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Summer vacation idea - auto factory tours

For those looking for something to do as part of their summer vacation this year, a family-friendly idea might be to visit an auto manufacturer and tour their factory. Here's a list of carmakers whose facilities are open to the public, around the country.

If you're vacationing this summer and want to take the family on a side trip for something unusual, why not find out where your car came from?

The great American road trip is a staple of our culture. We love piling the whole fam damily into the car and hitting the road, stopping at points of interest (and public restrooms of questionable repute) as we motor down the highway towards a final destination of sometimes dubious merit. If your vacations seem to end up more like the Griswolds than the Cleavers, maybe it's time to shake it up a bit. No matter where you're going, chances are there's an automotive factory that's open to your visiting and taking a tour.

Of course, not all of them are. Some manufacturers treat a few of their models with the kind of secrecy normally reserved for Top Secret military installations, usually in order to prevent corporate espionage or to keep a new car model under wraps. There are, however, several car assembly lines open to the public for tours by those interested. Here's a few of them from around the nation.

Ford - Dearborn Truck Plant, Michigan
If you're living in the automotive heartland, then you may be interested in touring one of Ford's largest domestic factories, which makes the best-selling F-150 line of pickup trucks. Called the Rouge Factory Tour this experience includes a look at the manufacturing process, documentary films explaining the history of the facility and the production process itself, and some time at the Henry Ford Museum to which buses from the factory tour take those interested. This is likely the most well-organized tour on our list and will take at least a full day to appreciate. You can get more information here.

General Motors - Bowling Green, Kentucky
The Bowling Green factory is responsible for the Chevrolet Corvette and that car only. The tour is a walk through (literally) of the assembly line showing how robots and humans combine to put together Chevy's storied sports car. Corvette buyers can opt to go through a more detailed tour, including seeing their own car being made. Go here for more information.

Toyota - Georgetown, Kentucky
This factory opened in 1986 and one of the things showcased during the tour is the first car made at the factory, a Toyota Camry, marking the company's first American-made auto. The plant is one of Toyota's largest, putting out over 300,000 vehicles a year with representatives of every popular model in the Toyota line of cars: Camry, Avalon, Venza, etc. The plant is so vast that visitors are taken through it on an electric tram. You can find out more by clicking here.

Subaru - Lafayette, Indiana
This huge facility is home to the North American production of the Tribeca, Outback and Legacy. It puts together over 250,000 units a year. Free guided tours are available and are conducted above the assembly line along about a mile of catwalks, making for a great view of how a car is put together. As a quick diversion on a road trip, this 2 hour tour is a great vacation stopoff. Find out more about it at this link.

BMW - Spartanburg, South Carolina
The BMW "X" line is made at this plant, including the X3, X5 and X6. Tours open on August 6 and are conducted as a walk through of the facility and assembly line. At the end, the matchless BMW Zentrum Museum finishes the tour with some of the greatest vehicles the company has ever produced being on display. Find out more here.

Nissan - Smyrna and Decherd, Tennessee
You can tour either or both of the Tennessee-based plants from Nissan. The Smyrna plant makes most of Nissan's truck-based vehicles such as the Frontier, Xterra, and Pathfinder as well as the Altima and Maxima. Tours begin in August.

The Decherd Powertrain Plant builds engines in 4, 6, and 8 cylinder sizes for Nissan's North American operations including Infiniti. It also exports to Spain and Thailand. Tours are limited, so calling ahead is recommended: (931) 962-5624.

Information on all Nissan factory locations can be found at this link.

Hyundai - Montgomery, Alabama
This plant builds the Elantra and Sonata, two of the company's best-selling cars in the U.S. The tour uses trams to move visitors around the factory's campus. You must reserve ahead of time and tours are only on specific days of the week unless otherwise arranged. Get more information here.

Mercedes-Benz - Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Mercedes builds most of its Ameircan-sold SUVs at this plant, including the GL- and R-class models. The factory is huge, at about 3 million square feet, and so is a long walking tour. The visitor's center has a small museum of Mercedes models of the past. Find out more information on tours here.