Most car dealerships intentionally make buying new wheels a frustrating and time-consuming saga. They know if they can drag things out for many hours, you may eventually wear down and end negotiations, purchase an extended warranty, take their financing—and beg for mercy.
Checkbook’s CarBargains service shortcuts much of that drama. By collecting bids from local dealers, we make them compete against one another for your business. This eliminates negotiations—and nets buyers the best possible prices.
But you still first have to decide what to buy. There’s a vast selection: Nearly 300 models are available each year, most with varying body styles, trim lines, engines, drives, and fuel types, adding up to 2,500 possible combinations.
To help you wade through the sea of sedans and minivans, more than a dozen outfits—including familiar names like Consumer Reports, Car and Driver, J.D. Power, MotorTrend, and others—offer up awards, top picks, best bets, and other recommendations. Automakers tout these kudos like they’ve won the Nobel Prize, while car dealers clutter showrooms with more trophies than Serena and Venus Williams’ display case. TV car commercials commonly include a reference to a MAJOR AWARD. And the organizations that bestow these honors often dream up new ponderous awards: Popular Mechanics recently debuted “Special Achievement in Braking” and “Most Popular Vehicle You Didn’t Know Existed.” What’s next, “Best Cupholders”?
“Watch any football game: Half the ads are for vehicles, and a pretty significant proportion of them carry one award or another,” says Dave Sargent, a vice president at J.D. Power.
But the different accolades don’t always point you to the same winners. For example, MotorTrend’s 2019 Car of the Year was the $45,000 Genesis G70. But the G70 didn’t make Automobile’s seven 2019 All Stars. Meanwhile, Consumer Reports’ best large 2019 pickup was the Ford F-150, but ConsumerGuide liked the Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra, and Ram 1500.
So which of these auto honors should you trust? We surveyed and reviewed the methodologies of 14 leading award-givers to learn how they determine the best. We share our recommendations on which offer the best guidance.
We also looked at the financial relationships between award-givers and the auto industry and found—surprise!—that much of the business is rife with conflicts of interest. These possible influences are seldom obvious or clearly disclosed.