The American Consumer Satisfaction Index recently released a report for 2015 that detailed the brands that consumers were most and least satisfied with. Out of 27 brands included, there were quite a few surprises – like how happy people are with their Lincolns.
It’s easy to look at a report like that and see it as just a list for the top few companies to brag about in magazine ads, but there were also several important lessons that the list illustrated. For a report that studied almost every car brand on sale today, what are some of the most important takeaways?
Here are five.
1. It measured brands, not cars
It would be easy to look at the results of the report and assume it’s a rubber stamp to buy any car from the top-rated brands and that you should avoid every car from the low-rated brands. That’s not the case, though. Without data on individual vehicles, all we have is each brand’s total score.
A lot of companies have a car or two that’s either significantly better or significantly worse than the rest of the lineup. While a brand’s overall score is a decent predictor of how satisfying it will be to own an individual car, you still have to look at each model on an individual basis before passing judgement.
2. Country of origin isn’t everything
A lot of people assume that Japanese cars are excellent, American cars are terrible, and European cars are wonderful but horribly unreliable. If these stereotypes held true, you would expect to see brands sorted by country of origin. Japanese companies would all be at the top, European companies would be in the middle, and American ones would be ranked towards the bottom.
When you look at the results, though, what you see is that Japanese automakers are ranked both towards the top and towards the bottom. One of the highest-rated brands is American, but at the same time, so are some of the lowest-rated brands. European brands are distributed the same way. It gets even more confusing when you think about the fact that a European company now owns several American brands.
3. Sales don’t equal satisfaction
You would think that the brands that left owners the most satisfied would sell the most cars, and the least-satisfying brands would sell the fewest number of cars. That would make sense, but just because it makes sense doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.
On the one hand, you have the highly-rated Mazda that sells comparatively few cars, and on the other hand, you have the lower-rated Nissan that sells quite a lot of cars. You also have Chrysler and Fiat with very similar customer satisfaction scores even though Fiat sells far fewer cars than Chrysler.
4. Cheaper isn’t necessarily better
Considering how expensive it is to buy a new car these days, it’s easy to think saving a little money on a less expensive model is a good idea. Any car that gets you from Point A to Point B is probably good enough, right? If you look at the results of the report, it looks like that line of thinking is pretty wrong.
Mitsubishi, for example, undercuts its competitors on price, and its cars can make tempting options for buyers on a budget. The Mitsubishi Mirage is especially tempting thanks to its extremely low MSRP. People who went with the Mitsubishi instead of a competitor were pretty unhappy, though.
There’s also a surprisingly-wide gap between Hyundai’s score and Kia’s score. Kias tend to be a little cheaper, but the same parent company owns both, and all their cars are built on the same platforms. They also offer the same excellent warranty. If you pay slightly more for the Hyundai, though, you’ll probably be much more satisfied.
5. Research is important
If you’re going to buy a car, your best chance of ending up satisfied with your purchase is to do your research beforehand. Some of that is looking at reports like this one and learning from what you read. You can also read reviews to see what professionals think.
A major part of doing your research, though, is making sure the car you end up buying does what you need it to do in order to be happy. If you need to carry more than one passenger on a regular basis, you’ll probably end up disappointed with the Mini Cooper Hardtop. If you do a lot of city driving, you’ll probably end up disappointed in the Volkswagen Golf TDI even if people who do a lot of highway driving love theirs.
Additionally, your experience with a low-rated car could be significantly improved if you choose different options. If you don’t need an infotainment system, a car that has a highly-criticized one but can be ordered without it may end up being a great choice for you. The same goes for cars with terrible automatic transmissions. If you buy yours with the manual option, it may end up being a much better experience.