5 reasons why auto insurance may be costly for an SUV

Tamara E. Holmes

With features common to passenger cars and pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) can give you the best of both worlds. But that versatility comes at a cost. If you buy an SUV, you may end up paying more for car insurance than owners of smaller cars do.

The price you pay for car insurance is largely determined by how risky you are to insure, says John David, author of "Ten Questions: The Insider's Guide to Saving Money on Auto Insurance." If a car insurer thinks you're more likely than another driver to be in an accident that will result in a large claim, or financial loss, the insurer will charge you a higher premium than it would charge the other driver. Generally speaking, SUV drivers are considered riskier to insure than other drivers.

1. Safety is a factor.

It's well-documented that SUVs are more likely than other types of vehicles to be involved in rollover accidents - crashes where the vehicle tips over onto its roof or side, says Kim Hazelbaker, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute, a nonprofit that tracks numbers on insurance losses. Rollover crashes are responsible for one-third of all passenger vehicle deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. More than 10,000 people in the U.S. are killed in rollover crashes each year. The height and width of SUVs make them vulnerable, as taller and narrow vehicles are more likely to roll over upon impact.

However, some technologies have made SUVs safer in recent years. For example, electronic stability control (ESC) systems, which prevent skidding and loss of control of a vehicle, can be found in newer SUVs. A study by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that insurance losses in vehicles with ESC are about 15 percent lower than insurance losses in earlier models that lack ESC. Safety improvements like ESC are likely to lead to lower insurance rates over time, Hazelbaker says.

2. Liability raises the risk.

SUVs are larger and heavier than many other passenger vehicles, so if an SUV is involved in an accident, it's likely to cause more damage than a smaller car would. That means property damage and injury claims are likely to be higher with an SUV than they would be with a smaller vehicle. This will affect your premium, Hazelbaker says, because "in the insurance world, you pay not only for your own losses but for the losses you cause."

3. Theft poses a problem.

Another reason some SUVs may be more costly to insure is that certain sport utility vehicles are attractive to thieves. After all, if you've been eyeing an SUV, it's likely a thief would find one desirable as well. California, Texas and Florida had the most thefts of SUVs and crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) between through January 2008 and through June 2012, according to the nonprofit National Insurance Crime Bureau. The Ford Escape, Chevrolet Tahoe and Toyota RAV4 were the SUVs targeted most by thieves during that period. A vehicle that's more likely than others to be stolen is going to cost more to insure.

4. Replacing parts can be costly.

Some SUVs - particularly luxury models - use costly parts, making them more expensive than other vehicles to repair. When determining a premium, insurers consider how much they may have to spend at a repair shop and pass along that cost to policyholders.

5. High performance has a downside.

The nonprofit Insurance Information Institute points out that SUVs are known for being high-performance vehicles. Unfortunately, all of that power may tempt some drivers to speed or drive recklessly. If a particular SUV model has been involved in a large number of accidents, it's going to cost more to insure it.