By on May 10, 2010

With strong new auto safety legislation being debated in congress,the role and scope of government regulation in the auto industry is becoming a hotly-contested issue. But one important consideration is being left out of the discussion: the role of private “regulation” of the auto industry. Even as the new legislation was being drafted, we were treated to an object lesson in non-governmental regulation when the non-profit Consumer Reports issued a “do not buy” warning for the Lexus GX after it exhibited lift-off oversteer on a test course. Because CR performs independent testing on a wide variety of dealer-example vehicles, it was able to detect this error, which prompted Toyota to stop sales and production of the model until a fix was released. Throughout the incident, NHTSA played second fiddle to CR, merely checking the non-profit’s work. The lesson: a subscriber-based, non-profit is the real front line of US auto regulation. But, as the Wall Street Journal [sub] reports, Consumer Reports is being shadowed by another organization called Consumers Digest… and you don’t want to make the mistake of confusing the one with the other.

Consumer Reports is owned by the not-for-profit Consumers Union, and it jealously guards its credibility. CR buys all the vehicles it tests to ensure that they are not OEM-fettled for flattering performance, and refuses to allow its awards to appear in manufacturer advertising. As head of testing David Champion puts it to the WSJ,

We do not want to be beholden to the manufacturers in any way. We don’t want to be seen as selling our names to manufacturers

The same can not be said for its doppelganger, Consumers Digest. Like CR, CD puts out a regular report with “best buy” recommendations of certain vehicles. Like CR, the CD publication runs no advertising, but instead of relying on consumer subscriptions, CD has a very different source of revenue: licensing its awards for advertising purposes. As an example, the WSJ points out that GM received no fewer than 15 CD “Best Buy” awards, and GM has paid the magazine to use those ads in its marketing and advertising efforts. Though GM refused to reveal how much it paid CD to license its 2010 awards, but CD says the traditional fee is $35k for the first award and $25k for each award thereafter.

Of course, CD swears that this troubling business model in no way affects the decision to award “Best Buy” kudos to a given manufacturer. Editor Rich Dzierwa tells the WSJ that there is

no pressure on the editorial staff to consider products, to consider vehicles because either they have been licensees or because there is a possibility that they will be. Licensing comes after our review process

Of course there’s evidence that this isn’t the whole story, namely that CD’s award page lists all winners of its “Best Buy” award but only offers links with further information for models that have paid CD licensing fees.

Not that GM is sweating the appearance of being the major benefactor of an award mill. GM executive director of marketing Paul Edwards tells the WSJ:

We had done some research in terms of what resonates [with consumers] and what doesn’t, and Consumers Digest scores near the top

Now, why would that be? Would it be because Consumers Digest is widely available and read by millions? Not likely, considering the WSJ’s revelation that CD

has no subscribers, runs no ads and is only available in certain bookstores and retail shops

Could this under-earned “resonance with consumers” have something to do with the fact that the name “Consumers Digest” sounds incredibly similar to the name “Consumer Reports,” possibly the best-known source of reliability and quality data in the country? There sure isn’t an overabundance of alternate explanations.

Granted, Consumers Digest isn’t the only company out there peddling awards and surveys to automaker marketing departments. According to an unnamed automaker,

J.D. Power charges as much as $300,000 for copies of a survey, and the same amount to use the awards in ads

And there are plenty of other examples of firms that generate marketing materials for a fee, while insisting that the fees in no way affect the outcome of their surveys and awards. What makes the Consumers Digest example so especially galling though, is the similarity between its name and Consumer Reports. Given that CR is the closest thing to a private auto regulator in this country (and the only “regulator” that regularly tests random vehicles), this would be akin to founding a fuel efficiency-rating organization named The Environmental Protection Association, and accepting fees from automakers to feature the “EPA ratings” it generates in advertisements.

Luckily, private regulation doesn’t come down to a single agency, but rather relies on whole networks of private actors to inform consumers and citizens. By informing the public of the differences between CR and CD, the WSJ (and now, TTAC) are themselves regulating the regulators, separating the wheat (CR) from the chaff (CD). Ultimately though, the best reliability data comes from consumers themselves as well as their non-profit watchdogs. TTAC contributor Michael Karesh may not have a dedicated test track or the budget to regularly buy vehicles for testing purposes, but his TrueDelta site solicits data from the actual owners of vehicles, providing an instant, unfiltered and broad sense of a model’s reliability profile. Databases like TrueDelta, as well as well-funded, non-profit regulators like CR are crucial to maintaining a well-informed car-buying public, which in turn is crucial to healthy market function. By exposing the less-scrupulous operators in the field of automotive awareness, we hope TTAC is contributing to this end as well, in its own distinct way.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

89 Comments on “The Truth About Consumers Digest...”


  • avatar
    stuart

    Amusing in light of the CD/CU shared history. Many years ago, I read an editorial in an ancient copy of CR (1960s?) that lamented their competitor, CD. The editorial claimed that CD arose after its founder wrote a book titled “Your Money’s Worth,” and was subsequently deluged with mail inquiring about the best brand of car/appliance/whatever. CD apparently began with the best of intentions, but the workers wanted to unionize. CD was very anti-union, so much of the staff left and started CU to publish CR. You know the rest.

    stuart

    I think this might be the book referenced above:

    http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/coolbib:@FIELD%28SUBJ+@band%28+Testing.+%29%29

    • 0 avatar
      Geotpf

      After reading through the Wikipedia articles, it looks like Consumers Union was founded from former employees of a similar group called Consumers’ Research, which published a magazine called Consumers’ Digest (and Your Money’s Worth). But Consumers’ Research went out of business in 1983, and the current Consumers Digest (note punctuation difference) has nothing to do with it. Consumers Digest seems to be in the business mainly to sell their awards to manufacturers to stick on their products.

  • avatar
    red60r

    I take all recommendations from organizations like JD Power, Consumers Digest, etc., with more grains of salt than a Michigan overpass in February. When an ad trumpets the receipt of an award or high marks from such fib factories, there is always an absence of data as to the nature of the competition (if any) in the category. “Best midsize sedan with a brand name beginning with To” always rings with a hollow thud. Consumer Reports may have a different emphasis relative to TTAC, but at least they aren’t testing blueprinted factory specials as representative of the general production run. An “Initial Quality” award just means the car didn’t fall apart in the first three months. Karesh, keep up the database!

    • 0 avatar
      WaftableTorque

      I personally find CD to be the more valuable consumer resource. CR takes a liberal government-should-interfere-with-everything stance, whereas CD is far more libertarian.

      CD usually educates the consumer more about how to shop for a particular category, whereas CR seems to do the shopping for me rather than giving me the skill set to make my own evaluations.

      On another note, my favorite consumer website is http://www.consumersearch.com, the website that reviews the reviewers. It’s owned by About.com, but I find they combine the best of CR and CD.

    • 0 avatar
      hurls

      I can’t speak for anyone else :) , but if I knew a publication was selling their recommendations, I’d pretty much ignore those reccs. Even if they matched my world view.

      But that’s just how I roll :)

    • 0 avatar
      drivebywire

      Waftable Torque,

      I find it thoroughly amusing that you prefer CD for being libertarian, but then identify consumersearch.com as your favorite (owned by about.com, which is owned by the NYTimes…hardly libertarian).

      ;-)

  • avatar
    wsn

    Go CD Go! Buff GM more, so that I can buy my next Honda/Toyota a bit cheaper.

  • avatar
    Rusted Source

    Thanks to CD’s concise evaluation, your truck purchase experience is no longer fraught with uncertainty. Their recommendation is to buy either the Silverado 1500, Sierra 1500, Ford F-150 or the Ram 1500.

    That should make things a bit easier.

    Interesting that Toyota presents no value in the market.

  • avatar

    Spent quite a bit of time being interviewed by Mr. Dolan on the phone. Looks like he decided to focus on the low-hanging fruit.

    We discussed, in detail, the shortcomings of both J.D. Powers’ and CR’s information.

    I guess he wanted me to go on the record that J.D. Powers’ results were influenced by their financial relationships with the car makers. Sorry to disappoint him, but I honestly believe the real problems with both them and CR lie elsewhere:

    http://www.truedelta.com/pieces/shortcomings.php

    http://www.truedelta.com/pieces/jdpower.php

    My understanding during the interview was that the focus was on J.D. Power. Yet it ended up being on Consumers Digest, with J.D. Power mentioned only near the end. Wonder why.

    Consumers Digest? Who cares about Consumers Digest? I’ve never felt them even worth the effort of critiquing them.

    So what we have from the WSJ is yet another piece that overlooks some undeniable problems with CR’s information in favor of a possible problem with J.D. Power–but for which there is no proof, only insinuation.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Michael, I seem to end up using Google more than any one website. Google gives me super fast access to specific customer complaints and then I can dig for more information on the serious problems. For example, I look closely for any automatic transmission problems because of the extreme repair expense. Any failure involving something buried deep inside the dash like the A/C evaporator that fails is another red flag issue requiring more research. Paint issues also stand out. In contrast, the Toyota accelerator pedal issue is almost irrelevant because its easy to replace. Same with tires, brake pads, easy to get at hoses and belts, and other stuff made to be replaced. CR doesn’t do a good job of distignuishing between easy DIY repair vs. you’re totally screwed buried deep in the car major problems.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    I’m sure GM counts on people watching or reading their ads to confuse CD with CR. In this regard, GM’s many CD Best Buy awards are a counter to Toyota’s many CR Best Buy awards.

    Ask an automotive layman which one take money from the manufacturers, they’ll probably say that they were unaware of two separate entities to begin with!

    If a company thinks it can get away with saying it’s paid off all its debt when it hasn’t, or that their CUV gets 32mpg when it doesn’t, it certainly won’t have any qualms about dubious awards and accolades.

    • 0 avatar
      Ralph SS

      “I’m sure GM counts on people watching or reading their ads to confuse CD with CR.”

      That would be like GM accepting or “borrowing” money from two or more sources, then taking money from one pile and paying off the other, then proclaining from the mountaintop that paid off the debt ahead of schedule, with interest. That would be disingenuous. A proud company like GM would never do that.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    I thought these Consumers Digest awards had a faint whiff of sh*t about them when GM first started waving them around. Now we know.
    I wish the more ‘reputable’ car manufacturers (if any exist) would step away from profiteering scumbags like CD because being associated with them only serves to devalue their brand in my eyes.
    But then again, a majority of the general public won’t have a clue they’re being duped so it doesn’t really matter what I think.

  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    While Consumer Reports may have its faults, questionable motives isn’t one of them. It’s hard to argue that Consumer Reports is baised toward any car maker, stereo manufacturer, or vacuum maker because it sells ad space to them or licenses the use of their name in the manmufacturer’s ads. Because it doesn’t. The only sources of automotive reliability data that I trust are True Delta (primarily) and Consumer Reports.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      Consumer Reports clearly and deliberately faked their rollover test of the Suzuki Samurai, apparently (they’ve never admitted the reason) to garner widespread media attention and bolster their credibility as a “consumers’ advocate”.

      I have deep doubts about their motivations.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Consumer Reports clearly and deliberately faked their rollover test of the Suzuki Samurai

      Remember my comment about the internet being like a big game of telephone? This is one of those cases where a mis-truth gets repeated often enough that people believe it.

      See here

      Suzuki did not win their case, nor did they win any compensation. There was a clarification that the tipping only happened in extreme maneuvers like, surprise, CR’s emergency avoidance test: the same on the Lexus GX flopped recently.

    • 0 avatar
      Greg Locock

      Yet when push came to shove Suzuki couldn’t prove it. You keep writing the same as the above, what is your motivation? Here’s their joint statement

      http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/cars/new-cars/news/suzuki-and-consumers-union-agree-on-lawsuit-dismissal/overview/index.htm

      Fair enough maybe Suzuki felt they were flogging a dead horse by this point, but you’d have thought that if they’d had a good case they could have made it stick.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      “extreme maneuvers like, surprise, CR’s emergency avoidance test:”

      That would be the one they faked. The vehicle passed. Repeatedly. It took repeated deliberate attempts to get it to exhibit the result that their “scientific” test set out to demonstrate.

      Picking your conclusion and then tweaking the test until you get the desired result is he opposite of objective science.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      Here’s a link to the video, which shows a Samurai repeatedly successfully passing through the test. CR video starts about the 4 minute mark.

      http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docId=7961488372528875043&hl=en-CA

    • 0 avatar
      drivebywire

      Why is this community so willing and able to criticize CR, but not TrueDelta? Curious. Seems that data provided by owners could be tainted by a need to justify a purchase. I’m just sayin’.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      @Steve65

      That’s how the test works. Every car is run through the test that way: driven a little faster each time until control is lost.

      What CR would prefer is graceful understeer—the kind that untrained drivers can handle intuitively—or the intervention of ESC, if so equipped. What they don’t want is snap-oversteer (which many Subarus do, and most 911s and the Lexus GX did dramatically), and what they really don’t like is when the car goes up on two weeks (which the Samurai did).

      Every time the Samurai is brought up someone dredges up this video as some kind of smoking gun. It isn’t, really, because CR does this to every car they test.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      I would think that if CD were dependent on income from car choices, they’d have a lot more models on their list.

      I note that the Suzuki Grand Vitara scores average or better on truedelta, and got a recommendation from CD a year or two ago, while it does rather badly on CR. There is too large a discrepancy for it to be based purely on the vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I note that the Suzuki Grand Vitara scores average or better on truedelta, and got a recommendation from CD a year or two ago, while it does rather badly on CR. There is too large a discrepancy for it to be based purely on the vehicle.

      There are two things to remember about CR’s rankings:

      One, the “averages” are per-class, rather than for all vehicles overall. They do, on occasion, note that certain segments (SUVs, luxury cars) are more problematic in general than others (economy cars). I don’t know if the other ratings providers bust out categories in quite the same way, if at all.

      Two, CR has two scales: reliability and performance. The Grand Vitara does not perform well on the latter, and doesn’t appear at all on the former because not enough people replied. You have to keep this dual scale in mind–and many people mix them up—because some models have highly divergent scores: the Chevy Impala, Honda Insight and Toyota Yaris are reliable, but suck; the Cadillac CTS, BMW 5-Series and VW Passat are great cars, but not all that reliable.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      “Yet when push came to shove Suzuki couldn’t prove it. You keep writing the same as the above, what is your motivation? Here’s their joint statement

      http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/cars/new-cars/news/suzuki-and-consumers-union-agree-on-lawsuit-dismissal/overview/index.htm

      Fair enough maybe Suzuki felt they were flogging a dead horse by this point, but you’d have thought that if they’d had a good case they could have made it stick.”

      My reading of the joint settlement statement was that CR agreed to drop their criticism of the Samurai rollover test result, and Suzuki agreed to stop criticism of the CR rollover test. The statement contained information that the Samurai did not have a remarkably unusual lack of stability. I would take this as a win for Suzuki.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      “Two, CR has two scales: reliability and performance. The Grand Vitara does not perform well on the latter, and doesn’t appear at all on the former because not enough people replied. You have to keep this dual scale in mind–and many people mix them up—because some models have highly divergent scores: the Chevy Impala, Honda Insight and Toyota Yaris are reliable, but suck; the Cadillac CTS, BMW 5-Series and VW Passat are great cars, but not all that reliable.”

      Thanks for the clarification. I still find a problem with CR’s evaluation of the GV’s performance. It is the most off-road biased of the cuv’s, while most who review it, including CR, evaluate it directly with the other cuv’s.

      The GV naturally compromises a little as a cuv due to the off-road provisions. For instance, the other cuv’s (other than some Patriots) completely suck for use where a low range is needed, yet this utter sucking has no way to show up in the CR rating. Or the suspension that strongly resists being bottomed out.

      The GV also gets no credit from CR, compared to the other cuv’s, from the safety and bad-condition traction advantages of always being in AWD, while it does get crap for the resulting mileage loss. If CR wants to be the go-to source for auto comparison information, these seem to be inexplicable oversights. A vehicle should not end up looking bad just because it doesn’t easily fit into CR’s classifications.

      Interestingly, GV user websites show little criticism of performance, but there’s no shortage of reliability issues. This confirms that Grand Vitaras do what people buy them for, and may also prove that such sites attract people experiencing problems.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Interestingly, GV user websites show little criticism of performance, but there’s no shortage of reliability issues. This confirms that Grand Vitaras do what people buy them for, and may also prove that such sites attract people experiencing problems.

      That’s exactly why Googling for models is useless. You will, most likely, get a bunch of fan-run forums and a few blogs, all of which are documenting exceptional cases.

      People will not, en masse, bother to post the likes of “Nope, my Grand Vitara is not half-bad but but I wish I’d bought a CR/V instead because I never go off-road”. People who bought the product did so because they liked it, but when they complain on-line, it’s because something went wrong.

  • avatar
    L'avventura

    Come to think of it, occasionally at a bookstore, I’ve glanced through a copy of CD, never realizing or differentiating CR from CD. I remember thinking the layout is a little different, but being that either magazine doesn’t occupy much of my daily conscious, I’ve never gave it much thought.

    Looking at the picture in this blog, I was thinking that GM was doing awful good with CR. Only to have finally demarcated the two magazines after I read the article.

    I’m guessing that CD thrives on that confusion for their business model, because even the magazine layout and look is fairly similar. In fact, its very anti-consumer of CD, I think we need a magazine to review magazines. But then then we’ll need a magazine to review magazines that reviews magazines…

  • avatar
    Hank

    So it’s basically a Good Housekeeping Seal for the auto world? (the GHS is only awarded to those who advertise in the mag)

    It always seemed like a cheap knock-off with no credibility to me. Glad to see my suspicions confirmed. I haven’t gotten to say “I told you so” to anyone all day.

  • avatar
    mtypex

    OK, so if I start an automaker in, say, Oklahoma … how much do I need to pay CD to get an ‘award-winning’ product promotion?

  • avatar
    gslippy

    EN: What an excellent article; I’ve been enlightened today. I had no idea of the different groups before.

    It is very telling that Toyota, Audi, Acura, BMW, Subaru are not represented, and only the paying companies get hotlinks. Oddly, Hyundai gets the black text, Kia gets the green hotlink text. You’d expect them to have a common policy.

  • avatar

    Got another newsflash: though General Motors and General Electric both start with “General,” they are not the same company.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Quite true, but nobody mistakes one for the other since GE and GM work in distinctly different markets.

      Try asking the man on the street the difference between Office Depot and OfficeMax.

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      Got another newsflash: though General Motors and General Electric both start with “General,” they are not the same company.

      Quite true, but nobody mistakes one for the other since GE and GM work in distinctly different markets.

      During the 2000s, GM and GE made the majority of their income doing the exact same thing – financing the purchase of expensive machines.

  • avatar
    Accazdatch

    I knew…

    There was something wrong with “Consumer Digest”

    *Getting up on my soapbox.*

    I am not a CONSUMER.

    I am not a STEREOTYPE.

    BIGger is not BETter.

    I like to DRIVE.

    I also like to read… and gain my auto knowledge from as many sources as possible.

    The Car mags are proving more and more to be so far out of the judgement picture..its not even funny.

    I wouldn’t trust Consumer Reports to print out decent TP..

    And I knew.. that Consumer DIGEST isn’t much better.

    There isn’t any value in a car being top in either magazine, just like do not trust the IIHS, even though THEY TOO share the same important sounding initials as the NHTSA.

    In the end…
    I thank you sir for another solid document. I will enjoy it and continue to piss on anything labeled consumer.. when in regards to my car.

    They can go blow!

  • avatar

    The “non-profit” status of CR has nothing to do with anything. The vast majority of nonprofits are shady operations that are set up to pipe the taxpayers’ money into pockets of their founders and operators. What is important is CR’s business model of selling subscriptions. If it were “for profit”, exactly nothing would change. And yet… the article pretends that being “non-profit” is a qualifier alongside “subscriber based” for a publication to be on “the real front”.

    • 0 avatar
      CamaroKid

      Very true and an excellent observation.. Consumer Reports ARE beholden and are biased… They are biased to their subscribers. And that has been proven to have generated SEVERAL recommendations that CR would love to have back.

      Look how slow CR was to point out that there might be something wrong with Toyota’s gas pedals. Why? Could it be that most of CR readers drive Toyota’s? Best not to tell your subscribers that the car that you told them to buy might be a POS. CR is VERY slow to point out errors that they have made and is VERY slow to withdraw recommendations that they now know are crap.

      Services like True Delta are far less biased and far more reliable then Consumer Reports. Even Google is a better tool then Consumer Reports… Simply Google “Year Make Model” and the word “Problems” and you can read all of the info yourself… Look for repetitive problems, and you can save a useless substitution.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Even Google is a better tool then Consumer Reports

      I’m sorry, but no. I know it’s fashionable to beat on CR in enthusiast circles, but they’re a fairly professional shop. They’re not perfect (Mr. Karesh has noted they’re slow to press with rankings) but they’re nowhere near as biased or inaccurate as people with an axe to grind think they are.

      Google, meanwhile, is a really good way to find out what sites that are linked to a lot are saying. Considering that the blogosphere and most forums amount to the world’s biggest game of telephone, I would be very careful about lending those sources anything resembling credence.

      Google is a good source when you already have a problem with your existing car, but it’s next to useless when you’re trying to find out whether or not you should buy a certain car.

      Look how slow CR was to point out that there might be something wrong with Toyota’s gas pedals

      Not true. What CR didn’t do was jump into the media frenzy until there was real information available. They did, shockingly, actual tests to determine if you could stop a car from WOT, and they did those tests before anyone else did, and published informaton that the unwashed masses could use.

      Sure, they didn’t do a pedal tear-down. Why should they? Their audience isn’t gearhead enthusiasts.

    • 0 avatar
      CamaroKid

      Mr. Karesh has noted they’re slow to press with rankings

      More then that, take a read of TrueDelta’s list of CR problems. Even more important then the slow reporting of rankings is the fact that the statistical sampling that they do is all but useless, not large enough and itself is biased…

      At best you can say that it is a case study on how NOT to take a random sample.

      http://www.truedelta.com/pieces/shortcomings.php

    • 0 avatar
      drivebywire

      Pete,

      > The vast majority of nonprofits are shady operations that are set up to pipe the taxpayers’ money into pockets of their founders and operators.

      Incorrect, and imprecise. “vast majority”? Sounds like an emotional posting and not one with any substance or fact. Resembles the low-quality political conversation today.

  • avatar
    Odomeater

    I have to hand it to TTAC. I thought that after our beloved Robert exited (canned), the relentless pounding of GM might actually regress to mere occasional flogging. Boy was I mistaken! OK- so any endorsement of a GM vehicle is not to be trusted? Right? Think I got it.

  • avatar
    shortthrowsixspeed

    i see nothing wrong with what CD is doing. the problem is in consumer’s blind trust in an award without doing any background research or checking. What surprizes me is not that CD is preying on the unaware, but that CR is keeping consumers in the dark. by not allowing manufacturers to use the CR awards in ads, they tie the manufacturer’s hands by not allowing them to expose the sham CD awards paraded around GM’s comercials

    Why should auto manufacturers not be able to use the CR awards in advertising? can’t CR just let them use it without paying for it and thereby keep its independent status? if the winners of the CR awards could enlighten the public by pointing out the differences, consumers would be better served.

    • 0 avatar
      Lumbergh21

      Good point, as long as the manufacturer isn’t paying fro the award either directly (Consumer’s Digest, and JD Power) or indirectly through advertising (Motor Trend, et al), then where’s the influence in using it to promote their cars? Of course, I think that most people who value Consumer Reports’ opinion do purchase their Buying Guide to find out what they recommend.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      I’m not sure of their legal grounds, but the few times that a manufacturer has trumpeted Consumer Report’s giving them a good review, by name, the lawyers have been flown in very quickly with the old cease and desist. I’d think that report something publicly published would be free and clear.

      As to their motivation: Besides the “above it all” sanctimoniousness, if manufacturers were able to publish the good ratings, sooner or later, everyone that got a good CR rating would be shouting it far and wide . . . . . . and who’d need to subscribe?

      For myself, CR’s attitude towards the automobile is so opposed to mine (expense vs. fun) that I will not use them for anything in a car search. If I enjoy driving it, I’ll happily put up with the repairs.

      And I’ve always noticed they refuse to acknowledge the existence of motorcycles and scooters, much less test them.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Why should auto manufacturers not be able to use the CR awards in advertising?

      The presence or appearance of bias. CR’s coinage is credence, and that goes right out the window as soon as they appear to have a relationship with a manufacturer.

      And I’ve always noticed they refuse to acknowledge the existence of motorcycles and scooters, much less test them.

      In North America, so few people buy bikes, and of those who do most do so for highly personal, egotistic and discretionary reasons. Reviewing discretionary purchases is practically worthless: look at the animosity CR’s sports and luxury reviews get.

      Reviewing bikes would be like reviewing music or toys.

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      Why should auto manufacturers not be able to use the CR awards in advertising?

      Because, as Consumers Union (CU) once reported, the advertiser will seldom (if ever) tell the consumer the full story.

      Case in point: Several years ago, an upscale manufacturer of appliances had one of their models listed at the top of CR’s ratings; the particular model listed for around $1,200. The manufacturer immediately started advertising this fact, and was quickly contacted by CU’s attorneys, who threatened to not test the manufacturer’s products in the future if the advertisements continued (this was done with Regina vacuum cleaners in the 1980s).

      CU’s main bone of contention was not so much that the manufacturer touted its placement in the ratings, but rather that a much less expensive alternative (around $350) ranked in second place. The difference in total points earned in testing and in reliability ratings was not statistically significant, and in fact this was noted in the CR’s article and recommendations.

      Personally, I don’t accept everything in CR as gospel, but their product testing methodology is about as objective as you can get. The other benefit of CR is shared with TrueDelta: Despite the benefits of personal research, one person can never get an adequate sample size to accurately predict reliability. No methodology is perfect, but I’ll take a large survey sample over conversations with recent buyers any day.

      On the other hand, CU’s obvious political bias sometimes pains me – and these pains are decidedly on my left side, if you know what I mean. But that’s a story best reserved for another time and place…

    • 0 avatar
      shortthrowsixspeed

      @ Syke: good point on the who would need to subscribe. Then again, CR may get much more subscriptions because of the free advertising it gets from the ads touting its awards.

      @ psharjinian: ok . . . perception is reality. but CR could mandate how it is referred to in the ads: e.g. all references to the award mush be accompanied by the line “CR, the only completely independant nonprofit organization dedicated to honest consumer review.” or something. anyway, the advertiser will want the consumer to know how independant CR is since it lends credence to the award.

      @ BuzzDog: sounds fishy . . . does CR rank $1200 appliances next to $350 ones? was the list best overall, or best value? was the advertiser really misrepresenting anything if their product was the best (and most expensive)? In any case, federal and most state antitrust laws would bar unfair competition and deceptive trade practices by advertisers. Or, as noted above, CR could limit the way their awards could be used in ads, e.g. ust always state the criteria (best overall, best value, most user-friendly, whatever)

      Either way, just seems odd to say no one knows about CR because CD’s all over the ads when CR has purposefully removed itself from that arena.

  • avatar
    SV

    Looks like the Consumer Reports hate is starting to flare up, going by at least two of the B&B’s comments thus far. Honestly I don’t get it. They’re not perfect, and their reliability system isn’t perfect, but in my experience CR has been perhaps the best source of data for new car shoppers.

    The enthusiast magazines are useless; they get too caught up in fads or biases (looking at you C&D and your BMW/Honda love) and of course they rely on advertising for alot of their income. I never gave much stock to JD Power and now I know to give even less to Consumers Digest (I’ve always made the distinction between CR and CD, but I didn’t really know what the deal was with CD).

    Besides, reliability isn’t the only thing CR provides; they also extensively test vehicles and rate them in a pretty fair manner as far as I can tell. Their reviews are a bit antiseptic, yes, but that’s because they leave subjective things like appearance to the individual (although they have occasionally listed a Chrysler’s styling as a high when they couldn’t find anything else to praise…I think they were just being charitable)

    • 0 avatar

      Here are my issues with CR:

      http://www.truedelta.com/shortcomings.php

      No one, including CR, has ever really replied to any of my points.

      I discussed these points with the WSJ writer. He decided to focus instead on financial relationships between the OEMs and those that give awards.

      Journalists seem to put at least as much emphasis on the fact that CR does not accept advertising as the general public does. Do they think that the great majority of people in their profession are heavily influenced by advertisers? Perhaps. If so, pretty sad.

    • 0 avatar
      michaelfrankie

      I agree. I think a company like CR is a rare breed. It’s not everyday you can read a review about a product that doesn’t have some type of bribe attached to it. You may not always like what they say, but at least it’s from the heart.

    • 0 avatar
      drivebywire

      Agreed.

  • avatar
    findude

    There’s no substitute for doing your own research. Before I bought our 2006 MINI Cooper S, I put in many hours on the forums. Then I left sticky notes on MINI’s in parking lots saying that I was considering buying one and would the owner mind calling me so I could ask a few questions. I had an 80% response rate: most called the same day or the next day. From those owners I learned about local dealers, their disappointments, what they liked, what they paid, what they would change, etc. Several even offered to let me drive their MINIs, even though they didn’t know me.

    About six months after taking delivery, I was approached in the grocery store parking lot by a woman who asked if I was the one who had left the note on her car a while back. It turned out she had seen me leave it and was delighted to see I had bought one with the same color combo as hers.

    Ask around. Talk to people. Drive lots of cars.

    Another excellent data point is the parts department at the local dealer–find the old, jaded guy who’s been there a long time. He’ll tell you what to buy and what to avoid.

    Also, chat up tow-truck drivers. They know which cars break down along the road and which don’t.

    • 0 avatar
      shortthrowsixspeed

      excellent points.

      people are generally too impatient to do the leg work you describe, but the payoff is worth it. I love the idea to put post-its on potential purchases in parking lots (gotta love aliteration). However, it sounds like TrueDelta is like a huge sticky note posted above every lot in the land. nice job michael.

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    I guess that I’m going to be a dissenting voice.

    Of the comments I’ve read so far an astonishing number admit to not realizing that there was a difference between Consumer Digest and Consumers Report. I’m sorry, but anyone falling into this category isn’t sufficiently aware to pass reasoned judgment on either publication.

    I have used Consumer Digest as a objective reference for well over 20 years. I prefer the manner in which they review and report on cars. Their metrics are comparable throughout vehicles of a similar type and in this way make cross shopping much more objective.

    Consumer Reports is a reference that I have also used but abandoned some 15 years ago after repeated disappointments with CR-based purchase decisions. At times CR’s car reviews focus on the most bizarre and non-comparable items; like one car has a cigarette lighter and another has three cupholders – so you should buy the one with the three cupholders. They’re really in the league of MotorWeek with their old safety check list of 1) radial tires 2) front disc brakes 3) halogen headlamps.

    As Michael Karesh said, ‘Consumer Digest is the low hanging fruit’ and therefore I must conclude that the big game lies elsewhere.

    I leave it to TTAC to unveil the real truth…

    • 0 avatar
      Accazdatch

      Jeez…

      I hate to tell ya / break the news to ya…

      When GM opened their stupid / ignorant mouth about awards or good comments from a place called Consumer Digest… it cant be good.

      1. Nothing GM has to say means anything. — Even them going tits up.. means nothing!

      2. NOTHING called “CONSUMER” has YOUR best interests in mind!

      3. If ya actually check out the commercial… its not telling you.. anything. All it says.. is this “Consumer blah blah blah” says its good.”

      4. Last time I checked.. I dont need to put my hand over the fire.. to find out its hot.

      5. Then again.. I needed more information as to WHAT, “CONSUMER Digest” was.

      6. Now I know.. — and I was waiting on a negative review from TTAC– (is there any other kind for a magazine or a award called “Consumer”..)

      7. AMEN to TTAC for pointing out the fact that C.R and both C.D BLOW.

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

      In contrast to your experience, I find CR to be a generally helpful and useful magazine. The caveat being if you’re a gearhead, then yeah, the car reviews aren’t as useful to you. But in terms of finding a car in a given category for your non-gearhead neighbor or friend who might remember to change oil once a year if they’re lucky, then CR’s recommendations are not that far off from what I’d recommend. And as a single guy, their reviews on appliances and the like are very helpful.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Besides these, there is a whole bunch more review sights out there.
    Some, like The Car Connection, use a gathering of other auto sights and come up with some kind of grading.
    Not really sure how this works. I only hope they don’t seek out reviews that agree with the writer.

    Others, like US News and World Report seem to do this, but don’t really list the sources.
    THEN they give a score for each Performance, reliability, etc., and then a total.
    What really grates me is they then give a BEST OF for each segment of car, SUV etc. BUT if you examine, total scores are weird. A car can take top rating, but not have grades for reliability or safety.

    http://usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/cars-trucks/rankings/Affordable-Small-Cars/

    Now somebody explain how you can have a N/A score for these important scores and not have it held against you in a total grading???
    This seems unfair and misleading.
    How is this???

    • 0 avatar
      Accazdatch

      I actually used to be on The Car Connection about 5+yrs ago.

      Then.. they were a tiny car review site that Paul Eisenstein used to own.

      Now..
      They are some mega tiny online conglomerate of little b.s websites that push any view of any vehicle at all.

      There is no credibility there.. and most times they just make up their own group sites ex: Forums for practically any car sold period.

      And if ya drink enough of ya own.. ya start believing in it.

      The Car Connection used to have a small online community.. that was essentially blown out the ass by plenty of spammers.

      When I want car reviews..
      I check out the Karesh’s site, along with Edmunds, Inside line.. and I definitely check google for any issue a particular vehicle has had.

      Id rather be dead and buried that listen to what some b.s.. Consumer site says about my car. I dont check car mags.. cause I’m tired of the SUV / CUV b.s testing.. and I’m tired of them whoring themselves out to anyone who gives a shit. Don’t get me started about their awards.. — and how FORD is using them to pawn / be condescending towards the female drivers.

      Car and Driver.. is as much crap as Road and Track. I’m sorry a 1 page drive about a base Camry.. doesn’t tell me anything.

      And month after month of Ferrari / Porsche / Vette SHOOTOUTS at the local TEST TRACK doesn’t tell me.. anything.

      I’m so god damn sick of mag people who don’t drive the cars.. or TEST them as they should be tested. Thash the god damn car.. that’s what its meant to do.

  • avatar
    willbodine

    I pay about as much attention to CD’s awards as I do to JD Powers’, little to none. That said, Consumers Digest Annual Guides are quite useful as references and buying guides. The same company also publishes Collectible Automobile which is one of the prettier car books out there.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr Lemming

      Collectible Auto is interesting, but beware their coffee table auto history books. They contain a remarkable number of really basic factual errors. I don’t get that — they want to charge a fair amount for a book yet apparently don’t have knowledgeable proofers. Not exactly credibility building.

  • avatar
    Geo. Levecque

    Very interesting read all together, one thing comes to Mind when one hears of all the Money being paid to keep the Euro alive in Europe, just think in all honesty both Chrysler and General Motors should have been allowed to die, despite the thousands of lost jobs in North America, what have we got today with these two Companies, nothing but a bunch of losers all round!

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    And as a huge CR fan (and TrueDelta….and Dan Neil….and James Healey), I guess all those constant black marks for GM reliability back in the ’80s, ’90s and early ’00s were my imagination.

    Sorry, but pay back ALL our money (with interest), be sure your cars are just as reliable as Toyota, Honda or Hyundai, and I might take a look at your product.

    But probably not.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Right on, Herr Neidermeyer. Thanks for exposing Consumers Digest for the sham of a fraud it is. A cheap fraud, too, if it sells endorsements for a paltry $35K apiece. That’s the auto reviewing equivalent of a twenty-dollar whore…

    I’ve never based my buying decisions on Consumer Reports’s results and judgements, but I’ve always trusted their methods and motivations. They have a track record of credibility over the years.

    IMHO, Consumers Digest follows the Fox News model. They modeled their format on objective, professional journalism, then staffed it with one-sided ideologues. Even if they aren’t entirely convincing, they serve their (puppetmasters’) purpose by discrediting the more respectable institution they mimic, setting up a he-said, she-said rhetorical standoff.

  • avatar
    reclusive_in_nature

    Why do I have a feeling that if the car that had been blackballed had been a Cadillac SRX instead of a Lexus GX this article would be nonexistent?

    If you rely on any vehicle publication to tell you how a vehicle rides or how “soft the plastics are” you deserve whatever automotive fate you meet. The only things worth trusting from any auto mag or website are numbers (mpg, horsepower, torque, price, etc) and even those can be suspect. With out accurate numbers, any review or ranking of a vehicle is just an opinon.

    • 0 avatar
      newcarscostalot

      Possibly because people equate Lexus and quality in a way that has never happened with GM. Meaning, most people would be surprised when it comes to a poorly built Lexus because their history and current build quality are lauded as some of the highest (quality) vehicles in the business. Cadillac has yet to reach this status. Plus, since this is not a Cadillac that was reviewed, we will never know unless the SRX happens to exhibit the same or similar behavior and CR happens to review it.

    • 0 avatar
      northview

      I rely on the reviewer to tell me how the ride compares, because the salesman will only let me take it around the block on glassy smooth suburban streets.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Maybe I’m missing the point, but other than the similar names, I don’t see the big reason for the outrage.

    The list of Consumers Digest “Best Buy” vehicles shown here seems reasonable. I could make an argument for just about everything on it. The only really questionable vehicle I see on the list is the Sedona.

    Yes, there are a few models and manufacturers oddly absent from the list, but it isn’t like CD is singing the praises of the Sebring and Aveo.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      The list of Consumers Digest “Best Buy” vehicles shown here seems reasonable.

      The lack of the best selling family sedan is not what I would call reasonable.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Does anyone pay attention to Consumer’s Digest? It has been an also ran for decades.

  • avatar
    shaker

    I’m a basic subscriber to CR online. Though I have a few beefs with them (mostly related to the time they take to fully test a car model, or TV, fridge, etc.) I realize that they actually have to purchase these items, just as we would, and they get all of their money from subscriptions. Still, I can’t find anywhere else where you can compare vehicles’ actual numbers side-by-side, in testing that makes the best attempt to be consistent.
    No, they’re not enthusiasts, and I wish they would keep their “Member’s Reviews” more up-to-date (hear me, CR?), but until there is something better, well…

    Just recently, I read a Car and Driver review of the 2010 base manual GLS Tucson which had this quote: “The skidpad results, however, favor the all-wheel-drive model, which turned in 0.81 g versus the FWD’s 0.76″.
    They failed to mention that the manual GLS only comes with 16″ steel wheels and higher profile tires, where the AWD that they tested had the 17″ wheels and lower profile tires. This gives the impression that the FWD (which is lighter) has less cornering capability, and this fallacy is likely to be repeated on the web.

    Call CR anything, but they post the model tested, and all pertinent options and put up actual numbers along with a separate “road test” with their impressions about the overall quality of the driving experience.

    I’m also a contributor to TrueDelta, as I believe in Michael’s site/philosophy as well.

  • avatar
    Gottleib

    I do read CR as well as TTAC and other automobile sites. By far the best advertising and information I ever received regarding any car purchase was obtained from someone that owned one.

    Seems Packard’s advertising slogan “Ask the Man that Owns One!” turns out to be the only reliable information you can truly trust.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    What are you purchasing? This makes all the difference in the world.
    If you are getting a new digital camera, hot tub or washing machine, you can’t take them out for a test spin.
    You NEED to find great professional/user reviews for these types of purchases, people who have purchased, used and torn a product down.

    Cars?
    These you can/MUST do the leg work on.
    In fact this is what makes buying a new car so much fun for me. Test driving is a blast and it is the only way to get the real feel. Only you can decide the ride and comfort and looks…especially the looks.

    This is the one area all reviewers should stay away from…a cars design.
    MKS or the MKT?
    These are two that seem to get extreme opposite reviews for their looks.
    Does anybody recall Robert Farrago’s horrible review in the MKT? He spent way to many words on his hatred for its looks.
    I took this personally because I really like it.
    We express ourselves though our cars, clothes or hair. If Farrago and other reviewers want us all to fall in line and express ourselves, look and act exactly the same, it would be a bland world.

    However, other parts of a test drive I can’t do, like full-out, high speed limit stuff. Not that 90 percent of any buyer will ever drive a car this way, its nice to know what a car can do.
    Long term reliability. This is hard without data gathering sights like TrueDelta.

    Back to my original point…cars YOU test, most other purchases you need to do a lot of searching for reviewers that do the actually BUY the product, breakdown it down and use it.
    Cars…YOU drive. You test them.

  • avatar
    ra_pro

    GM is getting its money’s worth with the CD awards. Most of the GM ads running in Canada mention it constantly.

    I don’t use CR but I do respect their business model. The problem for me is that CR’s objective is to treat everything as an appliance. And that’s probably the only way to “objectively” evaluate consumer products. However when I do my shopping my subjective preferences very often trump the objective ones. In fact in cars they always do so there is little point for me to check what CR thinks of a car as an appliance. Nevertheless I find CR useful in getting info on some objective attributes such as predicted reliability.

  • avatar
    georgie

    I have been a long time (30 yrs. +) subscriber to C.R.
    I ALWAYS ALWAYS check C.R. when I am researching a major product to purchase. In all of those years I have never been disappointed in any product that has been tested and recommended by C.R.(including automobiles) On the other hand I do avoid products that C.R. has tested and found to be of poor quality and not acceptable.
    I have paged through C.D. on the newsstands and while I like their style of testing and reporting, I still don’t think they go into as much depth on each product they test as C.R. does.
    I’ll keep subscribing to C.R. and following their advice.

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    Other, primarily on-line sources render both of these magazines relics. I’m surprised either are still in business.

    I’ve never used either.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      CR stays around primarily because their on-line presence really is very good. In terms of automobilia, it’s probably the best (you could make an argument for Edmunds.com) and leagues ahead of anyone else. The other portals are almost as good.

      CD stays around because magazine subscribers aren’t their customers.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Excellent article. Consumers Digest is a crock. Consumers Reports has some legitimacy. Some.

    Consumers Union, which prints CR, may be ‘non-profit’, but they motive is, using generally objective reviews of products, the attainment of power to pursue their agenda and apply their beliefs to the masses. To make us drive what CR thinks is correct; and to lobby for more regulations (which disproportionately impact US companies), and nationalized health care (which, ironically, would help US companies).

    As a car geek, I’ve been reading CR since the late 70s. Back then, they espoused people drive practical, 4-door family sedans with base engines and avoid gadgets like power windows. They even rated a RWD 76-77 Corolla over a 320i! A little to utilitarian, but I could accept that.

    However, I always wondered about the reliability survey–our “below average” 75 Pontiac Ventura was excellent, and as was my “avg” 86 VW GTI. I finally subscribed and never got a survey. Maybe because I live in Michigan. So they sent me one after the April Auto issue came out.

    I doubt their statistical methods would be acceptable for a real company. I’m not saying they are bad, they are better than nothing, but they are certainly not that accurate. And, to me, that is the magazine’s main selling point.

    Also, as their base of subscribers has expanded from (presumably) mostly utilitarian thrifty types to mega-spenders, CR has quietly engaged them by testing gas-guzzling SUVs and expensive luxury cars, which were once considered ostentatious.

    Finally, as CamaroKid noted, CR has a vested interest in preserving the high ratings of Toyota, Honda, and Subaru, as it has staked much of the magazine’s reputation on the superiority of these companies, and hence many subscribers buy them. The April auto issue is replete with situation in which a negative trait of a ‘chosen’ car is back-pedal or presented positively.

    Cons Digest is a joke–they are crap, paid by manufacuters. Cons Repts is a lot more objective. But they are not objective either–maybe if they released their auto survey data in raw form (10,320 Camry 4-cylinder replies, 6 Cobalt SS replies, with so many in each category), I would have more respect for them.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Consumers Union, which prints CR, may be ‘non-profit’, but they motive is, using generally objective reviews of products, the attainment of power to pursue their agenda and apply their beliefs to the masses.

      Why does recommendation always equate to “an agenda” with some folk? What’s next, rants about “The Man” trying to keep us down?

      Jeeze, people, take off the tin-foil hats.

    • 0 avatar
      Disaster

      Consumer Reports focuses it’s limited budget on the more popular products. That is why uberluxury vehicles and motorcycles don’t get tested. If the public is buying a lot of SUVs they will begrudgingly test them but they’ve never let their disdain of them stay very hidden.

      Saying “CR has a vested interest in preserving the high ratings of Toyota, Honda, and Subaru, as it has staked much of the magazine’s reputation on the superiority of these companies, and hence many subscribers buy them.” sounds like sour grapes…especially without any concrete evidence to back it up.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      “Finally, as CamaroKid noted, CR has a vested interest in preserving the high ratings of Toyota, Honda, and Subaru, as it has staked much of the magazine’s reputation on the superiority of these companies, and hence many subscribers buy them.”

      That is just silly. CR has slammed Toyota in recent years for reliability survey declines and just hit a Lexus with the dreaded “Warning, Do Not Buy” label. CR has also, correctly, noted that Ford’s new products are generally pretty darn good while Ford’s overall portfolio is brought down by some aging mediocrities like the Ranger and Grand Marquis.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    I use Consumer Reports in a probably unintended manner. As the local go-to guy for friends and relatives buying used cars, three in a year, I look for a used car with a superior price to value ratio. A decent car the public is shunning putting its resale value in the toilet. CR’s “Worst of the Worst” list is my happy hunting ground.

    An 80,000 kilometer (50,000-miles), four year old car has oodles of remaining dependable service life. Then it’s more about the previous owner’s good maintenance and driving habits. A well kept car that gets a passing grade from a trusted mechanic is an unbeatable value.

    Cars always look different suspended on hoist. My mechanic inspects likely candidates with special attention to trouble areas identified by CR’s red/black dot reliability index. He confirms a hidden VIN, scans for fault codes, looks for frame straightening machine clamp marks and structural damage, checks fender, door and trunk lid fasteners for signs they have moved from their factory positions, examines door, hood and trunk alignments, checks the trunk floor for welding marks and body filler, looks for paint over-spray and body work, checks for excessive mechanical wear and tear, deferred maintenance and abuse, and road tests the car. If his report contradicts any seller statements the car is rejected. At $40 to $150, it’s money well spent.

  • avatar
    George B

    There may also be a garbage in garbage out distributed fraud problem with some surveys like JD Power. I’ve been bribed by dealers to put a positive spin on my repair experience. Free tank of gas in exchange for a positive dealer rating, for example. Anyone else get something of value in exchange for misleading information?

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      If you have to lie about the reliability of the car, then yeah it’s misleading.

      But if you are just rating the dealer service, I don’t see why giving you a tank of gas is bad in anyway. It is part of the service, and it is positive.

  • avatar
    northview

    The dealer told me I had better give my new car a good rating on the maker’s survey.

    • 0 avatar

      The dealer I bought my Grand Am from in 2004 initially bribed me with a free tank of gas. I held out for (and received) two tanks of gas, and a coupon for a complimentary detail.

      And we wonder why GM got in trouble, LOL.

      By comparison, the Mazda store I bought from two years later said they’d give me a tank of free gas when I returned the survey — already filled out, and sealed in its envelope. I watched the sales rep put it in the outgoing mailbox. They also washed the car without being asked.

  • avatar
    Scottdb

    C’mon, folks. Volkswagon Routan a “Best Buy”?!? Credibility Fail.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States