Car Buying

Here's Why Spending More Money Doesn't Get You Better Reliability

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author photo by Doug DeMuro March 2016

So you're interested in a car with excellent reliability. Maybe you're thinking about a Honda because you've heard good things about their dependability and you can pick up a nice one for around $30,000. Or maybe you might get a Lexus because you've heard those are very reliable and you can get a nice one for around $60,000.

So then your mind starts to wander. If a Honda is reliable for $30,000 and a Lexus is very reliable for $60,000, then a Ferrari or a Lamborghini must be insanely reliable for $200,000 or more, right? Those things must have the longevity of a giant snapping turtle. Right?

Wrong. In fact, it's hard to imagine a car less reliable than a Lamborghini or a Ferrari. Not only do they cost as much as your house, but they give you about as much trouble, too, assuming your house has a leaky roof, cracks in the foundation and a rat infestation the size of a highway interchange.

So then what gives? Why would anyone pay more money to get a car that's less reliable?

Here's the short answer: because people who spend big money on a car are interested in other traits beyond dependability. The long answer takes a bit more time to explain.

Traditional vs Exotic Buyers

When you think about the average car buyer, dependability is certainly one of the things they're most interested in. When John and Jane Car Buyer start looking for a car, they want the one that offers the best fuel economy and the most equipment, and one that won't strand them by the side of the road -- and they want to pay the least they can for it. John and Jane Car Buyer are your normal, traditional car-buying people.

But there are car shoppers who have different tastes. Let's say you've got more money than John and Jane Car Buyer and you want to flaunt it. In that case, you aren't necessarily looking for the automaker that offers the most bang for the buck. You just want the most bang.

Maybe you want high-tech features or cool new gadgets, or something that helps you stand out from the John and Jane Car Buyer crowd. And so, you consider a Mercedes-Benz, or maybe a Tesla.

Now, Mercedes never tops anyone's list for dependability: J.D. Power places it near the middle of the luxury car pack in its long-term vehicle dependability study, and the firm says that none of the brand's vehicles top their segments in terms of dependability. Meanwhile, Tesla has earned its own criticism for dependability, with Consumer Reports noting that "Tesla reliability doesn't match its high performance" after the testing firm had several issues with the car they purchased for testing purposes.

Loaded with Stuff

But you're not buying a new Tesla or a Mercedes for their dependability. If you're buying a new Mercedes or a new Tesla, you're usually not planning on keeping it for a decade or two. Instead, you'll usually have enough money to upgrade to an even newer model in a few years. So instead of reliable, you want stuff. Lots of stuff. As much stuff as you can get.

And boy, do brands like Tesla and Mercedes have stuff. Tesla has a giant center touchscreen that's unlike anything in virtually any other modern car. Mercedes has a fragrance system -- seriously -- that will release a fresh aroma throughout the car. Tesla models are, of course, fully electric. Mercedes-Benz has systems that virtually drive the car electronically. In other words, these automakers have not spent their research and development dollars on dependability. They've spent that money on stuff because they know that's what their buyers want. And they know buyers are usually willing to put up with the occasional issue or two in order to have the latest and greatest technology.

So what about Ferrari? Lamborghini? Aston Martin? Maserati? If they're charging $200,000 or more for a car, shouldn't they have stuff and dependability?

In fact, they have neither.

Exclusivity

When shoppers buy Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin and other high-end brands, they don't get dependability, and they don't get the latest gadgets. Instead, they're paying for something even more difficult to find: exclusivity. A Chevrolet is not at all exclusive. A Mercedes is only slightly more exclusive. But a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, or an Aston Martin -- you don't see those on the road very often. And their owners love it.

More importantly, their owners are willing to put up with outdated technology and the occasional mechanical issue simply because they are getting something that they consider even more valuable in return: a special car that makes them feel special. They're getting a hand-built car with all the charms that come from a hand-built car. They're getting a unique, beautiful shape and an excellent driving experience as well as access to a lifestyle that simply isn't available to Chevy owners or Mercedes owners.

Of course, the fact that exotic car owners probably have one or two other cars in the garage takes the sting off if their exotic starts acting up.

And so, if you're interested in the most reliable car you can find, you'll probably be surprised to learn you won't find it for $200,000, or even $100,000. You'll find it at the Lexus dealer, the Acura dealer, the Ford dealer, the Honda dealer or from some other mainstream brand for an affordable price.

And while you may not wish to have the problems that go along with owning an exotic car, I suspect you'll still turn your head when one drives past you on the street.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Here's Why Spending More Money Doesn't Get You Better Reliability - Autotrader