The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety offers consumers valuable data about current automobiles. By compiling and analyzing claims information, the data helps drivers choose the safest vehicle available when considering what car to purchase.
The most recent issue of the IIHS Status Report, published Sept. 20, contains a table of personal injury protection (PIP) claims for cars manufactured between 2009 and 2011. It also ranks the 10 most dangerous cars on the road by that metric.
The data shows that smaller cars were involved in accidents with the most frequency. This is partially a matter of physics, since a small car is more likely than a large car to sustain damage in the event of a collision. But according to Matt Moore, vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute, a driver’s income, location, and rate of use can also come into play.
“Smaller vehicles are more likely to be in urban areas, and smaller vehicles are likely to be driven more frequently because they’re owned by a single person in a given household,” he said in an interview. “Large cars tend to be owned by drivers who have two or three cars garaged, or more cars than people per household.”
Since a small car is more likely to be driven by a person who is the sole owner, it tends to get driven every day, he said. This increases its odds of being involved in an accident, where a car that’s driven only once a week is exposed to less risk.
Read ahead to see the 10 unluckiest cars in the U.S., according to the IIHS Status Report. All vehicles are 2009-2011 models, and all claim frequencies cited are per 1,000 insured vehicle years.
10. Chevrolet Aveo wagon
Claim frequency: 22.3
The Chevrolet Aveo wagon is an inexpensive mini station wagon with a high fuel economy. Those attributes make it attractive to the driver who relies on one car all week.
“If two vehicles are involved in a crash, the smaller vehicle generally fares worse with regard to passenger protection,” Karl Brauer, CEO and editor in chief of the automotive review aggregator Total Car Score, said in an e-mail.
9. Nissan Sentra
Claim frequency: 23
Like the Aveo, the Nissan Sentra is also a small car. According to Brauer, when manufacturers crash-test small cars like the Sentra, they normally test them in collisions with other small cars. This means that crash tests may not be the most reliable indicator of a vehicle’s susceptibility to personal injury crashes.
“When a vehicle is crash-tested, it hits either a stationary barrier or another vehicle of roughly the same size and weight,” he said. “This means crash test ratings do not take into account what happens when two vehicles of different sizes collide.”
8. Dodge Avenger
Claim frequency: 23.7
The Dodge Avenger is a midsize vehicle. Since it is larger than a small car, does this mean it’s also involved in fewer personal injury accidents? Not necessarily, as its high claim frequency implies.
According to Dodge, the 2011 Avenger features a 283 horsepower V6 engine, the most powerful in its class. This may make the urge to put the pedal to the metal difficult to resist.
“In addition to small vehicles, the list of high injury-claim frequencies also includes models known for their powerful engines,” the IIHS Status Report said. “As with the high collision losses for these vehicles, these high injury frequencies are likely a result of the way they are driven.”
6. (tie) Hyundai Accent
Claim frequency: 24.6
The Hyundai Accent is a subcompact that debuted in 1995. Its low price makes it an attractive option, but it received lower safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
For the 2009 and 2010 models, the Accent received a three-out-of-five side impact rating for rear-seat passenger safety. It also received an overall rating of “poor” in side-impact crashes from the IIHS.
6. (tie) Nissan Versa
Claim frequency: 24.6
The Nissan Versa is more than just a small, inexpensive car. It’s one of the smallest cars offered by its manufacturer, and it was briefly the lowest-priced car in the U.S., with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $9,990 in 2008.
The Versa’s small size can make it risky in an accident. “We know that in the real world, if all else is equal, a larger, heavier vehicle does a better job protecting occupants than a smaller, lighter one,” Kim Hazelbaker, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute, said in the IIHS report. “These claim frequencies demonstrate that clearly.”
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5. Kia Rio
Claim frequency: 24.9
The Rio is one of Kia’s least expensive models. According to U.S. News and World Report, it’s also one of the least expensive cars to insure. However, it ranks as the fifth most dangerous car in the IIHS Status Report. In crash tests, a driver had a greater risk of rib and pelvis fractures and/or internal organ injuries.
4. Mitsubishi Galant
Claim frequency: 25.4
The Mitsubishi Galant is a midsize car noted for its affordability. The automotive review site Edmunds.com calls it “a decent choice for a daily commuter,” and its popularity in day-to-day commuting and smaller size may put it at risk for more accidents.
“Driving a smaller car can be tricky,” Brauer said. “The nature of an accident is that you don’t have any control over what happens, or what the size of the other vehicles involved will be.”
3. Chevrolet Aveo
Claim frequency: 26
According to the IIHS, the Chevrolet Aveo is involved in more accidents than the Aveo wagon, which appeared in the number 10 spot on this list. It received an IIHS rating of “acceptable” in moderate-overlap front test results and an “acceptable” rating in side-impact test results.
These are not stellar ratings, particularly when one takes into consideration that they derive from collision tests with cars of similar size or stationary objects. “As long as a small car hits another small car, or a stationary object, it’s OK,” Brauer said. “The problem is that there are still plenty of large, heavy cars out there.”
2. Suzuki SX4
Claim frequency: 26.6
The SX4 is a compact car manufactured by Suzuki. Its overall and dynamic ratings were both listed as “marginal” on the IIHS site, just one rank higher than “poor.”
Most of the vehicles with the highest frequency of personal-injury protection claims were mini-cars or small cars, the IIHS report said. Therefore, the SX4’s small size makes it a textbook example of the type of cars most frequently involved in accidents in which personal-injury protection claims are filed.
1. Toyota Yaris
Claim frequency: 28.5
The Yaris is one of the smallest cars manufactured by Toyota, and it has the highest claim frequency of any car in the IIHS report. In terms of its small size, it fits the profile of the other vehicles on this list, but at 28.5 claims filed per 1,000 insured vehicle years, it receives “about twice the average” number of PIP claims among 2009-2011 models, according to the IIHS.
The 2009-2011 Yaris models receive a score of “marginal” in their overall and dynamic ratings on the IIHS site.