Is a cheap car the best choice for auto insurance costs — and for your safety?
They’re great on gas — and that’s a good thing, since prices at the pump continue to soar. Plus, the monthly payments are kind to your wallet. But is a “cheap” car also safe when you’re cruising around town or commuting to work?
How will you — and your wallet — fare if you get into a wreck in an inexpensive car? And how will buying a cheap car affect your auto insurance premiums?
“Inexpensive cars are great for commuting to work because they’re often very kind to you at the gas pump. But because of their size, you have to be careful and drive very defensively,” says Scott Marshall, a veteran driving instructor. “There isn’t a lot of protection in small, economic cars.”
Get into a crash in one of these compact cars, and you – or your auto insurance company – could be looking at a hefty repair bill. Not to mention medical bills for you or any passengers, as many of these cars don’t earn especially high marks for safety.
|Among 2011 models, the Hyundai Accent GL (top) and (left to right) Nissan Versa 1.6 base sedan, Chevrolet Aveo LS Sedan, Kia Rio Base Sedan and Smart ForTwo are cheap new cars, but are they the best when it comes to auto insurance premiums and passenger safety?|
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, some of the cheapest cars on the dealer’s lot are the most expensive on average to repair if they’re in a crash. A report issued by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says the second cheapest car on the road, the Nissan Versa, costs an average $6,152 to repair after a low-speed crash. Keep in mind that the figures in the report are from 2008, so repair costs almost certainly have risen since then.
One of the reasons repair costs for small cars are soaring is their bumpers rarely line up with those of other cars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that when a Kia Forte rear-ends a Hyundai Tucson, the Forte sustains about 38 percent more damage because the smaller Forte’s bumper slides under the SUV’s.
None of the five cheapest cars made the “Top Safety Picks for 2010″ as determined by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
However, a cheaper car can save you some dough when it comes to auto insurance.
“Assuming you qualify for all eligible discounts, economic cars can be less expensive to insure than SUVs and midsize cars,” Allstate agent Jennifer Nelson says.
Here’s a look at how your wallet and your fenders might hold up if you drive off the lot in one of the five cheapest new 2011 cars:
1. Hyundai Accent GL. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: $9,985.
The little Hyundai hatchback once again come in as one of the absolute least expensive cars in America. It’s probably no surprise that cheap means you’re not getting many — or any — bells and whistles. So don’t expect the base price to include air conditioning, power windows, a radio, an automatic transmission or a host of other extras.
The car does come with front and side airbags.
|The Hyundai Accent GL.|
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave 2006-2011 Accents an “acceptable” overall rating when it comes to front-end crashes. Neither the insurance industry nor the government has rated the car in rollover or side crashes.
U.S. News & World Report gave the 2011 Accent a 6.3 out of 10 for safety, one of the lowest ratings among 33 affordable vehicles it tested.
The cost of coverage: To insure this car, you’re going to shell out a national average of $820 a year if you qualify for all eligible discounts, according to Nelson.
2. Nissan Versa 1.6 base sedan. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: $9,990.
|The Nissan 1.6 base sedan.|
The base price includes power windows and door locks — not something you’d expect to find in an econo-ride. But it doesn’t include anti-lock brakes or electronic stability control, which improves a vehicle’s stability by detecting and minimizing skids.
There are six airbags and a tire pressure monitoring system, but that doesn’t seem to be enough to convince the government that the car is safe.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave Versa an overall safety rating of two out of five stars. Individually, it earned:
• Three stars for frontal crash.
• Two stars for side crash.
• Four stars for rollover crash.
The cost of coverage: Nelson says this is the least expensive new car to insure, even though it didn’t earn top honors as the “cheapest” to drive off the lot. The annual auto insurance premium after applying all eligible discounts is a national average of $775, according to Nelson.
3. Chevrolet Aveo LS Sedan. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: $11,965.
Most cars on the low end of the price scale are stripped-down versions, and the Chevy Aveo is no exception. However, unlike the Hyundai Accent, this one does roll off the lot with an AM-FM radio featuring an input jack for an MP3 player and OnStar.
|The Chevrolet Aveo LS Sedan.|
Too bad the safety equipment leaves a lot to be desired.
There are no rear-seat head restraints, and the airbags don’t provide protection for your torso, pelvis or knees. The 2011 model hasn’t been evaluated, but its almost identical 2010 counterpart earned the following federal safety scores:
• Five stars for front driver protection.
• Four stars for front passenger protection.
• Four stars for side driver protection.
• Three stars for side passenger protection.
• Four stars for rollover protection.
However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has introduced tougher testing and a rigorous five-star safety rating system for new cars, effective with 2011 models. So these scores might leave drivers with a false sense of security.
The cost of coverage: Nelson says you should expect to pay about $805 a year to insure the Chevrolet Aveo LS Sedan. That’s based on a national average.
4. Smart ForTwo. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: $12,490.
It’s tough to say just how safe — or not — you’d be in this eco-friendly, cute and easy-to-squeeze-into-parking-spots car. Very few safety or crash tests have been performed on the Smart ForTwo, other than the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s simulated crashes with cars of a similar size. U.S. News & World Report didn’t rank this car for safety, either.
|The Smart ForTwo.|
If the Smart ForTwo happens to crash with a car of equal size, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says the front and side impact safety features earn a rating of “good.”
On the plus side, you will get anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control with the Smart ForTwo. In fact, it’s one of the few of the cheap cars on the road to include this life-saving technology as standard equipment. It also comes with full driver-side and passenger-side airbags.
The cost of coverage: Auto insurance coverage for this still comes at an affordable price, as long as you qualify for all possible discounts. Nelson says the national average premium is $812 a year.
5. Kia Rio Base Sedan. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: $12,995.
Much like the others, no one has tested the 2011 model yet. But the 2010 Kia Rio did not perform well in crash tests and scored low with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, earning an “acceptable” rating for front-end crash safety and a “poor” score for side crashes. And that’s despite having six air bags. Anti-lock brakes aren’t standard or optional.
|The Kia Rio Base Sedan.|
The base model is similar to the Hyundai Accent GL and the Nissan Versa and offers little in the way of standard equipment.
U.S. News & World Report gave this Rio a 6.3 — a “mediocre” safety rating on a 10-point scale.
The cost of coverage: Despite the car being classified as “affordable,” auto insurance on the Kia Rio is starting to creep into the territory of safer cars that are a little bigger and have beefed-up safety features like anti-lock brakes. (Anti-lock brakes aren’t available on this Kia.) Nelson says the average national premium for a stripped-down Kia Rio runs about $875 a year.