10 Top Reasons Why People Buy Specific Cars

My brother is a money guy. He knows how to squeeze value out of every single penny he earns.

At work, he uses his personal car for business, for which he receives a mileage allowance. He also spends plenty of time on clogged Southern California freeways. A couple of years ago, when the time came to get a new car, he determined that a plug-in hybrid vehicle would actually pay for itself while giving him a carpool lane access sticker.

Ultimately, he chose a Ford Fusion Energi. The main reason was for it’s electric driving range and that carpool lane sticker, but it was the Fusion’s attractive styling that sold him on the Ford and not a different model.


He’s not alone. Styling is one of the biggest reasons people buy the vehicle they drive, according to J.D. Power. Each year, the market research firm surveys tens of thousands of new-vehicle owners to collect information about their ownership experiences, and from this data the company learns why people buy and why people avoid specific makes and models.

Have you ever wondered why people choose the type of car, truck, SUV, or minivan that they drive? In 2015, these were the top 10 reasons, listed in descending order. Keep in mind that J.D. Power allows survey respondents to choose more than one reason.

10.) 4WD/AWD

10 Top Reasons Why People Buy Specific Cars

Major snowstorms tend to make 4-wheel drive and all-wheel drive more important to car shoppers.


That’s surprising, isn’t it? According to J.D. Power, 30 percent of people said that availability of a 4-wheel-drive or an all-wheel-drive system was a key consideration when deciding which vehicle to buy.


What’s important to remember here is that the survey was conducted during the brutal winter of 2014/2015, when heavily populated parts of the country were repeatedly buried in deep snow. When J.D. Power releases the results of this year’s research, following a comparatively mild winter, the traction of 4WD and AWD may drop off the list of the top 10 reasons people buy a specific vehicle.

9.) Quality of Workmanship

You may have heard or read that car companies no longer build bad cars. Naturally, the definition of a “bad car” is open to interpretation, and in my opinion bad cars still exist.

With that said, even a critic like me has to admit that most new cars are, upon surface inspection, screwed together pretty well and made with decent materials. There are exceptions, and they are occasionally egregious, but it is increasingly unusual to find new cars with parts that are obviously misaligned, feel flimsy, break, or fall off.

Perhaps this general improvement across all car companies is why just 34 percent of people rank the quality of workmanship as a key consideration when buying a new set of wheels.

8a.) Fuel Economy (in a tie with Safety)

Gas is cheap, and modern vehicles get better fuel economy than ever. Aerodynamic design, new fuel-saving technologies such as automatic engine stop/start and cylinder deactivation, transmissions with up to 9 forward speeds, and lighter vehicle structures made out of high-strength steel have all contributed to improvements on this front.

And that’s before factoring in the proliferation of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles that are now available to consumers.

As long as the price of unleaded remains low, the percentage of the population citing fuel economy as one of the most important reasons for buying a specific vehicle (37 percent in the most recent J.D. Power survey), will remain relatively low.

8b.) Safety (in a tie with Fuel Economy)

10 Top Reasons Why People Buy Specific Cars

High-speed, rear-impact collisions, as depicted in this test of a Volvo V60, demonstrate that the safest place for children is the second-row seat.


Over the course of the past decade, new cars have made significant advances in terms of safety. More rigorous testing by the federal government and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), new driver assistance and collision avoidance systems, and other advancements have improved a driver’s ability to avoid an accident and the odds that occupants of a vehicle will survive an accident should one prove unavoidable.

Given this overall improvement in vehicle safety, perhaps it is no surprise that only 37 percent of car buyers claim that it is an important consideration in the selection of a new car.

Consumers do need to know, however, that smaller and lighter vehicles are less effective at protecting people than are larger and heavier vehicles, even if crash-test ratings are identical.

Furthermore, the safest place for children is always the second-row seat, and in the middle seating position if possible, according to Russ Rader, Senior Vice President of Communications for the IIHS.

Additionally, know that forward collision warning systems and automatic emergency braking systems are extremely effective at reducing accidents. The IIHS says that forward collision warning systems reduce the risk of rear-ending other vehicles by 23 percent, while automatic emergency braking systems cut the risk of such collisions by 40 percent. Demand this technology in your next new car.

Finally, distracted driving is a real problem. In 2014, motor vehicle fatalities per million vehicle miles traveled dropped to their lowest level since record keeping began in 1921, according to the federal government. Yet distracted driving is on the rise, accounting for nearly 10 percent of all deaths in 2013, making safety an important consideration when choosing a new car.

6.) Price/Payment

Most people have a budget, and that budget dictates what can be spent on a new car. Nevertheless, just 38 percent of new car buyers say that a vehicle’s price or the monthly payment is one of the main reasons that they choose a specific make and model of vehicle.

Putting on my professional opinion hat, I’d bet that people know and accept how much money they have to spend on a car, and simply shop within that price window, ultimately choosing a vehicle based on other attributes such as those listed below.

5.) Ride and Handling

10 Top Reasons Why People Buy Specific Cars

More than half of car buyers do not think that a vehicle’s ride and handling characteristics are an important reason to buy a particular make and model.


Given that most people drive their cars every day, how a vehicle accelerates, stops, handles, and rides is important. If you can’t get up to speed to get onto the freeway, or stop quickly and securely in an emergency, or take evasive action when necessary, or enjoy the drive even when the pavement is a pothole-ridden mess, you’ll experience less satisfaction with your vehicle.

However, just 40 percent of car buyers claim that it is one of the primary reasons for choosing one vehicle over another.

Elements of driving dynamics extend beyond the factors mentioned above. They can include how easy a vehicle is to steer in a parking lot, or how easy it is to see out and judge distance, and whether or not it can get you home after more than six inches of snow has fallen. Given the proliferation of infotainment and driver assistance technologies, user experience is also a key consideration, especially with regard to how the driver interacts with them when a vehicle is underway.

Consulting reviews of vehicles that you’re considering is important, but you also need to take a thorough test drive. If you can, rent the model you’re considering and live with the car for a day or two. You might discover, with more than 15 minutes behind the steering wheel, that the model you thought would be perfect is, instead, not the right vehicle for you.

4.) Reputation/Reviews

J.D. Power reports that 40 percent of new vehicle buyers consider a vehicle’s reputation and reviews as a primary consideration when deciding which make and model to purchase. Reading or watching reviews of vehicles is an important part of the research process, but it is also important to understand how best to use this information, and why smart consumers consult both professional reviews and owner reviews of vehicles.

Credible professional car reviews reflect a broad and deep understanding of the subject matter. Professionals understand the automotive industry and the process of designing, engineering, and manufacturing vehicles. Professionals understand the concerns and questions most car buyers have about vehicles. Professionals review vehicles within the context of the intended buyer, the competitive set, and current standards and trends. Professionals, however, strongly prefer fun, entertaining, and engaging driving dynamics, and this emphasis is frequently out of alignment with the average car buyer.

Vehicle owner reviews are useful for identifying what people like and dislike about a vehicle after owning it for an extended period of time. As is true of user-generated content related to hotel reviews, restaurant reviews, and consumer product reviews, vehicle owner reviews allow car shoppers to identify trends. If one review out of 20 reviews complains about how the Bluetooth system works, that’s probably not something to worry about. If 12 reviews out of 20 reviews complain about the same issue, then you can bet that owners of that make and model consistently find the Bluetooth system to be a problem.

As far as vehicle reputation is concerned, this is a real consideration. If you drive home in a new Honda Accord, you don’t need to explain that purchase to your network of family, friends, and co-workers. If you drive home in a new Buick Regal, you do. (It’s actually a pretty good car, by the way.)

3.) Previous Experience with Brand/Model

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” You’ve heard this before, right? Most people have, and J.D. Power data shows that 42 percent of new car buyers choose a vehicle based on their previous experience with that brand or model.

My uncle sets a perfect example of this behavior. The guy has been driving Honda Accords for 30 years. He buys one. He puts 100,000 miles on it. He trades it in for a new one. Every five years, his local Honda dealer does another deal with my Uncle George.

He’s one of the only people I know who never calls me asking what kind of car to buy.

2.) Exterior Styling

10 Top Reasons Why People Buy Specific Cars

 Lexus has taken lots of heat over its spindle-style grille, seen here on the redesigned 2016 RX 350. Last year, the RX was the best-selling luxury vehicle in America. What will happen in 2016?


Cynics would not be surprised to learn that Americans value how a car looks on the outside far more than they do how a car looks on the inside. J.D. Power data shows that a third of new car buyers won’t even consider a specific model if they don’t like the exterior styling, whereas just 18 percent say the same thing about the interior.

Styling is undeniably important to new car buyers, with 45 percent claiming that it is one of the key reasons they’re driving what they own today. To many people, what you choose to drive reflects your sense of style, your personality, your personal values, or all three of these things.

A surprising number of people will also walk away from their favorite model if it doesn’t come in the color they want. According to a Consumer Reports interview conducted in 2013, as many as 40 percent of shoppers will choose something else, claims a spokesperson for BASF, a manufacturer of automotive finishes.

Good looks and the right paint color might be important to car buyers, but exterior styling still doesn’t beat the top reason people cite for choosing a specific make and model.

1.) Expected Reliability

More than any other car research website, Consumer Reports is the most frequently consulted publication by people who are planning to buy a new car, according to J.D. Power surveys. Given that vehicle reliability is cited by half of all new car buyers as one of the most important reasons they chose their vehicle, this is not a surprise.

Before you make a decision based on the number of red, clear, or black dots given to the object of your affection by Consumer Reports, or the rankings provided by J.D. Power, keep one important thing in mind: Modern vehicle reliability ratings do not mean the same thing today that they meant yesterday.

In the past half-decade, touchscreen infotainment systems and new safety technologies have become widely available. Many vehicle owners have trouble using these systems and for a variety of reasons ranging from their own lack of understanding to poor user experience to failure of the technology. Increasingly, these perceived and actual problems color the results of reliability ratings.

If you’re looking for a dependable vehicle, my advice is to focus more on the individual ratings related to mechanical performance and less on ratings related to problems with design and technology. They’re valid, but a confusing infotainment system is not nearly as critical a problem as an engine failure.

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