For many, car ownership is as inherent to the American Dream as purchasing a home or reaching the next pay scale. In a country where public transportation varies widely, having a car is often an essential utility for daily life. In order to better understand car purchasing, CivicScience asked over 98,000 U.S. adults over the past year about their plans for their next car purchase. As the data reveals, 50% plan on buying used.

This interest in used cars has seen a rise in the past year, as evidenced by the upward trend of the top green line in the graph below.

Men vs. Women, New vs. Used

The common stereotype about men who love to talk about cars is purely a stereotype. However, the data does indicate some slight differences in the way that men and women buy cars. While men are slightly more interested in buying used, women are slightly more interested in buying new.

A Numbers (and Brand) Game  

The way that one purchases a car does correlate to the number of cars that a person owns. Those with one car are more likely to buy used, and so are those with three or more cars. Those with just two vehicles are the most likely to buy new. 

Of course, what kind of car you end up buying is just as big a question as its newness or lack thereof. And, as it turns out, the brand of car also matters. Those who primarily drive Japanese made cars are the most likely to want their next car purchase to be new. However, this number is followed closely by those who prefer American made cars.

Leasing, though the least popular option for car purchasing, tends to be the most popular for those who drive German made cars. Could it be due to the price point or lack of certainty about the design? There are countless reasons to consider.

It’s most notable that the majority of current non-car owners plan to buy used for their next car.

Getting the Best Value

Statistically speaking, getting a good deal on a price or knowing the car’s solid reputation are the two biggest draws for individuals buying a new car. However, within that conversation, those who prioritize brand reputation are also the most likely to buy new. Those who are focused on price will most likely lease or buy used.

Ultimately, U.S. adults prioritize quality and price when it comes time to purchase a car. While fuel economy, safety, and performance carry some appeal, there is almost no contest for the top two most important aspects of car buying.

In the past year, the only two categories that have become more important to car buyers are quality and value. As the data shows below, value has seen an especially dramatic upswing, even as other factors such as safety and fuel economy have decreased in importance.

Car Buying and the Economy

Purchasing a car does not happen in a vacuum, and buyers are forced to negotiate a variety of external factors when making the choice to purchase a car. As the data shows, one issue that could be in the backs of many minds is the economy. Those who are the most concerned about the economy and the job market plan to buy used.

Given the recent heightened interest in used cars, it is not difficult to suggest that the deeper motivation for this trend could lie in growing concern about the economy. This suggestion is further echoed in the data below, where those who plan to buy new also have the most optimism about the future of the U.S. economy.

At the end of the day, buying a car is not a decision that is made lightly. And while a variety of factors, such as price and brand reputation do play a role, confidence in the economy could ultimately underscore each car buyer’s final decision.