Drive the Information Superhighway before deciding to buy that new car

With escalating car prices, buying new wheels is becoming a major financial decision. Negotiating to buy a new car can be a nerve-wracking experience for a consumer. What research do you need to do before you start visiting dealerships? What do you need to know to negotiate a good price from the salesperson – and finalize the purchase with the dealership?

The online world is revolutionizing the car-buying process, and if you learn to navigate the Internet as part of your search, you can very likely save yourself hundreds, possibly thousands, of dollars., the online branch of the popular magazine, provides thousands of Web pages of information on auto specifications, crash test results, maintenance records and buying tips.

This month, unveils a new interactive tour of an auto dealership that’s designed to take some of the anxiety out of the car-buying or car-leasing process.

The Yonkers, N.Y.-based consumer ratings service researches and offers unbiased advice about products and services beyond just vehicles, including personal finance, health and nutrition, and other consumer concerns. They’ve been around in print form since the 1930’s and online since 1997. A lot of Consumer Reports clout comes from the fact that they are an independent, nonprofit testing and information-gathering organization, serving only the consumer.

We asked Rob Gentile, who tracks car prices for Consumer Reports as manager of their Auto Price Service, how the car buyer can arm themselves with information before the trip to the dealership.

Q: What some may not know is offers free automobile content in your web site to coincide with the Consumer Reports April Auto Issue, which went on sale in March. Let’s first start with your interactive tour of an auto dealership. Take us on a walk-through of this research tool.

Gentile: In conjunction with launching our April Auto issue, we’ve developed the interactive virtual auto dealership on our web site at We’ve compiled a lot of the great content we’ve had for many years on the site helping people with all parts of the buying process, from the beginning where you’re deciding what car is right for you to the point where you’ve actually negotiate the deal and picked up the car. The virtual dealership tour walks you through that process step by step, helping you get the best possible deal.

Q: Another new interactive virtual tour on is the Auto Test track. You can get inside your auto testing facility via streaming video footage. Take us on a virtual tour of the Consumer Reports’ Auto Test track.

Gentile: We have a facility where we test all the cars you see in the April auto issue. The video application gives you little snippets of the cars going though the actual tests, along with the information that goes along with each of the tests. For example, you can see tests like hydroplaning, emergency handling and braking.

Q: I liked “Rock Hill,” 300 tons of boulders set in concrete that’s used for testing four-wheel-drive vehicles. Why don’t you run down some of the other auto-related research information we can find at

Gentile: We provide information to all consumers no matter where you are in the buying process. If you’re in the early stages of the process, we provide you with advice on how to choose the right car for you. We have a car selector on the site that allows you to enter some parameters based on the kind of car you’re looking for. It basically gives you results of cars that might be best for you. At the point where you’re saying, “This is the car I want,” we help you determine what is the fair price to pay. The Consumer Reports New Car Price Service tells you what the dealer paid for the car, what we call the wholesale price, and we help you determine how to negotiate a fair deal. We also have Dealer satisfaction survey information, Consumer Reports Good Bets and Reliability Risks and how to save money on routine auto maintenance.

Q: That could save lots of money. Is this available for free? I know you have some subscription content, too.

Gentile: Much of it is available for free – a lot of the general advice like how to deal with the dealership, safety alerts, recalls and the interactive tours. At the point you’re ready to negotiate for a specific vehicle there are fees. You can either subscribe to the Web site or, if you’re interested in simply getting pricing information for a specific model, the Consumer Reports New Car Price Service is $12 per report.

Q: What is the subscription cost?

Gentile: It’s $3.95 per month.

Q: That’s not far off from buying the print issue, but you get tons more information at your fingertips.

Gentile: You also get access to all of our past reviews and rating that goes back several years. And not just cars: appliances, electronics. The whole gamut.

Q: You guys are the godfathers of consumer protection! I imagine that the auto issue of the print magazine is a bestseller. Do you find more visitors on the Web site during this month?

Gentile: Yes, the April auto issue is one of our key issues. We absolutely do see more visitors to the Web site There is quite a bit of information on the site that typically doesn’t make it into the magazine, simply because there isn’t enough space. They complement each other very well because where the magazine ends off, the site can actually pick up in many ways. The virtual tour is a good example of that.

The Web site is located at:

Their corporate site is at:

A full audio interview with Rob Gentile of Consumer Reports can be heard at:

Dana Greenlee writes about technology every Friday in the Index. She is president of, a recording studio and web development company. She is also co-host of WebTalkGuys, a radio talk show featuring technology news and interviews. The show is broadcast on CNET Radio in San Francisco/San Jose, Boston, and over the XM Satellite Radio Network Channel 130 every Saturday at 10 am PST and Sunday at 7 p.m. PST. The show is available on the wireless web on NexTel phones. WebTalkGuys is also Webcast on the Internet on demand from It is also streamed live at: