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Read A Magazine - Buy A Vehicle

by Bob Hagin

September 10, 2001

Buying a car or truck can be a very frustrating experience. You want to be a cognizant shopper, but it's hard. If you randomly drop in to franchised dealerships wanting only to kick tires and slam doors, you'll most often find yourself facing a salesperson who, naturally enough, wants to sell you one of his or her vehicles whether or not you've checked out other makes and models or are really ready to buy.

So it's to your advantage to be forearmed with as much technical data as possible. To do this, you can wait until we review all the cars that pique your interest in this newspaper but we can only do so many each year. As a supplement to this you could buy one or two magazines on the subject and see what the other experts have to say. Here's a list of the current crop of pertinent new-car periodicals:

AUTO WORLD MAGAZINE - This is a fairly recent addition to the world of auto magazines. Its masthead contains many names that will be familiar to long-time readers of other "buff" periodicals. It's composition is very much like motor magazines of the '50s, with lots of small snippets of information, "tips" to motorists and evaluations of aftermarket products. Its vehicle reviews are fairly unbiased and it is fairly eclectic in the types of cars and trucks it reviews. Auto World Magazine used to be Auto World Weekly, but the weekly grind became a bit much, I guess.

MOTOR TREND - This is oldest of the ongoing auto magazines and I have some old issues that review the '49 Kurtis Sports Car and the '50 Ford Deluxe sedan. Back then, Motor Trend wasn't oriented much towards new car reviews but now its pages contain road tests of as many as 10 new vehicles every month. Its evaluations of these new products are a bit on the "soft" side, and once a year Motor Trend produces a buyer's guide of the cars that will be on the market during the coming months.

ROAD & TRACK - When Road & Track hit the magazine racks in the early '50s, it was very much into sports and foreign car. The Feb. '50 issue reviewed the Daimler, Hillman, Frazer-Nash and Healy, all British and all relatively rare at the time. But then John Bond took over as owner, editor and head man in the '50s after being technical editor for a long time. Eventually it went mainstream and now does lots of contemporary vehicles but it still has a sports and exotic car slant. Recently it reviewed the new Jeep Liberty SUV but also evaluated the Ford Thunderbird and the Porsche 911 GT2 in that same issue. Old habits would be hard to shake, even if the staff wanted to.

CAR AND DRIVER - As I recall, Car And Driver was a spin-off of ex-staffers of Road & Track and Motor Trend. It's been iconoclastic from the start and its writers (some of them very "mature") have grown crotchety and opinionated, attributes that I admire. It tests half a dozen or so new cars monthly and while the tenet of its reports are laced with cutesy coined phrases and "in" expressions, they're accurate. Car And Driver does "comparo" (an in-house word for comparison) testing in which it grades a half-dozen of the same market-niche cars according to a like number of drivers.

AUTOWEEK - This one used to be called Competition Press 40 years ago and it was the only "national" magazine that I was ever asked to write for. As its name implies, it comes out weekly and does a few short-takes on six or seven new cars along with one extended review on another. This one is accompanied by views by other media sources as well as from several of the tested vehicles' owners. AutoWeek's editor is Dutch Mandel, son of its erudite publisher Leon "Jaundiced Eye" Mandel, an old friend who was working at Competition Press when I was recruited. I passed because the pay was low.

AUTOMOBILE - Very slick and well written by classy writers, but its road tests tend to run to patrician vehicles of all types. Its staff is also refugees from other auto magazines, many of them, like founder and editor emeritus David E. Davis Jr., the victims of corporate buy-outs of other publications or changes in corporate and/or editorial policy.

TRUCK TREND - Personal trucks and sport/utility vehicles are the hottest items on the market although most industry analysts wonder how long it will last. Truck Trend is a Motor Trend spinoff that addresses this field every couple of months. It has lots of truck and SUV reviews and most of them take place in wild and woolly locations sans pavement or other amenities. Its ads also target off-roaders. Despite the fact that more than 95-percent of the four-wheel drive vehicles sold today never see duty any more rugged that winter highway travel, their owners and enthusiasts are enthralled by the outdoorsy panache they perceive.

CONSUMER REPORTS - No messing around here. Every month Consumer Reports does comparison reports between three or four vehicles of the same genre and has no compunction about calling one of them just OK and another not only bad but unacceptable. Its annual April issue is devoted to autos and SUVs (no pickups) and it's been checking out cars by buying one of each (no freebies) for decades. A recent typically blunt evaluation of a dull subcompact stated that the crew could think of no reason why anyone should buy the vehicle in question.

Still looking for road tests to read before you go shopping? There's always the internet sites - but that's fodder for another story.

Publishers Note:- We believe that the best research tools are right here on The Auto Channel. Just visit the New Car Buyers Guide for all the information you ever need to become a smart buyer...and dont forget to watch out for dealers who quote Kelley Blue Book prices to you.