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In the decades since it began in the 1930s, Consumer Reports has established itself as the gold standard for product testing and recommendation. Millions subscribe to the monthly magazine, and many more consult the online resource center. But is Consumer Reports really the end-all source for product recommendations?

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Flip through an issue of Consumer Reports and you’ll find product reviews and recommendations on everything from appliances to lawn equipment to power tools to paint. When putting their products through the obstacle course, they test for quality in many areas — for mowers they test evenness of cut and bagging capacity; for drills they test battery charge and ability to drive in larger nails.

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While it’s always cool to see your new DeWalt drill show up as a “best buy,” Consumer Reports suffers one major flaw: It can’t test longevity. Past critics have pointed out that Consumer Reports will test an item for a week at most — long enough to rate many of its features, but nowhere near long enough to get a bead on its dependability and longevity, which are important factors when buying power tools.

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So, is Consumer Reports a Hot resource, or does its inability to test longevity leave it in the Not category when it comes to buying tools? Let us know in comments.

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Consumer Reports [Official Site]

 

31 Responses to Hot or Not? Consumer Reports

  1. David H says:

    Actually, they do test some things for longevity, such as cars and major appliances.

  2. Aaron says:

    Hot – The longevity issue is a problem for some items, but generally if an item is built well then it should last. Their car/truck ratings take into account problems that arise over the years and can make picking a used vehicle easier by pointing out areas to look carefully at. I wouldn’t use CR as my only resource on purchasing but it tends to be a good start.

  3. tooldork says:

    Not — They often penalize products based on pricing and they do not disclose how much of their weighting is given to this criteria.

  4. John says:

    I decided to terminate my online subscription with CR this year. I used to start my research with them to narrow down the field and then look at other websites, magazines, etc. before making a decision. It started to seem like every time I would decide on a CR top recommendation, the item turned out to be junk.

  5. Toolhearty says:

    Warm. Most times, when consulting CR before making a major purchase, I’ve found their reviews to be several years old and their recommended models have been discontinued.

  6. Luke says:

    Consumer Reports data is majorly flawed. Their reliability ratings are based on requests for warranty service. You will often see in their reports that manufacturers of cheap low-end products have a higher reliability rating than those from high-end manufacturers. The reason is twofold. 1) People don’t expect low-end junk to last and they don’t request warranty service for it. If someone buys an expensive item and it breaks, they will send it in for warranty service. 2) Low-end stuff has extremely short warranty periods compared to high-end stuff, usually just 90 days. If it breaks after that, there is no warranty service. But high-end products have longer warranties and so their warranty service is more likely to be exercised.
    And even bigger problem that I have with CR is how they rate products based on whether they offer some arbitrary set of features that they deem most important. They say, “Product X doesn’t offer this feature so you’re better off buying product Y.” This makes the manufacturers slaves to the whims of CR editors who get to decide what features they like to see.
    It is also pretty clear to see the bias that CR puts in every report: “You can save money by buying this lower cost product that is just as good as the highest cost product.” They are in the business of selling magazines so they have to give their consumer the feeling that their advice is worth the cost of subscription. Sometimes they don’t even hide the slanted view that big business is just out to screw the consumer and they are boldly defending you from being taken advantage of. I can’t stand reading crap like that.
    All that being said, CR is a good source for aggregating information about what products are available, their cost, and their features. Just ignore anything that is purely their opinion and not based on fact. A good site I’ve found for rating lots of products is consumersearch.com. They pull together ratings from several magazines and websites so they have a lot of good information and it’s free.

  7. olderty says:

    Warmish. TVs, appliances, cheap durable goods, I think they’re pretty good. Cars? No way.

    My alternative is google. Find out the model/serial number and enter it in. See what pages and reviews come up. CNET.com is pretty good for electronics.

  8. ToolGuyd says:

    When I look for tool reviews, I look at blogs, customer reviews, forums, and magazines’ websites – or at least those that provide free access.

    While Consumer Reports isn’t terrible, there are plenty of other resources. Not to mention it is hard to determine their level of expertise and experience. I would rather someone familiar with say, a Hilti drill review a Black and Decker product that the other way around.

  9. Jim German says:

    Definitely not. Their information is so biased, and their testing methods are incredibly flawed. Worst of all is that they never disclose just how they test, and hide everything behind an overall rating number with no explanation of what goes into that.

  10. fred says:

    Warm
    Caveat Emptor still applies after reading a CR review.
    As some note – CR may be a good starting point for consumer / homeowner-grade products – but certainly not for professional or specialized tools. Can you imagine CR reviewing different brand skid steers? What would they do – compare them to family sedans?

    Blogs, reviews in magazines (Fine Home Building, Tools of the Trade etc.) are a bit closer to my needs – but still not perfect. What it often gets down to is to have some of the crews try out a tool – based on what you can garner and then see if you want to buy more based on cost and real-world performance / productivity. Even on the same jobsite, I’ve seen differences of opinion arise (e.g. one carpenter likes the newer Makita miter saw – while another favors the older Bosch)

  11. bidwell says:

    Hot and cold.
    I would never rely solely on it, and for most computer and electronics, most of the items they publish aren’t available anymore by the time they publish, or are being made by another factory in another country with different parts.

  12. edosan says:

    I’d say “hot” in the days before the Internet, but only lukewarm nowadays.

  13. Kevin says:

    Tepid,I use it as a supplemental information source for appliance purchases like fridges, TVs, washing machines,etc, but besides that I prefer to look elsewhere for info.

  14. Keith says:

    I like Consumer Reports, but, like any source of information, it pays
    to verify what they’re telling you (remember, CR picked the Chevrolet
    Vega over the the Ford Pinto and the AMC Gremlin as the car to buy in
    1971).

    The best thing to do with any CR review is to RTFA (Read The Freakin’
    Article!) and judge for yourself whether the the reasons they used to
    pick their choices are important to you and you agree with the criteria.

    Also, last I knew, CR’s reliability ratings are based on their readers’
    responses to an annual survey sent out to the subscribers, not warranty
    returns. Like any survey, the results can be skewed, since sometimes
    only those who are overwhelmingly pleased or overwhelmingly disappointed
    respond – but overall, I find their reliability ratings to be fairly close to
    my own experiences.

    Lastly, it should be mentioned that CR does not accept _any_ advertising,
    product samples, etc., that could bias their ratings, and don’t allow
    their name or articles to be used in any product advertising – I don’t
    know of any other magazine or ratings service that even tries to claim
    that.

  15. MeasureOnceCutTwice says:

    Used to be Hot, but now just Very Warm. Before the Internet it was much more difficult to get good info, so CU was a godsend. Now, they are a good resource but only if taken as part of more research. Even if you don’t find a particular model that was reviewed, they give a good feel for what to look for with different brands. I also like the individual comments more useful that the simple ratings – knowing that something “might be awkward for large hands” would be good for me to know, whereas I wouldn’t care that “shorter people may have difficulty operating” something. I like that they are independent, w/o advertising.

  16. Zathrus says:

    Overall, very warm. MeasureOnceCutTwice pretty well nails it. Once upon a time they were pretty much the only source for “these features are useful, these aren’t, these you may or may not want and why”. They still do an excellent job in this department, but there are other places to get the info now.

    @Luke:

    You’re completely wrong about how CR determines reliability. It is NOT off of warrantee information, but off of whether or not a certain item broke or had issues during a certain time period. Do you really think they’re getting warranty info out of TVs after 5 years? And yet they have that data.

    If you want to poke holes in their reliability data, then the issue is that it’s a self-selecting dataset. They get the info by requesting that subscribers mail them info about what they’ve bought in the last 5 years and whether or not it has needed any repair or broken. In no way is it a proper statistical data set. Really, that’s pretty damning. Even so, they do only publish reliability info if they have enough data points to feel somewhat confident of the info and a lot of their numbers actually do correlate with 3rd party studies.

  17. Ian says:

    CR is okay, but I get annoyed at their left-wing bias. They seem to think that the government and regulation is the solution to every problem, and that the consumer is a dolt that must be protected from himself. For example, they push constantly for credit card restrictions to “protect” the consumer, instead of suggesting that the consumer should not run up CC debt in the first place. Same with all consumer safety issues and health care. Every time I read it I get annoyed at this nonsense. Also, they have completely bought into the global warming, carbon footprint chickenlittle-ism that seems to be fashionable.

  18. Phil says:

    Indeed! There needs to be more representation of conservative values in CR. I want to know which companies can be counted on to contribute to conservative causes. I want in-depth testing of pickup trucks that don’t constantly harp on nonsense such as gas mileage and safety, instead I want to know which brand can fit the biggest gun rack across the back window. Cars should be ranked not only on comfort, reliability, features and value for your dollar, but also their standing in NASCAR. I want to know which pork rinds Rush Limbaugh prefers, what shampoo Jesus would use, which churches I can count on for the most narrow-minded views, the best nails to make a quick tree stand with, which big-screen television is best for watching Hannity and O’Reilly, and which corporations can be counted on to make the biggest contributions to anti-gay legislation, among other things I hold dear to my heart.

    God Bless American, I’ll see you at the local Wal-Mart.

    😉

  19. Ian says:

    Phil,

    You seem a bit angry.
    Relax, life is too short to upset yourself.

    Ian

  20. Chris says:

    /me hands Ian a sense of humour…

    cl

  21. Michael W says:

    Cold. They’re reviews are often biased and their methodology not to scientific. I haven’t read one through in years (even in the doctors/dentist office).

  22. bidwell says:

    A consumer group pushes for consumer protections! Where do they get off?

  23. Phil says:

    @Ian

    I’m not angry. Far from it. I’m pointing fingers and laughing. 🙂

    Do you even read what you write? CR/CU has been one of the premier consumer advocacy groups over the years. While their testing methods might not always cover all aspects of real-world usage and scenarios, one of their absolute primary focuses is on product safety. Of course they are going to lobby for consumer protections. You expect to use an appliance or tool and not have it explode in your face or electricute you. This has not always been the case, and Consumer’s Union (there’s that “U” word that conservatives despise!) has found such defects in their testing, especially in the early days of it’s existence, and has not only warned consumers of the potential danger, they’ve worked very hard to help put in place some standards of safety. It’s an ongoing process as you probably know. Toys being made with lead paint, battery packs exploding or catching fire, basinettes and cribs that can entrap infants and children, unsafe child safety seats, etc, the news pops up with stories like this all the time. The industry itself cannot (or will not) self-regulate as they should. CU fights for the safety and comfort of YOUR family as well as everyone else’s.

    You can spout all you want about things such as this and the ‘green’ aspects and other so-called ‘liberal’ causes. They have all benefitted you and your family and will continue to do so. Read an article CR writes about credit card debt, for example. They not only want protections for the consumer, they tell the consumer how to avoid such situations in the first place, plus they will point out credit industry abuses. Same with health care articles. They are not simply pushing for ‘protections’ and legislation as you ascribe. Like the credit and banking articles, these help people maintain healthy living, reduce health care costs and point out the abuses of the industry itself.

    You suffer from typical right-wing knee-jerk reaction syndrome. You see any mention of those ‘trigger issues’ and automatically jump into talking-points mode. If you actually read through some of the articles you criticise, you’d see that your talking points are made moot for the most part.

    You should thank groups like CU for improving your life in ways you don’t think about. You can watch TV without the screen imploding in your face, you can use power tools without fear of being electricuted, and you stand a good chance of walking away from a car accident that 30 years ago (or less) would probably have maimed or killed you.

  24. Michael W says:

    I never thought I would live to see an angry CU fanboy ranting online. This made my day. Thank you Phil, et al for bringing this to pass. I can now race down the thruway backwards in my Pinto and meet my Maker secure in the knowledge I have indeed seen everything.

  25. Phil says:

    Far from a fanboy (I have never even subscribed, just use them as a part of greater research every now and then), I just love to rankle the dittoheads. I can spot them a mile away the first time they accuse me of being ‘angry’. That’s their conditioned response. 😉

  26. Ian says:

    Phil,

    I don’t have the time to educate you now, and doubt whether you would grasp it in any case, conrade, but you and your fellow liberal drones are what is wrong with this country. You are, because you live in your mom’s basement and work fast food, unable to care for and take responsibility for yourselves, so you expect the rest of us, the producers and achievers, to subsidize your star wars figurine collections. You hope to be protected by the government from your own foolishness, and are outraged when it is unable to do so. God help us, but you vote, don’t you?

    Ian

  27. Phil says:

    Dittoheads are so, so sad. And so very, very angry.

    Yes, I vote. And I won. And it rips your shrunken, little wingnut heart to shreds. You’ve proved it beyond a doubt in this thread. And that makes me even happier. 🙂

    Since it’s the M.O. of the wingnut to rail against that which they do themselves yet deny for their cause, I suggest you stop making lightsaber noises with the flipper and get back to using it on those burgers. If you get yelled at by your manager again for goofing off, Momma ain’t gonna let you sleep with your Rush plushie for a week. Again.

  28. Kevin Pace says:

    Ok guys, enough please.

    Can we leave the politics at the door and enjoy the bipartisan awesomeness that is tools?

  29. Phil says:

    Hear, hear!

    I’m waiting (not so) patiently for some real hands-on tests and reviews for the new Delta Unisaw. My 20 year-old Contractor’s saw has served me well.

  30. Bob Markovich says:

    I’m Consumer Reports’ Home & Yard Editor and was hoping to respond with a few points about your recent posting on our tests and surveys. I found it interesting and hope you’ll find a few comments and clarifications from me interesting as well.

    I’d prefer sending them to the site’s editor (or whomever you designate) if that works for you. Let me know … thanks in advance!

  31. Larry says:

    The first new car I ever bought was a 1980 Mustang. That car was Ford’s sarcastic answer to consumer reports always harping about “damagable bumpers”. The car was totally behind (and front) ugly because of the huge bumpers on it!

    And, Phil? Love it or leave it, Baby!

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