CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Older Japanese vs Newer American

I have two children ages 18 and 21 who will be in need of a car in the near future. We have been looking at used Toyota Corollas & Honda Civics (2000 to 2004 years). But I’m seeing that the prices on fairly new 2008 small American models have dropped so much, they are running around the same prices as the used Japanese we looked at. What do you folks think about the quality of American cars today vs older Japanese?

First, you have to consider that all too many people don’t seem to be able to find their glove compartment in order to utilize the maintenance schedule that sits therein. As a result, an appalling percentage of the public does not maintain their vehicles properly. Most used cars come with no records of their maintenance, thus making them a mystery in terms of whether they have been properly maintained. A poorly maintained car–YES, even a Honda or a Toyota–is essentially a ticking time bomb waiting to break down at the expense of the unsuspecting new owner.

American cars of today are far better than they used to be, and in fact, many Ford models are equivalent to the best of the Japanese makes when it comes to reliability. Plus, a new car comes with a warranty that will run for several years, and a new car is far safer than cars of even just a few years ago.

So–I really think that this is a “no-brainer”. If you can get an American car (especially if it is a Ford product) for roughly the same price as a used Japanese car, then I would suggest that you buy the American car.

However, there is a variation in the quality of some of the American makes. I strongly suggest that you buy a copy of the Consumer Reports New Car Buyers’ Guide in order to have a full perspective on both performance and reliability ratings. Just as one example, the Chrysler Sebring looks nice and is reasonably priced, but performs poorly and is the least reliable new car sold in the US. I think that you will find some interesting reading in that CR publication.

While I believe that on average American cars may be a little lower in quality, I really don't think the difference is all that great in real life.  

I would much rather have a car that has had good maintenance than a car that I don’t know what kind of maintenance if any it has had.

I also think there are certainly good American cars out there, get the CR book. While I encourage American, you should also consider Hyundai.

Fords seem to have the edge among American cars. Consider that newer cars “may” be safer if they include standard side air bags for example, and ABS. I would check the well regarded and inexpensive Ford Focus out for these and similar features which would be important to send your kids out in.

Too many people just look at price instead of life saving features an inexperienced driver could benefit from.

Get a copy of the annual “Car Issue” of Consumer Reports Magazine. It contains a wealth of information for people in situations such as yours. Not just car reviews, but reliability ratings, a list of “Best bets” in used cars, a list of “Used Cars to Avoid,” and other helpful information to help you.

As VDCdriver said, proper maintenance is essential to vehicle longevity. Some people, through abuse and/or neglect, can ruin a Honda or Toyota in just a few years. Others can keep a Cavalier going for 200,000 miles (although I can’t imagine why they’d want to).

I’d say it’s probably safe to consider a new Ford as opposed to a used Honda or Toyota, since their reliability has improved in the last few years.

There are not many vehicles in the GM stable that interest me. The Pontiac Vibe is OK, because it’s a Toyota Matrix sold by Pontiac dealers, and the Saturn Astra (An Opel from Germany) is worth a look.

I wouldn’t go near a Chrysler or Dodge dealer if you paid me. First of all, they have nothing that appeals to me, and secondly (but more importantly), the reliability of their vehicles is rock bottom. Let the hate mail begin.

There are other options available to you. The Koreans (Hyundai and Kia) are making some very nice cars these days, and they come with marvelous warranties. Friends of mine, who’ve owned and driven Corollas for almost 20 years, recently purchased a new Hyundai Elantra, and they love it.

Another option might be something like a Toyota Yaris. My daughter used to drive a Corolla. She recently bought a new Yaris, and it’s more spacious on the inside than her old Corolla. I think the trunk is bigger, as well, and it’s getting more than 35 mpg in real-world conditions.

Do some research, talk to people who own the cars you and your children are interested, and learn as much as you can before you make a decision. The Big Three are desperate for sales right now, and they will probably be discounting prices heavily, which is great, but sometimes you get what you pay for.

Others can keep a Cavalier going for 200,000 miles (although I can’t imagine why they’d want to).

as it’s usually said on here; it’s cheaper to keep a good car running than junking it for a newer car of questionable history.

I wouldn’t go near a Chrysler or Dodge dealer if you paid me. First of all, they have nothing that appeals to me, and secondly (but more importantly), the reliability of their vehicles is rock bottom.

They have vehicles that interest me, but they are out of my price range(SRT-8 lineup)

Also, one has to ask; who is paying for their vehicle(s)?