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Buying a Car: How to Tell If the Car You Want Was Built in the U.S.

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author photo by Doug DeMuro

On the Fourth of July, many Americans are thinking patriotic thoughts -- even when it comes to buying a car. But in this increasingly global economy, how can you tell if the American car that you're considering was actually built in America? We have some suggestions for figuring this out.

Check the Window Sticker

The window sticker (also known as the Monroney label) of each new car provides three important pieces of information for drivers interested in discovering where a car was built: the parts content label, the final assembly point and the country of origin for the car's major components.

The parts content label shows two items: the total percentage of parts from the United States and the major sources of foreign parts. For the first category, a typical car might say "50%," meaning that 50 percent of its parts come from the United States. For the second, a car may say "Japan: 20%," which reveals that Japan is a major source of around 20 percent of the car's remaining parts.

The final assembly point of the car is also shown on the window sticker. In normal speech, this is where the car is built. A car that lists its final assembly point as the United States is built in the U.S., even if a majority of parts come from other countries. Finally, the window sticker displays the country of origin for the car's major components, revealing the production location of the car's engine and transmission. This is a big deal to some drivers because these are the most important items powering a car.

No Window Sticker?

What if you don't have access to a car's window sticker? As you might imagine, there are still a few ways to tell where a car is built.

One method is using the vehicle identification number, or VIN. It's not commonly known, but you can easily tell a car's production location by simply looking at the first letter or number of a VIN. If the first character is 1, 4 or 5, then the car was built in the United States. Japan is the letter J, while South Korea is K, Germany is W, Canada is 2, Mexico is 3, Italy is Z and the United Kingdom is S. These letters and numbers reflect the car's final assembly point, even if a majority of the car's production is done in other countries.

Another way you can find out where a car is built is to check the VIN label that's located inside the driver's doorjamb. While this doesn't always tell you where the car is built, it often does. The first line may have a phrase such as "Manufactured by Ford in the USA" or "Built in Japan by Honda." Once again, these statements refer to the car's final point of assembly.

If all else fails, you can always search online to find out where your car was built, though it's important to make sure that you're considering the right year and version of your car. Automakers will often build certain cars in several factories around the world, though many U.S. models will come from only one or two plants.

Buy American?

In an increasingly global world, buying a car that was entirely built in the United States is getting harder to do, but our information should help you figure out whether the car you're considering has U.S. roots.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Buying a Car: How to Tell If the Car You Want Was Built in the U.S.