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How Consumer Reports tests cars

Consumer Reports operates the largest and most sophisticated independent automobile testing center devoted to the consumer interest anywhere in the world. Situated on 327 acres in rural Connecticut, the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center is home to more than 20 staff members, including automotive engineers, technicians, and support staff. Consumer Reports buys, anonymously, all the cars it tests, about 80 per year, and drives each for thousands of miles.

Formal testing is done at the track and on surrounding public roads. The evaluation regimen consists of more than 50 individual tests. Some are objective, instrumented track tests using state-of-the-art electronic gear that yield empirical findings. Some are subjective evaluations-jury tests done by the experienced engineering staff. These videos will provide further insights into the ways that Consumer Reports evaluates new cars to help its readers make smart, informed choices. (Watch our car-review videos.) See our Guide to Consumer Reports Ratings.

Acceleration

Acceleration tests are conducted on a smooth, flat pavement straightaway at the track. The test car is rigged with an optical road-scanning device hooked to a data-logging computer. This equipment creates precise records of time, speed, and distance for sprints from 0 to 30 mph, 60 mph, and for quarter-mile runs. For trucks and heavier SUVs, we also perform acceleration tests while towing a weight-loaded trailer. Good acceleration speaks to more than the fun factor. It's also vital for executing safe highway merges and plays a key role in some accident-avoidance situations.

Braking

Good brakes are a vital component for safe driving. Our automotive engineers perform a series of brake tests from 60 mph to zero on wet and dry pavement to measure performance. The test car is rigged with a pavement-scanning optical device that records precise stopping times and distances. To evaluate antilock brakes, we use a wet roadway where the pavement under the left wheels is much slicker than the pavement under the right wheels. We also judge brake-pedal modulation.

Controls and displays

Engineers trained in ergonomics-human-factors engineering-evaluate a car's controls and displays, judging how easy it is to see, reach, and use them. The entire auto-test staff submits written comments drawn from months of living with the cars and driving them every day for commuting, trips, and errands.

Driving position, access, and accommodations

Staff members of different sizes judge how easy it is to get comfortably situated behind the steering wheel, gauging whether they can see out well and reach all controls and pedals without straining or developing premature fatigue. They also get in and out of every seat, and note the ease of entry and exit. They check what it's like to sit three abreast in the second or third row, if there is one.

Emergency handling