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The hidden cost of buying a car is not the price of gas or even fuzzy dice, it's what you'll pay in auto insurance, which can vary widely depending on the type of car you pick.
In fact, the make and model of the auto you buy is factored into your car insurance rate, even if your driving record is spotless. And more expensive cars do not necessarily translate to higher rates.
Ford Explorers were the best deal when it comes to car insurance, according to a study released Thursday by insuranceQuotes.com, a division of Bankrate, which analyzed 20 of the most popular types of cars.
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The study divided the average annual cost to insure each vehicle by its manufacturer's suggested retail price to determine which cars are relative bargains to insure and which carry a surprisingly high insurance burden.
The sticker price on a 2015 Explorer is $34,345, but it has an annual insurance cost of only $1,301. Other cars in the top five are the GMC Sierra, Chevrolet Silverado, Chevrolet Equinox and Dodge Ram.
SUVs and trucks fared much better overall, accounting for most of the best insurance values, while some of the most popular sedans made up a majority of the worst deals.
The larger SUVs are less likely to get damaged in accidents and provide greater protection for drivers and passengers, said Laura Adams, senior analyst at insuranceQuotes.com. They also tend to be driven by more responsible adults (read: middle-aged parents), she said.
Because sedans are smaller, they are more susceptible to damage and are typically driven by younger, riskier drivers. These types of cars are also some of the most stolen vehicles out there — with an active black market for parts — which factors into what drivers must pay to insure them, Adams said.
Even though an Explorer is priced at nearly twice as much as a Focus, which only costs $18,045, the Focus is more expensive to insure, the study found.
"Buying a cheaper car doesn't always translate into paying less in insurance," Adams said. That's why "it's so important to research insurance costs before buying a car," she added. "They're an important part of the total cost of ownership and don't always move in tandem with the purchase price."
To get a good idea of what your car insurance rate will be before buying, ask your insurance agent or broker to run the numbers, advised Jeanne Salvatore, senior vice president of the Insurance Information Institute.
Overall, there are a lot of factors that determine your insurance rate, Salvatore said. The make and model of a car will impact your rates only if you have comprehensive and collision insurance, both of which are optional, she added. The type of car matters less with regard to basic liability insurance, which is mandatory in every state.
The insuranceQuotes.com study did not include any sports cars.