Insurance is all about risk. So most folks would think that how safe a car is — that is, how risky that car is to drivers, passengers, and others — is a strong indicator of what it costs to insure. However, we at The Zebra know that car insurance is incredibly complex and involves countless rating factors to determine how much consumers should pay, so it’s not always the case that safer cars have lower insurance rates.
Our new State of Auto Insurance Report looks at car insurance rates for the most popular cars in the U.S. (by sales). We compared the 50 least expensive vehicles to insure with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) 2016 vehicle safety ratings for each vehicle model and found 20 models which made both lists.
So, which cars are safest AND least expensive to insure?
- Honda CR-V (small SUV, MSRP from $23,845): $1,232 average annual premium
- Subaru Forester (small SUV, from $22,395): $1,321 average annual premium
- Toyota Rav4 (small SUV, from $24,350): $1,331 average annual premium
- Honda Accord 2-door coupe (midsize car, from $23,875) and Honda Accord 4-door sedan (midsize car, from $22,205): $1,418 average annual premium
- Ford Fusion (midsize car, from $22,110): $1,445 average annual premium
- Hyundai Sonata (midsize car, from $21,300): $1,457 average annual premium
- Toyota Camry (midsize car, from $23,070): $1,476 average annual premium
- Honda Civic 2-door coupe (small car, from $19,050) and Honda Civic 4-door sedan (small car, from $18,640): $1,461 average annual premium
- Nissan Sentra (small car, from $16,780): $1,468 average annual premium
- Toyota Prius (small car, from $24,200): $1,469 average annual premium
- Acura RDX (midsize luxury SUV, from $35,370): $1,429 average annual premium
- Acura MDX (midsize luxury SUV, from $43,015): $1,627 average annual premium
- Lexus RX (midsize luxury SUV, from $41,900): $1,637 average annual premium
- Audi Q5 (midsize luxury SUV, from $40,900): $1,712 average annual premium
- Lexus ES 350 (midsize luxury car, from $38,100): $1,709 average annual premium
- Mercedes-Benz E-Class (large luxury car, from $52,650): $2,173 average annual premium
- *Chevrolet Equinox (midsize SUV, from $22,600): $1,282 average annual premium
- *Nissan Rogue (small SUV from $23,290): $1,341 average annual premium
- *Kia Sedona (minivan, from $26,400): $1,308 average annual premium
- *Ford F-150 crew cab (large pickup, from $33,055) and Ford F-150 extended cab (large pickup, from $30,600): $1,409 average annual premium
The IIHS’s 2016 Top Safety Pick + designation requires that a vehicle “earn good ratings in the five crashworthiness tests (small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints) and an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention.”
*These cars won the IIHS 2016 Top Safety Pick award (no +), which requires the above ratings, but a basic rating for front crash prevention.
Insights from an Insurance Agent
The Zebra’s own licensed insurance agent and resident expert Neil Richardson weighs in on the findings:
Why doesn’t “safe” necessarily mean “cheap to insure”?
The safest cars in each class are by no means guaranteed to also come with a lower auto insurance premium. While safety features and crash test results can help lower insurance for certain models, there are so many other factors that come into play, including statistics for how drivers operate those specific models. For example, while vans may be cheap to insure, they don’t normally hold up to other vehicle types when it comes to crash testing. Perhaps vans are cheaper to insure because there are fewer vans involved in accidents than other vehicle types. I call this the ‘driving like a mom’ phenomenon. The cheapest to insure isn’t necessarily the safest to drive unless you drive like you’ve got precious cargo.
Do MSRP and insurance costs go hand in hand?
There isn’t a direct correlation here. For example, the Honda CR-V has a higher MSRP than the Nissan Sentra, but the CR-V is less expensive to insure. Consumers shouldn’t assume that a vehicle will be cheaper to insure based on MSRP, or even safety rating, alone. Even a luxury vehicle like the Acura RDX, which is a larger and fancier vehicle than the Nissan, is cheaper to insure. If anything, this points to the complexity of insurance rating factors, which consumers need to keep in mind as part of total cost of ownership of a vehicle.
Any other surprising findings?
I find it interesting that the F-150 is the only truck to make this list, considering their high sales. Trucks have long been considered safe simply due to their size and weight (though that belief has been debated), but it seems that the IIHS and our research make them a bad value when it comes to safety and insurance cost together.