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American-made: “How you define an American car is one of the great conundrums of this world.” – Dutch Mandel, AutoWeek

The carpenter was leaving our garage and on his way out peered at the bumper sticker on my pickup.

He asked me where he could get one.

I said I had two or three extras, thanks to my wife’s uncle Verdie, longtime secretary of the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Watertown.

The sticker, emblazoned with an eagle and American flag, says: “Buy American, Boost our Economy.”

I’ve always liked the concept, but just like buying locally, it’s getting harder to do.

In recent weeks, for example, I’ve been car shopping. Our family sedan is 15 years old and registers 223,217 miles. It’s been reliable, safe and efficient. But, like its owner, now is showing its age.

Though I’ve focused on domestic autos, the term is misleading. It formerly meant built in the USA. Now, it could refer to a vehicle that likely came from two or three different countries. The engine may have come from Japan, the transmission from Mexico, and the assembly took place in Tennessee or Michigan.

The identifying emblem still says Ford, Chevy or Chrysler, but it is not, strictly speaking, American made.

One reason this matters is because when I tease a friend or family member for buying an import, the response is swift and brutally frank. My “domestic” car isn’t any more American than theirs, they contend.  Maybe.

According to Car and Driver magazine, a car must contain 75 percent of its parts from the U.S. or Canada to be considered “domestic.” Less than that, it is not.

You can examine the percentages that now appear on one of the stickers and it will give you a breakdown. Then you can proceed with the debate.

The other obstacle I’m confronting in my car shopping exercise is that sedans are becoming rare. In case you haven’t noticed, nearly everyone is buying a crossover, an SUV, or pickup.

I liked it when all car brands had their own designs. You could easily tell a Ford from a Chevy or Dodge. It’s much harder today. The boxes pretty much look the same to me, with apologies to all.

When I stopped at the GM dealer, the salesman told me that the Chevy Impala would be discontinued soon, so I better hurry and buy this model year. It was a similar story over at Ford and the Taurus. The Chrysler 300’s last season is 2020.

Perhaps I should find a “classic” car and go with it.


Sept. 18, 2019