June 14, 2010, 12:53 PM — I've been buying new (a few) and used (quite a few) cars for more years than I care to remember. I always do my research and have only been stuck with a lemon once, and that was one of the very first cars I ever owned-a classic, '60s-something VW Beetle that needed two engine rebuilds in two years.
Cars have gotten more expensive to buy and repair over the years, and that makes picking a winner more important than ever. Fortunately, the Web offers lots of tools for buying new and used cars and checking out their safety and reliability. Here are my favorites.
Consumer Reports is the mother of all car information sites. It's deep, it's rich and the integrity of its parent company, Consumers Union, is generally considered beyond question.
Like many publishers, the folks at Consumer's Union have stopped giving away quite as much content as they used to. There's a fair amount of free information on the site, but to really get the down and dirty you'll need to pay. A year's subscription to the Web site is $26; or you can sign up for $5.95 a month while you're looking for a car and then cancel. I've done that the last few times I made a car buy, and it was money well spent.
Since CU doesn't accept advertising, the reviews and ratings, many backed up by lab or road testing, can be merciless: Consider this deadpan brickbat: "The least reliable vehicle, the Volkswagen Touareg, is 27 times more likely to have a problem than the most reliable car, the Honda Insight." The most useful section on used cars is behind the pay wall. It breaks down common components and systems of many models and rates each one for reliability over the years.
For an extra $14, you can get a pricing report on a specific model that includes information like dealer incentives and holdbacks that will help you negotiate the best possible price.
You'll even find even oddball tips like best cars for older drivers and best cars for tall and short drivers on the site, plus a variety of tools, such as a calculator to estimate car payments over the life of an auto, or another that compares loan and leasing options. All in all, this is a great starting point for your automotive research.
Carbuyingtips.com has a Web site that looks like they bought the design at Waldo's Weborama. But don't let the ugly yellow and blue color scheme put you off. There's great information here, and I like the attitude as much as I dislike the visuals.