How Your Car’s Make and Model Impact Auto Insurance Rates

How Your Car’s Make and Model Impact Auto Insurance Rates

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When you purchase auto insurance or renew your vehicle registration, you’ll be asked to list your car’s make and model.

What is the make and model of a car? It’s the type of vehicle you drive, which can influence how much you pay for auto insurance.

You might think that car insurance rates are mostly determined by your driving history. If you run into a few traffic violations and accidents, for example, then you’ll have to pay a higher premium. While that’s true, car insurance costs are also influenced by your vehicle’s make and model, as well as other factors.

Here’s a closer look at what the make and model of your car really mean and how they affect what you pay for insurance:

What Is the Make of a Car?

Every vehicle is produced by a manufacturer, such as Dodge or Ford. That’s what the make of a car means: It’s simply the company that made the car.

Usually, it’s pretty easy to tell a car’s make, since auto manufacturers tend to have their brand name and logo prominently displayed on their vehicles. For example, if you pass by a BMW, you’ll probably spot the company’s name and blue-and-white propeller logo emblazoned on the car. Some manufacturers are a bit more discreet when it comes to branding, such as Audi and Tesla, so the make isn’t always apparent right away.

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What Is the Model of a Car?

If the make is the name of the company, then the model is the product line made by that brand. For example, Toyota is a popular car make, but there are a variety of different Toyota models that you can buy, such as the Camry, Prius, or Corolla. Some companies use letters or numbers for their models, like the Honda CR-V or the BMW X3. Either way, the model of a car means a specific line of cars and helps differentiate between different vehicle types from the same manufacturer.

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How Does a Car Make and Model Impact Your Insurance?

Knowing the make and model of a car can tell you a good amount of information, including what the vehicle looks like and the ballpark price range. And once you know how expensive a car is, you’ll get a general idea of the insurance price. If you compare insurance rates by car model, you’ll notice that newer, pricier cars are typically more expensive to insure because they are costly to repair and replace. So, high-end makes such as Lexus and Mercedes-Benz will likely cost more to insure than a more economical Kia or Mitsubishi.

However, the price of insurance for a certain car make can vary considerably depending on the model. For example, you should know that a model with more horsepower will be more expensive to insure than one with a standard engine. A minivan will likely cost less to insure than a sports car, which is often driven at higher speeds. And buying a model with the latest safety technology will improve your driving experience, but it also means paying an increased premium due to the higher repair costs of your vehicle.

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Other Factors That Affect Auto Insurance Rates

Your car’s make and model aren’t the only factors that can influence your auto insurance rate. Take a look at some other details that your insurer will consider as it assesses the risks of covering you.

Year

A car from the current model year is less likely to need a new transmission or stall on the freeway, so you might think insurance companies would charge lower premiums for brand-new cars thanks to that reliability. However, new cars are also pricier than older vehicles and often come equipped with expensive safety and security features. As a result, a new car can be more costly for your insurer to repair or replace if it gets damaged, which means that your premium will likely be higher too.

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Body style

Your vehicle’s body style — sedan, coupe, SUV, minivan, etc. — has an impact on insurance rates. For example, car insurance premiums are typically higher for SUVs. They’re often more expensive compared to smaller models offered by the same manufacturers. Car insurance companies also charge more to cover large SUVs because they’re more capable of inflicting damage to other vehicles in an accident.

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Trim level

Car models can come in variations with distinct features or upgrades — aka different trim levels. The trim level refers to a specific version of the car model. For instance, a manufacturer might offer a base model with the option to purchase a sport version that includes a higher-performance engine, or a luxury upgrade with a premium interior and smoother ride.

Take the 2021 Nissan Altima as an example. If you want to keep it simple, you can go with the standard model — the Altima S — for a starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $24,450. However, if you want a sportier version that comes with an electronic parking brake and paddle shifters with a manual shift mode, you could get the Altima SR for a starting MSRP of $27,750. If you want an Altima with all the bells and whistles, including interior accent lighting and a memory system, you could go for the Altima Platinum, which starts at $34,250.

Upgrading trim levels can make your car more expensive — meaning it will also come with higher costs to insure. If you want to keep your auto insurance premium as low as possible, it’s best to stick with the lower-end trim levels.

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Safety ratings

Insurers collect safety information about various makes and models to include in their calculations when they offer you a car insurance quote. A car with high safety ratings may help you save on auto insurance, while vehicles that test poorly might cost more to insure due to the higher risk.

If you’re in the market to buy a car, pay attention to each vehicle’s safety ratings. This information can help protect not only your health, but also your bank account. Two nonprofit organizations that evaluate vehicle safety are the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Highway Loss Data Institute. The IIHS and HLDI look at two main factors:

  • Crash avoidance and mitigation — the technology that a car employs to avoid a crash or lessen the severity of one.
  • Crashworthiness — how well the car can protect passengers from injury during a crash.

You might assume that a car with new safety features, such as autonomous braking, would be seen as lower risk by insurance companies and cheaper to insure. However, that’s often not the case, according to a report from NPR. Cars with these advanced features have higher repair costs than vehicles that don’t use high-tech sensors — leading to more expensive premiums.

Myth vs. Reality: Why Your Auto Insurance Is So Expensive

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Likelihood of theft

It’s simple to assume that flashy, expensive cars are the biggest targets of theft. However, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s 2019 Hot Wheels report, the two most frequently stolen vehicles were full-size Ford pickups and the Honda Civic. NCIB data has also continued to show that the likelihood of theft is heavily tied to the car’s model year, as vehicles manufactured prior to the introduction of anti-theft technology are much more likely to be stolen.

Insurers don’t want to pay to repair your car, and they really don’t want to pay to replace it. As a result, cars with anti-theft features can not only deter thieves, but also help you land auto insurance discounts. Whether it’s an alarm or tracking device, cars with stronger security systems are less costly to insure.

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Vehicle size

A bigger car can come with a higher price tag and thus be more expensive to insure. But your insurance company also cares about how you’ll fare during an accident. Compared to smaller cars, a larger car has a better chance of keeping its passengers safe and sustaining less damage in a collision. In this way, having a bigger car can help you avoid higher rates when it comes to insurance, just so long as the vehicle isn’t considerably more expensive as well.

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Engine size

Powerful engines are more expensive to insure. Since a bigger engine means more horsepower, it’s not a stretch to assume that drivers with sporty cars have more opportunities to speed. This type of driving increases the likelihood of an accident or traffic violation, which is a risk that auto insurance companies take into account when they look at your car’s engine size.

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Car Make and Model FAQ

Remember, there are no dumb questions. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions when it comes to understanding makes, models, and vehicle identification numbers.

How do I tell the make and model of my car?

Your car’s make and model are likely displayed somewhere on the body, so you may be able to find this information just by glancing at it. If not, you can look up the make and model by using your car’s vehicle identification number.

What is a vehicle identification number?

A vehicle identification number is a unique code assigned to your car. It’s 17 characters long and composed of both letters and numbers. Each part of the VIN will tell you information about the vehicle.

Where can I find my VIN? How do I read it?

You can find your VIN printed where the dashboard on the driver’s side meets the windshield. If you don’t see it there, check for a sticker on the door or doorjamb on the driver’s side. You could also try the engine block.

Your VIN will contain different pieces of information specific to the vehicle. Every VIN is broken down into four sections:

  • World manufacturer identifier
    • Digit 1: The country where the car was produced
    • Digit 2: The manufacturer and the region where the vehicle was made
    • Digit 3: The vehicle type or manufacturing division
  • Vehicle descriptor section
    • Digits 4 through 8: The vehicle model, body style, engine type, etc.
  • Check digit
    • Digit 9: A check digit, based on a formula from the U.S. Department of Transportation, to detect fraudulent VINs
  • Vehicle identifier section
    • Digit 10: The model year
    • Digit 11: The assembly plant where the vehicle was manufactured
    • Digits 12 through 17: The serial number

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a useful tool that allows you to decode your VIN.

How much will my make and model cost to insure?

While your vehicle make and model will impact what you pay for insurance, those aren’t the only factors. Your auto insurance rate is also affected by your driving record, age, gender, and location, as well as how often you drive, which insurer you choose, and how much coverage you select.

Some car insurance companies — including Geico, Liberty Mutual, and Progressive — offer online calculators where you can enter your information and get an idea of how much insurance coverage you’ll need.

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The Bottom Line

When your heart is set on a specific make and model, you might be willing to pay whatever it costs to insure your dream car. But if you want a good deal and are open to shopping around, it’s a good idea to understand how different makes and models impact your premium. If you compare car insurance by model, you’ll find that specific features and details about your car can influence the rates you get from insurers — so be sure to keep that in mind while you’re car shopping.

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