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Auto insurance

Overview

Insurance claims provide valuable data for safety research. We can compare how often different models are involved in crashes and subject to injury claims. We can also look at claim trends to gauge the effect of a legislative change or a specific safety feature.

Insurance losses for damage, either to the insured vehicle or to other vehicles, generally increase as vehicle size increases. Larger models tend to be more expensive to buy and more costly to repair or replace. In addition, larger vehicles are heavier and therefore tend to do more damage to whatever they hit.

Rates of injury claims for people in the insured vehicle tend to decrease as vehicle size increases. The occupants of larger, heavier vehicles are subjected to less force and benefit from more survival space in the event of a crash.

Losses are also influenced by the type of drivers a vehicle appeals to. For example, crash damage, injury and even theft claims are relatively rare for family-oriented station wagons and minivans. In contrast, losses under all coverages are extremely high for large two-door cars — a category that is made up of variants of the Dodge Challenger, a model that seems to appeal to aggressive drivers as well as thieves.

Insurance data in safety research

The Highway Loss Data Institute analyzes auto insurance data to gather valuable information about safety and the costs of crash damage and injuries. With records from companies representing more than 85% of the U.S. auto insurance market for private passenger vehicles, our database is the largest repository of such information in the world. It covers everything from motorcycles to large cargo vans — as long as they’re insured for personal, not commercial, use. A large majority of the vehicles on the road are insured. As a result, insurance claims information can shed light onto how often different models are involved in crashes and how well they protect drivers and other occupants. We publish comparative loss data by make and model every year. Consumers shopping for a safe vehicle should focus on models with fewer, less severe claims than the average — especially under injury coverages.

Insurance losses by make and model

Results under the six coverages for hundreds of passenger vehicles grouped by class and size
We also use our claims data for a variety of research. For example, HLDI analysts can compare the crash records of vehicles with and without specific safety features to help gauge their effectiveness. They can also compare losses before and after a particular policy change and across similar states with different laws. And they can look at how losses differ for drivers of different ages or other demographic characteristics.

Auto insurance basics

Auto insurance covers damage to vehicles and property and injuries to people involved in crashes. Different insurance coverages pay for vehicle damage versus injuries. Different insurance coverages also may apply depending on who is at fault: First-party insurance pays for your own losses, while third-party pays for losses to other people and property for which you are liable.

Damage to vehicles and other property

If you are at fault in a crash, your own first-party collision insurance covers the damage to your vehicle. If you are liable for damage to someone else’s vehicle or property, your insurance pays for those costs under third-party property damage liability (PDL) coverage.

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Theft and other noncrash losses — for example, as a result of flooding, hail, vandalism or fire — are paid for under comprehensive coverage. Damage to your vehicle that occurs as a result of striking an animal is also covered under comprehensive instead of collision.

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Injuries

Insurance coverage for crash injuries depends on the insurance system in the state in which the insurance is purchased.

In states with traditional tort insurance systems, who pays for crash-related injuries depends on who is at fault. If you are at fault, your medical payment (Medpay) insurance covers your injuries and those of your passengers, while bodily injury (BI) liability pays for injuries to other people. If you aren’t at fault, the at-fault driver’s BI liability insurance covers you.

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In states with no-fault insurance systems, crash injury costs are paid under the injured person’s first-party personal injury protection (PIP) coverage, regardless of who caused the crash.

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Thirty-three states have traditional tort systems. No-fault insurance is sold in Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah and Washington. The District of Columbia has a hybrid insurance system.

Insurance losses explained

Two main factors determine losses under the six insurance coverages defined above. One is how often claims are filed (claim frequency). The other is the size of the claim payments (claim severity), which depends on the extent of the damage. Overall insurance losses, or the average loss payment per insured vehicle year, are calculated by multiplying claim severity by claim frequency. Overall losses represent the average cost of insuring a vehicle for one year, excluding administrative costs. To make it easier to compare different vehicles, HLDI calculates relative claim frequency, claim severity and overall losses. In each of the charts below, the value 100 corresponds to the average result for all vehicles. For example, in the first chart, the all-vehicle average collision loss of $532 per insured vehicle year has been normalized to 100. A value of 200 for a particular vehicle or vehicle category means twice the average for all vehicles, a value of 50 means half the average, and so forth.

Crash damage by vehicle class and size

Within each vehicle class (e.g., two-door cars or luxury SUVs), overall losses under both collision and PDL are generally higher for larger vehicles than for smaller ones. For collision, which covers crash damage to the insured vehicle, that’s because larger vehicles tend to be more expensive to buy and more costly to repair or replace. For PDL, which covers crash damage caused by the insured vehicle to other vehicles and property, it’s because larger vehicles are heavier and therefore do more damage to whatever they hit. Vehicle class also matters. Over the past several years, overall losses under collision and PDL coverages have been especially high for large two-door cars, a category has been made up entirely of variants of the Dodge Challenger. A daily-use vehicle, the Challenger boasts a powerful engine and may appeal to a greater number of fast, aggressive drivers as a result. Collision claim severity is high among luxury vehicles and sports cars because of their high prices. However, both collision and PDL claim frequencies are lower for these classes than most others. That's because luxury vehicles and sports cars are often owned by households with more vehicles than drivers and therefore aren’t always used every day. Collision and PDL claim frequencies also tend to be lower for station wagons, minivans and vans than for other vehicle types. Wagons and minivans appeal to less aggressive drivers. The very large vans covered by the HLDI database, which excludes commercial vehicles, may be used on an occasional basis rather than day-to-day. Some of these trends are noticeable in the chart below, which depicts relative overall losses under collision coverage for 2020-22 models as of December 2023. Losses under collision coverage by vehicle class and size, 2020-22 models 100 = $532 (all-passenger-vehicle result)

For 2020-22 models, collision overall losses were higher than average for large two-door cars (variants of the Dodge Challenger) because of high claim frequency (HLDI, 2023). Low claim frequency kept losses low for station wagons, minivans and vans, while high claim severity resulted in higher-than-average losses for sports cars and luxury cars.

Injury losses by class and size

Within each vehicle class, first-party injury (i.e., MedPay and PIP) claim frequency tends to decrease as vehicle size increases. The occupants of larger, heavier vehicles are subjected to less force and benefit from more survival space in the event of a crash. In contrast, the severity, or cost, of injury claims tends to increase with vehicle size. This may be because larger vehicles are more likely to be carrying multiple passengers, increasing the odds of multiple injuries. Just as in claims for crash damage, vehicle class also makes a difference in injury claims. For instance, relative claim frequencies under MedPay and PIP coverages are generally higher than average for small four-door cars, which don’t provide as much protection in crashes with larger vehicle types. Claim frequencies are generally lower for SUVs and luxury SUVs, which are heavier and therefore offer more protection. These general trends are reflected in the chart below, which shows relative overall losses under MedPay for 2020-22 models as of December 2023. Losses under medical payment coverage by vehicle class and size, 2020-22 models 100 = $43 (all-passenger-vehicle result)

Among model year 2020-22 vehicles, MedPay overall losses were highest for very large luxury cars and four-door microcars and lowest for mini sports cars (HLDI, 2023). Losses are generally lower for larger vehicles within each vehicle class. However, large two-door cars and large sports cars have high losses. This is likely due to the high horsepower offered by the larger models in these vehicle classes.

Comprehensive coverage

Losses under comprehensive coverage are not generally related to safety. HLDI classifies comprehensive losses into three groups: theft; glass damage caused by rocks and other noncollision events; and damage from other sources, including collisions with animals, acts of nature, fire and vandalism. Typically, overall losses under comprehensive coverage are highest for very large luxury cars, which are expensive to repair or replace. Within vehicle categories, overall losses tend to increase with vehicle size. Losses under comprehensive coverage by vehicle class and size, 2020-22 models 100 = $189 (all-passenger-vehicle result)

Among 2020-22 model year vehicles, comprehensive overall losses were highest for very large luxury cars due to their high cost (HLDI, 2023).

Theft overall losses are lowest for cheaper vehicles that are unpopular with thieves, like small station wagons. However, losses from theft, which include entire vehicles, parts and items stored inside the vehicle, can be surprising. Recently, theft losses have soared for Hyundai and Kia models that lack electronic immobilizers, which makes them easy to steal (HLDI, 2023).

Older Toyota Prius models have also been targeted for catalytic converter theft because the catalytic converters command especially high prices from scrap dealers (HLDI, 2022).

Theft overall losses by vehicle class and size, 2020-22 models 100 = $24 (all-passenger-vehicle result)

All sizes of 2020-22 model year station wagons and minivans had lower than average theft overall losses (HLDI, 2023). Large and very large vehicles tended to have much higher than average theft overall losses. Theft overall losses for Dodge Challenger variants (i.e. large two-door cars) were nearly 10 times the all-vehicle average due to high claim frequency for whole-vehicle theft.

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