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83% Of Drivers Prefer To Buy A Car, But What Type Of Car Will They Prioritize?

David Collins7-minute read
March 31, 2022

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  • 61% of women said safety rating was very important when considering buying or leasing a vehicle compared to only 43% of men. This is an 18-point difference
  • 82% of drivers value vehicle size with the price of gasoline rising in early 2022
  • 79% of Gen Zers say miles per gallon is a very important consideration when buying a car
  • 22% of respondents indicated that they plan to buy a new or used car within the next year; 48% said they intend to do so in the next 1 – 3 years

The COVID-19 pandemic and its serious effect on the automotive global supply chains may be influencing Americans’ decisions on whether to buy or lease their next car. When shopping for a new vehicle, 83.1% of consumers prefer to own their car as opposed to leasing one, according to a survey of 3,221 drivers conducted by Rocket AutoSM. This is an increase over data reported in the New York Times in 2015, which found 75% of consumers prefer to buy.

The pandemic economy saw a big reduction in new cars available to buy or lease. Because of the uncertainty of what the market might be like at the end of a 2-year lease, car shoppers may be more motivated to buy their car and hold on to it for a while. While 22% of respondents indicated that they plan to buy a new or used car within the next year, 48% said they intend to do so in the next 1 – 3years. Additionally, 23% said that they will wait at least 4 years before purchasing a car.

Why Do Drivers Prefer To Purchase A Car Over Leasing One?

Those who plan to buy a car were asked what influences their preference for buying over leasing. Results indicate they value the security and control of ownership, along with general cost savings. Of drivers, 25.2% prefer to buy a vehicle to own it outright. The uncertainty of the market also likely played a large role in the preference to buy, with 15.8% of drivers claiming that owning their vehicle gives them more peace of mind. Additionally, those who take out a new car loan have the option of owning their car outright once the loan is paid, which 13.6% of drivers point to as driving their preference to buy. An additional 11.6% added that they believe it is less expensive to buy a vehicle long term, with no more monthly payments for several years potentially.

Infographic Top 5 Reasons Drivers Prefer To Buy A Car

New car buyers in the current market may be in for a bit of sticker shock, however. Of respondents who own their current car, 50% said they paid less than $20,000 for it regardless of when they bought. If they have been out of the car market for a while, these people may be surprised to learn that by 2021 the average price of a new car had risen to $47,000, according to Consumer Reports. And due to market forces restricting the supply of used cars – forces that may linger for many months – the average price of a used car has also risen significantly. In 2021 the average used car sold for $28,205.

What Do Drivers Prioritize When Buying A Vehicle?

When drivers were asked which factors they consider important for a new or used vehicle, results showed they favored cost and other economic and safety considerations over performance or luxury features, which are typically emphasized in ad campaigns.

Infographic Top 5 Most Important Factors for New or Used Car Buyers.

Of the top five factors drivers cited as very important, three reflect budget concerns. Unsurprisingly, overall vehicle price was the top consideration with 64% of drivers prioritizing it, followed by 55% prioritizing their monthly payment. Additionally, the miles per gallon of a vehicle made the top five. As market factors continue to increase gas prices, the miles per gallon of a vehicle most likely will only increase in importance for drivers. The other two factors that made the top five relate to expected future durability and safety. Of drivers, 54% noted mileage on a vehicle as being an important factor, followed closely by safety rating with 52% rating it important.

It’s interesting to note that while high-end features, such as a hybrid or electric drivetrain, leather seats, or a bigger engine, are often the focus in marketing materials, these factors were the least important to car buyers who took this survey. Even loyalty to a certain manufacturer was in the bottom five on this list.

Of vehicle attributes that respondents deemed less important, perhaps none is more surprising than eco-friendliness. Only 19% of drivers ranked eco-friendliness as a very important attribute of a vehicle they intend to buy or lease. Instead, it is the dollars that eco-friendly vehicles can save drivers which is helping to increase demand. As manufacturers continue to introduce more models with hybrid or all-electric motors, there is a great deal of perhaps disproportionate buzz about these vehicles in the press and among consumers. Whether this is because there is genuine excitement about new technologies or concerns about reducing CO2 emissions (or both), it’s revealing that, when the rubber hits the road, car buyers are far more concerned with their financial bottom line than their next vehicle’s environmental impact.

One factor that seems to fluctuate widely in importance depending on economic conditions is vehicle size. When fuel prices are relatively low, dealerships and manufacturers see a rise in demand for larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles like pickups and large SUVs. When fuel prices get abnormally high, however, demand rises for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. This would suggest that consumers focused on price and value prefer a larger vehicle but will sacrifice the extra space and bigger engine if it’s hurting them at the gas pump.

In early 2022, 41% of drivers said the size of their vehicle is very important, with an additional 41% finding it somewhat important. With the price of gasoline rising in early 2022 and with global economic conditions expected to drive fuel prices up even more, expect demand for smaller cars to rise.

What Do Women Prioritize In A Vehicle Compared To Men?

When looking at which attributes are most important to different ages and genders, we find that while both men and women value many of the same attributes in a vehicle, women value them more overall. More than 50% of women had six attributes they ranked as very important when deciding to buy or lease a vehicle, while men had only one – overall vehicle price. Yet more women than men still view overall vehicle price as very important when buying or leasing a car. Of women, 70% said overall vehicle price was very important compared to just 58% of men. That is a 12-point difference.  

Infographic Women Care More About Their Vehicles Attributes

There was no larger discrepancy between men and women respondents than their consideration of a car’s safety rating. Of women, 61% said safety rating was very important when considering buying or leasing a vehicle compared to only 43% of men, an 18-point difference. One explanation for this could be that mothers of young children are more focused on family safety. Recent statistics show that a growing number of American children live with a single mother. A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center found that 23% of U.S. children under 18 live in a single-parent home – the highest in the world. Further, according to a 2020 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 80% of single-parent homes are headed by single mothers.

Statistics also reveal that women are overwhelmingly more likely to be injured in a car accident. While men are more likely to be involved in a car accident, a woman involved in a car crash is 47% more likely to be seriously injured and 71% more likely to be moderately injured. A large part of this is due to men driving much larger vehicles compared to women. In 2021, for example, the top three selling vehicles in the U.S. were full size pickup trucks, and of those nearly 83% were purchased by men. Due to these factors and others, women are more likely to drive smaller vehicles with child passengers. A car’s safety rating, therefore, becomes a much more important attribute for female drivers. 

When looking at where male and female drivers’ priorities are more closely aligned, brand loyalty is notable. Of female drivers, 35% rank the manufacturer of the vehicle as very important compared to 34% of male drivers. Of the overall least important attributes found on the survey – horsepower, high-end features available and eco-friendliness — each is slightly more important to male drivers, but the difference is negligible.  

82% Of Gen Zers Just Want To Be Able To Afford A Car

Overall, the survey’s youngest respondents did not find as many vehicle attributes important considerations when buying or leasing a car.

Infographic Gen Zers Want A Vehicle That Impacts Affordability

Although overall vehicle price was the top consideration of Gen Z (age 18 – 24), it was significantly less important than to older generations. While 81.9% of Gen Zers considered overall vehicle price as very or somewhat important, it was significantly less than millennials (89.5%), Gen Xers (92%), and baby boomers (94%).

Further, not only did a higher percentage of each generation find overall vehicle price important, they found more vehicle attributes important than Gen Z. Of vehicle attributes that had an 80% or more popularity in each generation, millennials found six vehicle attributes, Gen Xers had seven, and baby boomers had six. Gen Zers had one.

It’s likely that the number one factor guiding Gen Z preferences is limited income. Gen Zers who have reached adulthood are still between the ages of 18 and 24. A car that they can afford is more than likely an older used model or, if they are buying new, a base model economy car with very little optional equipment. The five vehicle attributes Gen Zers ranked most important support this as they focus primarily on the price and affordability of a vehicle. They are also the only generation that considers a lower monthly payment among their top five considerations. This generation just wants a simple, dependable car at an affordable price.

Budget Concerns Are The Primary Reason For Buying Rather Than Leasing A Car

When asked whether they prefer to buy or lease their next car, an overwhelming majority of Americans said they would rather buy, according to a recent Rocket Auto survey. Data from the survey indicate that car buyers believe that purchasing a car makes better economic sense, especially in the long term. When asked which attribute matters most in deciding which car they will buy or lease, for instance, respondents cited overall vehicle price as their number one consideration, regardless of age or gender. Global economic conditions such as inflation and supply chain disruptions brought on by the pandemic might also drive the preference for buying over leasing. Uncertainty about the future might encourage consumers to own their car outright and hold on to it for a while.

Methodology

To learn about motorists’ preferred car features, Rocket Auto surveyed 3,221 car owners and leasers. The sample was controlled to ensure there was an even split of men and women surveyed and that one-quarter of respondents were Gen Z (aged 18 – 24), one-quarter were millennials (aged 25 – 40), one-quarter were Gen X (aged 41 – 56) and one-quarter were baby boomers (aged 57 – 75). The survey was conducted online from January 12 – January 21, 2022.

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    David Collins

    David Collins is a staff writer for Rocket Auto with experience in publishing as well as communications, public relations, and web content creation for automotive manufacturing. He has a B.A. in English from the University of Michigan.