Toyota Yaris ranked worst among injury claims in insurance study


If you drive the Toyota Yaris, be careful.

That’s because you’re more likely to get injured in the tiny subcompact than in any other vehicle in a crash, according to an insurance industry study released Thursday.

The Highway Loss Data Institute looked at insurance statistics for model years 2009-11 and found personal injury claims were filed 28.5 times for every 1,000 Yaris vehicles the industry insured.

The Suzuki SX4, a small crossover, had the second-highest risk of injury to its occupants, posting 26.6 claims per 1,000 of the vehicles insured.

Other vehicles that scored poorly by the institute’s measurement included the Chevrolet Aveo, Mitsubishi Galant, Kia Rio, Nissan’s Versa and Sentra, Hyundai Accent and the Dodge Avenger.

Not surprisingly, the institute said its research demonstrated that the vehicles with the highest injury claims tend to be small cars.

“Injury claims data show something that crash test results can’t, and that’s the role that vehicle size plays,” said Kim Hazelbaker, the institute’s senior vice president.

That data come as small-car sales have zoomed with rising gas prices. Sales of cars in the same segment as the Yaris rose 32% through the first eight months of this year to more than 260,000, according to Autodata Corp. That’s more than double the sales growth rate of all cars this year.

The Yaris has done even better, posting a 60% sales increase over that time period compared with a year earlier.

Toyota defended its vehicle, noting how the Yaris was among the 2012 “top safety picks” by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“Toyota is committed to achieving the highest standards for safety and is proud of its industry-leading 18 Toyota, Lexus and Scion models,” Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said.

The institute said the injury claims data were an important supplement to the crash tests conducted by federal safety regulators and the insurance industry.

“In most crash tests, the advantage of greater size and weight is masked by using a fixed barrier [in a test]. As a result, crash test results are comparable only among similar vehicles,” Hazelbaker said.

But the insurance statistics show which vehicles’ occupants are the most likely to be injured when it comes to real crashes, he said.

“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.”

Nissan, which had two cars on the list of the worst 10, said it would carefully evaluate the study.

“There are many factors that can influence claim rate and we will study the results to determine if the data can provide us with useful information for future safety developments,” Nissan said in a statement.

“Nissan has a long-standing commitment to safety and innovation and continues to explore enhancements to safety technology even beyond conventional safety technologies. We believe that the Nissan Sentra and Versa provide excellent crash protection and safety to its occupants in the real world,” the automaker added in its statement.

Among the vehicles with the least number of personal injury claims was the Porsche 911, with the lowest rate of 4.5 claims per 1,000 vehicles.

Other vehicles with a low number of claims included the Chevrolet Corvette and Silverado, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Lexus LX 570, Mercedes-Benz SL-Class convertible, Ford F-150, Land Rover Range Rover and Cadillac Escalade.

The institute also looked at the vehicles that suffered the highest dollar amount of damage in a crash.

The $200,000 Ferrari California fared the worst with an average claim of $82,112. That was five times the second-worst vehicle, the Maserati Granturismo, which suffered an average of $16,150 in damage per claim.

Expensive cars topped the list, but the institute also looked at the results for vehicles that are priced under $30,000. The Mitsubishi Lancer ranked poorly both in claims frequency and in the amount of damage inflicted per incident. The Lancer averaged $6,221 per claim.

Other vehicles that had high claims and losses were the Hyundai Genesis coupe, the Suzuki Kizashi four-wheel-drive sedan and the Subaru Impreza WRX.

“For consumers concerned about insurance premiums, this information is key,” Hazelbaker said. “A lot of things go into your premium — your age, place of residence, driving record, sometimes even your credit history. The kind of vehicle you buy is the one factor that a consumer can control in the short term.”