The Hidden Dangers Of Giving Car Advice

Doctors get asked medical questions at dinner parties, and lawyers are probed with legal questions. Car analysts, testers, and reporters also get asked about cars — but there are dangers to giving car advice.

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At dinner parties and family gatherings, it's inevitable: doctors get asked medical questions, lawyers get asked legal questions; and car analysts, testers and automotive reporters get asked about cars. In this Reporter's Notebook, NPR's Sonari Glinton explains the hidden dangers of giving car advice.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Since I've been reporting on the auto industry, I've noticed a few patterns. You're at a party or a co-worker sends an email, asking what seems like a simple question: What kind of car should I buy? Now, that question gets real dicey quick. There's a lot at stake if you choose to answer. And I've only been answering that question for a few years but Jake Fisher, who is in charge of the auto testing lab at Consumer Reports, has been doing it all his life.

JAKE FISHER: Full disclosure, I mean, when I was four I was a car expert...

(LAUGHTER)

FISHER: ...you know, to my friends and family. So, I mean, I got a long history of kind of being a savant of car information.

GLINTON: Now, Jake is an engineer, and he lives and breathes cars, but he's been known to make occasional mistakes.

FISHER: Often they'll ask about a car, hey, what do you think about the Dodge Nitro and I'll be like, oh my God, I'm so glad you asked me about that - stay away from that car, it is a big pile. And they're like, oh, 'cause I just bought one.

(LAUGHTER)

FISHER: I've stepped into that a few times.

GLINTON: OK, OK. My favorite is when a friend calls me on a Saturday afternoon from the dealership in the middle of negotiation, asking for help. Now, my advice at that point is leave. A car should not be an impulse buy. But far more often than not, that friend ends up driving away with a shiny new car.

Richard Homan is a senior editor at Kelley Blue Book. And he says that's happened to him but his favorite is when someone wants him to make a choice between cars.

RICHARD HOMAN: I once had a guy that he was trying to decide whether he wanted to get a Honda Civic, a Honda Accord or a Ferrari 348.

GLINTON: All right. All right, hold on a second. I'm going to stop the tape right here - yeah, you heard that right: A Honda Civic or a Ferrari - Civic, Ferrari.

HOMAN: And he wanted a practical - and he wanted, of course, he wanted the Ferrari. So what he wanted me was to give him practical reasons to buy this Ferrari. And I was baffled because, you know, people's hearts - it's people's hearts that determine what they really, really, really want, right?

MICHELLE KREBS: I think what happens is people want their choices validated. And so, I try to make them comfortable in that decision.

GLINTON: Michelle Krebs has been covering the auto industry for over 30 years, but that means nothing when it comes to her family.

KREBS: And, by the way, I'm the oldest of the family and so nobody wants to admit that I might know something about something that - I was the bossy kid and so they don't want to give me any kind of upper hand in any decision.

(LAUGHTER)

GLINTON: Even when you're the expert.

KREBS: Even when I'm the expert.

(LAUGHTER)

KREBS: So...

GLINTON: 'Cause when it comes down to it, I could tell you to do your research or think about how you're going to use your car. But in the end, you're going to do what you want. I mean, it makes total sense for me to buy a two-seater convertible, right? Right.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Culver City.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOOD ADVICE")

ALLAN SHERMAN: (Singing) Good advice, good advice, good advice costs nothing and it's worth the price. I'm so worldly wise, I should get the Nobel Prize for good advice.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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