Considering a Debt...er...Vehicle? Then Check Out Edmunds.com
Jun 24, 2006 (Updated Jul 25, 2006)
Ever since my interest in vehicles began to develop in late 2002, Ive been looking around the internet for the best sources of automotive information. A quick google will show you that there is no shortage of automotive websites, but most of them are forgettable and dont beg for a return visit. In fact, the only two websites that I repeatedly visit for car-related information are Epinions and Edmunds. Between the two of them, and especially the latter, theres seldom anything about the automotive world that you wont be able to find.
Most of my visits to Edmunds have simply been in a quest to find some sort of reading material, but occasionally there comes a time when I go to Edmunds as a buyer or seller. Edmunds proved to be quite a useful source of information this past month when I purchased a new Mazda3 and then sold my Tercel. I had tracked Edmunds opinion of the Mazda3 ever since 2004, and watched for its opinion of newer arrivals like the Dodge Caliber, all of which made it easy to settle on the Mazda3 when the time came to buy. Then, to refresh my knowledge of what to do when selling a vehicle, Edmunds advice section really helped me out, and is certainly a part of why I got what I wanted for the Tercel.
Whats particularly wonderful about Edmunds is that it is completely free to use, and doesnt even require that you create an account (although you can). Unfortunately, that does mean youll find a few more ads than you would on other websites, but being the penny pincher that I am, Ill gladly take the ads over paying for membership.
Ive never enjoyed navigating Edmunds, and have only found it to get worse over the years as the amount of information increased. Many of the pages are overcrowded, and until you become familiar with the site design, things just seem to be unorganized. One small but huge step to improving the cluttered design would be to have the pages adjust to the visitors screen resolution, especially since not many people still live in the tiny world of 800x600 that Edmunds caters to. Fortunately, despite the overwhelming amount of content, the website does load quickly and isnt particularly heavy on graphics.
Zip it! - The most annoying feature of Edmunds is the constant request to provide your zip code, especially for those of us that dont live in the United States. If you enter a zip code, you will never be bothered with the screen again, but if you choose to proceed without entering a zip code, this just means that on half of the pages you click on, youll again be asked to enter your zip code. Eventually you just give up and enter some random zip code.
But the zip code fun doesnt end there. Entering a zip code causes Edmunds to bombard you with pricing information pop-ups and forms to contact local dealers, all before you can even read vehicle reviews and look at specifications. Pricing information is important and it is good that it is there, but it shouldnt be the first thing you are taken to when you click on a vehicle to look at. Of course, for Edmunds core American audience, this pricing stuff is far more helpful, but to those of us residing elsewhere, its an annoyance that makes us want to seek out other sources.
My favourite feature of Edmunds is its Comparator, allowing you to compare specifications on up to five different vehicle models in a simple and easy to understand chart. Its infinitely faster than the old fashioned way of switching back and forth between different brochures that have different formats, and subsequently helps you better understand specifications.
Reviews & Road Tests
Edmunds has both staff-written reviews on both new and used vehicles, as well as a spot for consumers to add their two cents. The staff reviews are generally fair and accurate, with good pictures (and occasional videos) and dont have any quirky bias that some other websites and publications do (ie. Consumer Reports, JD Power). As for the user reviews, theyre usually semi-literate and not much use at all except for when theres a large number of them so that you can see a trend.
Edmunds also writes a number of enjoyable comparison reviews, be it comparing two vehicles, or comparing an entire segment of vehicles. Some of these comparisons even have concise videos thatll sum up the article with lots of footage of the vehicles in their element. They dont even start the videos with advertisements, as is the norm with most commercial sites.
Articles, Tips and Advice
Edmunds has some excellent articles that assist you through various aspects of the world of cars, particularly when it comes to buying and selling a vehicle. With blogs and columnists, womens car guides, gas saving guides, and all sorts of other little things hidden here and there, theres no shortage of informative things to read. There are also a number of interesting Top 10 Lists, such as the top 10 road trip vehicles, the top 10 most fuel-efficient cars, trucks & SUVs, and the top 10 safety features, amongst dozens more.
Inside Line & Forums
One of the more recent additions to Edmunds lineup is essentially a whole new website in itself Inside Line. Providing information about whats new in the automotive industry, the Inside Line has a fresher site design that is friendlier to navigate than the rest of Edmunds. Better yet, you can bounce around here reading articles and comparisons and not once be bothered to enter a zip code or deal with pop-ups and excessive advertisements. The only trick here is to get the information off of Inside Line before it becomes dated information and moves to the less user-friendly general Edmunds.
Ive never made much use of Edmunds Forums (formerly known as Town Hall), as I dont like the format and find some of the discussions wander all over the place. Basically, it just seems a little bit chaotic, and although there probably is some good information in the discussions, I dont have the patience to sort it all out.
Edmunds was founded 40 years ago with the primary goal of providing automotive pricing information to consumers, and that is still one of its main uses. This information has little use for me or anybody else residing outside of the United States, since the combination of different vehicle models, currency, and taxes make it nearly impossible to provide non-US pricing information without creating a whole new website for each country.
One of the features of Edmunds that US residents are bound to love is when a popup provides a form to send an email to nearby dealers to get a quote. Its a far more convenient way of getting dealers to compete for your business than the old-school method of phoning, faxing, and driving around to different dealers. My only beef here is that the pop-up automatically opens up when you load a page, rather than popping up when you click on a link specifically for it.
Edmunds is cluttered and overwhelming at first, and the repeated requests for a zip code are enraging, but its still a good and informative automotive website. The Comparator, Road Tests, and the Tips and Advice section are all very helpful, frequently bringing me back to Edmunds. I do find the automotive section here at Epinions to be better for getting opinions and reviews, but for specs and finding out whats out there in the automotive world, Edmunds dominates. I can only hope that Edmunds will work toward making the entire site more in line with Inside Lines design and layout, as doing so would mollify most of my complaints. Then again, maybe I shouldnt be complaining, since Edmunds is a completely free service.
If youre in the market to buy or sell a car, or if you just want some auto-related reading, Edmunds is one website you shouldnt miss.