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Why do some cars cost more to insure than others? We’re looking for a new or a newer used SUV. We’re trying to keep our monthly costs down and one thing I’m worried about is insurance. I’ve heard that rates can vary between different makes and models of vehicles, even when they sell for around the same price. Why do rates vary? And is there a way to figure out how much a specific car will cost in insurance before we buy it? – Carol, Sherwood Park, Alta.

Looking for a rate escape when buying a new car? The best way to figure out what a car might cost in insurance is to ask your insurance company.

“If you already have an insurance company, I would start by contacting them and giving them a shortlist of the cars you’re looking at,” says Matt Hands, senior business unit manager of insurance at Ratehub, a rate comparison site. “If you’re not happy with the answer, you can look around at other insurers.”

When insurance companies calculate your rates, they’re allowed to look at factors including your age, gender, driving and accident history, and even your address.

Rates vary by company – and companies don’t reveal how they use those factors to calculate rates, Hands says. “There is kind of a mystery blend – they won’t exactly tell you the weighing factors that go into it.”

They can also look at the car you’re driving. Generally, if a specific make, model and trim costs a company more in claims, then that vehicle will see higher rates. Typically, family cars and SUVs cost less to insure than higher-powered performance vehicles, Hands says.

He adds that a company will also look at how often specific cars are stolen, how much they’ve had to pay in collision claims for specific cars and how much they’ve had to pay in accident benefits.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada releases an annual list which shows how specific models fare for different types of claims. The most recent list looks at cars up to the 2017 model year.

Safety in numbers?

If you’re comparing two similarly-priced vehicles, could the car with more safety features cost less to insure? Maybe. The is a possibility that a car with more safety features might get into fewer serious crashes and cost insurance companies less in claims.

“If you buy a car for $45,000 and it is totalled in an accident, and there were no injuries to the driver or passengers, the insurance company will pay out $45,000,” Anne Marie Thomas, senior manager of partner relationships for rate-comparison site Insurance Hotline, said in an e-mail. “If there are injuries to the driver or passengers, then the payout on the claim could be $45,000 plus [thousands] in medical payments.”

But that safety tech could also make cars more expensive to repair after relatively minor crashes – and that actually could drive up premiums.

“When vehicles with safety technology like crash avoidance, blind spot detection, self-adjusting cruise control or various embedded cameras … need repairs, they cost an insurance company a lot more to do so,” John Bordignon, spokesman for Desjardins insurance, said in an e-mail.

Check around

If you’re looking at similar vehicles, how much of a difference in rates could you see?

Ratehub did an estimate of insurance rates for a hypothetical 30-year-old woman with a clean driving record and found that she’d save $400 a year on insurance if she drove a 2018 Mazda CX-5 instead of a 2018 Ford Escape.

To see whether insurance might cost more for higher trims in the same vehicle, we also did our own highly unscientific comparison on rating site Kanetix. For SUVs in the $30-40,000 range, we didn’t see much difference.

For instance, the best rate for a base model Honda CR-V (the two-wheel drive LX, which costs $28,860) for a 30-year-old female driver was $1,028 a year.

For the top-of-the-line Touring version ($40,260), it was $1,128 a year – $100 more.

But rating sites can only give you a general idea of what rates might be. To find out for sure, you need to check with the company, Ratehub’s Hands says.

“The final price will come from the insurer when they get your accident and driving history,” Hands says.

Have a driving question? Send it to Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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