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Nothing I said should be thought to challenge the integrity and best intent of Consumer Reports. Whatever flaws or limitations anyone might accuse it of, Consumer Reports annual reliability ratings has been, and remains the very best barometer to determine the reliability of the most common cars, trucks and vans sold in the USA. But just as you wouldn't expect a university student's ruler to measure something microscopic, nor to count out a mile on the highway, don't expect more of Consumer Reports than what is reasonable. It is not infallible. It is simply a guide to help consumer's screen cars as being generally reliable or possibly not reliable, with some degree of detail. If you need more, consult competent and experienced auto techs familiar with a given vehicle and issue.
So allow the red, black and white symbols help you evaluate different vehicles, as they age, over the 6 year timeframe that the reliability section of the annual issue offers. If something questionable or unusual catches your attention, don't make assumptions; Ask questions, dig for answers, and then settle on an informed conclusion rather than ad hoc assumptions. In the final analysis, this is the only way I would ever resolve what some perplexing or unlikely Consumer Reports reliability concern actually means.
You can email Doug at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Doug directly at 303-888-8889.
Doug Ehrlich is the owner of Auto Buyer's Pro, the first licensed Buyer's Agent in the country, who has spent the last 24 years assisting over 20,000 individuals make good decisions and then negotiating better car deals for clients than they could likely do on their own, working exclusively for the buyer as a Buyer's Agent.