From seeking greater fuel efficiency to carpooling, some American drivers are looking for ways to save on ownership costs.
But one thing most can't do without is car insurance. Each of the nation's 50 states has laws that require drivers purchase liability insurance or provide enough "proof of financial responsibility" to cover a claim in case of an accident.
Premiums are dropping; the average in May was at its lowest point in a year at $1,871 per car, down from the national average of $1,982 in October, according to RateWatch, a Web site that tracks annual average insurance rates. But they continue, for most, to be a major outlay. Still, consumers worried about the bottom line have options.
The 185-horsepower, 2009 Hyundai Santa Fe costs an average of $832 a year to insure, the lowest of a list of just under 300 2009 models surveyed. The Saturn Vue costs an average of $911 a year to insure, and a Kia Sedona can be covered for an annual cost of $857.
Owners of luxury autos such as the BMW M5, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class and the Porsche 911 pay for that kind of prestige -- $2,020, $2,088 and $1,819, respectively. But those who drive the $80,790 Nissan GT-R, the 2009 Motor Trend Car of the Year, pay an average $2,533 a year. The sports car's super-charged 3.8-liter, twin-turbocharged 24-valve V6 engine helped it to the top of the list.
Behind the Numbers
Our numbers come from Insure.com, an online information clearinghouse for consumers. The company calculated nationwide average car insurance premiums for almost 300 2009 model-year vehicles. Averages are based on a 40-year-old male driver who commutes 12 miles to work. This driver has policy limits of $100,000 for injury liability for one person; $300,000 for all injuries and $50,000 for property damage in an accident; and a $500 deductible on collision and comprehensive. This policy also includes uninsured motorist coverage. Rates were averaged across multiple ZIP codes and insurance companies.
Of course, a car's value will jack up a driver's outlay, as will the driving record of the person behind the wheel, says Jack Nerad, executive editorial director and market analyst for Kelley Blue Book.
Other factors can play a part too, such as potential loss. For example, the Hummer H2 was the eighth-most stolen car in America, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which determined its list by claims per 1,000 divided by average loss payment per claim; it is also eighth-most expensive vehicle to insure on our list.
A consumer's ability to compare is another factor. Shoppers may be most familiar with big companies with representatives located nationwide. Comparing the rates at these brand names with those found online and at independent agencies will yield the best deals. Make sure to compare limits and features side by side.
Driver stereotypes also play a role. Expensive, high-performance autos often attract "riskier" drivers, says Nerad, and such vehicles are more expensive to fix or replace when involved in accidents. Likewise, autos like sports cars that are popular with younger drivers usually have a higher premium since younger drivers are considered riskier drivers.
Larger vehicles like SUVs and minivans are more likely to be family vehicles driven by mothers, who are historically less dangerous drivers. With lower risk comes lower loss potential, and thus a lower premium. Eight of the top 10 least expensive vehicles to insure are either minivans or SUVs.
But even those with a need for speed are likely to see premiums drop slightly. And, along with premiums, insurance rates have fallen after an increase last year of 8%. Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah and Idaho experienced the largest rate decreases in May, from 9% in Wyoming to 5.5% in Idaho.