By on December 15, 2015

Hughes_House_garage_-_Gresham_Oregon

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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115 Comments on “Bark’s Bites: Why Don’t Some Car Reviewers Own Cars?...”


  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    All I can say is thank God for Alex Dykes

    • 0 avatar

      Absolutely. I just wish Alex continued with the Grand Comanche project. But at least he bought the thing and even pulled its transmission apart (even put it back together IIRC).

      Interestingly, Alex’s peaceful presentation style throws off a lot of people. Maybe they are just used to endless stream of bleep-covered obscenities and cannot recalibrate, but I saw comments to the effect that he never reviewed a car he didn’t like. He even found something to like in Scion tC, my cookies. In reality though, he’s given Chevy Trax a heavy beating. But unless Alex makes explicit comparisons to excrements or uses fecalia as adjective, they can’t hear it. This is different from truly sucking up to OEMs that Jack eviscerates.

  • avatar
    Spiritofmotoring

    Maybe when the press car fleet dries up he/she can write some/all of the following “reviews”:

    The BOLD styling of a public transit bus

    Paper transfers: The paper cut struggle is real

    Is the bell TOO loud when you indicate you want off the bus?

    How a bus handles and performs: A riveting account from someone who’s never driven a bus

    Really though, this “journalist” shouldn’t be dispensing information to anyone about something he/she knows very little about.

    • 0 avatar

      The main feature of those reviews will always remain a complaint about hard plastic in elements of interior.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        The hard plastics in my 11 year old Toyotas continues to look brand new.

        The soft fabrics in the armrests and the seats, less so.

        As an owner, I care about longevity. If I didn’t,l care about longevity I’d be driving disposable German lease queens (“fun to drive”), instead of Toyotas(fun to own).

  • avatar
    gsp

    They are going to argue that it is not practical to pay for a car they hardly ever use and takes up room in the driveway. You have a point. But in the end the same drivel will be written, as the gravy train of cars still means putting milage on a machine that is not yours. Even when a loaner car comes my way because of warranty service on my (owned) car, every vehicle in our family fleet comes to a halt as we cram all the mileage on the loaner;)

  • avatar
    seth1065

    I was lucky enough to have a company car for for about 15 years , a new one every two years or so, mostly ford taurus and honda accords , now I get a good car allowance instead but I always had my own car in my driveway, usually a convertible the reason was if I ever wanted to quit the company car would be gone in two weeks and I would SOL, I never wanted to have to keep the job for the car.Aren’t any of these folks married? I can understand having press cars for 50 weeks a year but I doubt there are many 0 car families that do not live in a major city.

  • avatar
    David Walton

    Easy.

    99% of car journalists are losers who failed to develop other skills with marketability, so they’re forced to supplicate OEMs for transportation.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I agree it is an issue, but I personally put about 0 credibility in most automotive writers anyway.

    It can also sort of backfire. Not to call him out, but for example, I consider Alex Dykes to be a decent enough reviewer that puts a lot of effort into his product.

    However I know he owns an old-style Jaguar Super V8, a Saab 9-7x Aero (with a pushrod V8 a 4-speed transmission, 3.73 rear end), and a V8 Jeep GC. The dude’s fleet would make BigTruckSeries proud.

    So whenever he heaps praise on a subcompact hybrid, or 12-speed DCT, or whatever else I kind of roll my eyes because I know how he leans when his bank account is on the line.

    Really, it is the same with you. I enjoy your writing but when you review a Ford product I take it with a grain of salt because I know your affinity for the brand.

    Maybe reviewers just can’t win?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I’d rather see and understand the bias, rather than pretend it doesn’t exist.

      Obviously reviewers can’t own every type of vehicle; they only have what they can afford and which meets their particular needs. So I wouldn’t doubt their opinion solely because they’d never buy the car they’re reviewing.

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        This. I’ll never complain about knowing a writer’s personal biases. It’s exactly what’s missing when you aren’t having a real life discussion but are relying on video or printed media.

        Amy journalist that doesn’t frequently reference their own fleet I assume doesn’t have one, and knows a lot less about cars than I do.

        The jalopnik guys tend to make a point about discussing their rides but I’ve always wondered why they would be located in nyc. Writers do not make enough money,in general, to get regular use of their cars in that environment even if they want to (where was that beetle parked again? 125th? Point made). Hell,they don’t even get to drive their loaners in a representative environment unless they go way out of their way.

        • 0 avatar

          The West Side Highway is a pretty demanding environment. So’s the FDR. They can go up to the Cross-county to the Hutch to the Merritt…

          Nice column, Bark.

          • 0 avatar
            tedward

            Those are challenging roads in the sense that there’s fast traffic and they’re not straight. That’s fine for “is it comfortable and not dangerous?” but not for evaluating a cars suspension setup etc… I enjoy parkways as much as the next guy, but in a modern car, especially a premium make, you have to be 80-90+ to actually be pushing on the vehicle (edit…on those roads).

            I’m just saying that being in NY ads nothing in terms of access to the industry (unless Cadillac is super important now) and drastically limits their staff’s access to driving in general terms (personal and business). The closest manufacturer press car storage is off of exit 9 on the jersey turnpike, so that’s equally accessible from white plains, anywhere jersey, you name it. Those guys drop off cars anyway. If I was them I’d even consider Albany, but stayting within the metro market (largest premium market probably in the hemisphere) probably does carry some relevance.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Like I wrote, I don’t think an automotive reviewer can win with me.

        It’s why I’ve never put any weight on journalist opinions or comparison finishing orders when I’m shopping. It is also likely why I’m so hesitant to go outside my comfort zone when buying a vehicle, which for all I know might be my loss.

      • 0 avatar
        warrant242

        Yes.

        Everyone is biased. If we acknowledge it, we can more quickly get down to the fun part of bashing each other’s preferences.

      • 0 avatar

        One of the Everyman guys got his wife a Porsche SUV, that she uses to transport their kids. Used, of course. And he’s bought a used FR-S for himself, on a strict budget. He wanted a Lotus of some kind (not Elise, I think). But a man’s gotta do what he’s gotta do.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      He owns what he does because of where he lives and his vehicle needs. When he lived in a metro area he seriously considered the Smart car for example.

      Alex Dykes is great because he looks at a car through the lens of its intended purpose and market. So for example I think he reviewed the Mirage but didn’t slam it for being cheap- that is the point of the car. Etc. He is self aware enough to put his bias to the side and look at a car for the job it is intended to do, which is what makes his reviews so valuable.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “He owns what he does because of where he lives and his vehicle needs.’

        C’mon, his needs do not dictate a 9-7x Aero or a Jaguar Super V8. He bought those because that’s what he and his partner liked. Which is fine, but let’s not pretend that becuase he lives in the woods and does a bunch of home improvement projects (both of which are also hardly needs) that he is missing out on the chance to own the Accord Hybrid of his dreams.

        I think Alex is good at what he does, but my mind isn’t able to just shut out what he has in his garage. Although I appreciate he is upfront about things.

        • 0 avatar
          SC5door

          So you know their exact needs now? He’s noted that the Saab is used to pull trailers.

          Seriously though, who cares on what’s in his garage! I thought the B&B around here were all for buying and owning and older vehicle than “wasting” money. Oh never mind; unless it’s an old Lexus or CD3 Lincoln MKZ everything else pales in comparison.

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    I always liked hearing Jeremy Clarkson talk about his Volvo XC90, even though it wasn’t only sunshiny love coming out of his mouth. Obviously.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Wow. Thanks for enlightening us.

    This is also why many districts require their teachers and police to actually live in the community they serve, if possible.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      I hate that rule. If those cities were great places to live, people would just live there. Residency requirements for public sector jobs are garbage.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        I agree with you, to a point, and it’s one reason I’ll probably never work in the public sector. On the other hand, such bondage is the price you pay for feeding at the public trough.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        From what I was told its actually illegal here now as of about 2012 but in order to preserve the precious tax revenue such requirements are trying to be written into union contracts by some munis.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I’m sure you’re aware but for the City of Pittsburgh School District you are not required to live in the city, but Police/Fire/EMS are required too. Boroughs vary but my understanding is most of them require you live in a distance of X aerial miles for both.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        By the time Detroit finally lifted the residency requirements for Police/Fire/EMS, I knew dozens of firefighters that owned $hit houses in Detroit to claim residency, and actually lived in the suburbs with their families. Actually, there were four Detroit firefighters that lived in my neighborhood where I grew up. I also lived about a half hour from Detroit.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Oh that happens here as well. I hear once you put in your time it all becomes an open secret and some guys all rent/buy properties together to claim residency.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Yeah. 4 guys renting a studio apartment together…

            With the Detroit case, the Supreme Court said that Detroit could make the firefighters live in the city, but not their families. So as long as the firefighter had a city address, there was nothing the city could do.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Since its all about the tax revenue I have argued just write it in the contracts you owe us X percent and live where you please. If none of your employees want to live in your muni because you have screwed it up so bad, whose fault is it?

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            They shouldn’t have to pay anything. It’s trash that keeps $hittily run cities alive instead of pulling the plug and resetting. The problem is that the unions are in on it too because they need the system to continue in order for their Ponzi scheme pension checks flowing.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          The spice must flow.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            The City of Chicago must have a bunch of people with really dark blue eyes right now.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            You can see how blue in the brief moments when they are not shooting each other down there in Chi-town.

            What will probably happen is these munis will go bankrupt and foreign investors will buy up the debts… and maybe even form a corporation. Maybe they will even name it: OCP.

            The writers of RoboCop, Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, were actually prophets as it will turn out.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Just so your aware, Detroit feels like there is a “Delta-City” and “Old Detroit”. Downtown Detroit is basically owned by two people, and one built his empire with subprime mortgages. Paul Verhoeven should get some credit too.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            They really need that proposed RoboCop statue to complete the look.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Speaking of apocalyptic futures.

            Would you accompany me to dinner and dancing, at Taco Bell?

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Only if Denis Leary shows up leading a militia.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            He doesn’t even know about the three shells.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            The RoboCop statue is in progress. They actually contracted it our to a bronze foundry. The company making it pays the bills with restoration work, but they are a legitimate business that will get it done.

            It will end up being a 10 foot tall statue that weighs well over a ton.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Classy

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I worry that the scrappers will take it 12 minutes after it is dedicated. Filthy jawas.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            You know if you get the locals excited about the statue, maybe make them think of it as “theirs” too they are more likely to pop a cap in any fool dumb enough to be trippin’ whether its a Jawa, Sandperson, or the actual droids they were looking for.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        When I worked EMS we did a lot of “on call”. You were expected to be within a ten minute response time from page out to wheels on the road. I would suspect that might be a reason for other emergency services to live within the communities they work.

  • avatar
    PeterKK

    Wow. That is all kinds of screwed up.

  • avatar
    shappy

    Three months before I started with Edmunds.com, I had just purchased a ’98 Z/28. While it only took me a month to realize I had made a mistake, I knew I was stuck with my decision, lest I lose thousands selling it prematurely.

    However, soon after starting with Edmunds, I was fortunate to be put into the driver rotation of their long-term cars. Not only was the car “free,” but they also paid for gas and insurance. At that point, there was little reason for me to keep my Camaro. I wouldn’t ever be driving it and why should I be making a car payment on something that would never really be driven? I traded it in at a $3K loss, but that was made up within six months, now that I wasn’t paying for a car, gas or insurance.

    I then spent the next two years without my own car. While I appreciated the windfall to my budget, I did miss having a car to call my own. However, every three months, I had a new-to-me different car. Some were fun (Integra & Miata) others were luxurious (Caddy STS and Jaguar XJ6) and some were just meh (Dodge Intrepid).

    However, I never got tired of the variety and the opportunity to get real seat time in cars I wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to. Plus, without being invested in the vehicle, I found I could be plenty critical, when appropriate. Of course, I do realize the difference between cars that Edmunds had paid for themselves (back then they bought their own) as opposed to having a vehicle supplied by the manufacturer gratis.

    On side effect was that I developed the nasty affliction of vehicle ADD. So when the time came to pay for my own cars again, I really missed being able to get something new and different on a regular basis. So now, I just lease and satisfy my curiosity that way, leasing something different every 2 or 3 years.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Edmunds still buys many of their cars, but some are loaners.

      Their recent Dodge Dart was a loaner, and its engine died mysteriously near the end of its 1-year term with them. The car was fraught with problems and criticisms. But at the end of its term, they concluded that it was a decent vehicle, with absolutely no explanation of how it was repaired, or its final disposition. The blogger community went wild with anger over the apparent coverup, because it was clear there was something fishy going on.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheeljack

        There is no mystery about the Edmunds Dart. If you read the articles carefully, you will find that the car had a severe misfire due to a failed spark plug. All engine software regardless of manufacturer will go into a limp-in mode in the event of a severe misfire, mostly to protect the catalyst from overheating and damage, so the car will lose power as described in their writeup. The car will also behave normally on a restart until another misfire is detected, another condition which they experienced.

        Edmunds also stated that the reason why the car disappeared so suddenly was that they actually kept it longer and put more miles on it than they normally do.

        How do I know all this? I read all the Edmunds articles and follow-ups carefully and thoroughly. Why did I do this? Because at the time I was leasing a Dart with the same engine and was curious. For the record, the 1.4-liter turbo in the Dart I leased was trouble free for the 40,000+ miles I put on it during the time I had it. My only complaint with the engine was that it had a bit of an appetite for engine oil, and with the extended oil change intervals called for by the vehicle’s computer (8-10K between changes) I would have to add about 1.5 to 2 quarts during that time to keep it topped up. I blame the oil usage on a couple of factors, including the relatively small sump capacity, the turbo, and the fact that I had my foot in it a lot and kept that little turbo spooled up all the time.

  • avatar
    zoomzoomfan

    I’d have to have my own car even though being an automotive journalist is pretty much my dream job (I love writing and I love cars). It’s a mental thing for me. I need my own car to play with and tinker with and enjoy. Of course, it’d probably be something old or unusual or both, since I’d probably have a new-ish press car of some type as a daily driver.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “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?”

    Sure I would. Expertise comes from possessing the depth and breadth of knowledge that one associates with expertise, not from empty gestures that make a hypersensitive reader feel good about that expertise. Top restaurant reviewers are paid to write reviews and have their meals paid for by their employers, and their personal cooking habits are irrelevant to the job of judging a restaurant — a restaurant can be compared to other restaurants.

    There is an bona fide issue that arises from the dependency that automotive writers have on industry patronage in order to get cars. But that’s a result of the difficulty and expense of getting cars to review in a timely manner without industry assistance, not due to the number of cars in the reviewer’s personal garage.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      PCH nails it as usual.

      I would add that the one thing that long term car ownership ‘gives’ you is an appreciation for things that are less apparent during a week-long test drive. How accessible are the spark plugs? Does the engine use a belt or chain? How is your back after driving all night? How does it drive on ice?

      Not that these things are suddenly a point of emphasis, just because an auto scribe owns a single vehicle, but maybe they are more firmly in place on his radar screen.

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      That’s true. However, there’s a different perspective that comes from ownership. Car infotainment and dash systems that have a learning curve are unfairly penalized by journalists (the mini is hard to learn but fine to live with for example). Cars that everyone knows will not be medium term reliable (common drivetrain) can get an undeserved glowing report. The far bigger issue is the incentive to sugar coat, not for access even, but for transportation.

      Where I agree is that driving the largest number of cars will certainly also broaden your knowledge base. Just like anything else.

    • 0 avatar
      Chets Jalopy

      You may be onto something here. It depends on your financial relationship with the company you’re reviewing. Does Nissan pay you to write reviews or does your blog? Still, a little more transparency would sure add some context to a review. We could include journalism as a whole in this discussion. How even and balanced can the political coverage be when most journalists donate to one of the two major parties? Cavot emptor, fer sure, brah!

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The automakers don’t pay the reviewers, but they do provide the cars that make it possible for the automotive media to exist in its present form.

        Automotive publishers and websites face two issues: (a) Cars are expensive, so they are dependent upon test cars, and (b) They will always be late with new car reviews if they are excluded from the junkets because the automotive press gets to test cars before or just as they hit the market.

        TTAC’s readership numbers lag the other sites in part because of its limited access. Reviews are one of the most important drivers of traffic to car websites, and TTAC simply doesn’t have as many of them and is often late to the party. That may be changing, but it’s a longstanding issue that dates back to the founding of this website — Robert Farago started it because one of his reviews in the mainstream press made him persona non grata with many of the OEMs.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Agree 100%. As usual, the Baruths protest something that is largely irrelevant. I just can’t get excited about somebody who has loaner cars 95% of the time not personally owning one. It’s completely irrelevant.

      I consider automotive “journalism” to be infotainment at best anyway – at least in regards to reviews of cars. I am quite capable of making up my own mind about vehicles I am interested in owning.

      • 0 avatar
        mdensch

        For the most part I would agree that automotive writing is mostly entertainment, not journalism. We don’t use the expression “movie journalist” or “restaurant journalist”, they’re called reviewers or critics. A reporter who covers city hall or the police beat is a journalist. I write automotive articles (but not reviews) for a local newspaper and a blog and consider myself a writer, not a journalist. Not to be dismissive of auto writers, many of them are highly skilled and I enjoy their work very much, but I would make a distinction between writing and journalism.

        (And I own two cars. Both manuals, btw.)

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Very valid points, and it’s a sad thing. I don’t see their gravy train drying up though. At least most “informed car reading consumers” have no idea their favorite reviewer has no car or interest in saying anything critical.

    #thelessyouknow

    Also, that garage WILL have mice in it, given the gap on the right side at the door. And the ivy will be ruining the roof. Needs fixin!

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment. if the logic here is “if you aren’t part of the subject you comment on, you can’t be an effective reviewer,” then questions like these become relevant:

    Why should a 50-year-old guy with a 45-inch waist be able to comment on Tom Brady’s quarterbacking?

    Why should someone who’s never directed a motion picture be able to interview Steven Spielberg about his latest movie?

    And on and on. And don’t think for a moment that the pressures on both of these journalists from the people and industries they cover aren’t the same. Back in college, I was the sports editor of the newspaper, and wrote some pretty plain commentary about the state of the football team; this led to the coach calling me into his office and telling me that if I didn’t start writing good reviews of the team, he’d ban me and anyone on my staff (including photographers) from games, and would instruct his players not to give interviews. He got fired shortly thereafter, so I never had to really decide whether to “work” with him or not, but the fact remains: if he’d followed through with his ban, my paper would have had some truly rotten football coverage. I mean, my photographer and I could have sat in the stands and covered a game that way, but without access to the coach and players, how good would my stories have been? Wouldn’t my readers eventually ask why I never got a quote from the coach on why he went for it on fourth and six? People would notice that there were no good pictures of the action from field-level. Bottom line: my newspaper’s reporting would have suffered.

    I’m sure it’s no different in the automotive world. I recall Jack Baruth saying, in effect, “good luck reviewing something like a Porsche 911 when the company won’t let you get your hands on one.”

    I think reviewers of anything, be it football, movies or cars, earn credibility based on their reviews, not how “bought in” they are with the companies whose products get reviewed. The good ones are good even if they don’t own a car. And the bad ones…well, they’re pretty evident too.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      The credibility this guy has is already ruined by the fact that he wouldnt dare point out bad things about the car he’s reviewing because he depends on the manufacturer (at least in part) to provide him with free transportation.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      My response to your questions about quarterbacking and movie directing:

      The difference is that Brady and Spielberg are entertainers, so people review their output based upon their entertainment value. Personally, I’d want to understand their tradecraft a little before interviewing them.

      Similarly, I don’t expect a car reviewer to be an engineer.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    That is very stupid. If you cant be bothered to own a product from the industry your entire career is dedicated to, time to find something else to do. I wouldnt care if it was a 1987 Escort or a “bold”ly hidious new Lexus. Its unreal that youd expect to appeal to people who love cars when you only like them when theyre free for the taking.

    I wouldnt hesitate to call the no-car “car guy” a liar and an idiot. If I was in a position to do so, he’d have his desk cleaned out by the end of buisiness today.

    Quote Beyonce:
    “baby drop them keys….hurry up before your taxi leaves!”

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Oh no you di’int!

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      What about not presently owning a car when you don’t need one proves that you don’t like cars or don’t know anything about them? What does or doesn’t presently reside in your garage doesn’t make you more or less knowledgeable. Could I not give an opinion on body on frame SUVs for the 2 years that I didn’t have one? I had experience from before. I have one again. Is everything I said about BOF invalid from Jan 2014 – Dec 2015?

      Anyway, the car reviewer’s purpose isn’t to appeal to people who love cars. The car reviewer needs to appeal to people who buy cars… either out of necessity or want.

  • avatar
    slance66

    I think this is a problem for all the reasons stated, but the biggest for me is that no automotive journalist should lack passion and interest in cars. They should be more than tools, more than appliances. Auto reviewers and writers should LIKE cars. It’s obvious Bark does, and Jack does. Alex always works in some details about how the car would work for him, where he lives and comparisons are made. That’s what makes a good review really, those details from someone who has had cars long enough to live through the repairs and problems, and come to appreciate simple things done well.

  • avatar
    tedward

    Awesome rant. I may have disagreed with your focus (if not the point) on your last one, but this is solid gold.

    BTW, this is an issue where we would be served well by the naming of names. Normally that leaves a sour taste, but here it would be a service to the readership.

  • avatar
    callmeishmael

    I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, to hear that some reviewers may slant their reviews to curry favor with the manufacturers who are putting their asses in a free seat.

    I read the specs, if they’re offered, look at the pictures, and skim the prose. Most of the time the poor writer is just struggling to say something original about a car that differs little from the others in its class. I’ve owned everything from frog eye FIAT 500s to a 69 Chevy Caprice, including a 1948 Dodge Power Wagon and three VW Transporters. I’d be a lousy reviewer anyway.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    What other people do with their personal garage to make ends meet is their business. Not being absolutely scathing in reviews to continue to keep getting cars to review falls pretty low on the unethical scale, IMO, and it isn’t illegal. If he/she kept a Fit in the garage, you’d likely say that he/she obviously can’t be trusted to review a car because they wouldn’t have the skill level or experience with “real” good cars to give a proper review. I feel like you’d find something wrong with their ability to review a car because they’ve somehow managed to get paid to review cars.

  • avatar
    tedward

    By the way. Not being on the press car rotation is not crippling for a publication. The two best examples of this are consumer reports and Matt farah. They do get press rides obviously, but the majority of their work product comes from bought or lent vehicles. If Matt farah was doing his one takes with factory rides there would still be a line of people waiting to have him drive their cars (jack did exactly this for a while but probably traveled too much). Consumer reports, while producing the most dreadful video content in the industry outside of their podcasts, goes entirely the other way and buys to sell their reviewed cars.

    One of you guys should do a one take format from a central location (wealthy outskirts of a metropolis) if you want to change this dynamic and offer a third way. Rental reviews don’t cut it with fleet specific trims and fleet abuse on the table.

    • 0 avatar

      I did several of the reader ride reviews, myself. There are some insurance implications that need to be considered there, but I’d love to bring them back.

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        That make sense. Would you be ineligible for coverage as a guest driver because this is for business use? There might be a boutique insurer out there willing to experiment here without actuarial guidance. Mileage will be low, cars will be mechanically like new and the number of drivers coveted will be low.

        My advice works be to offer a high deductible solution so that the carrier sees it more as catastrophic coverage, not “I screwed up and put a wheel off the curb” liability.

  • avatar
    radimus

    I submit that anyone who professionally reviews cars should be required to own some GM crapbox from the 1980’s or a regular cab 2WD pickup from the 1990’s. They should own one and be required to put at least a couple hundred miles a month on it. With that I think such a person would be properly qualified to tell me how good or bad a modern car really is.

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    You’re all subjective ‘reviewers’ in a hobby field of journalism. You don’t get to whine because you take yourself ‘seriously’ because he may also take himself that same way. I tend to actually agree, when they don’t own a car there can be a level of ingratiation forced. But again, look at any hobby field of journalism, because you’re reporting on things and usually want early access or some access you need a decent relationship with the manufacturers/corporations to make it work.

    I’m a gamer to some extent (when my profession and carpal tunnel aren’t killing me). Every few months a story breaks that some large corporation is stonewalling a game journalist or site because they wrote an ‘unfair review’ (according to them) and in many cases they’re right but in some cases they’re just generating bad press to keep the clicks up by questioning the validity and worthiness of a AAA-title that may keep a company open.

    In this case, the auto industry isn’t like the games industry, a bad review from TTAC isn’t going to bring down GM (no matter how much they bleated). But a good review isn’t going to move mountains either. I can guarantee any reader on this site the most important auto journalism done every year is by consumer reports when they rank models on safety and maintenance. Not because CR is inherently better (though they are transparently honest in most cases), it’s because they don’t aim at the performance hobbyist segment of the auto industry. So if the twitter reviews write glowing praise, I doubt that makes an impact any greater than TTAC making cynical truism statements.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I would not have thought you a “gamer”, which games to do you play?

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        PS. I was disappointed the Maibatsu Monstrosity was never included in any of the games!

      • 0 avatar
        Xeranar

        I used to play a ton of Team Fortress 2 and World of Warcraft, but more recently between bouts of severe crippling carpal tunnel and work I squeeze in GTA5, Destiny, I’m going to grab Fallout 4 most likely during this break, and I have a bevy of unfinished games that I’m going to have to go back and try and play (I WILL COMPLETE YOU MASS EFFECT >:( ). I’m probably also going to go back and finish Bioshock Infinite even though the ending is cruel in so many ways…

        I just got a PS3 about…3 years ago for Christmas after being into PC games for a long time. Then I grabbed a PS4 the summer after they came out. It’s been a pleasure to use if mostly for youtube/Netflix. I actually wish I had a few gamer friends locally to play with but I’ll be back in Pgh by Friday morning so I may call on some old friends for some fun.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          Sounds like a plan. Sorry about the carpal tunnel, no health malady is every a joy to hear about. PS2 was really the last system I got into and prior to that it was PS1 and SNES with some DOS games tossed in. My PS3s mostly get used to broadcast saved tv/movies from a media server. I think the latest game I have for PS3 is COD Black Ops. I bought GTAIV whenever it came out but couldn’t get into it for some reason. Battlefront 3 seems tempting but then I have to buy a whole other system just to play it, the ROI just isn’t there for me. Maybe if I picked up a cheap one used like I did the PS3s in 2010ish (ex’s brother switched to XBOX and sold me two PS3s for $150, one of which had a broken CD slot which gets used for streaming only).

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    Guys. Really. It’s ENTERTAINMENT. That’s what car “journalism” is. Most of the audience is guys with no business or funding to own the cars thy’re reading about on their crappers. Heck, I did most of my serious car magazine reading before I even had a license. It doesn’t really matter. Just blow smoke up my butt and tell me the latest Lamberarri Fasterossa really is as awesome as my daydream and let me be on my way.

    Although honestly, I don’t trust a car reviewer who doesn’t see a steady stream of new cars through his driveway as opportunity to do something really stupid like buy a Lambo Espada or a Lemons car or a Morgan with termite damage or something. I assume real car guy magazine writers don’t have any running or street legal cars of their own, and this doesn’t trouble me in the least.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Take auto journos opinions for what they are. They compare and contrast new cars which can prove useful for new car buyers. What I think the real motive behind the sentiment here is the disapproval of the freeloader attitude. Relying on inconsistent free rides seems short sighted, and complaining about it seems childish. For those reasons, I might take those people’s opinions less seriously.

  • avatar
    Chan

    Here’s the TL;DR version:

    Auto journalists are journalists, and journalists are people. Some of them have serious cred; some are new and have potential; some of them are more flash than substance.

    Reader beware.

  • avatar
    83Vette

    Taking advice from an automotive journalist who doesn’t own a car is like taking marital advice from a Catholic priest.

  • avatar

    Jack, please get to the meat of the article faster than 10 paragraphs. Once I read all of it, I found the argument valid, but it took a lot of patience.

    BTW, there’s a certain set of semi-independent media that reviews rentals, old cars, and sundry. The Everyday Driver of Youtube comes to mind.

  • avatar
    harshciygar

    I come here to read about cars, not two guys admitting (on a private Facebook group, no less) that they can’t afford a car of their own on their writing salaries.

    That’s all this is, more likely than not.

    I’m not in this particular group, and it doesn’t seem like you made any “journalistic” effort to contact these guys and ask…you know…WHY they don’t have a car.

    I write about, and review cars. I share a Chevy Sonic with my wife, and she takes it to work during the week, leaving me effectively stranded.

    I also wrote a review of the Civic Hybrid that got me on Honda’s shitlist, as they’ve not since given me a car to review since. I’d love to have my own car, but the truth is, I work from home most days, and the $400 or so a month I COULD put towards a car, goes towards student loans instead.

    I *do* have a perpetual project car, but it’s far from roadworthy. Maybe these guys do too. Or maybe they don’t want to spend $400+ a month on something that sits idle 90% of the time. Consumption for consumption’s sake is pretty stupid if you ask me.

    All these articles seem to try and say is “Hey, we’re the only outlet with any integrity anymore!”, but there’s nothing of any journalistic value in this piece either besides “Hey here’s what some guy said, even though I can’t prove it has head any meaningful impact on his reviews.”

    This is worse than a puff-piece review, because all you’re offering us is your word and opinion. No facts. Just a couple of guys from a Facebook group sans cars that wrote some positive reviews.

    Maybe he’s just easily impressed? Maybe he’s just not a particularly great reviewer. Maybe he’s just a sycophant.

    Maybe if you’d have spent 5 minutes writing an email, asking why he doesn’t have a car, we’d have something insightful.

    You’re better than this, and so is TTAC. I hope.

    • 0 avatar
      lamar578

      But, then don’t you think that may be a sign of what your doing, not working? If you effectively have to censor yourself on each piece so to not get on the manufacture’s shitlist, what good is the writing? Everyone’s financial situations are unique, but its really hard to take any reviews I read online seriously when I know the person writing it is very carefully making sure not to say anything too critical that will get them banned.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      I come here to see what kind of dialogue is stimulated by a well written piece. The dialogue, the exchange of ideas, beliefs, truths and even half truths is what draws me here. It goes beyond mere clickbait. A story about a car’s performance or fit and finish is really boring to me.
      The last car show I went to was interesting and there were some exceptionally well restored vehicles there and some really well done modified vehicles but the thing I found the most appealing was talking to a fellow with a pair of 2 seat Datsun convertibles. The one he got to work on as a teen with his dad and the second one was his play car. They did not hold a candle to the professionally restored stuff but they had meaning other than a six figure bank account. The pride he had when he talked about the car that him and his dad wrenched on was almost overwhelming.
      I want commentary that provides information but I want to feel a sense of passion about what one drive’s. Suckling the corporate teat by nature means keeping passion at bay to keep the milk from turning sour.

  • avatar
    Occam

    I couldn’t care less whether a person who receives a new car to review on a regular basis keeps a secondary car as a backup. It’s immaterial to me. I DO care if the reviewer, or reviewers as a whole, “wag the dog” so to speak. If they can’t find substantive differences between the vehicles, they nitpick the tiny differences, and push cars toward greater homogeny.

    When I’m researching for a purchase, I don’t care a bit about the author’s subjective opinions. I want details, and specific issues about which I should be aware.

    Don’t tell me how the engine feels eager. Don’t use soft language like “refined,” “hoary,” “harsh,” “boring,” or “dynamic.” I don’t care about the reviewer’s opinions about the dashboard layout, the feeling of the switches, whether the plastics are hard, soft, feel expensive, have an attractive grain, etc. I have fingers and eyes, and there are dealerships across the country where I can go sit in the car myself and decide whether I like the interior.

    Don’t tell me about how the steering feels, the clutch engagement, the magical German-ness that oozes from its pores. I can take it on a test drive and decide if I like the feel.

    Give me measurements. Give me hard figures from a track test. Give me detailed performance information. If I want a fluff piece telling me how wonderful the car is, I’ll look at USA Today. If I want a fluff piece telling me how bad it is, I’ll go to amateur blogs and internet forums. Tell me how the car is holding up for previous owners; if it’s all new, note that it’s untested.

    If you have subjective opinions, balance them. Have several reviewers who prefer different types of vehicles weigh in together for a bit of a point counterpoint. Cars have generally gotten so good that the difference between first place and last place in a comparison comes down to a lot of subjective points that have more to do with the reviewers than the cars themselves. I don’t care how much Jerry with the Journalism degree likes the way “Car X” steers – if the seat is uncomfortable and the driving position is awkward, I’m passing on it. If the car doesn’t feel right to ME, I’m passing on it. I shouldn’t have to wade through pages of exhibit A in a failed creative writing career to get to the meat.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Why wouldn’t you want details about an issue like poor steering feel?

      The characteristics of steering feel can be measured:

      http://www.caranddriver.com/features/best-handling-car-for-less-than-40000-370z-vs-evo-mustang-gt-gti-miata-mini-jcw-feature-how-we-measure-handling-page-8

      I suppose it would be nice to have the graphs for every vehicle, but it’s a fair bit of extra work and a skilled reviewer can probably better explain how well the steering of a particular vehicle communicates front wheel grip anyway.

      You might not always get that out of a test drive. Take a new Dodge Ram 1500 and casually drive around the city or on the highway with it and it will feel fine. While very slow, it’s nicely weighted and centers well at speed, with no dead zone. But build some cornering forces and steering effort stays the same. Drive it on snow and it stays the same. There’s no real information coming through and that’s not necessarily noticeable to everyone on a test drive if you don’t drive it hard enough or in adverse conditions.

      But yeah, the test drives are the most important factor.

  • avatar
    GS 455

    What? Wait, you mean that every car being made today doesn’t have a compliant ride, comfortable seats, accurate steering and a terrific sounding stereo and therefore it never needs to be compared to any other vehicle? And when the tester ends every review by saying the car was pleasant and they enjoyed their time with it it’s because they never have to pay for their transportation?

  • avatar
    kit4

    I ignore most car reviews because they’re done by people who have absolutely no grasp on what the public needs and desires. “Why would you buy a Camry when this Miata or Mustang is cheaper and has 300hp and isn’t beige boring and blah blah blah”?

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    The real casualty here is infotainment systems.

    Pretty much all of them are universally trashed, this is the product of someone who drives many different cars a year. Take the MMI in my Audi for example. When I first got it, there was a bit of a learning curve, but I sat down with the manual, went through all the functions, and after a couple weeks it became second nature.

    If a journalist gets a different car a month, the transaction cost of mastering each system like someone who actually buys the car and lives with it every day is too high, so they just bitch about all of them instead.

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

      Reminds me of that jackass from CNET who bashes the MMI system in every one of his Audi reviews because the MMI knob scrolls the screen in the opposite direction than what is intuitive to him. What he fails to mention (and probably notice) is that there is a curved line on the side of the screen that makes it completely obvious which way the screen will scroll when you turn the knob. The guy is a complete tool for failing to see that or mention it in his reviews. CNET reviews are focused on things like infotainment systems in the first place, which really makes it inexcusable.

  • avatar
    salguod

    One of the things I love about Hemmings Sports & Exotic is their “In Our Garage” feature. They not only highlight a couple recent projects with their rides, they have a list of their staff, their cars and their status (running or not). All car pubs should do something similar. Not sure why the other Hemmings publications don’t.

  • avatar

    I do think there are some situations where writing about cars, but not having a car is forgivable. Crushing student loan debt, as someone mentioned. City life, where cars are more trouble to own than they’re worth. I don’t blame any of the NYC crew who skip out on the ownership experience. It’s cripplingly expensive to live there and not car-friendly.

    Besides, the items that come with ownership itself aren’t often discussed in new-car reviews. Payments seem easy enough to calculate, given the numbers. Either you can afford it or you can’t. Reliability and repair costs, however, are hard to assess with a brand-new product. Each brand has their own reputation, but sometimes a car turns out to buck that. The Lancer I have, for example, is just the Energizer Bunny of cars, despite all other reports about Mitsubishi’s reputation and my best efforts at putting more track miles on it than most Evos ever see.

    What bothers me instead is the idea that some writers get so used to press cars that any interruption in provided cars becomes a significant setback. Sure, the fellow quoted swears he was kidding, but really? Jokes like that are usually based in reality–otherwise, they’d make no sense.

    Personally, if the Lancer goes down, I’m all right. I’m in a walkable neighborhood. Basic services (and then some) are nearby, the public transit network is pretty decent, I’m within range of a ton of different delivery services, the weather is usually pleasant, I’m able-bodied, and it’s healthy for me to get some fresh air and exercise. I’ve had enough beaters break down in the past that with one street car, living in a safe city neighborhood was a priority when I found a place to live. Thus, it’s not a serious disruption for me travel by foot. I am, therefore, set as far as transportation goes without having to rely on press cars to fill that need.

    Not relying on press loaners to fill your need for transportation, IMHO, is what keeps you honest. I’m not afraid of offending the purveyors of press loaners on the rare occasion when I get them. I usually don’t get press cars on the racing side, anyway. When I do, though, it’s neat–but I won’t dance around the items I dislike about those cars for fear of upsetting the gravy train.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    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.

  • avatar
    robc123

    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.

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