Small cars involved in accidents generally provide less protection against injury and produce higher vehicle damage claims, according to an insurance industry examination of claim statistics released yesterday.

The study by the Highway Loss Data Institute showed that even among many cars of similar design the chances of injury and collision damage at times vary widely.

Nevertheless, in general, small cars had higher rates of injury claims, collision damage claims and average collision repair costs than other autos, according to the analysis.

Occupants of many small cars have a 30 percent to 70 percent greater than average chance of injury, the study found. The chances of similar injuries in large cars, station wagons and passenger vans are 30 percent to 40 percent below average.

The study by the data institute, a research group affiliated with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, compares the frequency of injury claims and both the frequency and cost of vehicle damage claims filed on 198 types of 1984-1986 model cars.

Historical driver characteristics are taken into account when making the comparison, officials said.

According to the study, models with the best combined injury and collision loss record were the Pontiac Parisienne and Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser, both large station wagons, and the two-door Mercury Grand Marquis sedan.

The cars with the worst result when both injury and collision damage is taken into account were the Mitsubishi Mirage and Nissan Pulsar, both small two-door vehicles.

The performance among cars ranged widely with those in the "substantially worse than average" category experiencing injury and collision losses "double those of cars with the best experience," the insurance group said.

"Even among models of the same size and body type, injury and vehicle damage losses vary widely," the insurance group said. It cited as an example a range of more than 100 percent in injury claim frequencies involving small, four-door cars of generally the same design.

The injury record was nearly 50 percent better than average for the Pontiac Parisienne, Mercury Grand Marquis, Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser and Buick Electra, all large station wagons, and about 60 percent worse than average for the Chevrolet Spectrum, Hyundai Excel and Mitsubishi Mirage, all small sedans.

The best rating when only collision damage is considered went to the Chevrolet Astro passenger van, the four-door Ford Crown Victoria and two-door Mercury Grand Marquis, all with losses about half of what is considered average.

Cars with the worst collision damage rating were the two-door Mitsubishi Starion, Porsche 944 Coupe and Volkswagen Scirocco, all of which had a damage record nearly 2 1/2 times the average.

Of the 75 small cars listed, 34 had injury ratings of "worse" or "substantially worse" than average. All but one of the 31 large cars, vans and station wagons were listed above average and none was below average. More than two-thirds of the 92 midsize cars were considered to have "average" ratings, with 14 above average and nine below average.

All but one of the 28 cars rated "substantially worse than average" were small, two-door or four-door sedans. On the other hand, 26 of the 28 cars rated "substantially better than average" were large sedans, station wagons or passenger vans.

There were some exceptions to the general trend, however.

Both the two-door and four-door Saab 900 and the Porsche 944 Coupe were found to have among the best injury results, although both cars fared poorly in the collision loss category.

Brian O'Neill, executive director of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said the figures, which reflect an examination accident claims on 1984, 1985 and 1986 vehicles, may serve as a guide to the loss potential for this year's models.

But O'Neill said the wider introduction of air bags and passive seat belts in the 1987 and 1988 model cars may result in improved injury results on some car models that are not reflected in the study