Arm yourself with factual information before purchasing a used or new vehicle

Consumer Reports’ April, 2024 issue, “Best and Worst Cars, Trucks and SUVs.” THIS is where to get truly honest and complete vehicle reviews. Consumer Reports is a nonprofit organization devoted solely to helping American consumers. They accept no advertising or free products, their evaluations are done by teams of experienced experts and by compiling information on the actual experiences of hundreds of thousands of vehicle owners, and there are NO fake reviews, EVER.

Many Mesa County residents have related their nightmare of buying a used vehicle from a dealer only to have major problems with it shortly after purchase: the transmission goes out, it starts burning excessive oil, the check engine light comes on, the vehicle starts making weird noises and in one instance the entire engine needed to be replaced. These are just some of the complaints. Many people buy extended warranties when purchasing used cars in an attempt to alleviate worry about such problems, but often find these warranties useless as dealers often count on people not reading and fully understanding the limitations of the warranties, or dealers try to weasel out of paying for expensive repairs, especially repeated repairs, because they’ll lose money. Because the Lemon Law only applies to new vehicles, used car buyers are often left holding the bag for thousands of dollars in repairs with no recourse.

There is a way to stack the odds in your favor when buying a new or used car though, and that is by arming yourself with impartial data about the reliability of different makes, models and years of cars.

But how can you find that information?

A section of Consumer Reports’ 6 mile paved test driving track in CT where they evaluate 50 new cars a year, driving them hundreds of thousands of miles. (Photo: Consumer Reports)

The way to do that is by subscribing to Consumer Reports (CR), an independent, 501c(3) nonprofit organization devoted to arming consumers with factual data about all kinds of vehicles. CR’s mission is to “work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves.” Their mission is not to make money.

CR accepts no advertising or donations of free products. Their employees go out and buy products, including vehicles, at regular retail prices at regular stores, just like everyone else does, and then they put their teams of scientists, engineers, researchers and journalists to work doing objective, impartial testing. Then they publish the results on a huge range of products including cars, appliances, mattresses, TVs, humidifiers, vacuums, power tools and many, many more in a monthly magazine and annual Buyer’s Guide.

Consumer Reports devotes extensive attention to vehicles. They have their own 327-acre test facility in rural Connecticut where they test drive vehicles to check their acceleration, braking, emergency handling, fuel economy, comfort, overall usability, fit, finish, noise, ride, and safety systems. For electric vehicles, they evaluate factors like speed, ease of charging, and the actual range they get out of a charge.

To determine the reliability of a wide range of makes, models and years of different vehicles, CR surveys their hundreds of thousands of subscribers, asking for information on the experiences they’ve had owning different kinds of vehicles. CR collects the data on about 20 key trouble areas, like overall build quality, brakes, transmission, cooling, electrical and climate control systems, safety systems, engine, etc. They base their “Owner Satisfaction” ratings on whether a CR member says they would definitely buy the same car again if they had a chance to do it again, which effectively measures whether a car lived up to its owner’s expectations. Owners also rate their cars for the driving experience, comfort, and value.

An example of Consumer Reports’ annual evaluation of used car, truck and SUV models going back to 2016, based on the experience of hundreds of thousands of people who actually own vehicles of these makes, models and years. Red circles with down arrows indicate owners had more than the average amount of trouble with a given system. Green circles with up arrows indicate fewer than average problems.

CR then compiles all this information into annual issues of their magazine so all subscribers can benefit from the data.

The value of the information Consumer Reports provides cannot be overstated, especially if you are contemplating an expensive purchase like a vehicle. Everyone wants the most reliable vehicle that will require the fewest possible repairs. The best way to tilt the table in your favor is to look at Consumer Reports’ compiled data, which is based on the experiences of hundreds of thousands of people who have actually owned all of these different years, makes and models of vehicles:

Note that past years’ models of many GMC vehicles have lots of red and orange “down arrow” circles, indicating these vehicles had more problems than average. (Red represents the highest number of problems reported, orange is a little less bad. Likewise dark green represents fewer problems reported, and light green is a little less good.) The ratings for the 2023 GMC Terrain have improved over the past 7-8 years, meaning the ’23 Terrain is likely to have better reliability and fewer problems than previous year models. The colored circles directly below the years indicates the overall predicted reliability for that year’s model.


A sea of green: Notice all the green ratings for various models of Toyotas, indicating how much better the reliability is for all models and years of Toyotas compared to manufacturers like Ford, GMC, Volvo or Volkswagen. Lexus and Honda have similarly good ratings.

With Consumer Reports, you can see exactly which make, model and years of vehicles are likely to be more and less reliable than others. You can see which manufacturers have a track record of reliability and which have had notoriously unreliable vehicles that buyers are dissatisfied with.

Vehicles to stay away from at all costs

This is key information when shopping for a vehicle. Also, think carefully before buying any extended warranty. Some of them rope you into using just one dealership for repairs. You’ll want to read the entire warranty to see what is actually covered and what is not, and make sure you’ll have the freedom to patronize the most economical and honest repair shop you can find. Do NOT take the salesman’s word for what an extended warranty covers. If necessary, bring enough food and drink to sit in the dealership’s office for awhile, as long as it takes to read the warranty thoroughly. Do not rush into buying an extended warranty. Consumer Reports finds they are often a bad deal. A member survey CR conducted in 2013 revealed that car owners usually paid more for the coverage than they got back in direct benefits, a result that is not surprising because extended warranties make a ton of money for dealers who sell them.

Anyone can get all this data on vehicle reliability by subscribing to Consumer Reports magazine. You can subscribe for a year for just $30, and for a little bit more you can add unlimited digital access to CR’s archives. The cost is well worth it if you want to be an informed shopper and stack the odds in your favor when looking for a reliable and economical used or new car.


NOTE: Commenters on this post say Consumer Reports and the annual Buyers Guide issues are available at the Mesa County Public Library for free. All you need is a Library card, which is also free to the public.


  7 comments for “Arm yourself with factual information before purchasing a used or new vehicle

  1. I bought a car from Carville’s Auto recently and the engine blew within twenty-four hours. Neither of the two salesman I’d spoken to have returned my calls ever since. Don’t buy from them either! They were named John and the other I believe was Austen, they were brothers.

  2. Consumer Reports is a great resource in general. That is, it can warn you that a certain model is problematical, but it won’t tell you about the history of the car whose tires you just kicked. For more specific information, you might want to check CarFax. tracks individual cars for wrecks, maintenance and more.

  3. Consumer Reports is a terrific tool. You can also check out monthly issues from Mesa County Public Libraries and with a library card you can access the Buyer’s Guide online from the library’s digital collection.

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