BUYER’S GUIDE: Do Brands Really Matter?

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There are plenty of brands to choose from when you buy a car, but not all of them have good reputations. Even luxury brands aren’t immune from poor resale values and expensive repair costs.

You don’t want to buy a lemon, so how much does the brand you pick really matter when it comes to getting the best value for your dollar and how do you figure out if a car is worth the money?

Cost of Ownership

The price you pay to buy your car is only a small part of the cost of ownership. Maintenance can add up fast, and some brands have earned reputations for costing big when it comes time for a check-up.

Luxury brands can be particularly expensive to repair. Performance tires, fancy wheels, and lots of mechanical bits to operate everything from seats to window shades aren’t cheap to repair. Yes, you might look slick driving up to car pool in a Mercedes-Benz, but when you see how much it’ll cost to fix that window shade little Timmy ripped apart, you won’t be so happy.

Don’t assume that cheaper brands will be the better deal, either. A less expensive car generally features lower quality trims and finishes. You might not have as many mechanical components to worry about without power everything, but cheap fabric seats are more prone to tearing and low-quality finishes and trims won’t hold up over time.

It makes sense to research your brand and see if it has a history of expensive repairs. Customers are vocal about their frustration about brands with high maintenance costs so brands that cost a lot to maintain will show up at the bottom of reliability lists.

Related: Brand Winners and Losers In Two Important Durability and Reliability Studies


Different companies focus on different safety technologies. Every automaker has safety standards they must meet by law and they all want you to be safe, but some build safer cars than others. Research a car’s crash test ratings before you shop. An all-new version of a car can score significantly better than its predecessor.

It’s especially important to research the features available on today’s cars. The latest safety technology isn’t generally required by law, so what each automaker offers will vary.

Many technologies like forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking are only available on the top trims of less expensive brands but are standard with pricier manufacturers. If you’re not careful, you could find yourself paying a premium to get key features on a bargain brand that are available at the same price on base models from luxury brands.

The other benefit to more expensive brands is that they often have a wider range of safety features. They’ll include the absolute newest available technology while less expensive brands may exclude it all together. You’ll pay a premium, but it’s an expense that can make you and your family safer on the road.

Related: Crash Test Dummies Are Getting Fat


You want a good deal, but the cheapest cars often have the worst performance.

The brand that makes a tiny, 4-cylinder, fuel-miser might seem like a great choice, especially if you have a long commute. You’ll pay less for gas, but give that car a test drive first.

Performance in cheap cars can be woefully miserable leaving you counting the days until you can move on to your next new car. It’s a balance between getting a small, efficient engine and one that’s powerful enough. No one likes feeling as though they can’t accelerate fast enough to merge onto the highway.

Bigger engines with lots of horsepower don’t get the same kind of fuel economy as small engines, but they’ve made great strides over the last few years. Many brands with more performance-oriented cars still get great fuel economy and are a heck of a lot more enjoyable to drive.

You’re buying a new car that you’ll have to live with for a good many years. Make sure it’s one you’ll enjoy driving.

Related: Got the VW TDI Blues? Turbo 4-Cylinder Gas Engines Will Save The Day

Insurance Costs

This can be a real surprise when you buy a new car.

Cars that are expensive to fix or have high theft rates cost more to insure. This is where a less expensive brand might save you some serious bucks.

Ask your insurer what your new rates will be before you buy so you can factor that cost into your decision-making process. Have information on the exact car you’re looking to insure. A higher trim or pricier brand is going to cost more.

Even among luxury brands, the price you pay to insure your ride can vary greatly. Where you live can also affect the numbers. The extra money you pay for your luxury brand may translate into higher insurance rates, so be ready to handle the extra expense.

Related: Pay Per Mile Auto Insurance Joins Tax Per Mile In Oregon, but Who Rules the OBD Port?


Maybe you don’t care what you drive as long as you get from point A to point B in one piece. A lot of people do care and view their car as a status symbol, like wearing an expensive watch or a tailor-made suit.

For those who often have to drive clients or colleagues in their cars, the brand may matter more. Make sure the brand you buy makes the impression you need it to make for your line of work.

You’ll be at the wheel of your car for a long time before you trade it for something new, so be sure you buy a brand you feel good about driving. Some people don’t care and are perfectly fine with the cheapest ride they can buy. It makes perfect sense to shop by brand and avoid the pricey ones for that buyer.

If having a luxury brand is important to you and you can afford the associated costs, then go ahead and buy that car. The more time you spend behind the wheel, the more that interior is going to matter. Extra touches like leather seats and the high-end stereos found in luxury brands will make that time behind the wheel more enjoyable

The brand you buy matters in different ways. Luxury brands provide more amenities at a higher cost, but cheaper brands offer cars that can be perfect for those on a budget. Consider what you want from your new car and then start shopping.

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