Insuring the electric car

By Ryan Hurlbert on June 29th, 2010

Hybrid cars, like the Toyota Prius and Camry, Ford Escape, Honda Insight and various Lexus models have been around for a few years now. They are soon to be joined by two new types of vehicles, the plug-in hybrid and the pure electric vehicle.

Electricity with a side of gasoline

Plug-in hybrids, like the upcoming Volt from General Motors, combine an electric motor and battery pack with a gasoline engine and generator that run the vehicle once the battery pack is discharged. Full electric range is about 40 miles, but the gasoline engine extends the range up to 300 miles.

All juice, no gas

Pure electrics, such as the upcoming Nissan Leaf, have no range-extending back-up power source. The range is expected to be 100 miles, so for many people there may be no need to worry about running out of juice. Commute more than 50 miles each way, though, and you will have to make provisions to charge up along the way. Many employer and commuter lots are beginning to install charging stations, and these should become more common as the need grows.

Insuring the future

So, what are the insurance implications of these brave new technologies? We don't really know. None of the auto insurance agents I spoke to have any rating information for these vehicles. There are pure electrics on the market today, but they are limited in number and very expensive (the Tesla Roadster has an MSRP of $111,005) so any comparison to them is useless.

Current hybrid models are the best glimpse at what the insurance cost could be. I compared cost between the standard and hybrid versions of the Camry and Altima. The hybrids were as much as 22 percent higher than their gasoline-only counterpart. Those battery packs are expensive, and replacing one damaged in an accident can easily run $7,000 or more.

Expect the cost of insuring a plug-in hybrid or a pure electric to be similar to a current hybrid car. In the United States, Nissan already has orders for 13,000 Leaf vehicles. With so many vehicles hitting the road, it won't take long for auto insurance companies to firm up their rates.

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