Bark's Bites: Why Don't Some Car Reviewers Own Cars?

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth
bark s bites why don t some car reviewers own cars

In one of the many private automotive journalist groups on Facebook (from which I’ll most certainly be banned later today), there was a comment posted recently from a car reviewer bemoaning his lack of a press car in the near future.

“I have to go four days without a press car. My life is basically on hold,” said our dear reviewer. “What am I supposed to do?”

This is the sad reality for most “car reviewers”. Their personal brands are so strictly defined that they can’t write about anything other than how many cup holders are in the newest Maibatsu Monstrosity.

But then it got worse. From another reviewer: “I have no personal vehicle so when my inevitable lag in press cars happens, I’ll be lost.”

I’m sorry — you don’t own a car? Say what?

Others indicated that they were in the same boat. They don’t own cars, so they’re pretty much S outta L when the press car gravy train runs dry. It’s one of the deep, dark secrets about the car review business — a lot of these guys don’t own a single car, nor do they plan to. They think that press cars are more than a perk, at this point — they’re a Bernie-Sanders-given right.

There are so many reasons why this is wrong that I barely know where to begin. But you know me, I’ll figure it out. Let’s look at how what might seem harmless can actually cause some serious damage to the credibility of an entire industry that barely has any to begin with.

Much like my diatribe against reviewers who can’t drive, I find it to be somewhat bizarre that any automotive-related outlet would put the trust of its readership in the hands of somebody who doesn’t even own a car. It’s not only bizarre, it’s disingenuous.

‘Trust me, Mr. Reader. I’m an expert. And yet, I’m not even passionate enough about the industry I cover to be one of its customers.

I struggle to think of a parallel in any other industry. Would you trust a food expert who never went out to dinner on his own nickel, or never cooked a meal in his own home? Maybe I’m naive. Maybe that’s how it works in all industries. But I can’t help but feel that these reviewers should be forced to add the following disclaimer to each review:

Disclaimer: The reviewer does not own a car. Even he doesn’t take his own advice. He’s not familiar with the dealership purchase experience. He doesn’t know what it’s like to get a car serviced, to change his oil, or even buy his own gasoline. Caveat emptor.

It’s jacked up, isn’t it? Listen, y’all might get tired of me comparing cars to my FiST, my Boss (RIP), or my Flex, but at least you know that I love cars enough to put my own money where my mouth is. You might not like Jack’s tendency to insert a mention of his Accord (or 993 or Boxster S) into nearly everything he writes, but doesn’t knowing what he has chosen to buy with his own money give a little more context to his comments?

I don’t know. Perhaps you don’t care about that. Perhaps you think it’s valuable for a reviewer to have a different car in his driveway every week. Perhaps you find value in the “first look” reviews. I won’t argue that — you’re entitled to your opinion. What I will argue, though, is whether not it’s even close to ethical.

As I read my colleagues’ shared concern about what will happen when the car carriers stop showing up, it occurred to me that their concern was a valid one. I mean, if somebody showed up tomorrow and took all of my cars away, I’d be in trouble, too. I live 30 miles away from anything that anyone could consider a city, and probably closer to 100 miles from a city that has any sort of viable public transportation. I wouldn’t be able to get to work. I wouldn’t be able to take my kids to school. I’d run out of food in about three or four days. We’re talking serious problems.

So what do I do to prevent that from happening? Simple. I send Ford Motor Credit a few large electronic payments every month, and in return they agree to not send anyone to retrieve my cars.

But what would I do if people were giving me cars, and that having those free cars was the only way that I could keep my life from falling apart? Why, I’d be super nice to the manufacturers who supplied those cars to me. I’d make sure they kept sending me as many cars as possible. It would be simple self-preservation. In fact, I’d be pretty stupid to do anything else. It’s the same reason the rest of us get up every day, put our pants on one leg at a time, and go to work at jobs we detest with people we despise — because we have to. What if I had to rely on the very vehicles I’m supposed to be critiquing to make my life possible? How could I possibly be objective?

So I wondered if that’s what our auto writer friend without a car does. I clicked over to his twitter feed, and I read over twenty of his reviews (I won’t link them here). Sure enough, there was nary a single review that could have been construed as negative. For God’s sake, he called the styling of the Lexus RX450h “bold”. He’s never reviewed a car he didn’t like. As a result, the reviews are worthless. They do nothing to help you, the reader, make an informed choice.

But, that doesn’t keep the OEMs from putting a new car in his driveway every week, just to take advantage of that sweet, sweet SEO. The more places they can place content, the better. It costs them virtually nothing to keep the fleet cars rotating around, and reviewers like our friend here are all to happy to be complicit in the game.

However, luckily for all of us, there are still auto writers who do dispense good advice. Jalopnik’s Stef Schrader jumped into the fray in the original Facebook thread by simply suggesting the following:

“Buy a car? Beaters FTW.”

Of course, we know they won’t do that. I mean, after being seen in a new car every week by the neighbors, there’s no chance these guys would suck it up, admit their meager incomes, and buy a $2,000 car to get groceries. But if everybody followed Stef’s advice — if they weren’t dependent upon the very industry of which they are paid to be critical — just imagine how much better off you, the consumer, would be.

[Photo: By Ian Poellet (Own work) [ CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]

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  • Panzerfaust Panzerfaust on Dec 16, 2015

    I am surprised that anyone who is living off the perks of his job would openly complain when there's a gap in his free transportation. I would be worried that any mention of it might cause the well to dry up forever. Or maybe this is an oblique way of bragging, sort of like a mega movie star saying 'my Gulfstream IV is in for maintenance, how will I ever get to Cannes in time?' Given that most J-school graduates get their diploma and spend the rest of their lives regurgitating AP wires and parroting the NYT, its probably a sign you've moved up the reportage food chain to be writing about something you've actually seen and experienced, even though you're gaming the system to the max.

  • Robc123 Robc123 on Dec 16, 2015

    Look at it from the other side- If you owned a bunch of smoking great cars but reviewed a Fiesta, really what would you say about it? Look at that brit guy- chris harris who I believe owns a ferrari as a daily. Then look at the review he did on that BMW on the autobahn- total bias. OR him not pointing out the absurdity of a mclaren p1 that he cannot even open up on a friggen' track- because the car is too powerful. Not to pick on Chris, but it would be better if car reviewers always put into context the class competition or talked about how xyz competitor car is this or that compared to this car. I don't have a problem with them not owning a car- their are blind painters, wealth advisers that don't stock, vegetarian steak house owners, ad nauseam. its a job. Also comes back to don't believe everything you read. Like those Canadian mx-5 reviewers in Canada saying its a great car. Yes, it is a fun car. But in context- what part of $40k CAN, 4 banger, driveable for 5-6 months a yr, paying for a second winter car, double parking, double insurance, double lease payments is great? Wooo top down.

  • Bd2 Other way around.Giorgetto Giugiaro penned the Pony Coupe during the early 1970s and later used its wedge shape as the basis for the M1 and then the DMC-12.The 3G Supra was just one of many Japanese coupes to adopt the wedge shape (actually was one of the later ones).The Mitsubishi Starion, Nissan 300ZX, etc.
  • Tassos I also want one of the idiots who support the ban to explain to me how it will work.Suppose sometime (2035 or later) you cannot buy a new ICE vehicle in the UK.Q1: Will this lead to a ICE fleet resembling that of CUBA, with 100 year old '56 Chevys eventually? (in that case, just calculate the horrible extra pollution due to keeping 100 year old cars on the road)Q2: Will people be able to buy PARTS for their old cars FOREVER?Q3: Will people be allowed to jump across the Channel and buy a nice ICE in France, Germany (who makes the best cars anyway), or any place else that still sells them, and then use it in the UK?
  • Tassos Bans are ridiculous and undemocratic and smell of Middle Ages and the Inquisition. Even 2035 is hardly any better than 2030.The ALMIGHTY CONSUMER should decide, not... CARB, preferably WITHOUT the Government messing with the playing field.And if the usual clueless idiots read this and offer the tired "But Government subsidizes the oil industry too", will they EVER learn that those MINISCULE (compared to the TRILLIONS of $ size of this industry) subsidies were designed to help the SMALL Oil producers defend themselves against the "Big Oil" multinationals. Ask ANY major Oil co CEO and he will gladly tell you that you can take those tiny subsidies and shove them.
  • Dusterdude The suppliers can ask for concessions, but I wouldn’t hold my breath . With the UAW they are ultimately bound to negotiate with them. However, with suppliers , they could always find another supplier ( which in some cases would be difficult, but not impossible)
  • AMcA Phoenix. Awful. The roads are huge and wide, with dedicated lanes for turning, always. Requires no attention to what you're doing. The roads are idiot proofed, so all the idiots drive - they have no choice, because everything is so spread out.