What Is Consumer Reports Anyway?

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To do the necessary research before buying a car, we run to the Internet for trustworthy advice. Often, that leads us to Consumer Reports.
But what exactly is Consumer Reports (CR)? It doesn’t act like other car media outlets like Car and Driver or Jalopnik, in that it doesn’t follow the industry’s news. It doesn’t sell cars like Edmunds or Kelley Blue Book. It conducts surveys, but it doesn’t rely solely on them like J.D. Power.
Consumer Reports is a non-profit. That shouldn’t convince you one way or another whether to trust it, but it’s the beginning of understanding how the organization works. Knowing that can help you gauge how to weigh the opinions it shares.
A woman giving a thumbs up and 5 gold stars
Consumer Reports is one of the most trusted review sites on the internet.

A short history of Consumer Reports

Consumers Union (CU) was formed in 1936 as a result of what Tedium describes as a messy, at times violent dispute between the staff and leadership of its predecessor, Consumers’ Research. CU started publishing Consumer Reports magazine that same year.
Part of the conflict at Consumers’ Research stemmed from philosophical differences. While the leaders of the organization wanted to limit their scope to offering a service to the public, others felt it was also necessary to advocate more broadly for consumers’ rights. 
CU, which renamed itself after its magazine in 2012, sought to perform both roles for its subscribers and the general public. Tedium says the non-profit organization continues to test thousands of products while also confronting businesses as big and diverse as Apple and Tesla.

How does Consumer Reports work?

Every year, CR buys thousands of products, from mattresses to tires, and tests them in one of their 63 research labs. They combine their results with technical data from the government, universities, and industries, along with survey answers from their 2.9 million members. 
CR uses all this information to produce its product ratings. The data also fuels the organization’s advocacy division which pushes government and industry to create policy and best-practices intended to provide the public with safe, sustainable, and fairly priced products and services.
As opposed to businesses like J.D. Power, Consumers Digest, and U.S. Global Quality Research System, CR adamantly protects its results from industry influence. They receive no samples and do not allow their name to be used in advertisements.

Can I trust Consumer Reports?

CR relies heavily on subscriptions to its services for financial support. Last year, over 90% of its revenue came from the sale of its digital and print products. The other 10% might make some folks wonder, but a look at the fine print shows a high level of integrity there, too.
Because CR works so hard to separate itself from the companies producing the products it tests and rates, trusting the organization’s results is easy. Their non-profit status means they have to share all their financial records with the public, so you can do your own digging if you want to.
That said, CR rates products based on its values of fairness, safety, and sustainability—important aspects of any car, but not the only features people look for. If you want opinions on style, performance, and “fun” factor, you should probably look elsewhere.

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