Friday, October 21, 2011

Why you should always question Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports is a great magazine for the average homeowner / consumer.  It provides topical details about everything ranging from laptop computers to snowblowers and even services provided by companies. 

That's all well and good, but when the breadth of the mission the magazine has taken on is so great, the depth of information is sometimes lacking.

I can't reproduce the information here because I'm not an online subscriber to Consumer Reports (CR), but there was an article in the most recent issue (early October) dealing with car waxes and paint care.  Obviously, I jumped right into that article - it's no secret I've been fortunate enough to have been given a free education on these matters from the kind folks at

Essentially, CR screwed the pooch with their review of car waxes.  It's not because Mothers didn't come in first in every category; I swear.  They included cleaner waxes lumped in to the same review as top coats; they included liquid and synthetic waxes with carnauba and paste waxes.  I thought to myself - who would do such a thing?  Read my letter below to find out why this is a bad idea.

I wrote the letter to the editor below about a week ago, but haven't heard back and don't expect to.  The car wax review is just another reason I dislike CR magazine for important consumer decision-making.  When you want to buy a TV, for example, go to an electronics review site and use Google to find it; when you want to upgrade your audio system, go to  The extra effort of typing a few keys in is worthwhile.

Also consider price point.  Consumer Reports does take into account price, so they might compare a Craftsman snow thrower to an Ariens and lead people to believe the Craftsman is just as good, because the price is lower but the quality isn't a good deal lower than an Ariens.  I love Craftsman and have a Craftsman mower that has served me well in my two years as a home owner.  But if you can afford an Ariens snow thrower with no problem, why would you not get the one with the better reputation and better build? 

CR should be renamed "Consumer Guidance", meaning, a guide for people who really have no clue what to buy when they want something new (a TV, a toaster, a blender), and who want a magazine to tell them what brand that new thing should be.

Here's the letter:

In regard to the recent Consumer Reports magazine issue dealing with car care, tires, and batteries, I found it curious that "Cleaner waxes" from several different companies, including Mothers & Meguiar's, were included in the test.
Cleaner wax is intended as a "step 1" for anyone waxing a vehicle - it's meant to strip the vehicle's paint of old wax as well as contaminants and grime, and thus is a preparation for a top coat, or even a step 2 before the top coat, such as Mothers Sealer & Glaze.  What CR magazine seemed to be trying to compare are "top coats", or what most people think of traditionally as "car wax".  Cleaner waxes should not have been included as standalone products to compare against top coats; in this way, I feel CR magazine misrepresented certain products in this comparison.  The only comparison where it would make sense to include cleaner waxes are product *lines* that are intended to be applied in steps, such as Mothers Step1-3 and the equivalent Meguiar's products.
Additionally, no mention of paint color was made as far as I remember.  Mothers and its resellers, particularly those that focus on the antique car market, will tell you that you need to choose the right product for the type of paint, age of the car, and color.  I saw that synthetic liquid waxes were lumped in with carnauba paste waxes - again, these comparisons lose their meaning when it appears some random polishes are chosen off of store shelves with no regard to intended use.

Car care advice from some guy at AAA features car care advice from John Paul at AAA New England. It's nice that features solid car care tips, but I've learned first hand over the years to question some of the modern logic out there pertaining to cars.  So has John, but we still differ in some respects.

Here, created a "best of" slideshow and I just couldn't help picking some of his points apart.  Many of the slides feature good, common sense measures to save on gas, and simply be a safer driver; others I disagree with wholeheartedly.

For example:

"Putting the wipers up and away from the windshield certainly makes it easier to clean the windshield if it snows. It also eliminates the chance of the wipers freezing to the windshield. My concern is that by doing this you are putting stress on the spring that holds the wiper arm against the windshield. I don't do it on my car."

I don't understand this tip as I've never had springs on my wipers break due to heavy snow or ice.  Most cars have the springs tucked away well enough and flush with the windshield such that it would be damn near impossible for the springs to break - in fact, the concern here is ice and snow bending the wiper backward until it snaps.

My problem with this tip is it doesn't account for probabilities and cost.  Would you rather *definitely* replace your wiper blades after a few snow storms, as leaving them on the windshield will cause the rubber to become nearly unusable if you don't store them up & away from the glass during storms? Or would you rather take the small chance that a blizzard of immense proportion will come and bury your car in so much snow that the strong metal springs holding your wipers against the glass will snap off? 

One last point on this one - spring for the orange Rain-X ice-melt stuff, not the crappy gas station "ice melt".  Shell tends to carry the Rain-X stuff but most auto supply stores will also carry it.  It's by far the best brand of ice and snow melt washer fluid and I keep it in year-round on both vehicles.

"In my opinion, warming up a car wastes gas and adds to air pollution. Certainly there are times when it makes sense to let your car warm up. One example may be that the windshield is frozen and warming up the car is necessary to scrape all the ice off the windows."

I love the 'air pollution' argument. We all contribute to air pollution when we drive. What's another minute on idle? If you're penny pinching to save on gas to that degree, re-evaluate your commute.

What John Paul doesn't say is that it's plain dangerous to drive in a freezing cold car for any length of time. People who don't allow the defrosters to kick in and drive with windows fogged up until 10 or 15 minutes into their commute lower their own visibility on the roads. I've nearly been killed by some of these bozos.

He also talks about headlights and making sure they retain brightness and don't wait for them to burn out before replacing them; check them out & ensure they're not weak.  This is a fantastic tip but he doesn't take it far enough - how about some recommendations?  For me, there's no better place to go than the source - a guy who consults for the US DOT - Daniel Stern.  

Further into the slideshow, Mr. Paul talks about how it's perfectly fine to switch between synthetic and regular oil, but that synthetic oil is more likely to find leaks.  I don't understand this advice.  Who would recommend such an approach?  No mechanic I've ever spoken to.  While it may not kill the engine to do this, why would you switch between regular & synthetic oil?  Stick with one and your engine will love you back for a longer period of time.

I hate to pick on this guy and his readers, but there's also his mailbag.  Are there really people who still take the car to a $tealership to fix a couple scratches?

Observe here & below:

Q. I was cleaning sap off my car and used “Goof Off” but also used a straight-edge razor to get some of the stubborn sap off. When I did this I nicked and scratched the paint on the car. It is a 2009 Toyota Camry. I spoke to my dealer and they said to bring it in but I am afraid of what it will cost. I’m on a budget and every penny counts. Can I touch it up myself?
Really?  I'm amazed at how few people know how to use Google for simple car care tips.  You might even run into this blog if you search for the right thing...