Brand loyalty & buying a car or truck

February 18, 2010 at 10:48 am (Being Frugal, spending habits, truck) ()

I’ve been thinking a lot about brand loyalty and cars lately. You can’t escape the issues with the Toyota recalls right now and the tarnish to their reputation. NPR had a recent story in which they interviewed some Toyota retailers to see how it was affecting them (if you guessed “badly”, you win a gold star!). One thing they discussed was that first time Toyota purchasers were the ones most upset. Repeat buyers were ok with the hit to the car manufacturer’s image. They were still loyal, and able to overlook this little “bump in the road.” It seemed to me as though their critical thinking was clouded by brand loyalty.

I’ve also been reading a bit of The Millionaire Next Door. There was a whole section (way too long and involved in my opinion, but still educational) about the habits of people that were considered millionaires and their car buying habits. It was broken into those that bought new cars vs. those that bought used cars. The question of loyalty came up a bit there as well. Some were loyal to a particular dealership (in part due to networking and returning business to their own clients that were dealers, or family members that owned dealerships). This held true for both the new car buyers and the used car buyers.

Then we come to me. I have very little brand loyalty. I would never ever purchase a new car. To prove my point, here is a list of all the vehicles I have driven:

  • 1989: Nissan Sentra (my only new car, but it was a gift from my parents, and I didn’t own it; this lasted for 18 months when my parents sold it).
  • 1991: Toyota Tercel hatchback (bought used at a dealership – this was before craigslist)
  • 1995: 1995 new Toyota Camry (leased; the tercel was traded in; I didn’t want it, but my husband of the time wanted me to have one, and I didn’t know any better).
  • 1996: 1986 Saab turbo hatchback (I had an accident and totaled the Camry – the Saab quickly became my favorite car ever, I still miss it).
  • 2002: 1997 Subaru outback (my beloved Saab was stolen, I upgraded to a more rugged off-road vehicle since I was doing a lot of wilderness hiking down long, unpaved sketchy roads)
  • 2007: 1998 Nissan Frontier truck (yet another accident, not my fault, and the Subaru  was totaled)

As you can see, I’ve run the gamut of vehicles. Other than leased vehicle, every car/truck I’ve purchased I have bought outright, with cash, and with no accompanying car payments. I can’t see dropping $20K+ on a vehicle, only to have it drop in value right away. I also hold the belief that all the new-fangled electronics on cars make it more challenging and expensive to repair, and less reliable when it comes to needing mechanical attention.

When making my most recent vehicle purchase, I will admit that I tried getting a replacement Subaru outback. However, the value that the insurance company gave me did not quite equal the value of what it cost to get a similar Subaru (they are the de rigueur in the Pacific Northwest). Rather than pay more out of pocket, which I couldn’t afford to do (please note that this was before I discovered living within my means, frugality, budgeting, and the importance of having an emergency fund), I began searching for a slightly less expensive option. Based on my needs (cargo space, camping, rural driving expeditions, plus sleeping in the vehicle on occasion), I ended up looking for a pickup truck with a cab. I was open to a Toyota, Nissan or other similar reputable option that had good safety and repair records. I will also admit I’m still a little biased against American vehicles.

I’m happy with my Nissan Frontier. It’s a good basic vehicle. It doesn’t have the most amazing power (I drive in the right lane up hills and little old ladies pass me), it doesn’t get nearly the gas mileage that J’s Honda does, but it’s reliable for its age, it does what I need it to, and best of all, it’s Paid in Full.

What kind of vehicle will I get next? Who knows. I might go for gas mileage, or maybe go for a vintage cool car with a rebuilt engine (J wants to get an old 50s GMC/Chevy/Ford truck and refurb it, which is still way cheaper than a new inexpensive car). We’ll see, but either way, I’ll still research safety & repair costs, troll for deals on prices, and make sure I have enough to pay for it all up front in cash.



  1. Laura said,

    Hey, I recently read Millionaire Next Door. I loved it, as a whole. It really helped me to love my small house even more than I already did! I’d never thought about those folks in the McMansions wasting their money and living paycheck-to-paycheck. I always assumed they were rich!

  2. jim said,

    One thing to seriously look at if thinking of fixing up a 50’s car to drive is safety. Newer cars are significantly safer than 50’s cars. Airbags, antilock brakes, stability control, crumple zones, etc. Airbags alone saved over 2500 lives a year. This crash test of a 1959 versus 2009 Chevy models is pretty good illustration:
    I don’t want to scare ya but people underestimate the advances made in cars in 50 years or assume that a ‘big old’ 50’s car is somehow automatically safer in the ‘bigger is better’ mentality.

  3. debtmaven said,

    Laura, it is a great book for validation of living frugally by choice (or sensibly if you want to call it that!). I also always assumed that the trappings of rich people meant they were rich. In the neighborhood I used to live in here in Seattle, there were all these $500K-$650K houses selling in the late 90s through early 00’s, absolutely ginormous, that I just know now they are having difficulty dealing with, loss of that high wage job, or a drop in value (though less here in Seattle than elsewhere). I wish the book had more on investing habits, but it was still an amazing read in a lot of ways. If anyone hasn’t seen it, I highly recommend you browse through it next time you’re at the book store!

  4. debtmaven said,

    Jim, good point, and not one I had considered. It’s a bit of a “dream” car so to speak, for tooling around in, safely and sedately, but you never know. I’ve certainly been in enough accidents to know how unpredictable they are, and have been mostly lucky that I’ve been generally unhurt (the last one is the only one that has done any significant damage).

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