The Most Important Thing I Look For In Buying a Car

Car commercials are everywhere. Watch any show, and there’s an excellent chance that it will be paid for by a virtual dealership of vehicles.

Most of those commercials tout one of two things: features and price.

Most car ads ooze with features, telling you why this car will change. Your. Life. Whether it’s comfort, performance, or safety, or all three, you’re likely to be told, in not so many words why your current ride is insufficient.

Other ads push rock bottom prices, advertising a car that can be had for “thousands of dollars off of MSRP.”

Are features important? I think so, especially safety features. Is getting a car at a reasonable price important, too? Absolutely, especially when trying to stick to a budget. I look carefully at both of those things when car shopping.

But there is one other factor that is the first, most important thing I look for. It’s the one thing that is non-negotiable, regardless of whatever cool features or cheap prices a car might have.

That factor is reliability.

Here’s why.

I have a limited amount of time, money, and energy in my life. No matter how you slice it, car repairs end up drawing from all three. There’s the time it takes to get the car to the shop and have it diagnosed, the money it takes to repair the problem, and the energy that comes with rearranging my life around dropping off the car and managing life with fewer cars until the repairs are done … to say nothing of my nervousness every time my car makes a strange noise in the future.

Some people point with pride to the 10-year warranty that came with their car.

That’s good, and it will help deal with the money part of the equation, but it doesn’t solve the time and energy parts. As great as a long warranty is, I still have to go through all the hoops to use it, and that’s irritation in my life on top of all the other irritations of life. I’d much rather have a good warranty and then never have to use it because my car is dependable.

I’ve had people point out to me that all cars can have problems.

That’s true, on paper. But statistically, there are some brands that are simply more reliable than others. Consumer Reports and other outlets have been assessing vehicle reliability forever and have found that, when you look at large groups of vehicles, certain cars and certain car makers tend to be the most reliable. This is very different from the personal stories you hear from people where they say, “I’ve had this car for 10 years with no problems,” because those sorts of personal stories don’t make for evidence. Only when you look at thousands of cars by the same maker can you start to figure out what’s the most reliable.

According to Consumer Reports, Toyota, which is the favored car of– surprise! — most millionaires, is one of the most consistently reliable brands and also affordable. And other outlets, like J.D. Power, point to other car makers who are consistently reliable, including Lexus (owned by Toyota), Porsche, Buick, and Infiniti.

I’m about playing the numbers. I realize that even a good brand can turn out the occasional lemon, but if I have a chance to reduce my odds of dealing with a bad car, I take the lower odds every time.

What about you? What’s most important in a car?

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