The Hidden Dangers Of Giving Car Advice

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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.


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...


FISHER: 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.


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.


GLINTON: Even when you're the expert.

KREBS: Even when I'm the expert.


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.


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.


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