Sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are still costlier to insure than a lot of cars, but recent safety improvements might lead to better auto insurance rates for the popular vehicles.
Several years ago, a lot of SUV owners operated under the misconception that their vehicles were the safest on the road. They were big and sturdy, after all, so drivers safe in them. Size and weight are indeed positive factors for safety because of the laws of physics--drivers are less likely to get hurt in a bigger car than a tiny compact.
But SUVs, which were built on truck platforms, had a higher center of gravity, which made them more likely than other cars to roll over.
A lot as changed, though, in SUV manufacturing. All brand-new SUVs are equipped with electronic stability control systems, which help drivers avoid crashes. And increasingly, they are built on car instead of truck platforms, making them easier to drive. Ford, for instance, is building its new Explorers on the Taurus platform.
"Today's SUVs are more closely related to cars rather than light trucks and pickups," says Russ Rader, a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
As a result, rollover risk of new SUVs is about the same as that of cars. Rader, in fact, says he would avoid buying a used SUV that is not equipped with electronic stability control.
Car insurance rate factors that affect SUV drivers
Still, other factors mean you might pay more to insure an SUV than some other standard mid-size cars.
"Another issue for SUVs is when they hit a car, it can result in more serious injuries to occupants in the vehicle, as SUVs are higher than a regular vehicle," says Loretta Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute. "So there are still some risks that affect pricing."
Luxury SUVs are also big theft targets and are expensive to replace and repair.
The Cadillac Escalade, for instance, has had the worst theft-loss record in the last six of seven years, according to theft-loss rates for 1- to 3-year-old passenger vehicles published in August 2010 by the Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Almost a quarter of theft claims for the Escalade top $40,000, and overall theft-loss rates of the luxury SUV are seven times the average car.
Most vehicles with the worst theft-loss records are SUVs and trucks. But some SUVs nab good ratings. Two mid-sized SUVs--the Saturn VUE 4-wheel-drive the Nissan Murano--made the Highway Loss Data Institute's top 10 list this year for lowest theft-loss rate of all vehicles.
Barbara Marquand is a writer with more than twenty years of reporting experience for newspapers, magazines and Web sites. She writes frequently about insurance and other business topics.
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