The myth of maintenance free Japanese cars (...that go to 200k with just gas, tires, and oil)


@JTSANDERS is your Accord a V6? If not I believe it is a chain.


@raj, it is a V6 EX with auto trans without nav.


BustedKnuckles…we get into this debate ALL of the time. Brakes, tires etc. pale in significant to motor and transmission and other ICE emission system components. Not even close. the Prius battery pack gives owners little trouble for well over 150k to 200K miles NOW. You do have to exaggerate the expense of what (?). The number of moving parts in the drive train of a true EV that could could break down compared to an ICE is many times less (one in the motor) with a single gear transmission. The electric motor eliminating transmission woes, the weakest link, is the reason that trains when to diesel/electric. Reasoning like your’s is why the oil industry prospers as it does. They are so maintenance free, the Volt is FORCED to sell at such a high price, just to make up for the lost revenue to the parts and service for the dealer and independents.

Please check CRV EV’s on utube, still going strong with old tech. Nichol Metal Hydride batteries with no repair to motors and drive trains. The EV1 cars were crushed just to prevent on going comparison with their advantages over the ICE cars they were at one time mandated to replace…

Electric car longevity is measured in decades, not years.


That’s one myth I’ve never heard of until now.

I suspect the myth was created by people who only want to buy American cars and get upset when people claim their Japanese cars are better than the American cars they’ve owned.


Let’s be completely realistic about this – the topic generates emotional discussion and entertainment, but in the end, we should realize it’s all speculative. No one should take anecdotal evidence as dogma. To the best of my knowledge, no one keeps accurate hard data on this subject. Nor should they – there are just too many confounding variables (like how consistently well the car was driven and maintained). Japanese cars may have some kind of mystique, but when you buy a car with high mileage, it’s like a politician’s promise (welll, OK, maybe not THAT totally unreliable).

You can increase your odds by avoiding any car that has been beaten, and perhaps buying one with good maintenance records, and you can get some predictive value by looking at parts and repair costs, but the crystal ball is still going to be cloudy for any old car. Talk to your mechanic and make a choice that seems right to you, but realize the limits. Good luck.


I believe most european cars are made under the DIN standard,while most Asian cars are Sae,I always felt that was the reason I had sucess repairing or having repairs done to these cars,I’ll admit,Volvos used leave me scratching my head more then once.It just seems to me like Japanese cars are closer to american cars.Speaking of needing few repairs,I went back to work for a company and was placed back in a Mack truck.I had driven 20 yrs ago much the same today as it was then(but guess what the older Macks used a diesel engine that was basically designed in the 30’s in Europe(Europe makes and designs good diesels)-Kevin



The Japanese took the SAE standards and copied many US car designs, but kept making them better as time went on. Early Japanese cameras were awful, but the Japanese Ministry of Trade and Industry (MITI), decided that cameras exported had to meet the highest standards. Remember the little gold seal on Japanese cameras. It ensured you had a good camera.

The DIN or SAE standard mean little with respect to quality and repairability. There are crappy products designed to both standards. Just like ISO 9000 means little; you can have standardized mediocrity. Fiat and BMW both use DIN standards.

While the Japanese were humble and strived for the best, European manufacturers were arrogant and felt they needed to learn form no one. I remember being in German carmera store and having the staff there make fun of my Japanese camera. The Swiss initially made fun of Japanese watches.

In the mean time, US manufacturers were asleep at the wheel with respect to quality and reliability and were overtaken in the mid 80s. If you only bought full size pickup trucks you would have woken up to that fact much later. While California basically deserted US manufacturers, the Central and South of the country hung on longer.

In the mean time, US manufacturers were asleep at the wheel wqith respect to quality and relaibility and were overtaken in the mid 80s.

They weren’t asleep…they had different priorities. GM/Ford and Chryco for the past 30 years have put PROFITS and executive bonuses over quality. They knew exactly what they were doing.



Quite correct Mike; the “good enough” approach did not work. When they switched to front wheel drive the designs were half-baked and insufficiently tested. This was an opportunity to sell competitive vehicles.

I worked with a guy who had always driven V8 rear drive cars. He wanted to get better fuel economy and I recommended a Honda Accord, which at that time was about the size of a Civic. He was septical about such a “tiny” car being reliable. After 70,000 miles he had only replaced the battery and became a permanent convert. His previous Ford Gaxay Station wagon had had many replacements by that mileage.



I have countless number of relatives and friends with the same type of story. They all were former Big-4 owners. Had been for years. They all got sick and tired of the Big-4 (then the Big-3) building crappier and crappier cars.


MikeInNh "They weren’t asleep…they had different priorities. GM/Ford and Chryco for the past 30 years have put PROFITS and executive bonuses over quality. They knew exactly what they were doing. "

Absolutely…GM builds some of the finest military equipment; the same for GM and Ford. They decided long ago to lead the “league” in fleet cars with inexpensive an acceptable 3 to 5 year car with few problems initially.

There is also a huge market for less expensive cars that over time, are cheap to repair, even though they may need it more often.

The Ford Ranger, if used as a dump hauler and no more, actually fills the role better then a more highly touted Tacoma as far as bang for the buck. There are a league of buyers out there who traditionally trade frequently and keep a car only until the warranty runs out. It made little sense for them to buy an Accord when they dumped their “Tempo” or “Impala” in fewer then 5 years.

NO FOREIGN car maker in the last 40 years has come close to building ANYTHING that can compare with a Crown Victoria in it’s expanded role as turnpike cruiser and police car. Only recently has it lost favor as a profit maker for the public use. Until recently, has ANY foreign maker made a taxi suitable for long term use, or a plow truck, dump truck etc. equal to the long term bang for buck as GMC and Ford offerings.

Toyota may excel in quality of manufacturing, but having owned a bunch I can tell you they are huge rip offs for OEM part pricing. Because of this, they don’t always offer the best bang for the buck.


I had a Toyota Celica, and it nickel-and-dimed me to death! Just stupid little things that I could have ignored, but would have reduced the car to a heap. The rear-window washer went. The sunroof motor went. The foglights would burn-out the battery. The warning chimes that told you that the headlights were still on went out. The factory stereo lost a channel. The first real mechanical problem (something with the clutch, I can’t remember what exactly) cost me $500 and wasn’t covered by the warranty. When the rear axle developed some sort of clicking that I was told would cost me $1200, I ditched the thing, less than three years after I bought it. It was a cool-looking car (rare for a Japanese car), but it really didn’t achieve stellar mileage nor was it that quick. I’ve never felt the need to buy another Japanese vehicle.


My brother had a Celica back in the day.
It was relatively trouble free.
When the first major problem came up (clutch) he dumped it and got a Mazda RX3 - big mistake.


Here’s my 2 cents:

The “myth” was at one point not a myth by any stretch of the imagination. For the most part in the 1970s, Japanese quality & reliability wasn’t any better than that of the domestics. However, they dedicated themselves to fixing their issues and by the 1980s, they WERE much better on average. Of course, you could still get lemons - our family’s 1987 Camry was on its third engine at 120k, but Toyota paid for the work, so they earned brownie points there. At that same time, the domestics were still short-sighted and arrogant, thinking they would still rule the market, and their quality barely changed from the 1970s. So even while the imports still had issues (rust being a major one), they were leaving domestics in the dust.

By the time the 1990s rolled around, there was a significant gap in quality and reliability - every major survey reflected this. If you bought a Japanese car, particularly Honda and Toyota, you were rarely disappointed. However, in the 1990s, some things started to change, albeit at what seemed like a glacial pace at times.

In the early 1990s, Ford finally started focusing on reliability (they actually started executive bonuses based on reliability results, not sales) By the mid 1990s, this was finally starting to show up in their results, as they slowly started getting rid of absymal reliability issues like 3.8L headgaskets blowing, AXOD-E transmissions failing, etc. GM actually produced a few good vehicles, and Chrysler, well… At the same time, the Japanese makes were finding harder and harder to improve on their reliability record. The gap started to narrow, albeit slowly.

By the 2000s, the gap was becoming less and less distinct. Ford had dumped almost all of their reliability disasters, and by the mid 2000s, as models got replaced, you had vehicles that held up VERY well in terms of reliability. GM finally caught on later in the 2000s, though they’re still fixing issues. And Chrysler, well…

And all this showed up in surveys like Consumer Reports and MSNAutos. In the latter case, you see for most models there is very little difference being reported. In the former, you see that they’ve reset their scoring multiple times because if they used the same standards as they did in the 1990s, nearly every vehicle would be getting solid red (good) marks across the board.

So was there a myth? No - it was well grounded in fact. But is there still a significant reliability gap? No, not really in many cases- according to Consumer Reports, Ford is “world class” right there with Toyota and Honda, and GM has some very good offerings. But perceptions change FAR slower than reality.

And that leads me to a beef that I have - too often I see people compare their newer car with their older domestic model and draw false conclusions to the current offerings. Am I surprised that a 1994 Nissan Sentra was a better car than a Ford Galaxie (last built 20 years before that Sentra)? Not at all - I’d be stunned if this wasn’t the case. Am I surprised that someone won’t buy GM because of the lousy Vega they had? Not at all - I don’t blame them, but saying a Cruze is bad because the Vega was lousy is extremely poor logic.


And that leads me to a beef that I have - too often I see people compare their newer car with their older domestic model and draw false conclusions to the current offerings. Am I surprised that a 1994 Nissan Sentra was a better car than a Ford Galaxie (last built 20 years before that Sentra)? Not at all - I’d be stunned if this wasn’t the case. Am I surprised that someone won’t buy GM because of the lousy Vega they had? Not at all - I don’t blame them, but saying a Cruze is bad because the Vega was lousy is extremely poor logic.

There is a problem with your thinking… Just because YOU say or some survey says GM or Ford has changed…doesn’t mean it is so. And it’s going to take a lot more convincing from many sources to convince me. I’m not about to spend $30k+ on a new vehicle because the quality MIGHT have improved. When it’s proven that it’s improved…then I’ll consider looking.

While you say that GM and Ford quality is equal to Japanese brands…These surveys say different.

You also site CR as a source…

Well - Here’s CR.


MikeInNH - you ignore evidence like this:

Your CR story points to relative ratings, not absolute, and doesn’t consider statistical significance of differences being reported. When they said Ford was “world class”, they also said that they were only slightly above average, and at the same time said they were in a statistical tie. The “huge gap” label is applied by the press, NOT Consumer Reports, who knows their data better.

Note that one of your sources claims domestics win the dependability battle, and gives an overall title to the Japanese in a “nail-biting 3-2 win”.

One of your other sources has Ford as more dependable than Honda.

There really is VERY little difference in reliability nowadays - that’s why Consumer Reports has redefined their ratings multiple times, and even gone so far as to say the worst vehicles today are still more reliable as a whole than the best vehicles built in the mid-late 90s.

As for what you, personally, buy - I don’t care. But your bias is showing.


@eraser - My point is…You’ve shown me NOTHING that PROVES Ford/GM and Chryco are making vehicles as good or better then Japanese vehicles…You may THINK you have…but you haven’t. So why am I going to spend $30k+ on a vehicle that MIGHT be as reliable. I keep my vehicles a long time…Last 4 - over 240k…with 3 of them over 300k miles. I’m not going to take the chance that they MIGHT be building better vehicles. Spend your money any way you want.

Am I biased…Sure I am…and you’ve shown me NOTHING to change my mind. And BTW…your bias is showing also.


@MikeInNH -

Your own sources show what I’m talking about. 2 out of the 3 you say “show different” don’t. I’ve shown you quotes from Consumer Reports themselves that shows there is no significant gap… granted this last year Ford took a dive - thanks to the idiotic MyFordTouch system. But that botched launch of an option is no different than some of Toyota or Honda’s botched launches of some of their models in recent years (Camrys with transmission issues or Civics with cracking blocks or failing hybrid batteries)… except that the MyFordTouch system is an option - don’t buy the silly thing, it’s a waste of money anyway, and you’ll get a VERY reliable vehicle according to CR. And if you do waste your money on it, the good news is that the problems can be fixed via simple software updates.


So what you’re saying…if ONE survey shows that GM/Ford or Chryco is making a reliable vehicle…then there for it MUST be the only one to use.

Sorry…but that defies logic.

Just a few more…

This one…while it was done in 2006 (well into when you said the big-3 were making reliable vehicles)…The first Big-3 on the list doesn’t show up until #22…Unless you count Volvo (owned by Ford) which shows up as #15

Here on this list only ONE (Ford Fusion) of the Big-3 made the top 10.

On this list…while there are SOME Big-3 on the list…It’s overwhelmingly Japanese/Korean.
28 to 4


Japanese imports started out being lousy. Then they learned how to build solid, reliable cars. But rememeber, they were building only a fraction of the number of cars the big 3 were producing. With size come growing pains. Now that their production volumes are reaching these higher levels, you see the warts starting to emerge. Honda Odysseys with transmission issues and motor mounts failing under 80k miles. Toyota Siennas with piston slap issues. (I’ve been looking at mini-vans so these are fresh examples to cite). I think you’ll see even more quality escapes in the future as those companies get even larger.