duration was extended, now be an offence under law. In other words, you really should be using that scraper and only starting the car once you’re ready to go and only have that internal condensation to clear away. In passing, the law only applies if you’re on the public road so you can still de-ice the environmentally unfriendly way if you’re on your drive.

This though leads into another issue – that of your car insurance.

Vehicle insurance implications

If you’re one of the many who like letting your car do the defrosting for you while you’re inside having a last sip of warming tea or coffee, be careful because you might be putting your car insurance at risk.

While there is no insurance problem as such with you defrosting your car using the engine, it is imperative that you stay with your vehicle at all times while the keys are in the ignition. Fail to do so and your car insurance might reject any claims should the vehicle be stolen thanks to your generosity in starting it and leaving it running for the thief while you were elsewhere. Note this applies whether your vehicle is on the public road or not.

If you think such a theft could never happen while you’re close-by, well, it could and does, even to celebrities, as this celebrity example with “Ice Bandits” from 2013 confirms.


In summary, there are two slightly different if related things to consider here:

  • don’t leave your engine idling for more than a couple of minutes or so on the public road, even if you’re with your vehicle or trying to de-ice it. This might be an offence;
  • don’t leave your car idling if you’re elsewhere – whether you’re on the public road or not. This might be an offence (if on the public highway) and wherever you are, put your car insurance at risk.

Take this issue seriously – it’s receiving much more public attention and official scrutiny!

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