An automotive rating system helps you to do your homework before you face this guy on the car lot.

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Introduction to How Consumer Guide Automotive Ratings Work

If you've ever spent time shopping for a car, you know the process can be overwhelming. New or used, foreign or domestic, two-door or four-door -- the decisions go on and on. Fortunately, consumers have numerous resources at their fingertips to help guide them through the car buying process, with Consumer Guide Automotive Ratings being one of the most established. Consumer Guide has rated thousands of cars since it started in 1967. Although Consumer Guide originally published its reviews in print, it has shifted its focus to the Web since being purchased by the Convex Group in 2005 [source: HowStuffWorks.com].

As you might imagine, reviewing every new car that hits the market is quite an undertaking, which explains why Consumer Guide has a full-time staff of 10 automotive editors to handle the job. The editors use their combined 150 years' worth of auto reviewing experience to rate more than 200 vehicles every year, meaning you'll have a hard time finding a vehicle they haven't covered [source: HowStuffWorks.com]. In addition, the staff puts together buying guides, covers the car industry's biggest auto shows and posts articles about a wide range of automotive topics.

Visitors to Consumer Guide can find more than just automotive information. Consumer Guide partners with different businesses like Cars.com and Intelliprice to offer access to resources like classified ads and trade-in estimators. Consumer Guide also has a guide to help you choose financing and insurance for your car. Most of the content on Consumer Guide is free to access, though you will need to pay for some additional services, like posting your car in the classified section.

In this article, we'll explore exactly what goes into a Consumer Guide review. We'll also look at some of the other features on the Consumer Guide site, as well as some ways that Consumer Guide could improve. But first things first: Read on to find out how Consumer Guide helps you to make sure your next car is a great one.

And the Winner Is...

Each year, the editors at Consumer Guide review all of the car models to hit the market and choose a select few to receive their coveted "Recommended" and "Best Buy" stamps of approval. Only a few vehicles in each class receive these accolades, which reflect a car's ability to outshine the competition across a wide range of attributes. While earning either award is a great accomplishment, cars that receive the "Best Buy" award come with Consumer Guide's highest recommendation. For instance, out of the nearly 250 car models released over the course of 2009, fewer than 30 received Consumer Guide's highest honor [source: Consumer Guide Automotive].

How Consumer Guide Auto Ratings Are Determined

A lot goes into making a car, so it makes perfect sense that Consumer Guide considers many different aspects when coming up with a car's rating. The reviews start with an overview page. On the overview page, you can see a car's overall rating, vehicle highlights and a quick summary of the vehicle's competition.

In the past, Consumer Guide evaluated cars on 10 different categories like acceleration, ride quality, quietness and cargo room. More recently, the editors have added an 11th category -- details -- into the mix. They use a 110-point scale (10 points for each category) to rate cars, though even the highest-rated cars only receive scores in the 80s. Many cars rate in the 40s or worse. That's because Consumer Guide rates all cars on the same scale, meaning the biggest gasoline-guzzling SUVs are competing with the newest hybrids on fuel economy. Accordingly, you'll need to consider a car's rating in comparison to other cars in the same class. Consumer Guide makes that comparison easy by providing the high, low and average rating for each vehicle class alongside an individual car's rating.

After you've looked at the overview page, you can find detailed explanations behind a vehicle's category scores on the road-test page. In the past, Consumer Guide only provided ratings for one configuration for a particular model. It now rates each configuration separately, meaning that if a car comes in a sport edition, for instance, you'll be able to see how that car's handling and ride quality differ from the base model. The editors also make sure to explain the rationale behind their ratings thoroughly, particularly when a car has unique features that affect the ratings.

In addition to the road-test ratings, many reviews also include a page with details and comments from the testing process. For instance, the page may include the precise specifications of the vehicle tested, the number of miles the car was driven during the test, the vehicle's fuel economy over the course of the test and notes about any problems the testers encountered. In addition, the different testers will include their individual impressions about the car, so you'll have several different perspectives on a particular vehicle.

You don’t have time to take copious notes on all the cars that you like. Let an automotive expert do it instead.

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Types of Consumer Guide Automotive Ratings

Consumer Guide groups its ratings into four broad categories (cars, sport utility vehicles, trucks and minivans), with each category containing several different classes. For instance, in the sport utility category, you'll find different classes for standard and premium compact, mid-size and large SUVs. These class distinctions become extremely important in the ratings section, since each car is directly compared to other cars in its class.

The automotive reviewer also puts together detailed buying guides for each of the classes. These guides are a great place to start if you have an idea of what type of car you'd like, but aren't sure how to start narrowing down the list of choices. In each guide, you'll find a broad overview of the pros and cons of a particular class, along with a list of the vehicles that Consumer Guide places in that class and a brief description of what makes those vehicles unique.

While auto ratings are certainly Consumer Guide's main focus, readers can find additional resources related to automobiles, too. Editors regularly contribute articles about the state of the auto industry, for instance. These articles cover topics ranging from offering a look at insurance company crash-testing facilities to exploring car company business strategy.

If you're interested in learning about cars that are still a few years away from hitting the streets, browse Consumer Guide's future cars section. In this spot, you'll find the latest information on new concept cars and updates to existing models. A little digging can turn up some fascinating cars like the Carbon E7, the first car designed from the ground up to serve as a police vehicle.

Getting to Know All About You

While the editors at Consumer Guide typically drive a vehicle for only a few hundred miles over the course of the review process, they spend a lot more time with some. For special Long-Term Road Tests, editors will use a vehicle for anywhere between 6 and 12 months before writing the vehicle's review. Spending that extra time with a vehicle allows the editors to get a great sense of how it performs in a variety of situations, affording them insight they couldn't get over a few weeks [source: Consumer Guide Automotive].

Obtaining Consumer Guide Automotive Ratings

Visitors to Consumer Guide's Web site have a number of ways they can obtain ratings about a particular vehicle. On the home page, you'll find two search boxes, one for new cars and one for used models. From there, simply select the year, make and model of the car that you'd like to learn more about and click "Go." Understandably, you'll only be able to select very recent models from the "New" section, but you'll be able to select cars from as far back as 1990 from the "Used" section. Between the two sections, you'd have a hard time finding a car from the past 20 years that Consumer Guide hasn't covered [source: Consumer Guide Automotive].

Once you've searched for a particular vehicle, you'll be able to view the car's review or, for new cars, see the various trim packages available for that model. If you click on a car's review, you'll find several tabs toward the top of the review that allow you to navigate amid the different areas of the review, such as road test or safety.

Individual vehicle reviews aren't the only way to sort through Consumer Guide information. The site also allows you to perform multivehicle comparisons for new cars. After clicking the "Compare Cars" link on the home page, users can select up to four different cars for comparison. The tool can be particularly useful if you've narrowed down your search to just a few models or trim packages and want to closely compare the remaining contenders.

If you're not quite sure what model you're looking for, you can search through cars based on different vehicle attributes. For instance, you may be searching for a four-door sedan that gets at least 25 miles per gallon (40 kilometers per gallon) and costs less than $25,000. Start by clicking on either the "new" or "used" car link from the Consumer Guide home page. From there, you can start to limit your search by selecting what you're looking for from the list of options on the left side of the page. You can even filter out cars by feature in case you're looking for a car with electronic stability control or anti-lock brakes. As you select additional search criteria, the list of cars that match those criteria will show up on the right side of the screen, and you can then rearrange the list of cars by Consume Guide rating, price, and a number of other features.

Of course, every Web site has room for improvement. Read on to find out how, with a little tweaking, the Consumer Guide site could be even better.

Variety Is the Spice of Life

Consumer Guide isn't the only way to find the right car for you. Several publications provide car ratings to help guide your buying decision. Consumer Reports may be the most popular source for auto reviews, though both its ad-free online and print reviews are funded by subscription fees. You can also explore places like Intellichoice.com, Edmunds.com, NewCarTestDrive.com and AutoTrader.com. Make sure to read car reviews in magazines like Road & Track, MotorTrend, and Car and Driver, too. Between all of those sources, you're sure to find a car that keeps you going for a long time [source: McDermott].

Improving Consumer Guide Automotive Ratings

The editors at Consumer Guide do a great job of putting mountains of information at your fingertips, but there are some areas of the site that can prove a bit confusing or awkward to use. For instance, since there is such a large amount of content available, navigating through the site to find exactly what you're looking for can be difficult at times. Consumer Guide could make things easier by providing more interactive content. For instance, users can currently see how a particular car stacks up against others in the same class, but they have to go to an entirely different part of the site to find out what other cars are in that class. If users could simply click the comparison chart to find more information, they could save themselves a few steps.

The Consumer Guide rating system could use a tweak or two as well. Potential car buyers are no doubt shocked to pull up a rating for a popular car like a Honda Civic only to find a rating in the low 60s on the screen. Going back to grade school, we've come to equate scores in 40s, 50s and 60s with a giant red F for failure. Consumer Guide's ratings work differently; the Honda Civic actually consistently outperforms other compact cars on Consumer Guide, for instance, but users have to dig to figure out how the ratings work. Adding what place a car came in out of its class would provide more context for the ratings.

Consumer Guide also might consider incorporating other elements into its reviews that only apply to a particular class of car. For instance, a towing and hauling capacity rating for trucks could be a great resource for potential truck buyers.

And while it's understandably difficult to keep all of the details straight about every vehicle make and model, there are some places where Consumer Guide's information is incomplete. Many reviews don't include safety ratings, for instance. In some cases, particularly if users dive into a vehicle's features and options through Consumer Guide's comparison section, missing information starts to become a problem. As a case in point, a search through the features of a 2006 Nissan Frontier shows that neither drum nor disc brakes are available for the truck (a major omission, since those are the only types of brakes available). In fact, the truck comes standard with disc brakes and a number of other features, like a radio and ABS, which Consumer Guide also lists as unavailable for the 2006 Frontier.

Despite these small issues, Consumer Guide remains an excellent source of information for anyone who's in the market for a vehicle. Keep reading for more tips on car shopping.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks ArticlesSources
  • Consumer Guide Automotive. "2009 Best Buy and Recommended Awards." (12/17/2009)http://consumerguideauto.howstuffworks.com/2009-best-buy-and-recommended-awards.htm
  • Consumer Guide Automotive. "Car Comparison." (12/17/2009)http://consumerguideauto.howstuffworks.com/compare-cars.htm
  • Consumer Guide Automotive. "Future Cars." (12/17/2009)http://consumerguideauto.howstuffworks.com/future-cars4.htm
  • Consumer Guide Automotive. "Long-Term Road Test." (12/17/2009)http://www.howstuffworks.com/cga-bb2007-pr.htm
  • Consumer Guide Automotive. "New Car Search." (12/17/2009)http://consumerguideauto.howstuffworks.com/consumer-guide-new-car-search.htm
  • Consumer Guide Automotive. "Used Car Search." (12/17/2009)http://consumerguideauto.howstuffworks.com/consumer-guide-used-car-search.htm
  • Consumer Guide Automotive. "Vehicle Class Buying Guides: 2009." (12/17/2009)http://consumerguideauto.howstuffworks.com/vehicle-class-buying-guides.htm
  • HowStuffWorks.com. "Consume Guide Automotive Announces the 2007 Best Buy and Recommended Awards." (12/17/2009)http://www.howstuffworks.com/cga-bb2007-pr.htm
  • McDermott, Irene. "How to Buy a Car - or Not - on the Web." Searcher. July, 2004. (12/17/2009)