The Weird Car Hall of Fame

We all know that size doesn’t matter (or so they say), but what about shape?

After all, it’s what makes Wyoming (in its rectangular splendor) America’s de facto “Welcome” mat. It’s what made you buy your wiener dog that canine bed modeled after a bun. And it’s why Silly Putty — not soup — was probably Andy Warhol’s greatest muse.

But perhaps no aspect of life is impacted by shape more than our relationship with cars. The form of our beloved rides affects how we feel about them, how we drive them, and, most important, how we insure them.

With that in mind, here’s a long-overdue look at some of history’s most outrageously weird cars — and how their odd contours might affect their car insurance coverage today.*

The Reliant Robin

Weird car factor

Reliant, operating on the misguided “tricycle principle,” decided that 3 wheels were invariably better than 4. So they kept 2 tires in back, moved one front and center, nervously tugged at their collars, and voilà: the 1974 Robin.

Car insurance considerations

Admittedly, as a wheelbarrow, the Robin could more than hold its own. Unfortunately, as a car it would fall somewhere between “a rollover risk” and “Evel-Knievel-still-has-nightmares-about-it” on the insurance safety scale.

The BMW Isetta

Weird car factor

With no hood, bumper, or self-esteem to speak of, this 1955 Italian-inspired creation resembled (at best) a turtle that hadn’t hit puberty. And to make matters more confusing, it came with only a single door — that happened to be right smack in the front.

Car insurance considerations

Surprisingly, this car would be an insurer’s dream. As it was nearly impossible to get into, it’s likely that it was almost never used. Thus its chances for a car accident were slim. In fact, we have a feeling most owners never used the Isetta for driving, but strictly as a garage organizer to help keep their rakes from tipping over in high winds.

The DeLorean

Weird car factor

The roof was very angular, sloping onto a low, long, and downright mischievous hood. But before any of that you’ll notice, of course, the futuristic gull-wing doors (that laugh in gravity’s face by opening vertically).

Car insurance considerations

Maybe it’s the sporty body. Maybe it’s the devil-may-care doors. Maybe it’s the standard-model flux capacitor. Maybe it’s the fact that it could travel to the future. All we know is something about this car creates high-risk.

The Flintstone’s Car

Weird car factor

Where to begin? The wheels were uneven boulders. The front grill was fashioned from bones. The roof appeared to be a discarded painter’s easel. And there was an unmistakable lack of floor.

Car insurance considerations

This is sort of a coin flip. On the downside, with no air bags or seat belts (well, except for Dino’s tail) this ride would be wildly unsafe by today’s standards. But on the upside, with gas prices constantly reaching new highs, there’s a lot to be said for running a car on foot power. If nothing else, it would surely pass emissions testing. Though convincing people to carpool with you would be a hard sell.

The Kang Shoe Mobile

Weird car factor

It was a giant brown leather wingtip with wheels under it. Oh, and no cup holders!

Car insurance considerations

Was it a PR stunt? Was it to help Paul Bunyan with his transition into the corporate sector? Was it the much-anticipated answer to Boeing’s Cufflink Helicopter? Truth is we don’t know why China’s Kang Shoe Company released the Shoe Mobile.

And, frankly, it doesn’t matter. Because when it comes to insuring a shoe, as always, only 2 things matter: smell and arch support.

Whatever you drive (weird car or not)…

You can (probably) insure it through Esurance. Start your free car insurance quote to see what you could save.

What’s the weirdest car you’ve ever seen? Leave a comment.

*Note: We don’t really insure these cars … hopefully the Flintstone’s thing was a giveaway.

Related links

Can’t get enough of odd-shaped cars? Check out some of the new rides automakers have in the pipeline.

Worst Cities (and Vehicles) for Auto Theft in 2011

Every year, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) ranks the most stolen vehicles in the U.S. as well as the most (and least) theft-happy metro areas. Here are some  theft stats from 2011.

Most stolen vehicles in 2011

1) 1994 Honda Accord
2) 1998 Honda Civic
3) 2006 Ford Pickup (Full size)
4) 1991 Toyota Camry
5) 2000 Dodge Caravan
6) 1994 Acura Integra
7) 1999 Chevrolet Pickup (Full size)
8) 2004 Dodge Pickup (Full size)
9) 2002 Ford Explorer
10) 1994 Nissan Sentra

Cities with the most auto thefts (per capita) in 2011

1) Fresno, California
2) Modesto, California
3) Bakersfield-Delano, California
4) Spokane, Washington
5) Yakima, Washington
6) San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, California
7) Stockton, California
8) Anderson, South Carolina
9) Vallejo-Fairfield, California
10) Visalia-Porterville, California

Cities with the fewest auto thefts (per capita) in 2011

1) State College, Pennsylvania
2) Elmira, New York
3) Harrisonburg, Virginia
4) Ithaca, New York
5) Utica-Rome, New York
6) Altoona, Pennsylvania
7) Oshkosh-Neenah, Wisconsin
8) Glens Falls, New York
9) Logan, Utah and Idaho
10) Wausau, Wisconsin

What’s noteworthy about this year’s car theft report?

While lists can give us a good overview, they’re made 10 times better with a little analysis. So let’s boil it all down to a few notable trends.

New hot spot arrives, old one cools off

If you follow these reports every year, you notice a lot of recurring cities. For example, 2011’s 4 worst areas were the exact same as 2010’s. But this year’s list does have a couple of notable changes. First, a new locale cracked the top-10 worst group: Anderson, South Carolina — the lone East-Coaster, no less.

On the flip side, in a true underdog story, Laredo, Texas, has gone from the single worst city for auto theft in ‘09 all the way down to 53rd in 2011! A welcome influx of police funds (plus, we assume, elbow grease) has helped Laredo crack down. Hopefully this provides a bit of silver lining for current Hot Spots.

Thieves are cracking modern key codes

In years past, having a newish car could provide some peace of mind. Back in 2006, for instance, only one car made after 2000 appeared on the most stolen cars list. Why? The key code technology (aka smart keys), which can immobilize the engine if the wrong key is used, made for a solid defense against theft of these newer rides.

This list, however, includes 4 post-2000 models. Older cars are still more vulnerable, but thieves are learning to outsmart smart keys. According to the NICB, thieves now know how to get the code for a specific car, make a replacement key, and make off with it.

That’s why outfitting your car, no matter the model, with a good antitheft device makes more sense than ever. It could even score you a vehicle safety discount (which never hurts).

Auto theft and your car insurance

Preliminary reports from the FBI tell us that there were about 712,817 car thefts in 2010 — the lowest number of thefts since 1967.

That said, more than 700,000 thefts is still a lot. If you live in a trouble area or drive an oft-stolen vehicle model, you might consider adding comprehensive coverage to your auto policy for the most assured protection.

Of course it never hurts to learn more about auto-theft prevention either. Check out our insight on how to protect your car.

Related links

The full NICB report
The most stolen cars in 2008

VIN Defined

VIN. It’s French for wine. But as much as we’d love to compare the Bordeaux and Rhone regions of France, we’re a car insurance company, so we’re interested in a different kind of VIN.

What is a VIN?

A VIN is a unique set of 17 numbers and letters that essentially act as your car’s thumbprint. First implemented in 1954 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the VIN helps increase the speed and accuracy of recalls and deter car theft. It also helps car insurers accurately provide rates, since it contains the history of your ride from day one. It became standard (and standardized) on all cars built after 1981.

What does it stand for?

Though VINs include both letters and numbers, VIN stands for vehicle identification number. (So, like ATM machine, it’s repetitive to say VIN number, but don’t get us started.)

Where do I find it?

The 17-digit alpha-numeric combination can be found on your driver’s side door and windshield. It’s also marked on 18 different major parts of your car.

Why do cars have them?

Anyone who’s ever bought a used car or had a car stolen knows just how handy a vehicle identification number is. Want to know if a car has had any accidents or holds a salvage title? Check the VIN. If it’s been reported to the DMV, it’ll show up in the car’s history. And if your car’s stolen, well, what better way to track it down than through its unique ID?

What do all those letters and numbers stand for?

Believe it or not, the combination of letters and numbers isn’t as random as it looks. Here’s the breakdown:

Do I need my VIN to get a car insurance quote?

Though you don’t need your car’s VIN to get a quote from Esurance, the more information you can provide, the more accurate your quote will be. To save you time, Esurance offers Express Lane™ — a quoting tool that looks up your car info (like your VIN) and insurance info (like your current deductibles) for you. All you have to do is enter your name, address, and date of birth.

VIN-dicated

There you go. Everything you ever wanted to know about the VIN. You’re welcome.

Related link

Curious about other insurance terms? Our insurance glossary has tons of useful definitions.

To PIP or Not To PIP: The Big No-Fault Insurance Debate

With the presidential election coming up, just about every issue seems to get debated. But of all the contentious issues out there, car insurance generally doesn’t make the list — unless, of course, you’re talking about no-fault insurance (also known as personal injury protection or PIP).

What is no-fault insurance?

No-fault coverage is currently available in 12 states and is designed to help pay for medical-related expenses after an accident. If you live in a no-fault state and sustain injuries because of a crash, you’d file a claim with your own insurer, regardless of who was at fault in the accident.

The idea is that by cutting out the sometimes lengthy fault-assigning process, you’d be able to seek medical care right away, avoid a nasty lawsuit, and lower your premiums (by cutting out potential litigation and administrative costs).

In theory, the practice is faultless. In execution, however, it proves to be somewhat controversial. So as many states (Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Florida … just to name a few) implement insurance reform, we thought we’d take a moment to break down the big debate.

A brief history of no-fault insurance

The traditional insurance system in the U.S. relied on tort law-based liability, or in less insurance-y terms, using litigation to resolve claims. But in the 1930s, a group of academics proposed an alternative approach to car insurance — based on our workers’ compensation system — that took fault out of the equation. The aim then was the same as it is now: to ensure swift claims resolution while cutting out lawsuits for pain and suffering.

But it didn’t garner much interest until 1965, when 2 professors amended the proposal. Under this new system (known as limited-tort), people would have the right to sue if they suffered serious, debilitating injuries or if medical expenses exceeded their no-fault benefits.

This system was much more attractive to insurers and legislators, and in 1971 Massachusetts became the first state to implement no-fault insurance. Many other states soon followed suit. In its heyday, 24 states had some form of no-fault law.

So what happened? Why did so many states repeal their laws? And why are so many now looking at insurance reform?

The cons of no-fault coverage

Opponents of no-fault insurance argue that it increases premiums and opens the door to fraud. And here’s why.

The high cost of insurance premiums

Part of the original intent of no-fault laws was to lower insurance premiums. In actuality, however, states with no-fault insurance laws tend to have higher car insurance rates. According to RAND (a nonprofit organization dedicated to objective research), by 1987 insurance premiums in no-fault states were 12 percent higher. And by 2004, that difference swelled to a whopping 73 percent.

Many attribute the higher rates to the high cost of no-fault claims, in part due to medical costs. Since PIP coverage can help pay for everything from medical treatment to chiropractic visits to prosthetic devices, those in no-fault states tend to make more medical claims than those in other states.  Plus, since no-fault coverage can provide superior protection — for example, in Michigan, PIP has no limits — it stands to reason that more coverage would cost more.

The prevalence of car insurance fraud

Because of how no-fault insurance laws function, it’s easy for scammers to defraud the system by falsifying records, inflating medical bills and injuries, and even staging car accidents. No-fault states like Florida and New York have historically had a problem with fraud.

In 2011, for instance, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) named Florida as the state with the most questionable claims from staged accidents. New York came in second.

And in February of this year, New York law enforcement uncovered the largest no-fault insurance fraud case in history. An organized fraud ring of 36, including 10 doctors and 3 lawyers, was charged with defrauding insurance companies of more than $279 million.

The pros of PIP

On the other hand, proponents of personal injury protection argue that it provides a quality safety net — exactly what insurance is supposed to do. By cutting out the fault-finding process and providing generous benefits (in some states), people can get the care they need right away without financial burden. And that’s a boon for those who don’t have adequate health insurance.

Other pros include:

  • Faster claims resolutions (since you don’t have to wait for the official word on fault)
  • Reduction in the number of lawsuits (since PIP laws limit when you can sue for pain and suffering)
  • No need to worry about uninsured drivers (since you file a claim with your own insurance company, it doesn’t matter as much if the other driver is uninsured)

Your opinion on no-fault

As PIP reform makes headlines in Michigan, New York, Florida, and around the country, let us know what you think. Is no-fault faulty or faultless? Leave a comment below or on Facebook to weigh in on the debate.

Related link

Read the full RAND report (PDF)
Get a comprehensive look at how the no-fault system has fared.

The Latest Trends in Teen Driving (the Good, the Bad, and the Surprising)

Teens are in the news. A recent government survey of high school students showed that distracted driving, especially texting and emailing, is way up. But contrary to what you might expect, teen driving deaths are down overall. So should we be concerned or excited? Let’s take a look at some recent teen driving trends and try to figure it out.

Teenage driving statistics

The good news? Teen driving fatalities are down about 64 percent since 1975. Yay!

The bad news? Though young driver fatalities are down overall, car crashes are still the number-one killer of teens. In fact, teen drivers between 16 and 19 are 4 times more likely to be involved in a crash than older drivers.

Distracted driving is up

In 2010, 3,092 people were killed — and an estimated 416,000 injured — in crashes involving a distracted driver.

Although state and federal governments have been cracking down on distracted driving, a recent Center for Disease Control survey (PDF) shows that 58 percent of high school seniors still admit to texting or emailing behind the wheel. Sigh.

For their part, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched the “Stop the Texts, Stop the Wrecks” campaign, which urges drivers to designate texters, much like we designate drivers when we drink. Whether it’ll work or not remains to be seen. But considering most teens are willing to put even the most personal information on Facebook, there’s a chance that they’d allow someone else to see their texts too.

Other dangerous driving behaviors are down

Interestingly, as distracted driving among teens rises, the last 10 years have seen a decrease in drunk driving and an increase in seat belt use. This seems to show that teens do think about safety … at least to some extent.

Safer cars and graduated license programs can also take some credit for the decline in teen fatalities. In fact, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, crash rates among teenage drivers have declined between 10 and 30 percent in states that have adopted tiered-licensing systems (click on your state to see teen driver requirements).

Teens driving less

Another trend that could be contributing to the decrease in teen fatalities is that teens are driving less. For many, getting a license at 16 simply isn’t the rite of passage it once was. In fact, the Federal Highway Administration’s National Household Travel Survey found that the average annual number of miles driven by people ages 16 to 34 dropped 23 percent between 2001 and 2009.

And a new study by the University of Michigan found that only 6 in 10 Americans ages 17 to 19 had a drivers license (as opposed to 30 years ago when it was 8 in 10). That’s quite a decline, and researchers think they know why it’s happening. Modern-day factors — the high price of owning and maintaining a car and the convenience of the Internet — seem to weigh heavily on their decision. After all, who needs to drive to see friends when you can IM, Facebook, and text with them?

Related links

Do handheld cell phone bans actually work?
Why are texting and driving a particularly dangerous duo?
Safety tips for teen drivers