Some Small Cars Generate Big Insurance Claims

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2009 Toyota Yaris

2009 Toyota Yaris

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Car safety has improved in leaps and bounds over the last few decades, with several technological advancements helping not only to protect you in an accident, but also prevent them in the first place.

Even so, statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) shows some stark differences in insurance loss data.

Some trends emerge from the data, one of which shows that personal injury, medical payment and bodily injury payouts are significantly higher for small cars than some other vehicle classes.

Among the worst vehicles for personal injury are the Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio and Toyota Yaris, while Chevrolet's Aveo scores particularly badly on medical payment loss. Moving up a class, the Nissan Versa also scores poorly, while the Mitsubishi Lancer is "substantially worse" than average in every insurance loss area--collision, property damage, comprehensive, plus the injury categories.

All the data compiled by the HLDI refers to 2009-2011 model year vehicles, and has been adjusted to reduce differences from non-vehicle factors such as operator age, calendar year, density, gender and other factors.

Generally, small, four-door cars rate substantially worse than any other vehicle class for injury claims, while expensive cars like sports cars and large SUVs have higher collision losses--since they cost more to fix.

Some cars do show lower than average insurance losses for their category, however--smart's tiny fortwo minicar is substantially better than average for collision damage claims, but no worse than average for medical payment losses.

The MINI range also scores average or better than average in most areas, while small sports cars like the Mazda MX-5 Miata also do well. Green favorite, Toyota's Prius, scores average in every category.

Speaking with The Detroit News, HLDI's Kim Hazelbaker explains some of the trends.

"Expensive cars cost more to fix, which is why they have such high collision losses... Meanwhile, cars marketed for their powerful engines tend to crash more often... partly explained by the type of drivers they attract and by the style of driving they lend themselves to."

As for small cars, the bare numbers show that you're still more likely to be injured in an accident--though you can mitigate it by picking the right model, it seems.

Want to know where your own vehicle comes for insurance losses? Head over to the HLDI's make and model table.


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Comments (11)
  1. OK, puzzle me this batman.

    For personal injury,
    Toyota Camry hybrid 99% or average
    Toyota Camry 142% or much worse than average.

    Is this really the safety of the vehicle or the drivers we are talking about here?

    And for personal injury, looks like the VW Golf or GTI are winners at 69 and 65% respectively. But would I really be safer switching to one of those vehicles, or am I the main risk factor.

    And where is the cross correlation between IIHS crash test data and this cost data. Does the crash test data correlate?

  2. People who drive hybrids are usually slower than people who don't since MPG matters to them. Slower speed means less energy dissipated if accident occurs, thus less likely to cause more severe injuries...

  3. That is certainly one possible explanation. Wonder if there are other such as age or driving environment.

  4. If what you are saying is true, it suggest the numbers might more reflect the driver's safety versus the vehicle's safety.

  5. There's probably an element of this John, since the IIHS did say that smaller cars with larger engines - generally performance cars - tend to score worse. It's plausible then what Xiaolong suggests, that hybrids attract more careful drivers so they score better than average.

  6. It calls the whole exercise in to question. In the story you have phrases like " worst vehicles for personal injury", but perhaps it should be "drivers that purchase vehicle X are more at risk for personal injury".

    On the other hand, large trucks do very well for personal injury (low injury), so perhaps that is the vehicle that accounts for the difference. But in the end, the whole vehicle vs. driver issue seems confounded.

  7. I think "smaller vehicles" COMBINED with "poor driving" makes the personal injury most likely.

    Larger vehicles might NOT do better again a wall or tree, but in the sea of smaller vehicles, they tend to do better.

    Of course, the driver behind the wheel is always the most important factor. But if the drivers are similar in skills and driving style, then larger vehicles tend to "protect" its occupants better in a collision with other vehicles (non-fixed object).

  8. John - the HLDI does say the figures have been adjusted to reduce the difference of factors like age or gender, which would normally be an issue (i.e. young males are statistically more likely to have large, expensive, injurious accidents than middle-aged females, for example) but ultimately some types of car will attract different driving styles from others.

    Even so, as Xiaolong points out above, some smaller vehicles will more likely result in claims for injury than their larger counterparts, with like-for-like drivers. Though other small cars seem to fly against the general trends.

    And of course, crashing a prestige vehicle may not injure you as much, but parts costs will be a lot higher...

  9. Looks like imports have a higher loss ratio. So - raise the insurance rates on those imports. It could help the domestic car markets. If we can't tax them on the way in, at least tax them through insurance companies. Call it a VAT. Vehicular-risk Added Tax.

  10. I think the line between domestic and import is becoming blurred, John, since many of those "import" vehicles are actually produced in the U.S. anyway, providing jobs and contributing to the economy.

    The only surefire way to help domestic car markets is for domestic makers to make cars that are competitive with or better than imported makes - something they're now doing, and seeing benefits from as a result.

    Taxing imports to stimulate demand for domestic makers is the best way of making domestic makers lazy and complacent. The products suffer, people stop buying, and bailouts start happening again...

  11. People making claims for the money would be my guess.

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