Tips, Tricks & Trends

This Award That Automakers Brag About Might Be Useless

Many of the automobile ads on TV today proudly announce that the subject vehicle won some type of prestigious award. They’ll tell you that the vehicle was the best in its class according to numerous organizations. They’ll grab your attention with claims of receiving the J.D. Power and Associates Award.

Are these claims and awards legit? What do they mean and should they influence your decision to buy a given vehicle?

“Award”-winning vehicles

You can’t find many vehicle ads without awards being mentioned. Automakers use such ads to sell more vehicles and to back up claims about the quality of its cars, trucks, and SUVs.

If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that the ads merely state that the company or its vehicles won awards and from whom. It doesn’t specify what the award was for. That’s not really useful information.

Without specificity, how are such awards useful to ordinary consumers? Yes, many car buyers have heard names like Car and Driver, Consumer Digest, Kelley Blue Book, Motor Trend, and others. They usually have no idea how these companies select vehicles for the awards they give.

What those automaker awards really mean

Many consumers don’t realize that automakers pay top dollar for these stellar awards and ratings. According to Consumer Reports, publications like Consumer Digest (no connection) hands out awards to vehicles that it considers “Best Buys.” It’s not for free. Consumer Digest then turns around and charges the automakers for several thousand dollars to mention the award in their ads.

Consumers Digest will tell you that they charge around $35,000 for an initial award and $25,000 for each one after that. And if they gave one automaker several such awards for a given year, that can add up quickly.

Ads featuring J.D. Power awards have been around for a long time. In the last year, they really came to the forefront due to a series of ads from Chevrolet. The advertising series portrayed everyday people impressed with the number of awards given to Chevrolet by J.D. Power. That’s relying on people knowing what J.D. Power even is and caring at all about their awards.

According to Jalopnik.com, the exact meaning of the J.D. Power and Associates Award to consumers isn’t a huge advantage. The spokesman asked consumers questions. Did they know what the award even was? Most responded with “no.” 

J.D. Power and Associates allegedly charge automakers big money for access to their survey results. That’s separate from the fee to mention them in their ads for their vehicles. There’s also a service they offer where auto companies can pay to learn how to enhance their vehicles to get better ratings.

It’s not just Chevrolet. Ford has been producing ads with mentions of the U.S. Global Quality Research System study to put out there how highly they rate in customer satisfaction. But how did the competition do in the same survey? There’s no mention nor do they tell you that they paid for the survey.

Real car research

How do paid awards that help the common consumer? They really don’t. But not all mentions and awards are useless.

Consumer Reports is different. CR actually buys test vehicles from the dealers and conducts its own independent testing. They won’t allow access for money or anything to their results for use in advertising. The deliberate lack of bias means its data that consumers can take into consideration when making buying decisions.

While there are a few exceptions, like Consumer Reports, at the end of the day, doing your own research on a vehicle before you buy it is always the safest bet.

It’s important to determine what you need in a new vehicle and how much you have to spend. From there, you can make comparisons between different models you’re considering. There are also great online tools that can help you like those offered at Edmunds. Reading both expert and owner reviews is imperative in making good buying decisions. 

Buying a vehicle is a big investment with a pretty involved process. Identify and find a vehicle that meets your needs and budget. The time spent in research will help you find the best vehicle at the best price regardless of what awards it has or hasn’t won.