Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Drive As I Say

During my car-buying life I’ve engaged in a form of affirmative action: if an American car roughly fulfills my specs and price I’ll favor it over a foreign make. Twice I’ve bought American.

In 1981 we acquired a new Buick LeSabre. It had a comfortable ride, which was about the only good thing that could be said about it. In the interest of fuel economy (plus ça change—been using that phrase a lot lately) we chose the six-cylinder version. Big mistake. The large sedan was underpowered and frequently broke down, especially when climbing hills.

Our family grew larger, so we turned in the Buick for a Grand Caravan. We were initially pleased with the Dodge. The engine had adequate acceleration, and the interior’s spaciousness made long car trips bearable. However, problems with the accessories crept in over the years. After the warranty expired the following items broke: glove compartment, fuel gauge, factory-installed alarm, CD tray, and windshield wiper controls.

The fuel gauge was particularly irritating. It always read “empty,” regardless of the level of gas in the tank. One mechanic took apart the fuel tank and replaced the float mechanism. Another put in a new electronic control under the dashboard. Over $1,000 later, I refuse to spend any more money on the problem, so every 200-250 miles we fill up the tank to play it safe.

Over the years we’ve also owned two Toyotas and two Volkswagens. No car has been trouble-free, but the GM and Chrysler products have been the most unreliable.

The President, otherwise known as the guy who controls the government that controls the auto industry, thinks that selling hybrids is the path to survival for American car manufacturers. High mileage is nice, but what this taxpaying driver wants above all is safe, hassle-free transportation, plus the reassurance that the company who makes my car will be around to fix any problems that come up.

I’ve been fooled twice already. When the people who work in the Administration start buying American cars for their own use (government fleet purchases don’t count), then I’ll take another look at Detroit.

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