Going green may not save you green with your auto insurance

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Will buying a hybrid save you money on your auto insurance? That might not be a good assumption given this recent data.

Hybrid car owners may be a different shade of green than their insurers hoped.

Insurance companies often give discounts to drivers of hybrids, perhaps because the image of a tree-hugging environmentalist suggests a cautious type who is a good risk to insure. But hybrid drivers rack up more miles, more tickets and costlier accidents than conventional car drivers, according to a study released Wednesday.

“High-mileage drivers seem to be attracted to [hybrid] vehicles,” said Raj Bhat, president of Quality Planning Corp., the San Francisco firm that conducted a study of 360,000 vehicle-insurance claims made to 12 U.S. insurers over the last two years, comparing hybrid and conventional vehicles. Quality Planning is a unit of Insurance Services Office Inc., a closely held group of companies that provides data, analytics and other services.

The disconnect between perception and reality could leave insurers with unprofitable hybrid policies unless they adjust pricing to reflect the unexpectedly high costs, or make up the difference elsewhere, said Robert U’Ren, senior vice president of Quality Planning, in an interview.

For 2008 hybrid cars, the most recent model year it studied, Quality Planning found that the cost to insurers of providing collision coverage for hybrids was 13% higher than for conventional vehicles. The cost of providing comprehensive coverage, which also includes the expense of noncollision-related damage, was 17% higher. For older and particularly for larger hybrid models, the difference was even bigger. U’Ren said that the more complicated hybrid engine design likely accounted for much of the difference in cost.

The article goes on to explain that most insurance companies have not made significant adjustments relating to premiums and coverage for hybrid cars, and several insurance companies, including Farmers Group Inc., a subsidiary of Zurich Financial Services AG, and Travelers offer hybrid owners up to 10% off coverage prices. It will be interesting to see how this develops as more data becomes available.

  

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