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I’m so excited to announce that I’ve been working with Consumer Reports for the past couple of months! I’ve joined a great group of bloggers as a CR Ambassador. We took a trip together to the Consumer Reports headquarters to see what the organization does first hand. It was amazing!
What is a CR Ambassador?
I’ve been such a huge fan of Consumer Reports for so long that when I was asked to be a CR Ambassador, I almost fell off of my chair. I would get to go behind the scenes and meet some of the people behind the testing, and help spread the word about the amazing work being done by Consumer Reports! I couldn’t say yes fast enough.
We kicked off the Consumer Reports ambassador program with a tour of the headquarters in Yonkers, NY, where they do almost all of their testing (the vehicle testing facility is in Connecticut). I’d been there once before to hear the Secretary of Transportation speak about driving safety and got a quick tour while I was there, but on my CR Ambassador tour I got to visit many more testing labs and talk with a lot of the people who spend every day testing products.
CR Headquarters Tour
There are about 500 employees in total at the Yonkers facility, and more than 100 of those are product testers. There are about 50 state-of-the-art labs at HQ, testing everything from appliances to luggage to those dinner ingredient boxes I’m so fond of.
Here’s a sample of what I saw on my tour.
Vacuum Cleaner Lab
The Consumer Reports vacuum cleaner testing lab was, in my opinion, the highlight of our tour. The lengths that the testers go to in order to ensure accurate results is incredible.
In order to test how much dirt each vacuum cleaner picks up, the testers first weigh the piece of carpet they’re using for the test. Then they scatter exactly 100 grams of a sand and baby powder mixture over the carpet, and grind it in by dragging a 30-pound weight across the carpet multiple times.
After vacuuming, they weigh the carpet again, then weigh the contents of the vacuum cleaner bag or chamber (it never actually adds up to 100 grams, due to some always scattering or being lost into the air). Their best-tested vacuums only end up getting about 65 grams of the mixture. Some of the worst only get 20 grams!
For their emissions tests they use fine wooddust. To test how well the vacuums work on animal hair, they use cat hair from a Maine Coon. No animals are harmed (or even used) in Consumer Reports testing, despite what Stephen Colbert said.
The attention to detail at Consumer Reports is incredible. In order to test sound equipment, like speakers and noise-canceling headphones, they need to ensure that they’re testing in the same environment each and every time, whether airplanes are passing overhead or someone in another lab is testing a loud appliance. So they built a room to do just that.
The Anechoic (echo-free) Chamber is disorienting to step into. Without any sound bouncing around, my head felt funny.
- The entire room is covered in fiberglass insulation panels that absorb sound. The floor is actually a grate because there are fiberglass panels below your feet
- Special quiet light bulbs and a quiet ventilation system are used
- The door and walls are extra thick to keep out sound from other parts of the building
- The room even has a separate foundation from the rest of the building!
Food Testing Lab
There are parts of food testing that are highly analytical and can depend on objective testing, like if a food has the ingredients it claims to or how much caffeine is in a cup. But for other metrics, actual human tasters have to get involved. Consumer Reports takes certain measures to ensure that the tasting experience is as bias-free as possible.
For example, a colored light is used in the testing cubicles so that all of the foods look similar. We got to taste two different colors of gelatin, one orange and one yellow. Most of us (myself included) rated them very differently. I swear to you, the yellow one tasted like lemon, while the orange one tasted like some unidentifiable flavor. It was revealed to us that they were both lemon flavored! D’oh.
Three-digit numbers are used to identify each sample, since some people have biases towards or against one- and two-digit numbers, due to things like birthdays, or players’ numbers in sports. And the tasters rinse their mouths out after each sample, so that they can start with a clean palate. If a food has to be cooked, all of the different samples are cooked in the same oven.
Cell Phone Testing Lab
Cell phones at CR go through rigorous testing, not just for performance but also for durability. They get dropped, bent, and put in a pressurized water chamber to test for water resistance at different depths.
By the way, if you’re still holding onto your Galaxy Note 7 even after all of the scary stories and recall warnings, you should know that this is how they store the Note 7s in the cell phone lab!
Most of their cars and truck testing happens at their 327-acre facility in Connecticut, but they brought a couple of test vehicles to Yonkers to show us. CR employees also help do real-world testing by using the cars in their daily lives.
The Tesla Model X, shown above, did pretty badly in their tests. The cool-looking batwing doors caused a lot of problems, and they discovered that if you were using the Tesla app to move the car (yes, you can do that!), and the app crashed, the car would keep moving!!
Consumer Reports tests about 70 cars a year, and rates them on everything from acceleration and handling to comfort and fuel economy. To test the security of the cars’ internet-connected systems, CR held a hackathon where they invited hackers out to the Connecticut Facility to try and break into the systems.
We had a very full day at Consumer Reports and learned a lot. I was very impressed by the dedication of the employees. I’m so excited to be working with CR and helping to spread the word about what a great organization it is!