What Do Car ISO Symbols Mean in Auto Insurance?

By John Hewitt

  • Overview

    What Do Car ISO Symbols Mean in Auto Insurance?
    What Do Car ISO Symbols Mean in Auto Insurance?
    ISO numbers identify particular car makes and models for insurance company pricing purposes. Insurance companies use these numbers to assist in their calculations that guide how much they charge for their coverage plans. They are based on accident and repair data for the car type that it refers to. These numbers are published and updated by the ISO corporation, formerly known as the Insurance Services Office.
  • Significance

    An ISO number for a make and model always remains the same, but the meaning of the number changes constantly. The ISO company alters the corresponding value attached to the number based on incoming data regarding accidents and insurance payments. Average medical damages are also taken into account in their calculations. The composition of vehicles on the road as a whole also alters the values associated with ISO numbers.
  • Effects

    One example of a shift in ISO values is that caused by the increase in the number of light trucks and other heavy vehicles as a percentage of American automobiles on the road. As heavier vehicles become more prevalent, they become relatively lower insurance risks, because collisions between heavy and light cars tend to cause more damage to the lighter vehicle. Another example is the increasing prevalence of safety features being included as part of a standard vehicle, which in turn reduces the average insurance risks of such makes and models.


  • Function

    When a particular car comes on the market, the ISO number initially starts off at the standard retail price. As accident data accumulates, the ISO number either rises or falls to reflect the costs that insurance companies find that they need to pay out for the car. The ISO number in turn is often used by used car buyers and sellers to determine how to price their inventory to match the reality of the market.
  • Considerations

    The higher the ISO symbol, the more expensive the car is to insure. This can be because of the number of accidents the car tends to get in, the expense to repair, or the severity of the bodily injuries usually sustained by drivers and passengers using that make and model. Family sedans, for example, tend to have low ISO numbers, while sports cars have very high ones. This may not necessarily reflect problems with the construction of the car--it may instead simply just reflect that repairs are expensive.
  • Potential

    ISO numbers are not published for public consumption, as the data is primarily made available exclusively to insurance companies. In most cases, it is possible to ask an insurance agent directly about suggestions for vehicles with very low ISO ratings. Often, they will happily oblige, and provide a list of makes and models that they charge very low premiums on. In general, the faster that the car goes and the more expensive to repair, the more expensive it will be to insure.
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