Driver's Seat: Allow me to introduce myself
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Now that Mr. Driver's Seat has joined the ranks of writers for the Post-Gazette, it might be a good starting point to let readers know my favorite sources of information about cars.
More than 10 years after I started writing about automobiles, it's still hard calling myself an "expert." I learn something new almost every day.
My best skills are primarily as a storyteller, reader, designer and tinkerer, so I understand how machines work and offer insight (some would say complain an awful lot) about how they interact with their operators. But when it comes to mechanical work, I can be all thumbs.
Still, I do know where to turn for reliable information. A while back a reader asked where he could find noise level ratings for automobile cabins. After a bit of hunting around, I found Consumer Reports offers that data.
So where does Mr. Driver's Seat, auto sleuth and tester, go for reliable information on car purchases?
Edmunds.com: This automotive website has been my car buying go-to since I learned the interwebs around the turn of the millennium.
Edmunds first turned me on when it did a behind-the-scenes report on the tactics dealers will use to extract more money from buyers. Over the years, its information has become a little harder to find behind the sales pitches, but it's still the site I turn to when it's time to add to the Sturgis Family of Fine Automobiles, for reviews and pricing.
The lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat and I have long been used car buyers. After all these years, I've found that compared to the old standby Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds has target prices that are better for the consumer, both in trade-in values and dealer prices. I think that information has saved me a lot of hassles and a lot of money as well. I'm always satisfied when my prices end up somewhere between Edmunds and Kelley's.
Jack Gillis: As the director of public affairs for the Consumer Federation of America and a former U.S. Department of Transportation bigwig, Mr. Gillis brings both an insider's knowledge and a consumer protection mentality to the car buying experience.
He's been putting out "The Car Book" every year since 1981, and though it's a bit slimmer than it once was, it remains chock full of information even in the year 2012.
Mr. Gillis' advice first steered me to a 1996 Chevrolet Lumina in 1997. In a time when it seemed Consumer Reports and other magazines were unduly harsh on American automakers, Mr. Gillis gave the Lumina, Bonneville and some other GM models "Best Buy" ratings. As a poor father with Sturgis Kids versions 1.0 through 3.0 needing frequent updating, I found those models were right up my alley.
The Lumina with a 3.1-liter V-6 ran nine more years and 175,000 total miles, and we might still have it today if the air conditioning had not failed. (No air conditioning was fine in the Great Lakes region in the early Oughts, but not so much in southeastern Pennsylvania in 2006.)
Other resources: I do depend on Consumer Reports for car ratings. It is the go-to source for independent car reviews, but it sometimes get its panties in a bunch over some strange issues, and it seemed fairly Japanese-centric until it gave the Honda Civic a really bad grade for 2012.
Carfax.com offers title research, which can be a valuable asset. Their service alerted me to a reconstructed title on a Chevrolet minivan deal that was too good to be true, and which I passed up.
Alldata.com offers fee-for-service access to technical service bulletins that manufacturers provide to their dealer service centers about recurring problems with cars. I have access to their professional site for a column I write for The New York Times and I find it to be chock full of information about the bulletins. The pricing structure may make it expensive to purchase while you're still considering cars, though.
First Published March 13, 2013 12:00 am