Why do car buyers buy what they buy?

It's the vehicle, not the deal, that buyers say is most important to their decision

Published: March 20, 2013, 3:00 PM

Buying a car

It has long been assumed that the "deal," as much as the vehicle, is the deciding factor in what new car or truck buyers choose. A glimpse at almost any dealer's advertising will reinforce that perception.

The "deal" can include such factors as low price, low payments, financing, high resale value, or longer warranty coverage.

But the results of a recent study by J.D. Power and Associates casts serious doubt on that assumption. Consumers are not as concerned with getting a great deal as the industry may believe, Power says.

In the organization's latest annual Initial Quality Study (IQS) new-vehicle owners were asked to cite the reasons they chose the particular make and model of vehicle they purchased.

They were also given the opportunity to provide multiple reasons for their selection. Among the 10 reasons most frequently cited, none included the "deal," per se.

Here are their top ten reasons to buy, in order of frequency:

1) Reliability/Durability

Reliability and durability have been the most common reasons given for selecting a particular make and model for the past three consecutive years.

2) Interior Comfort

Vehicle comfort is the second-most-frequently cited reason for selecting a new vehicle, also for a third consecutive year.

3) Exterior Styling

As manufacturers strive to make their vehicles less look-alike, styling has gained renewed importance among new-vehicle buyers, rising from the fourth-most-frequently cited reason for purchasing to third in this year's study.

4a) Fuel Economy

Fuel economy has also regained importance, rising from the sixth-most-often-cited reason for purchasing in 2010 and 2011 to the fourth-most-often-cited reason in 2012. It now ties with quality of workmanship in terms of importance in the vehicle selection process.

4b) Quality of Workmanship

Vehicle buyers seem less concerned about a vehicle's quality of workmanship today than they were in 2010 – perhaps because the overall level of perceived quality has improved across the board. Over the past three years, this factor has declined in importance from second to fourth, in a tie with fuel economy.

6) Dealer was Convenient/Liked Dealer in Area

Though the dealer factor declined in importance, dropping from fifth to sixth-most-frequently cited reason for purchase, new-vehicle buyers generally prefer to shop local, choosing to do business with a convenient dealer that they like rather than just the one offering the best deal.

7) Performance

Over the past three years, vehicle performance has consistently ranked as the seventh-most-often-cited reason for buyers choose a specific make and model.

8a) Advanced Technology

Whether or not a vehicle offers advanced technology is increasing in importance as a decision-making factor, rising from 10th to a tie for eighth-most-frequently cited reason for purchase in the past three years.

8b) Image Vehicle Portrays

Tied for eighth, which is the position it has held for the past three years, is the image a vehicle portrays – in other words, what the vehicle says about its owner. This year, vehicle image is tied with the availability of advanced technology for that position.

10) Safety

Perhaps surprisingly, safety declined in importance in last year's study, dropping from the ninth to the 10th-most-frequently cited reason for purchasing, and there it remains – perhaps because, with features such as multiple airbags, ABS and Electronic Stability Control now mandatory standard equipment, a higher level of safety is now presumed to be a given in all new models.