How Does Consumer Reports Test Cars?

Car buyers rely on a host of different opinion reports, vehicle reviews, and feedback from critics before buying any vehicle. Many of these sources spend time with the vehicles, driving and testing each before coming to their official conclusions. But what about Consumer Reports (CR)?

Consumer Reports is known for its member-driven reporting across a variety of industries. But you may not know how the CR team goes about evaluating vehicles in the automotive segment. Keep reading to learn all the steps that go into a Consumer Reports evaluation and how the CR staff tests cars.

The Chrysler 300S sedan will be discontinued soon.
2022 Chrysler 300S | Stellantis

The Consumer Reports process of acquiring cars

There might be more than a few different automotive critics and vehicle testers out there. But the difference with Consumer Reports starts with how the team acquires cars they test in the first place. Where most auto publications responsible for evaluating cars are provided loaner vehicles directly from the different automakers, CR buys their own. 

In order to “maintain independence,” CR members venture out to dealerships directly. And they buy cars based on trims and equipment that consumers “actually buy,” as Consumer Reports describes. When consumers know the CR reviews begin independently and not at the direction of a manufacturer, they’re more likely to trust the results. 

The thorough vehicle testing process

Buying vehicles directly from dealerships, just as consumers would, is just the beginning. Consumer Reports then gets into the rigorous testing of the vehicles. Starting off, the entire CR team spends anywhere from a full day to an entire week just getting to know a new car. Dedicated divers then put about 2,000 “break-in miles” on the car, as Consumer Reports describes.

Formal testing takes place at the CR Auto Test Center, which sprawls across more than 320 acres of rural Connecticut. It’s there that the team pushes each car, truck, and SUV to its limits, each enduring a battery of more than 50 individual tests.

Metrics are collected that include instrument stack testing and objective empirical results. Further, the CR team evaluates more subjective aspects of each car with jury panels of experienced engineering team members.

Some of the more specific performance tests include a 4,400-foot-long straightaway of track for throttling. There is a 3,500-foot handling course, a 33% grade rock hill, and an accident-avoidance course.

The CR team conducts brake testing, ride comfort testing, and tests the headlights on moonless nights. In addition to traditional crash-testing and sampling of every safety and technology, CR develops ratings for each of their final determinations.

What’s the CR team like today?

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The Consumer Reports staff today includes 30 members of editors, engineers, technicians, photographers, videographers, and support. They test roughly 50 vehicles each year, driving hundreds of thousands of miles and collecting data. The team also culls the exclusive survey data collected from its subscribers to perform analysis and add to the evaluations.

Consumer Reports began its mission to serve as a trusted resource for consumers back in 1936. And it provides product evaluations across more than 9,000 different items, not just cars. Assessing the safety and performance of every product it tests, the CR team continues to sample the latest innovations and car models from the perspective of actual consumers.

The next time you check out a Consumer Reports review on a new car or any other product, know just how seriously they take their product testing. The CR evaluation process is intense, and for car buyers, it’s a great benchmark to know what you can expect with any tested model.