Car Shoppers Focus on Reliability


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CARS.COM - In the wake of several massive recall campaigns, reliability appears to be making a big comeback as a factor that influences car buyers. Meanwhile, an extended period of bargain gas prices is likely responsible for the decline of fuel economy as a purchasing prerequisite.

According to the just-released J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Auto Avoider Study, reliability has risen sharply in terms of how it influences car shoppers, with 55 percent of new-car shoppers citing it as a leading reason for their purchase. That's compared with reliability cited 51 percent of the time last year and just 48 percent three years ago. Moreover, 17 percent of shoppers report reliability issues as a reason to avoid certain models versus 14 percent the previous year.

"Study findings show that buyers who avoid models for reliability reasons tend to also have concerns regarding resale value, cost of maintenance and even safety," J.D. Power said in a statement, noting the "ripple effect" of reliability issues.

This latest J.D. Power study could be evidence that the recent spate of high-volume, high-profile recalls for critical safety issues is affecting consumers. At the height of media attention to the massive GM ignition switch recall in 2014, the automaker's new-car sales still, for example, increased 3.9 percent through October of that year; that figure fell short of the industry average at the time of 5.5 percent but was still remarkable amid GM's nearly 26 million recalls up to that point. Despite also having heavy recalls at the time, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Toyota posted sales increases of nearly 16 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

A 2014 study, however, showed that automaker recalls were increasingly on consumers' minds, with 60 percent of people in the market for a new car demonstrating awareness of specific recalls in the preceding two months. This latest J.D. Power study, now in its 13th year and conducted between July and September 2015, surveyed more than 26,000 vehicle owners who registered a new car in April and May 2015.

While widespread media coverage is likely a primary contributor to reliability's rise for the first time in nearly a decade, big headlines - and big savings - are also a likely factor in the decline of fuel economy as a factor. Amid the recession of 2008 and spiking gas prices, the preceding SUV era of the late 1990s and early 2000s gave way to increasingly mileage-conscious car buying. But since gas prices have been on the decline for more than a year now - reaching a national average of less than $2 before Christmas - and are projected to remain low through 2016, that trend appears to be reversing. Consumers cited gas prices as a top reason for their vehicle purchase only 51 percent of the time versus 55 percent the previous year.

"In fact, gas mileage has reached a five-year low as a reason to purchase a specific model," J.D. Power stated. "It is also cited less frequently as a reason to reject other models that were considered."

Despite reliability's influential gains, exterior and interior styling unsurprisingly remain the two biggest factors. Exterior styling was cited 59 percent of the time as the top reason shoppers select a certain car, and also the top reason they dismiss one, with 31 percent saying so. Interior styling and price were also top turnoffs, with 18 percent each.

by: CARS.COM