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


As I reported in an earlier post, I bought a new 2003 Toyota 4Runner and had a problem with a chirping serpentine belt from the very beginning. This was our first Toyota product. After 5 trips back to the dealer, I would have made them buy it back under the lemon law. However, my wife liked the vehicle and the problem was finally traced down to a weak spring in the belt tensioner. Fortunately, we have had no problems since that time. Had I made the dealer buy the 4Runner back under the lemon law, I probably would never have purchased another Toyota product. However, we also own a 2011 Toyota Sienna. It has given me no problems, but the body doesn’t seem as tight as the 2006 Chevrolet Uplander we sold to our son. I rode in the Uplander a couple of week’s ago and the body still seems tight. I would have purchased another GM minivan, but GM decided not to make them any more. I have 28,000 miles on the Sienna and have had no problems, so I hope this pattern continues.


Again, Mike, you clearly failed to read the studies you pointed to. You provided several links:

Your first one compiles other results, and gives a 3-2 win to the Japanese makes, with the Japanese taking value, satisfaction, and resale wins, and the Domestics taking safety and dependability wins.

Your second link goes to a story entitled “Auto Outlook: Survey shows U.S. automakers improved
Detroit’s former “Big Three” – Ford, GM and Chrysler – are on a roll thanks to new products and improved quality but they still lag behind the Japanese.”. Yet that story is a report on the 2012 JD Power Dependability study, which shows Ford, Lincoln, Buick, and Cadillac beating out Honda and Acura. Toyota’s three brands finish ahead of Ford’s two, but not by much.

Then you provided links to CR results, but ignored that 1) they themselves have said the differences were not significant, prior to this past year, when they marked Ford down for reliability issues on an option… and reliability issues which have been fixed, even for previously produced vehicles, and never caused the vehicle to be inoperable.

Then you provide links to WarrantyDirect as proof, but fail to acknowledge that according to that exact same source in the exact same year, Ford finished ahead of Toyota, with lower overall repair costs and time in the shop than either Toyota or Honda. When they later reported US-only models, there was no significant difference found. Even looking at just the “top 100” list that you linked to, you’ll see things like the Ford Ka, Ford Cougar, Ford Puma, Vauxhall Corsa, Vauxhall Zafira, Ford Fiesta, Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Astra, Vauxhall Omega, Vauxhall Corsa, Vauxhall Vectra, and Vauxhall Tigra all finishing ahead of the Toyota Corolla. Are we supposed to believe that the Toyota Corolla is an unreliable car by comparison?

That’s the rub, plain and simple. Your own sources are showing no real difference. Some show the rank order Toyota>Ford>Honda, some show Honda>Ford>Toyota, some show Toyota>Honda>Ford… but in all cases the differences are miniscule.


Again, Mike, you clearly failed to read the studies you pointed to. You provided several links:

I suggest you RE-READ the links I provided…

This one clearly shows the TOP cars are clearly NON Big-3. How you can interpret it any other way is beyond comprehension. It clearly shows the top 100 warranty cars of the past decade. You don’t have to believe the data…I could care less…but saying that it shows the Big-3 are the winners here…is just plain childish.

This one from…shows a survey of top 10 cars for reliability…Only ONE is from the Big-3. Did you actually spend the time to read it.
Here are a couple comments from…

One of the most reliable cars available today. The Civic rarely seems to break, and when it does, its problems are easy to diagnose. Original Equipment Manufacturer, aka OEM, parts are both affordable and easy to get.

About all that’s ever needed on the Corolla are regular maintenance and an occasional brake job. We’re not making any money on this car, that’s for sure. OEM parts are affordable, too.

From our point of view, the Prius is terrible news for mechanics — not even the brakes wear out, thanks to the regenerative braking system. All we get to install are wiper blades.

In our humble opinion, these are two of the few American cars that really approach the reliability of the Japanese brands.

Notice how it said…these two cars APPROACH the reliability of Japanese brands…Gee…I wonder what that means.

See “Civic” and “Accord.” The only repair issue we see with the CR-V is a “chattering” final drive in the all-wheel-drive version. Other than that, the CR-V is just as reliable as any other Honda. The transmission, engine and everything else are all great. Parts are affordable, and big repairs are infrequent. Drat!

The Altima runs forever, and it’s great to drive. The four-cylinder edition is a reliable car that’s easy to fix. These cars just don’t seem to break. Other than routine oil changes, we only see Altima owners when they’ve racked up 150,000 miles or more.

This is the consumer reports list…broken down my category…Again…28 NON Big-3…and only 4 Big-3 made the list…If you see different numbers… please tell me.

Did you miss this heading??

Consumer Reports Most Reliable New Cars for 2012

Let me summarize…

Small Sedans / Hatchbacks
1 Big-3
4 NON Big-3

Family Cars
1 Big - 3
2 NON Big -3

Upscale / Luxury Cars
2 Big - 3
5 NON Big - 3

Sports Cars, Coupes and Convertibles
0 Big - 3
2 NON Big - 3

Wagons / Minivans
0 (that’s ZERO) Big - 3
5 NON Big - 3

Small SUVs
AGAIN ZERO for the Big - 3
3 NON Big - 3

Mid-sized SUVs
What again ZERO Big - 3
2 NON Big - 3

Luxury / Large SUVs
Here we go again…ZERO NADA…ZIP Big - 3
3 NON Big - 3

Pickup Trucks
Again the Big - 3 NOT on the list.
2 NON Big - 3

Believe the lists or not…that’s up to you. But don’t come back here and then say that I misinterpreted the data.


Consumer Reports says so, therefore it must be so.


The best reason for buying an Asian nameplate can be found in the Bible. The Bible indicates a shift from an American nameplate to an Asian nameplate. In Genesis it states that “God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden in his Fury”. In the New Testament, in the book of Acts we read “The Apostles all came together in one Accord”.
Therefore, the superiority of Asian vehicles is proved by a source even higher the Consumer Reports.


Consumer Reports says so, therefore it must be so.

Again…you completely missed what I’m saying.

I NEVER EVER said that because CR says it’s true…that is MUST be true…Please show me where I did.

The Big-3 defenders keep saying that they are building cars as good as the Japanese…I said SHOW ME…So what you’ve shown as PROOF…is some website that says so…So all I did was show conflicting sources that say otherwise…You can interpret the data anyway you want…Every time someone shows any data from any source that contradicts what you ‘THINK’ to be true…then that data MUST be flawed…You keep trying to turn this around…sorry…but it’s not going to happen…The burden is on the Big-3 defenders to PROVE that the they are making cars as good as the Japanese…That hasn’t been done no matter what you may think.


Mike - again, that top 100 is from WarrantyDirect, which then says that Ford beats Toyota on their reliability index, the EXACT same method they used for developing that top 100.

And the “top 10” list is NOT a list of the ten most reliable cars, nor does it ever claim to be. It is simply a list of generally reliable vehicles compiled by Click and Clack. That doesn’t mean that a particular vehicle left off their list is even less reliable than any of those on their list, nor does it mean that those are necessarily the “top 10” as you falsely claim. It’s simply a completely nonscientific list of generally reliable vehicles according to two people using no survey methodology or scientific data collection at all.

And finally, again, you’re making the false conclusion that, for example, the third-best pickup according to CR is actually significantly different than the 2nd best. There are several hundred different models for sale in the US, and you want us to believe there is a significant difference between the tenth percentile and the 15th percentile, or that Consumer Reports can even be certain that such a difference exists? They report more variation between the reliability of the 4 cylinder in the Ford Fusion with that of the Mazda6 (the same engine) than they report between Toyota and Ford as a whole. They’ve reported more variation between the Mercury Mariner and the Ford Escape than they do between Ford and Toyota. A few years ago, the Mercury Mariner was on their list of the most reliable vehicles. At the same time, they named the Ford Focus the most reliable Ford model. Neither the Escape nor the Focus were on the list of the most reliable vehicles. That should tell you something right there, since the Mariner and the Escape should either have both been on that list or both off, and if they were on, the Focus should have been, too. You’re simply reading too much into their results, and assuming that there is a significant gap, when CR THEMSELVES says that the measured gap isn’t statistically significant.


Well eraser…when you want to debate this like an adult…get back to me…I give up


Ha! :slight_smile: I’ve simply shown that your claims aren’t correct, and in response I’m the one not debating like an adult? Do you deny that WarrantyDirect found Fords more reliable than Toyotas when they produced that top 100 list you’re trying to claim as proof of your claim? Do you deny that Click-and-Clack’s list is completely non-scientific (Someone could list off 10 Chryslers as the best vehicles built today, simply because they liked the styling, and it would be just as valid as that list)? Do you deny that by CR’s own admission there is no significant difference in reliability? Do you know their data better than them? Do you know that a vehicle not on their list must, by definition, be lower in reliability? Do you deny that it is impossible for a Mercury Mariner to be more reliable than a Ford Escape?

The ironic thing is that you ask someone to do the statistically impossible - to prove that there is no difference. By definition, to do that you must measure the reliability of each and every vehicle made - no surveys like in CR. You MUST measure every single one with a metric completely free of all error and bias. ONLY then can you prove there is no difference. However, with a large sample you can say, with certainty, that if A and B measure differently but you know that A and B must be equal, then the accuracy of any of your measurements is no greater than that difference you measured between A and B. Therefore if C and D measure out with a difference no greater than that between A and B, you can’t say for certain that there is no difference, but you can say for certain that there is no statistically significant difference. So when the measured gap in reliability between a Mercury Mariner and a Ford Escape is greater than the measured gap between Ford and Toyota, what does that tell you? Since your sample size is large, that tells you there is really no significant gap - the difference is within your margin of error.

If you ignore margin of error in surveys, you get really screwed up conclusions.


what-ever eraser…You’re always right…and everyone else is always wrong…sorry…but you’re just being a child.


To return to the original subject, I reiterate that I don’t believe any such myth exists as stated in the post heading. But I do think evidence exists that for a few decades or more reliability of foreign vehicles became substantially higher than that of domestic vehicles and I believe that has left a lasting impression in the psyche of the buying public. That evidence is, I believe, reflected in the Consumer Reports data.

In short, the CR data is reflective of and consistant with the experiences of countless consumers, myself included. If it were not, CR would have the credibility problem rather than the the “domestic” manufacturers. CR would have gone bankrupt rather than GM and Chrysler.

I do beliieve that globalization has largely closed the quality gap. But it’ll take time for perceptions to catch up. Personally, I’ll stick with my foreign cars. Unfortunately, my children have learned by watching my experiences and they too are sticking with foreign cars. It may take a generation for perceptions to change.


To @mikeinnh and @eraser1998 The number I think both of you need to find is warranty cost per vechical sold… This takes all the warranty cost a manufacturer pays, and divides it by cars sold. When I worked for Kia Corp I know we had gone from $82 a car to $64 a car in a few years, which was HUGE… However I belive this was still laging behind Toyota and Honda who were both in the high $50 range, but if you can find this data it I think it would help. I am at work and dont have time, but I did find this on a quick google search:

I honestly did not read the whole thing, as again I am at work. However I thought it may help put a REAL number on things.


Now this is a VERY interesting thread! And I dedicate this commentary to @MikeinNH and @eraser1998. Mike’s high esteem of Toyotas and low esteem of GMs are certainly not unfounded, based on his experience with each. And yet, eraser, GM is perfectly capable of building high-quality cars as well as Toyota. I can honestly say that, in the 1980s, American cars, for the most part, SUCKED as far as quality, especially in the first half of that decade; I worked in a Cadillac/Buick/Pontiac/GMC dealer’s service garage in 1984, and the new GM cars were nothing but cheap junk; at least the GMC pickup trucks seemed as solid as ever. It seems that one thing domestic automakers got right in the 1980s, mostly, was building trucks; My old 1985 Chevy C-10 had 152,000 miles on it when I got rid of it (in favor of a car), and I could still count on the engine firing every time I turned the key; I even gave that poor truck a good dose of thrashing and I still didn’t manage to kill it.

The one and only Ford I ever had, and got rid of shortly after buying the C-10, was a 1980 Fairmont 4-door with a 200-c.i. six-banger. It was the worst car I ever had, and a total lemon; bought it right out of college for work transportation. Performance-wise, it was a total dog, couldn’t get out of its own way; I couldn’t even squeal the tires going around a turn! The first time I tried pulling a 16-foot fiberglass boat, on an aluminum trailer, the engine overheated from having a clogged radiator; something went wrong with the emission-control setup on it as well, and it lost power (never had much to begin with) and kept stalling. This car only had just over 70,000 miles on it, too! Pathetic! At least the dealer agreed to repair it without charging me, but by then I made up my mind that I wanted to get rid of it within a year. I think my big, heavy old 1947 Oldsmobile Dynamic 4-door, with its FLAT-HEAD Straight-8, would have given that Fairmont a good run for the money, and that Oldsmobile was nearly twice the weight of the Fairmont. After that I never bought another Ford. But, to be fair, a 1980 Fairmont was DEFINITELY NOT one of Ford’s “Better Ideas”, and reflected poorly on other, much-better-made Fords.

In the 1970s, Japanese cars were generally not as good in quality as American cars; There was once a time when, if you went shopping and found a product in a store that was marked “made in Japan”, your reaction would have been to laugh at it and put it back on the shelf. However, in the 1980s, when U.S. car quality was horrible, the Japanese, who were often American-trained in how to build good-quality products, just “took the ball and ran with it”, which is why their cars have such high quality nowadays. And in the 1980s domestic car makers were slacking off; it’s been a long road to recovery, but now it seems that American vehicles are respectable again. I certainly have no complaints with most of my GM vehicles, and the GMs I’ve had the best luck with have all been Chevys: a 1978 Impala; the afore-mentioned 1985 C-10; and my current vehicle, my 2002 Silverado. Ironically, the '78 Impala and the '85 C-10 both had 305-c.i. small-block V8s, and the 305s had a less-than-stellar reputation; I guess I got lucky, twice, and had a couple of good ones. One last thing, I never owned Japanese vehicle, but I’m not saying I never will either. Mike, enjoy your Toyotas; Eraser, if you prefer GM vehicles, that’s fine too. Everyone has their personal preferences.


That’s good info, @gsragtop, and does support the general idea of parity… though it should be noted that it isn’t corrected for differences in warranty… For example, Ford provides a warranty almost identical to Toyota, except they add in longer roadside assistance, while Honda offers no roadside assistance, according to GM and Chrysler throw in longer powertrain warranties than Ford, Toyota, or Honda, and at one point in that chart, Chrysler (or Daimler, as it was still merged) even had lifetime powertrain warranties. Those extra services cost.

Furthermore, the warranty accruals are based on what the company sets aside for claims, not actual claims. Not long ago, Ford booked a special item on their profit/loss statement for a transfer of warranty reserves to cash, as actual claims rates were below their accrual rates.


@Drifter62 - I don’t disagree with a thing you said. I’ve openly stated that there was, in fact, a large quality and reliability gap in the 1980s that started closing with some manufacturers in the 90s and is largely, or completely gone now, depending on manufacturer.

And once again, I’ve never bought a GM. :slight_smile:


Reliability is very important. But for my neighbors and myself, there are equally important factors. I have owned a bunch of Tacomas but woukd never consider buying one or even the Tundra, for plowing. GM offers too many options for heavy duty use and the availability of service from both Chevy and GM dealerships is just too important. My neighbor with the landscaping business loved his Isuzu one tons for plowing and sanding. They were very reliable. His love affair was short lived as when it did break down mid winter, it spent the rest of the plow season, part waiting. He had to lease a GM plow truck to service his customers.


Guys what I see of the New GM trucks isnt pretty ,I think Ford has a good chance of taking the lead complety and I’m not a Ford man anymore(don’t think Toyota will take up the slack-oh Nissan why did you even get messed up in this fiasco,keep clucking Dodge,but remember that you had better listen to the market(they want superlative entry market stuff-not necessarily the Hemi hype,anybody can match that now-bang for the buck is what the market craves-Kevin


I think it’s ludicrous that Consumer Reports is relied on as the Gospel truth as to which car is better than another. They base this on a very small sampling of subjective opinions from the car owners and CR has no idea at all whether any complaint has any merit to it or not.

Local guy here buys a fully loaded Ford pickup brand new off the lot, changes the oil at 3k miles, and at 25k miles it’s towed in with a grenaded engine. The hood had never come up to check the oil or change it in the ensuing 22k miles and what oil there was could be considered tar at best. No way on Earth was this Ford owner convinced that this is his fault and he blamed everyone from the mechanics all the way up to the top of the food chain at FOMOCO. Assuming this guy is a CR subscriber how does one think he will respond to a CR survey?
And believe me, this guy is not alone by a long shot.

Just a week ago the CR equivalent TV experts all made Tiger Woods the odds-on favorite to win the Masters and look how that worked out.


I’ve owned gm ford nissan and dodges. The domestics have vastly improved and I would consider are on a par with the foreigners. However I look at the big picture. I see the koreans and japanese blatantly violating trade agreements and destroying our domestic industries with the help of our bought and payed for politicians. Even if the domestics were clearly inferior I’m still supporting them. They have higher domestic content and almost full union support, which means suppliers also have to pay a fair wage. Any jackass that brays that he’d never drive a gm needs to lose his job or get exiled to Detroit to see what happens when their fellow americans abandon them.


“Just a week ago the CR equivalent TV experts all made Tiger Woods the odds-on favorite to win the Masters and look how that worked out.”

C’mon, OK, you’re better than that!

I don’t rely on CR for model reliability. But…when you add all the results up to by-brand trends, the statistics even out by going to large sample size. The trends are pretty clear: