Does Consumer Reports Rent, Lease, or Buy Its Vehicles for Testing?

Consumer Reports, the trusted name in unbiased product reviews, has provided consumers with reviews and information on cars since 1936. Consumers turn to its reviews to make informed buying decisions. But what happens when the company needs to test a car? Does Consumer Reports rent, lease, or buy its vehicles for testing, and how does the company test and score the cars it obtains?

How does Consumer Reports pay for the cars it tests?

A Ford Motor Company vehicle overflow car sales lot in Louisville, Kentucky
A Ford Motor Company vehicle lot | Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Consumer Reports buys all of the vehicles that it tests. The company purchases about 50 per year and spends about $2.7 million on cars it tests. And, of course, CR buys them anonymously, so no one knows which vehicles are tested at any given time to avoid pressure from auto manufacturers. 

Purchasing the cars rather than borrowing the cars from dealerships ensures that there isn’t any bias in the reviews that Consumer Reports presents. The site buys trim-level cars with optional features rather than the upgraded versions that manufacturers would prefer to demonstrate. Additionally, CR can keep the car for as long as it takes to thoroughly test each safety, reliability, and comfort feature.

Another factor contributing to the reliability of Consumer Reports reviews is that the site is a nonprofit organization that doesn’t accept advertising. The lack of advertising frees it from the obligation of having to pander to advertisers when reviewing products. Instead, Consumer Reports relies on donations, independent grants, and magazine and website subscription fees to buy cars and pay a full-time auto-testing staff.

How does Consumer Reports test cars?

A full-time staff, including Jake Fisher, Director of Auto Testing, helps test the cars. Engineers, statisticians, technicians, writers, editors, photographers, and videographers work together to test and evaluate the vehicles and present the results.

While Consumer Reports gives the cars a workout on its track, located on 327 acres of land and surrounding public roads, the company uses state-of-the-art equipment that observes and documents performance. Then the employees test and review the cars by driving them for 6,000 miles and base their findings on informed subjective opinions.

Fisher says that, because the auto-testing team tests the cars by using them during their daily routines, it becomes a problem when picking up his kids. As a result, his kids never know what car to expect when he arrives.

How does Consumer Reports determine the overall score?

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Once Consumer Reports determines the overall score of the rating of an automobile, that score can change at any time. The score can vary based on additional data received or the manufacturer added or modified automobile features. Here is how Consumer Reports establishes its overall score:

  • Safety
  • Road test
  • Reliability
  • Owner satisfaction

Consumer Reports scores the safety of an automobile by obtaining crash-test statistics from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Then the site evaluates any advanced safety systems or lack of fail-safes that a car may have.

In addition to operating a car through a road test to evaluate performance, CR surveys its members. The surveys allow the company to predict the reliability of new vehicles being produced based on member experiences. Consumer Reports also survey members to determine how satisfied they are with the car they have and whether they would repurchase the same vehicle. 

Taking this much into evaluating and scoring cars, it’s no wonder CR has been a reliable source of information when shopping for cars for over 85 years.