Is your car one of the top 10 cars for injury claims?

Korrena Bailie

Thinking of buying a new car? A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) might make you think twice before you invest in certain models.

IIHS studied claims data from car insurance companies representing about 80 percent of the U.S. market. The study found that the owners of small cars were much more likely to file insurance claims for injuries.

Owning a car that is more likely to be involved in crashes can push up your car insurance premiums.

Insurers calculate their premiums based on previous loss experiences, and they factor in the claims histories of specific makes and models, says Michael Barry, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute. So if one type of car has a higher frequency of claims, insurers definitely will take note of this when they’re calculating the premium for a car.

If you get into a crash that injures you or other occupants of your car, the news gets worse.

“A number of auto insurers are offering accident forgiveness programs, so the first accident could have zero impact on insurance rates,” Barry says. However, he says, numerous at-fault accidents involving injuries “will almost definitely contribute to higher insurance premiums.”

Between 2009 and 2011, the IIHS found, occupants of the Toyota Yaris filed 28.5 injury claims each year for every 1,000 insured vehicles. The car with the lowest claim frequency, the Porsche 911, had just 4.5 injury claims filed per 1,000 vehicles.

The IIHS has a classification page showing how it categorizes car size. Seven out of the top 10 cars for injury claims cars are classified as “small” or “mini.” The 10 cars with the highest injury claims are:

Model

Car size

Injury claims frequency (per 1,000 insured vehicles)

1. Toyota Yaris

Mini-car

28.5

2. Suzuki SX4

Small car

26.6

3. Chevrolet Aveo

Mini-car

26

4. Mitsubishi Galant

Midsize car

25.4

5. Kia Rio

Mini-car

24.9

6. Nissan Versa

Small car

24.6

7. Hyundai Accent

Mini-car

24.6

8. Dodge Avenger

Midsize car

23.7

9. Nissan Sentra

Small car

23

10. Chevrolet Aveo Wagon

Mini-station wagon

22.3

So why are occupants of small car more likely to be injured in a crash? Small cars, no matter how well they perform in crash tests, can’t offer the same kind of protection as larger cars. 

“We know that in the real world, if all else is equal, a larger, heavier vehicle does a better job protecting occupants than a smaller, lighter one,” Kim Hazelbaker, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of IIHS, says in a news release.

Should small car owners beware?

In a move that seems to directly contradict the study’s findings, IIHS named the four-door model of the Toyota Yaris as one of its “Top Safety Pick” recipients for 2012. According to Hazelbaker, this disconnect can be explained by the fact that injury claims data and crash test results don’t take vehicle size into consideration.

In most crash tests, the use of a fixed barrier takes away the advantage that a larger, heavier car would have in a real accident. “As a result, crash test results are comparable only among similar (sized) vehicles,” Hazelbaker says. 

Brian Lyons, a spokesman for Toyota, says the automaker is committed to achieving the highest standards of safety, and the company will work with IIHS to get a better handle on the claims data.

So, does this study mean that buyers should stay away from the Yaris and other cars that didn’t fare well? While safety is a big consideration for many car buyers, there is another factor that tends to entice buyers even more: Small cars and mini-cars tend to be much cheaper than their larger counterparts.

And drivers should always take into account their potential auto insurance premiums if they’re buying a new car, regardless of how much the car costs. Barry suggests that buyers check IIHS, which offers guidance on how much insurance coverage for a particular car might cost.

“The larger the car, the more expensive the car is, as a general rule,” says Kevin Lynch, assistant professor of insurance at The American College in Pennsylvania.

He advises car buyers to compare vehicles of the same size and price range, and then compare the safety records of each.

“A Volvo is safer than a Yaris,” Lynch says, “but it costs two to three times more as well.”

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