Aftermarket Motorcycle Modifications: What You And Your Insurer Should Know

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If you're a motorcycle enthusiast, chances are that if you're not spending your spare time out on the open road, you might be found in your garage "working on your bike."
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If you're a motorcycle enthusiast, chances are that if you're not spending your spare time out on the open road, you might be found in your garage "working on your bike." Whether you plan modifications to personalise the design or feel of your vehicle or to alter or improve its function, customising your ride is a very popular aspect of this hobby.

However, it's essential to remember that aftermarket motorcycle modifications can cause significant headaches if you haven't taken the proper steps to insure and certify your vehicle. Failing to alert your insurer to modifications could void your insurance. If it's determined that the modifications have caused or contributed to the severity of a motorcycle accident, discovering you don't have the appropriate insurance policy could be a very costly lesson to learn.

In this blog post, I outline the common types of aftermarket modifications motorcyclists tend to make to their vehicles, explain why communication with your insurer about these alterations is so important, and suggest what may happen if you haven't kept your insurer apprised of these changes.

Aftermarket motorcycle modifications

Aftermarket vehicle parts and accessories encompass any material change to the vehicle after its manufacture. These items, which may or may not be manufactured by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), are designed to either maintain or improve the vehicle. They include:

  • replacement parts made by the OEM
  • aftermarket parts made by other manufacturers including parts to modify performance
  • aftermarket accessories for comfort, convenience or customization (including adaptations for accessibility)

The parts and accessories can be installed on a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) or a Do-It-For-Me (DIFM) basis, but if a qualified mechanic hasn't performed or inspected the work, some modifications may violate vehicle standards according to the law.

When it comes to choosing OEM parts versus parts made by other manufacturers, owners weigh a number of factors, including:

  • quality
  • consistency
  • cost
  • variety/cosmetics
  • performance enhancing capabilities
  • the OEM warranty

Common motorcycle modifications

When deciding how to modify your bike, the possibilities seem limitless. However, there are certain modifications that tend to be popular among many motorcyclists. These include:

  • fender eliminators
  • seat upgrades
  • frame sliders
  • fully adjustable suspension
  • air filter upgrades
  • exhaust system upgrades
  • tank grips
  • braided brakes
  • brake pads
  • lever upgrades
  • steering dampers
  • chain/sprocket upgrades
  • custom paint jobs and/or decals
  • LED lighting/auxiliary lights
  • windscreens
  • wheel/tire upgrades
  • storage cases
  • phone mounts/USB chargers

How is insurance impacted by aftermarket modifications?

When a motorcycle is modified with non-OEM parts, an insurance provider will likely have two main concerns when determining the pricing for a policy.

Modifications may:

  • affect safety/performance
  • impact resale value/replacement cost

If the customization is cosmetic, an insurer will want to calculate whether the cost to replace a damaged/stolen vehicle will increase, and how their adjusters will calculate depreciation. A policy offered may limit the amount paid for loss or damage or require you to pay certain premiums to guarantee replacement value based on appraisal by including Ontario Policy Change Forms (OPCF) 19 or 19A, respectively.

Some customizations may improve a vehicle's overall safety or reduce the likelihood it will be stolen. In these cases, notifying your insurer of these add-ons may actually lower your premiums.

However, if the customization could conceivably negatively affect a vehicle's safety/performance, some insurers may not be willing to offer you a standard policy at all.

Instead, they may direct you to a specialty service that provides insurance for customised vehicles or the insurer of last resort, the Facility Association. This option is primarily designed for people with poor driving records or accident histories. Specialty insurance premiums are often significantly higher than what you would pay to cover standard vehicles.

Regardless of whether you are able to purchase a standard motorcycle insurance policy, a standard policy with modifications/waivers, or a specialised/customised policy, you must ensure your motorcycle's alterations comply with Ontario's Highway Traffic Act (HTA). There are specific regulations for motorcycles and rebuilt (salvage) vehicles.

Bringing your vehicle to a licensed Motor Vehicle Inspection Station can give you peace of mind as the technicians who examine your motorcycle must use criteria that conform to government regulations to determine it meets the minimum standards to pass inspection.

Beyond the HTA, municipalities sometimes enact by-laws that could affect your ability to make modifications. For example, changes to an exhaust system may run afoul of noise by-laws if the loudness is deemed to be unreasonably disruptive to other people's peaceful enjoyment of their property.

What if I'm in a motorcycle accident and my insurer did not approve of my modifications?

When reviewing motorcycle community comment boards, it's fair to say that many motorcycle enthusiasts who have had to deal with insurers and/or motor vehicle inspectors after customising their bikes have faced some hurdles getting approved and road ready.

However, choosing not to inform your insurer about the work planning to do on your motorcycle and hoping they won't notice in the event you're involved in a motor vehicle accident is not advisable at all. While some modifications may slip by without notice, the consequences of an insurer discovering unauthorised aftermarket modifications can be costly.

At best, the insurer may not properly value the customisations you've made if they pay to fix damage or replace the vehicle. At worst, the insurer may void the policy. This would mean you would not receive any funds from insurance to repair or replace your vehicle.

If you were found to be at fault for the motorcycle accident, and the insurer voided your policy after the accident due to misrepresentation, a third party who was injured by your actions would still be able to advance a claim for damages against your insurer. Under the circumstances, your insurance coverage responding to any claim for damages will be compromised.

Tips for handling aftermarket modifications

Before starting any work on your bike, take the time to do a cost-benefit analysis. Is the cost of a modification (including the part, the professional work needed, and changes to insurance premiums or coverage) worth it when I think of my needs or enjoyment?

Ask your insurer:

  • Will my changes affect my risk profile?
  • Will these modifications affect my premiums and/or what you will cover if repairs or replacement is needed?
  • Will any planned alterations cause you to deny coverage?

Ask yourself:

  • For any body work, am I a qualified mechanic? If not, decide whether to pay a professional to do the work or ensure a Motor Vehicle Inspection Station checks your work before driving your bike.

Ask a motorcycle vendor:

  • Have you declared all modifications made to the bike prior to sale, whether you made them or not? Consult the OEM specifications if there is any doubt.

Remember, when it comes to aftermarket modifications, honesty is always the best policy. It's far better to know about any problems your modifications may pose for your insurer (and your own safety and the safety of others) than learning that your decision to omit or minimise the extent of changes has voided your policy after a motorcycle accident.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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