Not all car reviews are honest, so you need to know what to look out for. Here’s more.

The age of the internet has been a blessing and a curse for information. There’s so much out there, right at your fingertips, on virtually anything a person could wish to know about. The problem is, for every bit of helpful information, there’s also misinformation, and it’s not always easy to tell the two apart. Buying a car is one of the more costly investments you can make, and honest car reviews are priceless in the decision-making process. But how can you tell the good reviews from the misleading ones? Before you buy in, ask yourself the following questions:

Who Said It?

Was it a consumer who bought the car themselves or an individual representing a company? Neither is a tell-tale sign, but someone who’s reporting their experiences after owning the vehicle might give a more straightforward account than someone who was essentially paid by the manufacturer or pressured by their publication to give a glowing review. If the reviewer works for someone in the industry, that’s fine, just make sure they’re upfront about their relationship with the manufacturer and under what circumstances the car was tested. There are a number of consumer-oriented publications that only take the reviews of actual owners into account, and they publish publicly available facts on safety and reliability. This kind of anonymous crowdsourcing of information paired with massive amounts of raw data can provide a clearer picture of what you can expect.

Who’s Getting What?

As mentioned earlier, it’s the job of some professional reviewers to write nice things about certain cars for compensation from manufacturers. More on avoiding them later, but know that they’re benefiting directly by showering praise on the newest models. Real owners self-reporting have far less incentive to hold back any criticisms. And while consumer-driven publications are largely more reliable this way, you should know that some of them go the extra mile to prohibit outside advertising on their pages. They might also restrict the usage of their reviews in commercial advertising, further deterring any back and forth where one benefits from the other.

What Did They Say?

Good reviews are mixes of facts and opinions. Publications offering reviews on models that have been out for some time and given the chance to misbehave are obviously better, but not always possible. As far as the newer model reviews go—and really all of them—check to see what kind of tone the writer strikes. No car is all good or all bad, and honest car reviews will reflect that with a real blend of praise and criticism. Also, look for sites and reviews that offer free, impartial information on cars generally, like the Car Buyer University from US Auto Sales.

In any case, never rely on solely one review. Do your homework to get positive and negative information, and look for repeat experiences reported by actual owners. Remember to look into the person who penned the feedback to see whether there might be some underlying benefit to them for providing an overwhelmingly positive review. This way, you can be sure you’re getting the most accurate and objective information on the model you want.

Blair Lampe

About the AuthorBlair Lampe

Blair Lampe is a New York-based freelance writer and mechanic.  She travels frequently and on a budget, which she documents on her website TheGreyBeyond.