When it comes to saving money on car insurance, it's always better if you're driving an inexpensive compact, right? Nope. It turns out many large SUVs and pickups cost less to insure than those little guys, according to a new study by insuranceQuotes.com
To find the vehicles that get the best and worst deals on auto insurance, analysts divided the average annual cost to insure a vehicle by its suggested retail price to get a cost ratio. Under this formula, the best performer -- the Ford Explorer -- had a ratio of 3.8 percent. The worst deal was for the Ford Focus with a 7.7 percent ratio.
But even in absolute dollars -- not adjusted for price -- the Explorer and the other SUVs and pickups on the best five list cost less to insure than the Focus and the other four compacts on the worst list.
The list price of the Explorer is nearly twice that of the Focus. But the Explorer's average annual insurance cost, as cited by insurancesQuotes, is $1,301, while the Focus insurance bill is $1,391.
Bigger insurance bills for compacts partly result from the likelihood that riskier motorists such as young, single men are driving them. And in the event of an accident, small cars are more likely to sustain damage and have occupants injured than are larger vehicles.
"This study highlights why it's so important to research insurance costs before buying a car," said senior analyst Laura Adams of insurancesQuotes.com. "They're an important part of the total cost of ownership and don't always move in tandem with the purchase price."
If you want to check the likely insurance cost of a vehicle you're considering, check the tool at insuranceQuotes.com calculator.
Of course, insurance bills aren't the only factor in vehicle ownership costs. In addition to the initial purchase price, fuel costs are an important variable. According to the official EPA website fueleconomy.gov, the annual bill at the gas pump would be $1,750 for the all-wheel drive Explorer compared with $1,100 for the four-cylinder Focus.
That helps explain surging sales of small SUVs like the Honda CR-V. With a list price of $24,325 as cited by insuranceQuotes, its annual insurance cost of $1,183 gives it a 4.86 percent cost ratio. And its estimated annual fuel costs are just $1,150.
Click ahead for a closer look at the five vehicles that get the best deals on insurance, along with their fuel costs and safety ratings.
With a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $34,345 in the version selected by insuranceQuotes, the Explorer averages an insurance bill of $1,301. That gives it a cost ratio of 3.8 percent, the best in this study.
Fuel costs for the Explorer, as estimated by fueleconomy.gov are $1,750 for the all-wheel-drive version rated for 16 MPG in city driving and 22 on the highway. The front-wheel-drive SUV with a V-6 (rated 17/24 mpg) has an estimated fuel cost of $1,750, and that becomes $1,450 for the turbocharged four cylinder (rated 20/28 mpg).
The Explorer gets a top five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, its rating is less strong from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Explorer got a marginal rating in the small overlap crash test approximating one corner of the vehicle hitting a tree or light pole. It could have allowed knee or leg injuries to the driver, the IIHS said.
In on-the-road reviews, test drivers surveyed by U.S. News praised the 2015 Explorer for its comfortable ride and precise steering.
The Sierra pickup, with a list price of $28,315 and an average annual insurance cost of $1,272 has a second-place cost ratio of 4.5 percent.
Its estimated annual fuel costs are $1,700 for the six-cylinder, two-wheel-drive version (rated 18/24 mpg). The eight cylinder version (16/23 mpg) has an estimated gas bill of $1,750.
The Sierra gets a top five-star rating in the NHTSA crash tests. The IIHS hasn't yet fully tested the 2015 model.
Test drivers say the 2015 Sierra with the six-cylinder engine has adequate power for most uses, but they prefer the eight-cylinder engine for towing a boat or trailer.
With a list price of $27,815 and an annual insurance cost of $1,269, the Silverado pickup has a third-best cost ratio of 4.6 percent.
A corporate twin to the GMC Sierra, the Silverado has fuel costs estimated at $1,700 a year for the V-6 engine (rated 18/24 mpg). The V-8 version has estimated gas costs of $1,750 (rated 16/23 mpg).
Like the Sierra, it gets a five-star NHTSA crash test rating. It got a good rating in the one test performed by the IIHS -- the moderate overlap crash test approximating hitting another vehicle with the corner of the pickup.
Test drivers praise the 2015 Silverado, which is the country's second-best-selling pickup behind the Ford F-150, for its quiet and comfortable ride and attractive cabin interior.
The Equinox SUV model selected by insuranceQuotes has a list price of $26,105. With an average annual insurance cost of $1,265, it gets a fourth-best cost ratio of 4.85 percent.
Fuel costs for the four-cylinder engine (rated 22/32 mpg) are estimated at $1,300 -- not that much above some compact cars. For the six-cylinder engine (rated 17/24 mpg) the estimated gas bill is $1,700. With mileage-penalizing all-wheel drive, the fuel cost becomes $1,450 for the four-cylinder and $1,750 for the six-cylinder.
The 2015 Equinox gets a four-star (out of five) crash-test rating from NHTSA. Unlike competitor Ford Explorer, the Equinox gets a top safety pick rating from the IIHS -- having done well in the front, side and rollover crash tests.
Test drivers praise the 2015 Equinox for its roomy seats and quiet, comfortable ride.
With a $26,855 list price and a $1,302 annual insurance cost, this Ram pickup has a cost ratio of 4.85 -- just rounded decimal places behind the No. 4 Chevrolet Equinox.
The EPA-estimated annual fuel cost for the Ram six-cylinder engine (rated 20/28 mpg) is $1,650. With the big 5.7-liter V-8, which requires midgrade gasoline, the estimated fuel cost is a whopping $2,200.
Ram 1500 gets a four-star overall NHTSA rating. The IIHS gave the pickup a marginal rating for roof strength in its rollover test.
Test drivers praised the Ram 1500 for having the most comfortable ride among pickups. U.S. News named it the best 2015 full-size pickup for the money.