Ancestry.com, in conjunction with Indiana-based Blackstone Laboratories, recently unveiled a groundbreaking series of genealogy tests for vehicles to give their owners a more detailed look at their cars’ lineage. For many customers, such tests can provide them valuable, interesting insights into aspects of their car’s family history of which they may have been unaware. For a minority of owners, however, the tests can uncover painful family secrets and leave difficult questions unanswered.
The tests use a patented process of radial spectrometry to analyze the car’s oil and fuel, combining the output with Ancestry’s enormous vehicle database and other proprietary data sources to create a full picture of a car’s history and status. The results can provide useful information to owners about potential future problem areas, but also serve as conversation starters for many.
However, such tests can have a dark side.
Maryland brothers Cam and Nick Brown, both in their mid-20s, own very similar Volkswagen GTIs – one from 2014 and one from 2016. Despite the closeness in age, DNA testing of the brothers’ cars revealed wildly different histories. “My 2016 model says it’s over 70% Mexican,” says Nick, admitting “I’m not even sure if I could have voted for Donald Trump if I had known about this before.”
The boys allegedly sat quietly at the dinner table this Easter, refusing to bring up the news of their blended German and Mexican car heritage in front of their family. But even beyond the Ancestry tests, the boys’ own private research cast even more shadows over the family tree.
Cam writes via email that “Our dad had a Jetta when we were kids. He was always talking about ‘German engineering’ and ‘European handling,’ but we later learned his car was built in Pennsylvania, completely by Americans. We believe this country is a melting pot, but that car rusted so fast, we couldn’t even sell it for that.”
Even more ominous are the acts of alleged misdeeds that have come about from Ancestry’s testing.
Rick Jones of Bellevue, Washington, recently sent an oil and fuel sample from his 2019 Dodge Challenger, a popular American muscle car. What he got back left him speechless.
“It said I was related to the Charger, which I already knew,” claims Mr. Jones. “Then it went on to list the Chrysler 300, the Dodge Magnum, the Dodge Durango, and everything pointed back to the 1990s Mercedes E-Class.”
After hiring a private investigator with his local car club, a troubling pattern began to emerge: During the time of Daimler’s ownership of Chrysler, the parent company secretly mixed its DNA with virtually every vehicle sold, often without consent of the product line’s manager.
Based on the company’s own internal investigation while under the current FCA ownership team, all signs pointed to one man, known only as “Dr. Z.” Company records could not positively identify the man behind this pseudonym, but his legacy is bittersweet to many current owners.
“I always loved the way my car handled, especially for its size,” Rick Jones states. “I only wish I had known that it had genes from a 20-year-old Mercedes in it. That doesn’t change the outcome, but it does taint the legacy a little bit.”
Mr. Jones and over 75 additional plaintiffs are currently pursuing both criminal and civil class action lawsuits, despite the fact that Germany’s statute of limitations for automotive platform sharing crimes currently stands at just 15 years.
“We’ll either try Dr. Z in absentia in the US, or we’ll continue lobbying Germany to stop protecting its most heinous executives,” concludes one anonymous attorney tied to the case. “These owners have a right to know where their cars really came from.”