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Consumer Reports Car-Buying Service Review

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Consumer Reports’ Build & Buy Car Buying Service® provides three levels of service and information based on membership and registration status.

Paid members who register at no additional cost are able to get a Guaranteed Savings Certificate. Consumer Reports’ car-buying service can be worth it if you already know what you want.

How Consumer Reports’ car-buying service works

Members and nonmembers of Consumer Reports can use various versions of Consumer Reports’ car-buying service. Some elements are free, while others require registration or a paid fee.

Consumer Reports: Free

You could use Consumer Reports for free to look at the following information (among other things):

Vehicle options Customize new vehicle options
MSRPs/market average pricing Find out the base MSRP for the vehicle you want, and see market average pricing and current prices on local inventory
Basic reviews Read brief reviews on the vehicle’s features and how it drives
Consumer Reports app Use Consumer Reports’ app to look up basic research on new and used vehicles; you can get more info on the app with a paid membership
Incentives See any incentives on specific vehicles from the manufacturer

Consumer Reports: Registered

Registration for the car-buying service is free. Even if you are a paid member of Consumer Reports, you need to register for this service to see member pricing.

To register with Consumer Reports’ car-buying program, which is run by TrueCar, you’ll need to provide your:

  • Name
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Residential address

TrueCar sends your information to certified dealers, which contact you to provide:

Member pricing Have multiple certified dealers contact you with their competitive pricing on the car you want

Consumer Reports: Paid

To access the following, you’ll need to be a paid member of Consumer Reports, though you don’t have to be registered for the car-buying service. Everything noted here can be found in the Consumer Reports app, too:

Guaranteed Savings Certificate This guarantees a certain savings off a specific car’s MSRP in a dealer’s inventory; you could keep this on your phone or print it to take to a dealership
Ratings and reviews Read ratings and reviews on specific cars from experts and current owners
Fees See the fees the dealership charges

How much does it cost to be a Consumer Reports member?

  • Digital monthly: $10 a month
  • Digital annual: $39 a year
  • All-access: $59 a year

What’s next?

Once you pick out the car you want, a car loan is usually next. Applying to multiple lenders to see what interest rates they offer should count as one inquiry on your credit score if done in the same 14- to 45-day window.

Potential lenders could include manufacturers, banks, credit unions or online lenders. You could also fill out an online form at LendingTree to receive up to five potential auto loan offers from lenders, depending on your creditworthiness.

New-car buying on Consumer Reports

If you’re looking to use Consumer Reports for a new-car purchase, know that the in-depth car reviews are separate from the Build & Buy Car Buying Service.

So if you’re still in the beginning phase of looking for a new car, use Consumer Reports’ site to nail down a couple of options before you switch to its car-buying site.

Once you’re using the Build & Buy Car Buying Service, select the make and model of the car you want, then enter your ZIP code.

On the results page, you can view the following information:

  • Default trim
  • MSRP
  • Market average price
  • Local inventory

Next, you can customize the car. If you want a different color, trim or options on the car (such as a turbo engine or leather seats), click on “change style” or “edit” as appropriate. You can also read current owner reviews and see photos.

Consider competitors to that specific vehicle. From here, you could either use this information to go shopping and contact a dealership yourself or register with Consumer Reports’ car-buying service to see member pricing and have a dealer contact you.

Consumer Reports boasts that its members see an average $3,016 in savings off MSRP. Yet, note that this and the Guaranteed Savings Certificate you may receive is an amount off the MSRP, not the invoice. In the examples we explored, there wasn’t an option to see Consumer Reports’ new-car invoice prices. Check out our car-buying definitions for specifics on terms.

Used-car buying on Consumer Reports

If you’re looking to use Consumer Reports to buy a used car, you’ll need to visit its used-car marketplace.

Select the make, model and maximum price you’d want to pay for the used car. Then, enter your ZIP code and the range of miles you’re willing to travel from your ZIP code.

On the results page, you can:

  • See local inventory with pricing, mileage and Consumer Reports data on reliability and owner satisfaction
  • Select cars to compare side by side
  • View additional details, such as crash test performance
  • Contact the dealership about the car

We can help if you’re wondering whether to get a new or used car.

Trade-in valuation on Consumer Reports

You can use Consumer Reports to find the value of your trade-in vehicle through its Car Value Estimator. To offer this service, Consumer Reports partners with NADAguides’ Black Book, which is an industry guide on car prices (more on NADAguides later).

To find the car value, enter the make, model, year and mileage of the car. Then, select the trim and the condition of your car (clean, average or rough) and any additions or deductions.

On the results page, you could:

  • See your car’s value if you traded it in to a dealership
  • See your car’s value if you sold it yourself to another person
  • Read Consumer Report’s FAQ about trade-ins

You can read our guide on how to trade in your car.

Is Consumer Reports’ car-buying service worth it?

Is using the free, non-registered service worth it? No, as there isn’t a whole lot of information you can see. If you don’t plan to register or pay, there are plenty of other sites (we’ll touch on alternatives next) that offer more information for free.

Is registering worth it? Yes, if you already know the car you want, it’s probably worth it to register with the Build & Buy Car Buying Service. Registering is free, and you receive competitive price quotes before stepping into a dealership. Be aware, though, that dealers will contact you with the information you provide.

Is becoming a paid member worth it? Not if you only plan to use the site to buy a car — unless you feel brand loyalty to Consumer Reports. You can find a lot of the same information, and even mobile apps, for free from other trusted sources.

Alternatives to Consumer Reports

With no paywall and no registration required, these auto industry guides are free, offering in-depth reviews and pricing:

  • NADAguides offers the most conservative pricing
  • Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds also offer video reviews and mobile apps

Besides the industry guides, other businesses offer car-buying services:

  • TrueCar is usually the go-to as it’s free for consumers and guarantees low pricing. Car-buying services offered by other companies as a perk, such as American Express and Costco, just refer you to TrueCar. Beware, however, that TrueCar makes money by providing your information to dealers.
  • AAA’s car-buying service is relatively independent, in that it doesn’t refer you to TrueCar. There is no charge for members or nonmembers to research cars on AAA’s platform. However, you must sign up to be a member and pay a $225 processing fee if you buy a car through this concierge service.
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