Are ‘American-Made’ Cars Still a Big Deal?

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As it turns out, no- not to everyone. The once-pronounced gap between “foreign” and “domestic” vehicles has narrowed. Many car brand companies are global companies, moving money, parts and increasingly, plants, beyond their own borders. Purchasing a Toyota no longer guarantees a car manufactured in Japan. Do not be misled, however; this does not mean there is still not a very vocal contingent of North Americans that will lobby until they (or you) are blue in the face with the many reasons why you should buy a car from one of the Big Three. Nevertheless, what it does mean is that some of the lines that once demarcated foreign from domestic vehicles are blurred.

American Made Cars

There will always be loyalists- to a make, to a model, to a nation. But in this ever-increasing global economy and milieu, the world’s citizens are becoming less focused on the origin of a car whether it be an American made car or other and more concerned with its functionality, cost, reliability and resale. The gap in quality and reliability has somewhat narrowed over the last several years.

Though some may not like to hear it, foreign cars continue to dominate when it comes to dependability. According to the 2015 J.D. Power U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study, of the 19 brands above industry average, 8 of them are foreign cars. Of the top ten brands, four are a foreign make. Even more telling, perhaps, is that only one in the bottom ten is a foreign car.

Similarly, Consumer Reports’ 2015 Reliability Study places only Buick in its top ten, with the rest of the Big Three in the bottom half of the rankings. This is not good news for some. European brands finished ahead of most domestic cars, but behind those from Asia. Even Tesla dropped from average to below average over the last three model years. Over 1 400 owners of the Model S were polled for that one. Despite very high results on the road test, Consumer Reports cannot recommend the Tesla as it just didn’t perform when it came to dependability.

As for mileage, it’s still not much of a competition. The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) index is the result of manufacturers giving their mileage numbers to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration who passes it onto the EPA for verification. Look it up and you’ll see the walloping that domestic cars are getting when held up against the mileage of foreign vehicles.

But it’s an argument that loves to be had. Does a vehicle qualify as “American-made” when it has at least 50% of its parts made in America? What percent of a car qualifies it as foreign? Does it matter where it is assembled? In whose factory? And by whom? Does it depend on where that company’s headquarters are? The companies that manufacture vehicles are global companies. From headquarter offices, to assembly plants, to distribution networks, to franchise owners, these companies end up creating cash flow at a variety of levels and in a variety of locations. They (hopefully) pay taxes in more than one country. They buy supplies locally and source parts from as nearby as they can (which, lucky for us, results in lower sticker prices!) You need to decide how much you care about these issues. If the argument of domestic vs. foreign matters to you, then what kind of a car you invest in matters for you. But if it doesn’t, those are moot points.

Ultimately, you will have to make a choice for your next car. After that, you will have to live with it. The only advice I dare throw your way is to remind you to do your homework. Ask around- even digital word-of-mouth (aka, online reviews) will be a great help for you in choosing a good fit. Don’t be afraid to test drive vehicles, or even rent them for a week from a local car rental company. You want to trust the car you buy, regardless of where it was made. Good luck! (By the way, if you’re curious, look at your car’s vehicle identification number on the manufacturer’s label. If it begins with a 1, 4 or 5, it was assembled in North America).

December 2015 Scholarship Winner Announcement

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Car-Buying-Strategies.com is pleased to announce the December 2015 winner of our $2,000 Bi-Annual Automotive Scholarship of America contest.

scholarship

After receiving a multitude of scholarship entries we carefully took time to review each and every submission and after careful deliberation we are please to award $2,000 to Mason Daniel to further his university graduate goals. Mason is majoring in electrical engineering at West Virginia University.

If you know somebody who is studying at a college or university in the USA or Canada and that would benefit by receiving a scholarship award from Car-Buying-Strategies.com please see the details of our scholarship contest here and let them know about that exciting opportunity.

Do I Have to Sit on a Cushion to Drive It?

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My friend, Kristy, who stands at all of 5’ tall on a good day, in the morning, asked me to explore this topic. Being of average stature myself, this is one aspect of driving a car that I’ve never had to consider. I’ve yet to meet a car that had no possible combination of seat + steering wheel adjustment to enable me to reach the gas and brake pedals. I can always reach. Every time. But not so for everyone.

Tall and short drivers

It is with Kristy’s words in mind that I set out to explore this topic. Bearing in mind, all kinds of modifications and augmentations can be accomplished on a vehicle of your choice. From pedal extensions, hand controls, raised floor and special seat adaptations, a certified mechanic can help you fit your car to, well, you. But which vehicles are the best place to start in seeking something for a diminutive driver?

I wouldn’t want to be a designer for vehicle interiors. What, with the pressure for sleek to meet spacious to meet function to meet comfort to meet cost effectiveness…. I hope those designers are paid enough for their troubles. Add to that, an increasing amount of technology added to the dashboard, but in a way that must be functional- for those among us with short arms. Straining to reach anything is not fun and, especially when driving, can be very dangerous.

Visibility. Reach. Safety. These are the three keys to making sure a vehicle is the right fit, literally, for you. Visibility over the steering wheel and dash is obvious. Your eye level should be above the top of the wheel, not looking strategically through it. But also make sure that the beltline (this is basically the line along the side of the car where the metal of the door meets the glass of the car’s window) is not too high. In the last few years, as safety requirements have mandated thicker window pillars and more structural metal into the cabin of cars, it has meant that windows have gotten a bit smaller in most cars.

Reaching the gas and brake pedals are your next concern. Fortunately, there are a growing number of adjustments that can be made to positioning and comfort of the driver’s seats in cars today. It is critical to have proper positioning in order to react quickly in case of an emergency, where split seconds count. Positioning a good seat correctly will be of more value to you than having an amazing seat that isn’t set properly. Set it high enough, and reclined so that your back and shoulders bear some of your weight into the back of the seat. You should be sitting on the back of your thighs, not your tailbone- unless you want back pain. As for reaching the pedals, you should be able to pivot easily between the gas and brake, leaving your heel on the floor and not have to lift your whole leg to move between the two. Some newer models are even designed with moveable pedals, which sounds like something that my friend Kristy would be over the moon about.

When a driver is an ideal distance from the steering wheel, they are much safer. Experts say that anything closer than 10” puts a driver into an awkward and unsafe steering position, not to mention the damage that an airbag deployed at a speed of 300 km/hour towards would cause to your chin and face. Don’t think that you’ll outsmart that problem by disabling your airbag, because all that will do is compromise your safety even more. Ideally, a driver should be 10-12” from the wheel. Even better, look for telescoping steering wheel; they are becoming more popular in more than just the Audi A4s.

After a quick survey of a few “Top Ten Cars for Short People” lists online, there emerges a few makes of car that keep showing up as the best for short people- according to criteria around comfort and safety. You may want to test drive some of these gems:

  • Honda Accord
  • Toyota Sienna
  • Lexus ES & LS
  • Subaru Forester
  • Kia Soul
  • BMW 3 and 5 series

The Kia Soul deserves special mention. Its boxiness affords it a roomy interior, which suits taller folks and the need for space. It also has lots of glass to its windows, which means that it has higher visibility than the average vehicle.

Of course, your body needs to choose your car. A test drive or two is critical if you find yourself facing the same challenges that Kristy does. Add to the abovementioned items the following: Can I reach the back lift gate to close it? Does it have a back-up camera to help me see what’s behind me? Can I reach the touch screen? Is it easy to get up into the vehicle (especially a truck)?

I don’t pretend to understand the issues that my short friends deal with when it comes to driving. But at least, I am a little more aware now. Thanks, Kristy, for speaking up. Best of luck on that next car purchase.

Can I Have the Keys? – Things That Parents Should Consider When Buying a Car for Their Teen Driver

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It’s something to take seriously; the leading cause of death among teens in North America is by accidental injury. Handing the keys over to my 16-year old daughter has become increasingly easier as she gains experience. Each time I drive with her, I notice improved skills- smoother turns, lane changes that aren’t jerky anymore, lots of advance warning to other drivers about what her intentions are, and an overall increasing sense of calm behind the wheel. She is proving herself to be a great driver- better than both her parents, as far as safely following the rules of the road go, to be sure. As a family, we need to purchase a new, (used) car. I’ve been exploring issues around teenage drivers and here is what I’ve found. I thought you should know.

Teenage Drivers

First of all, safety has to be the number one criteria in the car that we purchase for our teenage drivers over the next few years. I refuse to get something with more than 5 seat belts, as I want to limit the number of friends she is able to transport. As much as I am a cheapskate who loves to bargain shop for my next pair of jeans, I plan to look into purchasing, no- investing in a newer model that has up-to-date safety features, especially Electronic Stability Control (ESC).

Known by a few different names, according to the make of vehicle you’re talking about, ESC is the single-most effective safety improvement in vehicles over the last several years. It originated in Germany, and is now widely standard in many newer makes and models. Essentially, it is a set of sensors and controls that prevents things like side-skidding and fishtailing— which, for an inexperienced driver, usually result in over-steering or, even worse, rollovers. These controls are set to engage the brakes on specific wheels, based on the tilt, speed, etc. of the vehicle through a turn, say. And I was impressed with ABS when it came on to the scene! ESC covers for my teenager’s impulsive reaction to an emergency; the split seconds where it engages before she does could mean the difference between her life and her death. That’s worth a few hundred dollars as an added option onto the MSRP.

Additional features of an ideal vehicle for teenage drivers include things such as:

  • maneuverability- it has to be easy enough to be maneuvered through parking lots and back alleys, but not too small that it compromises crash protection, as many sub-compacts and compacts are infamous for
  • make sure it’s a large enough car with sufficient bulk, which affords crash protection- such as with a midsize sedan
  • low center of gravity to prevent rollovers- being low to the ground will build in protection for the chance that your teen takes a corner a little too fast
  • acceleration with not too much “muscle”- your teen has to be able to easily merge onto a highway, but shouldn’t be given more horsepower than is necessary as it’s just too tempting to speed or drive recklessly
  • side curtain airbags- these gems can not only cushion and protect, but also act to keep occupants safely inside of a crashed car, as opposed to being thrown out of it
  • communications features such as Bluetooth connectivity and iPod interfaces to reduce distraction as it relates to entertainment and communication

Here Are Two Authoritative Resources For Parents of Teenage Drivers

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has excellent resources on teens, driving and safe vehicles for you to explore. Their 2016 Top Safety Picks is a great listing of recommendations for your next vehicle purchase for your teen. The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration is another good place to start your research. Look into crash test results for yourself; valuable information for consumers is available.

I have already begun to involve my daughter in researching this very important topic with me, for us. I imagine that her list of must-haves will look significantly different from what I’ll be looking for in our new vehicle. But, I can rest assured knowing that she’ll have a pretty good shot at being able to safely enjoy her wish list if I make sure that I get mine.