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Are safer cars cheaper to insure?


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Question: Are car insurance rates better for autos that have high safety crash-test ratings? Will owning such a car cause my premium to go down?

Answer: Safety ratings by themselves won't cut your car insurance rates. Crash-test results by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) are only one component considered by car insurance companies.

Ultimately what you pay depends on how likely your car insurance company thinks you are to file a claim. Some of that is calculated by looking at your driving record and demographics such as age and sex. They consider how much your car will cost to repair and how much damage it typically does to other cars and to the people in them.

Great crash-test ratings may be an indicator that a car will have fewer medical payments claims -- but the lower rate will be based on real-world data collected long after the tests are done.

Safer is better, but ...

Safety features can help lower your rates.  Typically, discounts are given for items such as anti-lock brakes and airbags. But it is the proven life-saving record of those features that brings the discount, not their mere presence.

That's why discounts for newer auto safety technology are slow in arriving. Every credible expert agrees that electronic stability control has saved lives, and the systems have been mandatory since 2012. But discounts for it are hard to find. And you won't find many insurers giving discounts yet for crash-avoidance features, such as a lane-departure warning system. 

Hand in hand with this is the crashworthiness of a vehicle.  If vehicles with new safety features are receiving better crash ratings and performing better in real-world accidents, then more discounts may come about for new tech and car insurance rates for certain vehicle make and models may come down.

The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) provides information on insurance losses by make and model.  Your vehicle may do well in the crash tests, but then have a higher number of insurance losses than other cars in its category, thus making it cost more to insure.

For instance, the Toyota Corolla shows up as an IIHS Top Safety Pick, but the HLDI shows that it has substantially worse than average insurance claims for  personal injury and medical payments.  This means that car insurance companies are likely to charge more for these areas of coverage with this vehicle knowing that there is a higher likelihood of claims.

Drivers matter more than cars

A safe vehicle is only part of the car insurance equation.

For example, your very safe car is high on the list of stolen cars in your area.  If this is the case, your collision and medical payments premiums may receive a discount due to the safety features and crash ratings, but then your comprehensive could be more due your vehicle’s theft rates.

The driver typically makes a bigger difference than the car does. Age, gender, driving record and driving experience are considered, along with non-driving factors such as location, credit (if your state permits it), claims history and even occupation.

I believe when deciding on what car to buy it's smart to examine items such as crash tests results, reliability and gas mileage (factors we looked into when choosing the best cars for teen drivers). These things can help you narrow down what model vehicle you’re interested in purchasing.  Once you have your short list, then it’s time to compare car insurance rates.

Comparison shopping is easy to do.  With online quote forms you can obtain multiple car insurance rate quotes on one vehicle and then can go back and change the vehicle out to see how that changes your rate.  This way you know that you’re comparing the same coverages each time.

Comparing quotes will allow you to find out if the car you like the most is still affordable to you once you add in the insurance premium to its total cost of ownership.

More articles from Penny Gusner


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