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Should I Buy An American Car?

By , May 15th, 2010 | 24 Comments »

Ah the frustrations of automobile ownership.

My wife and I have two vehicles. She drives a 2003 GMC Envoy. From a cosmetic perspective, it is still in good condition and has only 60,000 miles on it. I drive a 2002 Mitsubishi Montero Sport. It is not in the best physical condition, but it is not a clunker either. It has about 85,000 miles on it.

This past week, my wife’s car has been towed to the service station twice (thank goodness for AAA!) and we have driven it to the shop a third time. Since we got our Envoy, it has seen a steady stream of mechanical problems that have both caught us by surprise and cost us time and money that we would rather not have spent.

By contrast, my Mistubishi has been a model of mechanical consistency. I’ve replaced batteries and tires due to normal wear and tear. I think I may have had to have the brake pads replaced. Nothing unusual or unexpected.

We bought our Envoy because after 9-11 we felt that we should “Buy American.” From macro-economic and patriotic perspectives, it seemed like the right thing to do. I had not driven an American car since my Chevy Berretta in the late 1980’s and I don’t think my wife had driven an American car since she had a vintage Mustang (sadly, that was long before we met).

Now we are getting to the point where we will need to consider when we should buy a new vehicle. My Mitsubishi will probably run for at least another 100,000 miles (probably 12 years given my usage of the vehicle), but the Florida sun and the passage of time will probably destroy it cosmetically. Even now, my wife and kids are suggesting that my clients should never see me driving it.

My wife’s Envoy, which we keep in our garage, will remain cosmetically attractive for years and it will log fewer and fewer miles as my kids move out of the house. At the same time, it has been such a drain from a mechanical perspective that we may have to part with it sooner rather than later.

Whether we decide to trade in one vehicle or two vehicles, our first decision is going to be “Should we buy American?” That remains a big decision for us because we both want to do our small part to support American-owned businesses. It is a major motivating factor for us.
Our desire to “Buy American” notwithstanding, however, our experience with our Envoy has left us skittish. Even though we can base our assessment of American made vehicles on only one purchase, our experience with our Envoy has been so bad (and costly) that we have to pay heed to it. I suspect that my wife and I will purchase another five vehicles over the course of our remaining lives. A sample of one is thus a substantial sample.

So now I come to the crux of my dilemma. I need advice from you, my good and faithful readers, why should my wife and I consider purchasing an American car for our next purchase. For all of the patriotic reasons for buying American, I need better reasons to shop American because I really do not want to get stuck with a car that is going to need to go into the shop for anything more than routine maintenance.

What has been your experience with American cars? With foreign cars? Should I let my experience with one vehicle prejudice me against all American made vehicles? Should I still “Buy American?”

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  • Jake Stichler says:

    I’ve had two Fords, both total junk. Not because they were American, or even because they were Fords, but just because they were junk. In any case, “patriotism” is in my opinion a very silly reason to buy a particular product over another, especially when it’s a product that will continue to cost you over time. It doesn’t matter where it was made, or what country the company is based in, you should be buying the best you can get for the money.

    If you see what I see, if you hear what I hear, you’d be buying anything *but* American right now…

  • Lee says:

    We have owned a 99 Camry and an 05 Sienna since new and they have both been flawless. They were both built here in the US. Toyota has had a lot of problems recently but they, along with Honda, have been the leaders in quality for the last 20 years. They will get these problems sorted out and will be on top again soon. My wife and I came from Ford and Chevy families. We switched to Toyota back in 99 and will probably never look at another Ford or Chevy again. This is due to our experience with American cars being very similar to your experience. When you finally get to drive a trouble free car (other than normal maintenance) you will never want to go back.

  • Annie Jones says:

    We’re a union family (not UAW, but union nonetheless) and therefore both want to and are expected to drive American-made cars. What might surprise people is that there are several import brands of vehicles made here in the US by American workers. I don’t have the complete list, but some Toyotas are made here and I believe some Mazdas are, among others. Likewise, some Ford and GM vehicles are made in Canada, Mexico or overseas and brought back here to sell. You really can’t tell by the name (although the door plate will usually tell you where it was assembled).

    My opinion? Buy what you like and can afford!

  • You shouldn’t buy anything. Add up the costs of a new car purchase and compare those to what it costs to maintain the Envoy. Sure you’ve had bad luck but that can just as easily happen with a new car. As for the “cosmetic” reason, please admit that you just want something newer and perhaps want to impress people that you don’t even know. Car companies love folks who think like that.

  • I think you should really research what’s available in the type of car you want and buy American if there is one that rates well in a place like consumer reports. I would bet quite a lot of money that the year you bought your Envoy, it was not really well ranked. All of the American car companies have gotten better on reliability in the last few years, so I think it’s worth at least looking. But if there isn’t a reliable American make in the class of car you are shopping, then buy what is ranked best with a clear conscience. The American car companies can only expect our purchasing loyalty if they deliver a superior product. I should mention that we own two Toyotas: a 2002 Highlander and a 2003 Matrix (no problems with either). At the time we were looking for these cars we never would have looked at American. But we will in the future because they have been improving.

  • cm says:

    Buy a good used Honda Accord for like $4k, save tons of money on gas from not having two SUVs. No worries, lots o’ cash in the bank.

  • Ann says:

    I tend to buy my vehicles for utility (what I’m going to use them for) and durability. I drive my cars until they fall apart — literally! LOL My mechanic was overjoyed when I traded in my last car ’cause he was afraid that, at the rate the undercarriage was rusting out, I’d put a foot through the floorboards! ‘Course it was 10 years old and been driven on salted streets each winter of those 10 years. Mechanically, it was still in good shape. It was a VW Jetta that, I believe, was actually made here in the US.

    My current vehicle is what I call a mini-truck. With the intention of hauling stone and wood, as well as gardening stuff, I wanted a small truck, but all the US ones were high off the ground and I have rotten knees. Then I saw the Subaru Baja. It was love at first site, has stuff built into it that US manufacturers never thought of and with all wheel drive is low enough to the ground that I don’t have a problem getting in but can drive across a field if I need/want to. I haven’t the foggiest as to where it was made and have had it for five years with only normal maintenance. I figure that I’ll have it for another 10 ’cause I don’t have to commute on salt-crusted roads any more. 🙂

    It’s nice if you can buy American, but…

  • Louis Russo says:

    I haven’t owned an American car in over 35 years. In 1981, I bought a new Toyota Tercel, which we used for 10 years, then passed on to my daughter for 3 more years. I bought a new Camry in 1991, which we kept until 2005. Neither of these cars required anything more than routine maintenance. We replaced the Camry in 2005 with a new Nissan Altima, only because the Camry body was beginning to go, and it didn’t have airbags. I also bought a new 1997 Nissan Pathfinder, which I sold to my son who still uses it and has over 100,000 miles on it.

    I would do some research (I like Consumer Reports), and check for predicted reliability in the type of car you want. My Altima was assembled in the US, but that didn’t really figure into my decision. I have heard some good things about various Ford products, but I haven’t done any research on them.

  • Debbie M says:

    I agree with Nichole here. You could buy American, but this time make sure to buy a well-made model. Some American models are good.

    Example – I only buy small, gas-efficient, non-hybrid cars, which Americans have not been good at. However, I hear the Ford Focus may be worth looking into next time I’m in the market. And I’ve heard really good things about the tiny, extremely fuel-efficient Ford Escort that’s selling in Europe right now–if they ever start selling that here, that will be on my list of things to look for.

  • nmboone says:

    Definitely read Consumer Reports. I read several months back in a CR that if you want to buy a car for reliability and want to buy American stick with Ford. Worry about what is good for your family and try not to have other things factor in to the purchase.

  • mo rocca says:

    Have the Montero painted and cleaned up, then drive it another 100k. Next, shop for the best quality vehicle for your pricepoint, recognizing that the distinction between foreign/domestic is increasingly problematic. Your attention to quality will quickly whittle the choices for you.

  • RonW says:

    Tough call, Dave. I’ve owned only a couple of American vehicles, the rest have been either Honda, Acura or Mazda. And even the Fords I owned were often cross-platform vehicles with their Mazda group. Supporting US car-makers is a wonderful idea in concept until you realize the potential cost and hassles of owning a less reliable vehicle. And that’s not even considering ergonomics and fit-finish. I just find that Hondas and Mazdas seem to fit my personal space better.

    If I were to buy American, I’d certainly stick with Ford over Chevy or Chrysler. But in all honesty, it would take me a lot of thought and convincing to do so. I still remember the old Camry your parents had. That thing ran forever from what I remember…

  • Procom99 says:

    I would shop for value and quality. Many people are misinformed about “American”. My son’s Ford Crown Victoria was built in Canada. My Mitsubishi Galant has a sticker in the back window and on the door that reads “Built in Illinois with the pride of UAW Employees”. I leave the sticker in the window and point it out to people who make uninformed comments. My daughter’s BMW? Built in America.
    Automobiles are a global market, and the number of Americans that make a living and support their families selling or working on “foreign” cars are in the thousands, and far outweigh the employees and foreign-built-computerized robots that assemble a GM in the Detroit factory with parts manufactured in foreign countries. Finally, want to save? Never, never purchase new. Find a car of your choice, less than 2 years old and 30K miles.

    You can support American economy and get a superior quality vehicle, just do some research and don’t buy into the old philosophy that the only “American” are the big 3. That is no longer true.

  • FinanceFreak says:

    Buy a low-mileage used 2006 Hyundai (the year they started the 10 year warranty) – and then sell short Toyota stock as a patriotic gesture.

  • Eleanor says:

    My experience is that it depends upon the auto maker. Bad experience with Ford. My husband had a dodge dakota that simply would NOT die; we finally donated it to a charity. Bought a used Tahoe (3 yrs old) in 2001 from CarMax, and bought the extended warranty. Good thing we did; we needed it. Now it has 145,000 miles and seems to have worked its kinks out. Can’t remember the last time it needed any repairs.

  • I’m a Honda guy. I drive a 01 Civic and my wife drives a 98 CRV. We have done only the minimum maintenance, and both are going strong. In fact, I’m slightly convinced that my car is driving worse after they cracked open the engine to replace the timing belt at 145,000 miles, than it did when it was factory sealed. Seems like the more work is done, the worse the car gets. 🙂 (crappy mechanics)

    If I were buying a new car, I would test drive Hondas, Toyotas (can’t beat the 0% for 5 years offer right now), and surprisingly – FORDs…

    Ford has come a LONG way in recent years in quality. They’re also pushing the envelope in terms of technological integration, with a lot of ‘premium’ technological features standard on some models.

    From the ‘patriotic’ standpoint, I would consider a Ford based on the fact that while the other two US automakers were grubbing for money from Congress, they respectfully declined the loans even when they were offered. They had already done their costly restructuring earlier this decade, and while they aren’t entirely healthy yet, were already on the road to recovery and profitability before the economy collapsed.

    By the time our cars die, I’m actually hoping the EV market is thriving. I would absolutely love to drive a Tesla Model S. It’s like a freaking laptop on wheels… (that’s what Elon Musk has referred to it as) I just hope we have a few revolutions in battery technology that will make the EV story even more compelling.

  • Stephan says:

    i personally dont care where the car is made, and i dont think you should be bsaing your decisions on that either. get the best car you can buy for your budget. look at every brand, and just go with the one you want, not the one you should get to support american companies.

  • MonkeyMama says:

    The best car we have EVER bought was a Ford. It was a 2001 Ford Escort.

    We have been so pleased, we will buy a Ford next round.

    I had a 1982 Toyota, driven for 20 years, which was an excellent vehicle. That said, our 2001 Ford is of comparable quality. I think people are kind of caught up in the past. I will agree that a 1982 Ford would never have held up to my 1982 Toyota. BUT, a 2001 Ford (very low priced) will hold it’s own as long as most people would drive a vehicle. I do not see the point, at all, to pay a premium for a Japanese car. I personally would keep a car 15 years, about. I am not a “new every 5 years,” type.

    I had a conversation about this with my dad the other day. The Toyota I drove to the ground was the only Japanese car my parents ever bought. He told me that it was a great car, but he has found American cars to be a better value, since. They like to buy used Marquis for very little, and my mom has got some 15-year-old luxury Lincoln which has been a great vehicle.

    I did buy a Dodge and it really sucks. I would probably never buy Dodge again. But I got it due to friends who had great experiences with Dodge. I am sure some people have had great experiences. I think a bad experience can jade you, whether it makes sense or not.

    I would just research carefully quality and price, myself. Which means not locking yourself into one car brand. It varies every year. We’ve had a Honda, Toyota, Saturn, 2 Fords, a Mitubishi and a Dodge. (I sold 2 cars long before their time was up due to lifestyle change, but all that said, most of these vehicles were pretty old when we bought them. I have not concluded that American cars suck, at all. It really depends on the year and the vehicle, more than anything).

    This is why I prefer to buy more used vehicles. You can research the track record, the longer a vehicle has been around. My sucky Dodge is also the most new vehicle I have ever bought.

  • MonkeyMama says:

    P.S. Our Mitubishi might have been our second worst vehicle ever. That was one piece of junk. I wish I remembered the year of that vehicle. I don’t think it was more than a few years old when we bought it, and we had to junk it after a few years.

  • Chris says:

    I have a 1996 Toyota 4 runner and when i bought it new the brochure said that Toyota employed 168,000 people here in the US which made me feel better about the purchase.

    My dad who is a great depression baby is a hard core “buy American” guy and thinks that people that buy foreign are “second class citizens.” I have had a jeep, a couple BMW’s a ford mustang, a Honda, a Pontiac and all seemed to perform well.

    When I bought the American makes, I was trying to give them a chance and they didn’t let me down. I think of products globally and feel that person should buy what they like can afford.

    What would happen if other countries quit buying all of the products that we export. America would be in trouble! I do believe that American cars have come a long way in recent years and that the quality standards are similar to the foreign makes. They realize that they have to be competitive.

    I think that you buy what you want. If it’s American, all the better. You might want to by a used care however, if you are trying to save money.

  • jim says:

    Guy a brand with good reliability. Don’t look at just the company, but look closer at the country of manufacture. Its just as easy to get a Toyota or Hyundai made in the USA as to find a Ford or Dodge made in Mexico.

    Don’t assume that Japanese = Good & American = Bad. I mean just look at Toyota. My friend’s Honda has essentially been a lemon. Mitsubishi and Suzuki have had some very low reliability ratings.
    Ford has been getting very high reliabilty marks.

  • Greg S says:

    Never bought anything other than American and never driven one less than 150k miles

  • 4runner says:

    My father is a mechanic. GM, Ford, and Chrysler are what keep him in business. I came upon this article after it showed up in an unrelated Google search and decided to give ol Dad a yell. Here’s the damage: 14 Fords, 15 GMs (all makes including Chevy and Cadillac), 21 Chryslers (all makes, including Jeep and Dodge). This is NOT the total number of vehicles he’s seen this year. This is the total number he’s seen this year 2007 OR NEWER. Most of the Ford and Chrysler vehicles show up shortly after the warranties run out; while most of the GMs come in because they closed our local dealer and the economy is still strong enough here that people had rather pay to have their car fixed than to take it through 3 counties. And, yes, he does see VWs, BMWs, Toyotas, Hondas, etc… But never newer than 10 years.

    Between my fiance’ and myself, we have owned a combined 4 Toyotas in our lifetime. We both got a USED Toyota when we were 16 (97 4runner for me, 99 Camry for her) and now, at 24, just upgraded to 2 newer, but still used Toyotas (02 4runner for me, 04 Highlander for her). And we’ve never had a problem.

    Final thought for this very long-winded post? If you buy a Toyota, Honda, VW, BMW, or most any other foreign vehicle used with 250k miles on it, you will likely outlast a brand new American vehicle.


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