Chelsea tractors – the upmarket four-wheel drive of choice for west Londoners – are likely to be slapped with even higher running costs following a shake-up of how vehicles are categorised for insurance purposes.

The Association of British Insurers is for the first time taking into account how much a car weighs in determining insurance ratings.

The move pushes popular models such as the Land Rover Discovery and Volkswagen Touareg into higher-premium categories.

David Stephens, underwriting director at Admiral, the insurer, said: “There could be a substantial increase [in premiums]. Some of the bigger 4x4s can expect to pay extra as a result of this.”

He predicts that drivers of the worst-offending gas-guzzlers could be hit by 15-20 per cent rises to their already sky-high insurance premiums.

Peter Gerrard at Moneysupermarket.com, said: “People are almost being forced into downsizing. Petrol prices and repair costs are increasing anyway and these extra costs are accelerating the burden for the owners of four-wheel drives.”

The ABI has increased the number of motor insurance categories from 20 to 50.

Most car makes will fall into broadly equivalent categories. But some of the heaviest models, which are deemed more likely to cause severe third-party damage in collisions, are jumping to much higher categories.

Mr Stephens said smaller insurers were more anchored to the ABI ratings and so might translate a higher rating into far higher premiums. In contrast, larger insurance providers tended to follow their own ratings criteria and might make less dramatic changes.

Research by AA Personal Loans found that the number of people planning to buy a 4x4 halved between January and November last year.

But city dwellers seem to be proving the most resilient to the spiralling costs. Wimbledon 4x4, a south London dealership selling the latest 4x4 models, on Friday said it had had its best sales month on record.

“These people are spending £30,000 on a car. We wouldn’t expect another £50 or so a month to have an effect,” said the group.

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