Do Automakers Gift Cars to Consumer Reports for Testing?

Consumer Reports is one of the oldest and most trusted names in testing and reviewing cars. The organization is known for its thorough reviews that measure facts such as a vehicle’s reliability and whether it is worth the money for consumers. One question that some readers might have about Consumer Reports, though, is how the organization acquires all of the vehicles that it reviews. 

Front angle view of red 2023 Ford Maverick pickup truck, the cheapest new Ford car
2023 Ford Maverick | Ford

How does Consumer Reports acquire its vehicles?

According to Consumer Reports, the organization purchases each car that it reviews. This means that the team at Consumer Reports purchases more than 50 cars a year for review.

Just as interesting as the fact that Consumer Reports buys so many cars, though, is that the Consumer Reports team buys vehicles anonymously. The staff purchases new vehicles at trims that average consumers would buy, and the dealerships are unaware that the buyers are associated with the popular publication.

Unsurprisingly, acquiring this many cars a year is not a cheap process, and Consumer Reports spends over $2,000,000 annually just to purchase review cars. 

Why Consumer Reports acquires cars this way

Purchasing each car is expensive for Consumer Reports, but it is necessary for the types of reviews that the organization writes and the values that Consumer Reports brings to its review process. 

Most publications receive lender vehicles from car companies to review. There is nothing wrong with this process, but it could result in some biases that Consumer Reports seeks to eliminate in its reviews.

A car company may give a reviewer a higher trim level of a vehicle, which may perform better than the lower trims that most drivers would buy. By purchasing cars, Consumer Reports ensures that the staff is testing the type of car that consumers would actually be driving. Making the purchases anonymously helps with this as well. Staff can avoid getting preferential treatment from a dealership by not revealing that they are with Consumer Reports.

Buying cars also give Consumer Reports reviewers the freedom to take their time and thoroughly test the cars. According to Consumer Reports, the publication’s review process involves more than 50 tests for each vehicle.

Before any of these tests take place, though, Consumer Reports drives each car for 2,000 miles. This is all done so that the Consumer Reports tests can be as applicable to real-world driving as possible, and when Consumer Reports recommends a car, it means that the publication truly thinks it would be one that consumers would be satisfied with.

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The way that Consumer Reports acquires cars is not the only thing that sets the organization apart from other automotive review publications. As readers scroll through the Consumer Reports website, they will not see any advertisements. Being ad-free is yet another aspect of the Consumer Reports review philosophy.

However, if the organization is not making money from advertisements, how does it make money? The costs of purchasing so many cars a year and maintaining a full-time staff would surely be significant.

Subscriptions are the organization’s primary means of raising funds. An annual subscription to the Consumer Reports website costs $35, and this gives subscribers access to every review and article that the organization publishes. Consumer Reports also has a physical magazine that interested readers can subscribe to. 

Beyond subscriptions, Consumer Reports also makes money through donations. According to Consumer Reports, the organization is a registered 501(c)(3) not-for-profit. Interested donors can contribute to the organization, which helps Consumer Reports maintain the independence that has given it such a positive reputation.