Pete Evans | CBC News

New technology is making cars much safer than they used to be. But those features aren’t translating into lower insurance rates — since those fancy new components cost a lot more to repair and replace.

Modern safety features such as automatic emergency braking, frontal collision warning and lane departure assistance are automating the process of driving more than ever before, and are giving drivers more tools and information to avoid some of the most common accidents.

But they don’t make today’s cars crash-proof. And when collisions happen, those high-tech tools make cars a lot more complicated and expensive to repair.

Take headlights, for example. A generation ago, a car’s headlights were fairly standard — just a bulb, as bright and long-lasting as possible, and a casing to point it in the direction of the road ahead. Given their position on the car, the headlights are one of the most common parts that would see damage in a collision, whether it’s a mere fender-bender or a head-on collision. But the cost to replace a headlight would be a couple of dollars.

Today, that same headlight could well be equipped with technology that allows it to dim itself depending on light conditions, and the light actually moves into a turn so the driver can better see oncoming dangers. Those are great features, but they come with a hefty price tag — $1,371 US on average to replace a modern headlight, according to CCC Information Services, an analytics firm that provides data to car manufacturers, the insurance industry and body shops.

Headlights aren’t the only culprit. A basic fender or bumper cover can cost hundreds of dollars to replace, thanks to the series of telematics, radar and other camera-based sensors it likely contains.

Add it all up, and basic components that used to be nothing more than metal and plastic can now cost thousands to repair and replace. And most of them need to be calibrated to communicate with a vehicle’s internal computer, which is work that only a skilled technician can do.

“There’s a lot more to repairing a vehicle in a collision than there was in decades gone by,” said Peter Karageorgos, the director of consumer relations at the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Cost of crashes ‘going up’

Karageorgos said today’s cars may indeed be built safer than ever before, but that doesn’t mean crashes are becoming less likely. With more vehicles on the road and more distracted driving, the number of collisions is still going up. According to the IBC, the insurance industry paid out just over $12 billion to just over 1.2 million car insurance claims last year, a number that is just shy of 2017’s record level, which itself came after five straight annual increases, compared with $8.8 billion in 2011.


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