Americans should buy whatever brand of car they want. But buying from the Big Three is better for the country.

Foreign auto makers have done a great job building cars in the U.S. At first, the “transplants” were little more than screwdriver operations, assembling kits they imported from Japan. But over time, they have added more and more value to what they make in America.

Today, they have styling studios, engineering centers and proving grounds in the U.S. Collectively, they employ tens of thousands of Americans and pay a boatload of taxes. A number of the vehicles they make here now have as much, or more, domestic content than their Big Three counterparts.

Even though the anti-import crowd points to all the profits that foreign auto makers repatriate to their home countries, I just shrug my shoulders.

What’s the profit margin on the cars they make here? Ten percent? That means 90 cents of every dollar they get from cars they make here, stays here. As an American citizen, I’ll take that kind of return every day.

And yet, despite all the benefits foreign auto makers bring to America, they don’t do enough – compared with the Big Three that is. They still import an awful lot of cars, nearly 3 million – the equivalent of importing the entire U.K. market every year.

And for all the value the foreigners have added here, they still don’t do their core engineering in the U.S. They don’t create platforms here. They don’t design the powertrains, drivetrains, chassis or suspensions.

They don’t develop the electronic architectures. They don’t conduct the crash testing. All of this is done in their home countries.

Meanwhile, it’s General Motors, Ford and Chrysler that are doing the most recruiting at American colleges to fill every kind of job imaginable. They’re the ones buying the American-made super computers and hiring the people to program them.

They’re the ones doing the computational fluid dynamics here before they go into their wind tunnels. This is where they do their manufacturing engineering.

These are the companies with the greatest diversity of employees, supporting the greatest number of communities and adding the most value to the American way of life.

Sure, the Big Three are doing some off-shoring; they’re laying off workers; and they’re importing cars. But the size of their contribution to the American economy still dwarfs everything the foreign auto makers are doing.

You may say, “So what? The import brands offer the kinds of cars I want to buy.”

Well, more power to you. Go buy whatever you want. That’s the American way. But if you want to get the best ripple effect for the dollars you’re spending, buy American.

John McElroy is editorial director of Blue Sky Productions and producer of “Autoline Detroit” for WTVS-Channel 56, Detroit and Speed Channel.