Car Brand – Does It Matter?

Best car brandsMany car buyers simply want a vehicle that gets them from Point A to Point B and don’t care about the brand or what company makes it. After all, isn’t one brand of car pretty much like another?

To others, vehicle brand is very important — although maybe not for the right reasons.

What are the best car brands?

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why you might want to take care in selecting your car brand. It’s simply not true that all are alike.

The old adage “you get what you pay for” is not the same today for the automobile market as it was, say, 25 years ago. In those days, an inexpensive car would probably get you poor reliability, poor quality, few safety features, and minimal creature comforts. For more money, you could get more luxury and creature comforts and possibly a little more in the way of improved reliability, quality, or safety.

Today, the car you get for your money is light-years ahead of those of 25 years ago with significant improvements in quality, reliability, safety features, comfort, construction materials, paint, fit-and-finish quality, rust protection, engine technology, fuel efficiency, emissions control, sound systems, navigation systems, and luxury features. The lowest priced cars today are far better than the most expensive cars of yesterday.

Today, different car brands are more alike than they are different. A Honda Pilot Touring at $39,000 is not so much different than a Land Rover Range Rover at $79,000 — same quality, same features, same technology, same safety, similar styling, most luxury features same, same reliability (actually, the Land Rover brand is rated by Consumer Reports as having much poorer long-term quality than less expensive Honda).

Stated a little differently, there may be a difference in perceived value between a Honda (or other moderately priced brands) and a Land Rover (or other expensive luxury vehicles) but very little, if any, difference in actual value. The incorrect notion that more money gets you a better car has been successfully propagated by high-end car makers using slick advertising.

Overall, the best value brands are Honda, Volkswagen, Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan, Subaru, and Mazda.

Resale Value
The best car brands are those that have high future resale or trade-in values. It’s the cars that people will most want to buy in the future as used cars. They’ll want cars that hold their value, have proven to be reliable, have good safety records, have not been discontinued, and have not changed dramatically in style. Honda and Toyota hold the high spots in this list.  Many luxury brands, such as Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Jaguar, and even Land Rover fall high in this list not so much for reliability but for long-term luxury appeal and value retention (as used cars).

According to Consumer Reports annual surveys of actual owners, the car brands that have the fewest problems are, in general, Japanese models. Next are American models. And last are the high-priced luxury brands from Europe. It doesn’t make sense that the brands that cost the most money are the ones you can depend the least on, but it’s true. Other than surveys such as those by Consumer Reports and JD Powers, new car buyers can also check Technical Service Bulletins (TSB) issued by car manufacturers to dealers regarding known problems. Expensive luxury brands have, by far, the greatest number and most serious TSBs.

There can be significant differences in safety ratings between different car makes and models. All are not the same. If you can buy a car with a 5-star safety rating versus one with only a 3-star rating for the same price, which would you choose? Check Vehicle Safety Ratings online before making your decision.

Luxury Image
Although many car brands have luxury features such as leather seats, power/memory seats, navigation systems, high-end sound systems, faux wood trim, and heated steering wheels, these features are not limited to “luxury” car brands. High-end car brands no longer have an exclusive on such features. In fact, there are few if any “luxury” features offered on luxury brands that are not also offered on much less expensive brands. Luxury cars have a luxury image, but not much more.

Performance and Fuel Economy
Many car buyers who are “price” shoppers overlook the fact that the lowest priced cars are those that have the smallest 4-cylinder engines. This is great for price and fuel economy but make sure you do a test drive before you decide to buy. Although an everyday car doesn’t require high performance, it does need to have sufficient response for emergency situations and highway driving. For most cars with small engines this is not a big problem, but don’t assume you have to give up performance for good fuel economy. Many cars with larger engines get excellent gas mileage too.

Reputation of Company – American vs Others
Unfortunately, American car brands have not enjoyed the same reputation for quality and customer service as many foreign brands in past years. However, this has been changing lately. American companies have made great strides in making improvements that put many American car models on par with similar foreign models. Ford has made the most improvement; Chrysler the least. Before you buy, check online for test-drive reviews from companies such as Consumer Reports and Edmunds.

Insurance Cost
Auto insurance rates car be dramatically different between car brands and models. For example, rates for a Honda Accord are much lower than for a similarly priced Mitsubishi Lancer. Why? The Misubishi is wrecked more often by young drivers, which increases insurance rates for all of us who own that vehicle. When you are trying to decide between car models, check Auto Insurance Rates online first.

Cost of Ownership
Cost of car ownership varies between brands, models, and styles. It is a combination of many factors, some of which we’ve already discussed — initial vehicle cost, gas mileage, insurance cost, reliability, cost of scheduled maintenance, tire replacement cost, repair cost. In general, luxury cars cost more to drive and own than economy cars but there can be significant differences even between vehicles in the same price and size category. Online sources such as and Edmunds usually have this kind of information.


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