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« Investment Strategies Part 2: Use Correlation to Define Asset Classes | Main | I Got My New Schwab Visa »

June 09, 2009


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The problem with CR is that they survey CR subscribers for their ratings. Therefore, if you bought a car based on CR recommendations (which in the past few years would have been a foreign car) you are then asked to rate that vehicle. If most CR subscribers bought foreign cars and rated them favorably, it doesn't give the domestic cars a chance to move up the rankings.

It is not a statistically accurate way to measure quality, the sample is not taken randomly from all vehicle owners, only CR subscribers.

For example, in most major quality studies and surveys Ford has pulled even with or ahead of Toyota and Honda, yet in CR they are just starting to break into the rankings.

I'll buy an American truck in a heartbeat over a foreign truck with the exception of Dodge for obvious reasons. That being said, I currently own a Toyota Tacoma since the Big Three didn't make a compact truck with four doors that appealed to me. Fullsize trucks OTOH, I would buy an F150 or Silverado before I bought a Titan or Tundra. The latter just are too expensive and I feel I'm paying more for the brand name than for the truck itself.
For cars, I'd consider a Ford for a sedan, but not their compact cars. GM's Cobalt appeals to me but that's about it. I'd rather have an Accord over any of them.

Having grown up in SE Michigan, my wife comes from a "GM family." A few years ago, she bought a new Malibu Maxx. It's a poorly-made car (falling apart after 60,000 miles), as is her mother's Malibu, and the service from dealerships was mediocre at best, even before she bought it. She now swears she will never buy another GM car. This is a perfect illustration of why GM and Chrysler are bankrupt: someone who probably would have been a GM customer for life will instead buy from other manufacturers, and also tells other people not to buy GM cars.

When you contrast that with my experience (learned to drive on my parents' 1989 Honda Civic that's still on the road, my first car was a 1990 Civic that made it to 250,000 miles before having problems, my current vehicle is a CR-V with 115,000 miles and no problems, and I've always gotten great service from the 4 different Honda dealerships I've used), it becomes all the more striking.

It might be hard to find outside NZ and Australia, but try and find a copy of The Dog and Lemon Guide.

> The guide lists common faults and safety ratings for several thousand different vehicles. The terms dog & lemon are generic terms for bad cars in many countries. Unusually for a motoring publication, The Dog & Lemon Guide tends to avoid the petrolhead point of view and focuses instead on the motoring experiences of "ordinary" people. The Dog & Lemon Guide is also unusual in that it uses wit and sarcasm as a primary vehicle for communication. The guide refuses to accept car company advertising and is widely seen as a threat by both the motor industry and much of the mainstream motoring press.

Having said that, you probably won't find many American cars in its pages.

My family is almost universally a Mazda family. We love them. I'm driving a 3 right now that drives just as well today (with 70,000 miles) as it did the first day I had it with only one (slightly) expensive trip to the mechanics to repair the breaks. I give no preference to buying an American-made car. I don't feel like I shought subsidize poor products just because they come from the country I was born in. When they produce a car that has the quality of a Mazda, Toyota, or Honda, I'll look into it. The next time I shop for cars, I'm going to try out a Ford Fusion because I've heard a lot of good things from people about that one but unless it knocks me out, I'll probably just upgrade to a Mazda 6.

FMF, who are you, Benjamin Button? Only very, very old people buy Buicks. If you see a young person driving one it's because it was inherited from dear departed grandpa.

Steve: I appreciated the dogandlemonguide. They are absolutely right that the only people who can be more distrusted than the manufacturers when it comes to evaluating cars is the auto press that reports on them.

However, there are a few cool new US made cars. I like the Ford Flex and Fusion. And I've always loved full sized Chevy trucks.

The argument of American or foreign 'made' is becoming irrelevant. Many 'foreign' cars are now being made in American factories, and ALL cars have parts that were produced outside of America. This is a global economy and the lines between domestic and import are very blurry. Buy the best car and/or the car you want, not just some label of 'Made in America'.

I don't see any particular reason to buy an inferior made product just because it was made in America. I reward good manufacturing and superior product-makers with my business, and doing so encourages continued superior products.

Our commuter cars for over twenty years have been Toyotas and their rebranded clones. All were assembled in the US. They have been bullet-proof; always reliable (two were completely trouble free) for several hundred thousand miles.

The work vehicles have been Chevrolet trucks; they also last for hundreds of thousands of miles but under much harsher conditions than the Toyotas. Mostly we use the truck for hauling, towing and other stuff that would destroy a car in short order. But that's what these vehicles are designed to do and they do it well. Obviously, it doesn't get driven for daily commuting but it gets regular use.

My gripe with the Chevy products is they are prone to nickel and diming us to death with little things breaking or malfunctioning prematurely. Stuff like switches, engine sensors and generally shoddy interior components; stuff that never cause problems on the Toyotas. And what really irks me, the same things that broke on the old Chevy is now breaking on the "new" one. You'd think GM would have redesigned or found a better supplier for those parts after twenty years!

I owned a Skylark. That was the worst car I've ever owned. I think the shop made more money that the dealer..... never again!

I've owned 2 Audi's, 1 Dodge and a Toyota. The Audi's were great but expensive to fix once they did get high mileage. The Dodge wasn't very good IMO. Not horrible but definitely not good. And the Toyota is my current car with too few miles to tell but so far so good. I chose Toyota because of Consumer Reports and gas mileage. Most of our family (both mine and my wife's) buy exclusively Honda or Toyota and have been happy with them.

Celica FTW

Why should we have a preference when buying a foreign car, when we have no preference (or choice) when buying a foreign-made TV or cellphone? That being said, I've owned mostly American-branded cars (I don't know how much of each car was actually MADE in the USA). They were:

1973 Chevy Nova - 80K miles, no major problems
1982 Chevy Camaro - 125K miles, rear engine seal leaked at 50K miles, otherwise a dependable workhorse 1989 Hyundai Excel - a glorified skateboard, lots of mechanical problems
1998 Dodge Intrepid - no problems, very reliable
2003 Jeep Cherokee - another bad AC unit, never worked properly, lemon
2004 Mercedes E320 - nice car, a little overrated
2007 Mercury Mountaineer - my current ride, no issues so far

Just because it's foreign-made doesn't mean it's more reliable, or vice versa.

Buying badly-built American cars is actually BAD for American car makers.

It's much better to let them "fail" and be reorganized under better/more efficient management and better/more efficient labor contracts. If you buy a good car and don't worry about the label, eventually the American car makers will be forced to catch up -- perhaps through a bankruptcy, perhaps under a new name as their assets are bought up by some other company, or perhaps just by doing a better job. But if you go buying an inferior car just because it's "made in America", you let our broken auto industry keep doing things the way they have been for just a little bit longer.

(I presently own 2 cars branded Chevrolet but manufactured in South Korea.)

I agree many of the posts in that 'foreign-made' is now irrelevant as well as what country a car is made in.

That being said, I think the differences in the end products and the cause for the large discrepancies between brands overall are a direct result of design philosophy, manufacturing methods and most of all, quality control; all of which are (generally speaking) separated into West/East although that is changing rapidly as well.

You can teach a Detroit factory's workers to build a car one way and get Malibus. Or you can teach them another way and you get Camrys.

In the end, those three aspects need to be aligned: design, manufacture and quality control. There are well designed cars being built poorly; there are poorly designed cars being built well; you shouldn't accept any car that hasn't been put through its rigors.

In the end, a bad car company's reputation is something one carries with them for a long time. People speak with their wallets.

FMF what model year were the Buicks? 1980's?

Jim --

Yes, '80's models.

We live on the Iron Range in Minnesota, where most folks make their living mining iron ore... and it wasn't that long ago that driving a foreign car around here was taboo. As the market has changed, and places like Toyota now have factories in the US, it's less of a big deal. But it definitely weighs on our minds whenever we purchase a new vehicle.

We typically buy American cars for a few reasons:
1) They cost less to begin with.
2) The closest foreign dealer is 50 + miles from us which makes maintenance a headache.

We just bought a Ford yesterday. We were happy to buy an American vehicle from a company that didn't take any bailout money.

I also kind of think of domestic vs. foreign cars the same way people talk about Mac vs. PC. I think there are valid pros and cons to each of them, and you ultimately have to do what is best for your situation.

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