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


True, any one person can send in a crazy survey. But that doesn’t make the overall survey invalid. That’s where having thousands of surveys comes into play. Once car/model/year vs. another? Sure, there can be crazy things happening. But for the by-brand results to be wrong we’d have to think that ALL Brand Z owers were much different than ALL Brand X owners, on average. Year in, year out - I just don’t see it.


I do agree with ok 4450 about some makes of cars being treated differently than other makes. I once owned a 1971 Ford Maverick. I had the choice of the Maverick or an equivalent Mercury Comet. Four years later, I noticed in Consumer Reports that the Maverick had a below average repair record and the Comet was above average. Since the cars were the same except for the nameplate, I couldn’t figure out the discrepancy. I wrote a letter to CR and the response to my letter was “this is the way the data came out”. As a statistician, i couldn’t figure out why the data would be different. About a year later, I happened to be reading a Popular Mechanics in the barber shop while I was waiting for a hair cut. Popular Mechanics had surveyed the owners of the Ford Granada and the Mercury Monarch. When I looked at the demographic information, the average age of the Monarch owner was 7 years above that of the Granada owner. My guess is that the older buyer was more apt to buy the Mercury Comet over the Ford Maverick and had more money to keep up the maintenance and probably did not drive the car as hard as the Maverick driver. In this situation, the CR repair record was more an indication of the age of the owner.
I was employed by a university for 44 years until I retired. The university had a rather large fleet of cars of different makes. I would think that the repair records of cars in this fleet which are driven by many different drivers might be a better indicator of the reliability of a particular make of car.

dagosa April 4 ...the internal combustion motor powered car is a money maker for those who are poorly informed and unable to not only read the manufactures maintenance manual, but won't get second opinions. Somehow, we feel that anyone who knows something we don't, won't take advantage of us. OP, your prices are way out of line and seem to follow the money making dealer line.

Seems like I’ve heard a similar idea expressed by a couple of mechanics turned broadcasters. Usually has something to do with making a boat payment!


Just to back up what Texases has to say…I would add that I feel that the personal experience from a consumer given a large enough sample is much more reliable then ANY manufacturer whose motivation is profit. You have no more reliable source then those who actually use the product over time and the NON profit who reports the results. I believe they are typically those who are well educated and reasonably well informed in other areas as well.

Any other survey by anyone in the business is skewed by profit motivation. You can trust only that which is mandated to be truthful, and even then, the big stretch of the truth is always a possibility.

Those who have self interest in car sales criticize them the way that audiophiles criticize them for their tests of components, the way insurance companies criticize their reports, the way any manufacturer or user has a financial gain to believe other wise does. I would invite any skeptic who lives within an afternoon’s driving distance from their facilities to take advantage of their tours, talk to their people and question their authority. They invite scrutiny.



Remember, though, that even the “non-profit” has a motive, just like everyone else. In the for-profit world, WarrantyDirect wants to sell more aftermarket warranties. Interestingly, though, their own claims data doesn’t reflect the premiums they want to charge for certain manufacturers - for example, they’ve charged significant premiums for Pontiac Vibes over Toyota Matrixes. They’ve charged significant premiums for Chevrolets over Hondas, but their claims data doesn’t support the need for that premium. But as for Consumer Reports, they only exist if people buy their magazine. People only buy the magazine if they feel that the information they get is a good value. If they showed the true magnitude of problems that they report and the associated cost, instead of obfuscating results to make a statistically insignificant difference look important, would people still buy the magazine?


“If they showed the true magnitude of problems that they report and the associated cost…”

… most people’s eyes would glaze over seeing so many numbers and raw data, and stop buying the magazine.

I used to subscribe to CR, but now for most purchases I look at ratings on amazon and other websites to get an idea of what’s good.


" Mike has been very rational in his car opinions and has carefully documented his actual experience. I have done likewise (see early posts) and have found US vehicles twice as likely to end up in the garage as Japanese. And cost consderably more to keep running over their lifetime."

I don’t doubt your experience or MikeinNH’s. I have had dismal experience with 3 Fords that I have owned. I understand that Ford has improved, but my karma with Ford is not good, and I can get a reliable car without buying a Ford. If I bought a Ford today, it would likely be a very reliable ride. That is every bit as likely that if Docnick or MikeinNH bought a Ford or GM today. We just rely on our own experience more than anyone else’s.

If you plot texases chart by model year and compare it to the overall warranty cost per vehicle in gsragtop’s Warranty Week reference, you will see that the results are very similar. This is so even though they do not plot exactly the same thing. That’s an interesting correlation, and my indicate that you don’t have to own a car for 10 years to predict how much repairs might cost as it ages. Just look at the warranty cost information in Warranty Week or a similar publication, like JD Powers’s 5-year dependability rating.


In other words "One bitten, twice shy"
I agree. Why bother going back? No upside.


@jtsanders -

Throw in WarrantyDirect’s info (where they show frequency of repair along with cost and time for repair), and the picture does make more sense - they show slightly more repairs in Fords than Toyotas and Hondas (though not a huge amount more), but at a lower total cost… which would jive with Warranty Week’s charts showing Ford’s warranty accruals at very low levels.

The key to watch with Warranty Week is that it includes recall costs (why Toyota’s accruals went sky high), which are specifically excluded from Consumer Reports’ results (

I’d also add that type of vehicle does appear to be heavily correlated to reliability, according to consumer reports :

Some of that may be the result of brands dominating in one sector or another, but not entirely. For example, Honda and Toyota rule about 50% of the minivan market, yet the whole minivan/wagon market performs poorly., Family cars as a whole do very well, and a large chunk of that market is D3 products…


@circuitsmith -

If peoples’ eyes would glaze over, I’d argue that the information was being presented poorly. You don’t have to flood them with data. You simply have to provide them with hard-core numbers. For example, instead of saying something like :

2010 Toyota Camry: solid red
2010 Ford Fusion: half red

Which tells you nothing other than, based on an unpublished sample size, they think the Camry might be better, but they aren’t telling you what the relative difference is…

Try something like (hypothetical example):
2010 Toyota Camry : 0.26 repairs per vehicle, average total cost $400
2010 Ford Fusion: 0.34 repairs per vehicle, average total cost $350
margin of error: 0.2 repairs per vehicle

That additional level of detail doesn’t take that long to absorb. You can tell that they’ve measured a small difference 0.08 repairs per vehicle, but with the margin of error of 0.2, that difference may not even exist… and you can see that the cost advantage is flipped. So you get the choice of a low probability of additional repairs with the Fusion, but saving money, or a possibly slightly more reliable vehicle with higher repair costs… If you present it that way, people get more info - what’s more important, repair frequency or cost? What is the real likelihood of needing more repairs? The dot system gives you none of that… and since CR keeps altering what a specific dot means, it becomes harder and harder to see if any of that data is even relevant.


Oh, and I started discounting CR even more when appliances I bought that they recommended have been lousy for reliability… or, for example, my lawnmower, which they marked as the best deal on the market, manages to literally disassemble itself as I mow the lawn. If the manufacturer had learned to use a left-threaded bolt when the torque on the wheel would loosen it, maybe that wouldn’t happen. Strangely, bicycle and auto manufacturers (most of them, at least) learned that lesson decades ago.

I also recently bought windows - they rated what I got generally highly, but then put it at the bottom of their list because of cost. I don’t know where they got their price quotes, but it wasn’t even close to what I paid… which was several thousand (for the whole home) less than many of the products they claimed cost much less…


@eraser1988 - “they rated what I got generally highly, but then put it at the bottom of their list because of cost”

?? Every rating list I’ve seen from them is independent of cost, with ‘best buys’ identified when cost is low for the rating they gave.

2010 Toyota Camry : 0.26 repairs per vehicle, average total cost $400 2010 Ford Fusion: 0.34 repairs per vehicle, average total cost $350 margin of error: 0.2 repairs per vehicle

That makes my eyes start to get blurry, and I’m a techie!
It is near the end of a long day at work though…


Strange, I’ve had 3 Japanese cars, and never heard that “myth” you refer to…so I always do regular maintenance as recommended in the owners manual.

I had a 1988 Honda CRX for 15 years, got 175k out of it with regular oil and fluid changes, regular timing belt and water pump replacement, and a few sets of spark plugs. Only thing that ever broke was an alternator. When I sold it after 15 years, the engine was running like the day it was made.

I’ve also had a Tacoma and a CR-V, and both have been trouble-free.

And, by the way, I’m pretty sure all of the above have cost me less in maintenenance than any BMW would have…



The Lease Trader information says that complexity has a lot to do with warranty costs. The more items there are to break, the more will break. That is why the luxury cars and SUVs rate so low and economy cars so high.


@jtsanders - that makes a lot of sense to me, though I do find it odd how often on certain surveys luxury brands finish VERY well where on others they finish significantly lower.

That’s also a good explanation for CR’s beef with Ford in the last year - they make it pretty clear the MyFordTouch system has been a bit of a disaster… of course, I would never buy it, so I could care less for my own purchasing decisions. The less there is to break, the less will break.

Might explain how that 1984 Mazda GLC we had ran so well for so long (no A/C, no automatic transmission, no cassette player, no cd player, no power steering, no power windows, no power doors, no keyless entry… pretty much name the feature and it didn’t have it.


Regarding my prior comment about complaints and the story behind that complaint not being known I pose the potential problem I saw brewing while on the way home this evening.

Apparently a near new Chevy Suburban with a Class 3 hitch on the back. What’s so unusual about that?
Nothing; except for the huge JD green tow loop that had been modified to fit the hitch and the approximately 15k pounds of Case tractor being pulled by the Suburban.

I’m not a gambling man at all but I would have no hesitation in betting that when the transmission goes belly up in the Chevy it will appear at the dealer on the hook with that hitch removed, the owner wanting warranty for a faulty transmission, and nary a word will be said about the tractor that did it in.
It would be interesting to know if this Chevy owner is a CR subscriber.

I do have a question. If CR received a survey with a complaint that both tie rods were worn out in less than 20k miles would anyone consider that a factory defect?


Triedaq,you arent the kind of guy that gets the Mrs a vacuum cleaner for her birthday are you? If so you are a better man then I am Gunga Din.-Kevin


@mkccune–thank you for giving me an idea for Mrs. Triedaq’s next birthday. The vacuum we have was purchased new in 1977. It has only had belts, bags, and brushes in 35 years of service and it isn’t a Japanese make–it’s just a good old American Eureka.


@Triedaq - try an Oreck if you have a store near you that can do all the included service for the 10 years or whatever (I believe the top of the line one still has a 10 yr warranty, I just squeaked in with the last year of 21 year warranty)… They work quite well in my experience if you get the high end ones (the cheapest ones aren’t as good per some friends that skimped on it)…

Anyway, per CR - I like their reviews as a data point, but I really question their ratings given that it’s re-balanced all the time, the ratings are all relative each run, and no one knows what the error bars are etc.

Plus, sometimes their categories make no sense. For instance, I’m a computer person by trade. I agree with Consumer Reports that Apple Macbooks are one of the best laptops you can buy based on build quality and toughness. What I don’t agree with is their low ranking in the same category of Lenovo - the apple of the PC world for build quality. They kept the IBM designs and updated them, and the Thinkpads are nigh on indestructible. But they are ranking the Macbook much higher than the Lenovo - based on comparing a $1,500 Macbook and a $600 Lenovo - the category was 13" screens!

I mean, what an arbitrary category, but why would you compare the “consumer” (read cheapo) Lenovo Ideapad @ $600 vs the “prosumer” Macbook @ $1,500 when you could have compared (in the 13" screen category) “prosumer” Lenovo Thinkpad X220 @1,300?

That grouping was very flawed. And I see the same thing in their Car ratings where they are sometimes comparing based on Compact cars and mixing Subaru Imprezas with Kia Optimas, Honda Civics, and then throw in an Acura or Buick …

I can see the Optima, Civic, Corolla mix, but the Impreza is AWD - so quite a different sort of car IMO, and then a $30k car vs mostly $18k cars - of course the $30k car is built better and has more power! I imagine their ratings are “OK”, but their groupings are very suspect in many categories I even vaguely understand, and so makes me mistrust ratings for things I’m not familiar with really.

Finally, they don’t really explain their ratings in the print magazines anyway, nor why they don’t then rate / compare some competitors. In kitchen mixers, something else I’ve randomly gotten familiar with, they compare Sunbeams vs Kitchenaid, but would you ever even know that Bosch makes a really good kitchen mixer (and would be a much better choice @$400 than a higher end Kitchenaid, but the $70 Sunbeam is a better choice than a $150 Kitchenaid…)?