If you’re shopping for a new car, chances are you’re considering things such as gas mileage, vehicle size, comfort and even that all-important stereo. But have you checked on the cost of insurance?

A quick call to your agent might help you narrow your choices — and avoid a second case of sticker shock after you drive your new car home.

The reason: Along with your own driving record, your ZIP code, and the demographics of the drivers in your household, the make and model of your vehicle can have a big impact on your insurance bill, says Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Of all of those factors, the type of vehicle you put in your garage is the only variable you can change immediately.

“The choice of the car itself is going to affect, in particular, what you will spend for comprehensive and collision,” says Jeanne Salvatore, senior vice president of public affairs for the Insurance Information Institute.

That makes shopping around for insurance, as you shop around for that car, a good move. To compare insurance policies and quotes, visit
Insureme.com, a Bankrate company.

Why some cost more
Collision damage costs are one of the main factors in differentiating the cost of insuring one type of car over another, says Rader. To a lesser extent, you also want to look at
how attractive the car is to thieves.

Vehicles that top the insurance-cost list tend to be either high horsepower, high dollar or expensive to repair, Rader says. An expensive choice:  “Sporty cars that are favored by young drivers who are risky drivers, so they are crashing a lot.”

Higher horsepower means the driver is more likely to be going faster and getting into more accidents. That will send insurance rates up for everyone who owns a similar car.

Many of the vehicles that are expensive to insure “share a common problem, and that is horsepower,” says Kim Hazelbaker, a senior vice president with the Highway Loss Data Institute.

Size matters
Some think that a smaller, more maneuverable car is able to outrun trouble and avoid crashes. It’s a myth, says Rader.

“When you look at the statistics and insurance claims, small sports cars tend to be in more crashes,” he says. Adding to the problem: “They tend to be engaged in faster driving.”

From a statistical standpoint, the safest models tend to be the full-sized family-sedan-type cars, he says.

A few other special circumstances can also send rates through the roof. If a car is a popular target for thieves, your insurance company might charge you higher rates to keep it covered.

If you’re driving a high-priced car, it will likely cost more to fix after a collision. As a result, your insurance bill will go up when you add it to the policy, Rader says. Likewise, some luxury or high-end cars feature aluminum body panels that are more expensive to fix or replace than sheet metal, he says.

One other factor to consider: How much damage is your vehicle likely to inflict in a crash?

As sport utility vehicles have become more popular, insurance companies have had to study and factor that issue into premiums, says Salvatore. As a result, if you drive an SUV, your liability premium (which covers damage to other vehicles), could be higher because of the increased damage a vehicle of that size can cause in an accident, she says. 

The 10 cars with the most expensive collision losses, starting with the most expensive, from 2002 to 2004 figures from the Highway Loss Data Institute:

10 cars most expensive to insure:
1. Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution
2. Mercedes CL
3. Dodge SRT-4
4. Subaru Impreza WRX
5. Jaguar XK (convertible)
6. Lexus IS 300
7. Honda S2000
8. Acura RSX
9. Nissan 350Z
10. Jaguar XJ

Don’t let the list scare you. Insurance cost isn’t necessarily a reflection on safety.

“A safe car is not necessarily the cheapest car to insure,” says Salvatore. The car itself could also be expensive or just expensive to repair after an accident, which would increase insurance costs.

But a high rate is a red flag to ask a few questions. For instance, if a car has a lot of horsepower and is involved in a lot of crashes, that can also send insurance rates up, even if the car itself is relatively inexpensive.

So if you’re getting ready to buy your teen that dream model and the insurance rate comes back sky-high, that may be a tip that it’s time to search for another make and model.

The least expensive
Sometimes the driver really does make all the difference.

Insurance companies and crash analysts have noticed that vehicles most often associated with family transportation — such as minivans, station wagons and family sedans — get in fewer crashes than the high-horsepower hotrods that appeal to young male drivers.

“It’s pretty traditional to see things like station wagons and minivans there — vehicles probably operated by soccer moms in nonaggressive fashion,” says Hazelbaker.

In addition, many (but not all) of the vehicles that rank low in collision costs also tend to be “generally, not real expensive vehicles,” he says.


The 10 least expensive models, in terms of collision losses, starting with the least expensive:

10 cars least expensive to insure:
1. Volvo XC90
2. Chevrolet Malibu Maxx
3. GMC Safari
4. Buick Le Sabre
5. Nissan Pathfinder Armada (2004 only)
6. Pontiac Montana (standard model)
7. Mazda MPV
8. Ford Thunderbird
9. Pontiac Montana (long wheel-based model)
10. Ford Taurus (station wagon)

Just as with the most-costly picks, a variety of reasons can land a vehicle on the least-expensive list. For instance, the Volvo XC90 and Chevy station wagon that make the top of the “best” list are “likely to be family vehicles, driven differently than the vehicles on the “worst” list,” says Rader. And the Ford Thunderbird, he says, “tends to be a second or third car and is not driven as often.”

Dana Dratch is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.

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