Myriad factors affect a given car's ownership costs: maintenance, out-of-warranty repairs, depreciation, fuel economy, insurance costs and more. Automotive data firm Vincentric mashed them all together as it's done for the past decade to produce the company's Best Value in America awards. Of the 41 cars recognized, Toyota and GM's brands took the most.
Vincentric's scoring system measured ownership costs for 2015 models in eight different categories across nine different ownership scenarios. The company then compared the ownership costs for each model against its expected costs, based on the vehicle's segment. Winning cars had the lowest expected relative ownership costs versus their segment’s expected costs.
Toyota came out on top, with 12 of Vincentric's 41 segment winners coming from the automaker or its Lexus and Scion divisions. GM earned five wins from its Buick, Chevrolet and GMC divisions; Cadillac didn't have any winners. Third-place Honda won four spots.
Vincentric named Toyota the Best Brand Value in America overall for passenger cars, with the automaker's Lexus division winning for luxury vehicles. GM's Chevrolet division won for trucks.
In the first five years, the vast majority of vehicle ownership costs come from depreciation, fuel, insurance and maintenance, Vincentric President David Wurster told Cars.com. But their order of importance has changed.
"Those [four factors] combine for 88 percent" of five-year ownership costs, Wurster said. "Last year, fuel was the No. 2 ranked [factor] of that group, and this year that's flip-flopped with insurance. So in the course of the year where fuel prices have declined so greatly, it's changed its relative importance in total cost of ownership."
Among major automakers, Nissan and its Infiniti division took just one category. Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, Ford and Hyundai-Kia each had just two winners apiece.
Still, Wurster cautions that just because a car didn't win its category, that doesn't mean it has sky-high ownership costs.
"It's the absolute winners that make for quality, good purchases. There are many" others that come close, he said. "What you really want to do is avoid the lemons."
Editor's note: This post was updated on March 27 to clarify Vincentric's methodology for determining its awards.