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Car insurance: Cheap to cover

Insurance can add a lot to the cost of owning a car, but you don't have to drive a snoozer to save.

May 11, 2005; Posted: 4:51 p.m. EDT (2051 GMT)

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN/Money staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - It's no secret that some cars cost more to insure than others. Though your driving record matters most, your choice of car can mean the difference of hundreds of dollars in insurance costs every year.

The good news is that you don't have to buy a boring minivan to save money. Here are other reasonable choices -- and some cars to avoid.

First, you need to understand a few things about how insurance companies set prices.

The best predictor of how likely you are to get into a wreck, and have to file a claim, is you. If you've had accidents in the past, that means you are more likely to get into wrecks in the future. If you've had tickets, that's another factor that will increase your insurance premiums. If you live someplace with high auto theft rates -- that means anyplace near an international border or seaports -- same thing.

What's more, if people like you -- your age, your gender, with similar credit histories and marital status, etc. -- file a lot of auto insurance claims, that will probably mean higher rates for you, too.

The car itself is a big factor, though. Just like people, each make and model has a history. If it's a new model, without a lot of history, insurers will base their estimates on similar cars.

The best way to guage what impact a car will have on insurance costs, of course, is to ask your insurer directly, said Jeanne Salvatore, vice president of consumer affairs for the Insurance Information Institute.

But insurance loss data from Highway Loss Data Institute offer a quick way to see which cars will likely hit your wallet hardest.

The HLDI comples the average cost of claims for various vehicles. Cars that have an above-average cost of claims will likely cost you more to insure, said Kim Hazelbaker, senior vice president of the HLDI.

Infuencing those costs are, first, how likely the car is to get wrecked or stolen and how much it costs to repair or replace the car.

Generally, more expensive cars will cost more to repair or replace and, therefore, will cost more to insure. Injury costs will usually have less effect on your premiums, said Hazelbaker.

Complicating matters is that certain types of cars tend to be owned by certain types of drivers, said Hazelbaker.

Even if you are a middle-aged woman with a spotless driving record (typically "low risk" in insurers' eyes), a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution will probably cost you more to insure than another car just because others who buy the turbo-charged speedster tend to be to be less careful, and less experienced.

The Mini Cooper, on the other hand, is well below average in injury, collision and theft costs. Therefore, it shouldn't hit your insurance premiums as hard.

The examples in the tables below are taken from "Injury, collision and theft losses by make and model, 2001-03 models" published by the Highway Loss Data Institute. All numbers are based on index where 100 is average for vehicles of the same type.

These are general examples and not necessarily the least or most expensive vehicles of any type.

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