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Secrets of Consumer Reports' test track

Ever wonder how Consumer Reports evaluates and rates new cars? Newsday.com paid a visit to the magazine's test track in Connecticut to find out how the ratings are done, and what tests are conducted on vehicles in the facility.

Learn more about how the cars are rated and evaluated below.

Consumer Reports Auto Test Center

The Consumer Reports Auto Test Center is located
Photo Credit: Ted Starkey

The Consumer Reports Auto Test Center is located on 327 acres in rural Connecticut, approximately 30 miles from Hartford and 135 miles from New York City in the town of East Haddam.

Connecticut Dragway

The site of Consumer Reports Auto Test Center
Photo Credit: Consumer Reports

The site of Consumer Reports Auto Test Center was originally the site of the Connecticut Dragway, which opened in 1961.

Drag racing

Drag racing took place on the site from
Photo Credit: Consumer Reports

Drag racing took place on the site from 1961 to 1985. The Connecticut Dragway was rebranded the Connecticut International Raceway in 1980 before closing for good in 1985.

Layout of the Connecticut Dragway

The original layout of the Connecticut Dragway allowed
Photo Credit: Consumer Reports

The original layout of the Connecticut Dragway allowed for drag racers to speed quickly in a straight line, and when Consumer Reports bought the quarter-mile track and surrounding woods in 1986, it was modified to allow for various testing of vehicles.

Layout of the Consumer Reports Auto Test Center

The current layout incorporates the former drag strip,
Photo Credit: Consumer Reports

The current layout incorporates the former drag strip, but also has other paths and roads for banking, turning, and simulating driving in various conditions and roadways.

Car testing

Consumer Reports anonymously buys around 70 cars a
Photo Credit: Ted Starkey

Consumer Reports anonymously buys around 70 cars a year for testing, with its employees going out and purchasing specific models from nearby auto dealers for its use without telling the dealer they're being used for testing, according to the company.

Formal testing

The vehicles Consumer Reports tests are driven both
Photo Credit: Ted Starkey

The vehicles Consumer Reports tests are driven both on and off-site, with approximately 2,000 miles driven before a vehicle formally begins the rigorous testing process, according to a representative.

Vehicles on site

The cars are kept at the Connecticut facility,
Photo Credit: Ted Starkey

The cars are kept at the Connecticut facility, and either taken on the test track or some of the around 30 employees are allowed to take them for off-site testing.

Acceleration tests

According to the company, the acceleration tests are
Photo Credit: Ted Starkey

According to the company, the acceleration tests are done on the smooth, flat straightaway, and timed for acceleration from 0 mph to 30 mph, as well as 0 mph to 60 mph -- in this case, measuring the speed of the "Insane" mode of this Tesla car.

Road testing

The facility also has a road adjacent to
Photo Credit: Ted Starkey

The facility also has a road adjacent to the track for testing, which includes normal road hazards like storm drains.

Testing process

According to the company, the process involves over
Photo Credit: Ted Starkey

According to the company, the process involves over 50 formal tests, including accelerating, braking (shown above), transmission, ride comfort, noise handling, emergency handling, controls and displays, driving position, fit and finish, fuel economy, headlights, safety features, off-road capability and trunk and cargo capacity.

Fuel testing

Consumer Reports doesn't rely on the federal numbers
Photo Credit: Ted Starkey

Consumer Reports doesn't rely on the federal numbers for gas mileage of each vehicle, and conducts its own tests to see how cars fare in terms of consuming fuel in its testing, according to a representative.

Cargo testing

Various luggage is on site to test various
Photo Credit: Ted Starkey

Various luggage is on site to test various vehicles' storage space and get an idea of how many pieces of baggage a consumer could expect a vehicle to carry.

Headlight testing

Consumer Reports also tests a vehicle's headlights, to
Photo Credit: Ted Starkey

Consumer Reports also tests a vehicle's headlights, to make sure they are as good as they should be, measuring performance, intensity and width to make sure drivers have a good view even on a dark night, according to the company.

Noise testing

The noise inside a vehicle is also measured,
Photo Credit: Ted Starkey

The noise inside a vehicle is also measured, driving over various surfaces and pavements -- inside and outside the track -- to see how a much engine, road and wind noise are heard inside the vehicle.

Water testing

The track does have special area of the
Photo Credit: Consumer Reports

The track does have special area of the track to test wet conditions if natural conditions don't allow, featuring sprinklers that dampen the track.

Ice testing

With the fickle Connecticut winters, when there isn't
Photo Credit: Consumer Reports

With the fickle Connecticut winters, when there isn't natural ice available to test at the track, Consumer Reports takes cars inside -- and tests vehicles at a local ice rink.

Snow testing

Same as ice, when the natural conditions aren't
Photo Credit: Consumer Reports

Same as ice, when the natural conditions aren't right to test vehicles in the snow, Consumer Reports hits the road and takes vehicles to another site in New England where powder can be found.

Tire testing

Cars aren't the only products being tested at
Photo Credit: Ted Starkey

Cars aren't the only products being tested at the track -- according to a representative, Consumer Reports buys about 800 sets of tires every year for testing, in the same manner as buying cars, purchasing it anonymously from various retailers.

Banking test

Like the cars, the tires are also tested
Photo Credit: Ted Starkey

Like the cars, the tires are also tested to see how they handle in various conditions -- like banking at a high rate of speed, as shown above.

Car seats

Car seats are also tested at the facility,
Photo Credit: Ted Starkey

Car seats are also tested at the facility, trying to see how they fit in various vehicles and their performance on the road.

Studio

The facility even features a studio for shooting
Photo Credit: Ted Starkey

The facility even features a studio for shooting photography of the various cars for both the magazine and the web.

Track check-in

Due to the nature of testing, the track
Photo Credit: Ted Starkey

Due to the nature of testing, the track is tightly controlled, with testers required to check in before taking a vehicle either on the straightaway or the side roads to avoid any problems.

Connecticut State Police

Consumer Reports only lets one outside organization use
Photo Credit: AP / Dave Collins

Consumer Reports only lets one outside organization use their test track for testing cars -- the Connecticut State Police.

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