Are Japanese Cars Really Better Than American?

First of all-let me explain-I prefer to buy American. I work for a company that makes parts for the US auto industry, so I feel an obligation to reward the hand that feeds me.In my time, I have owned mostly American cars , and really had good luck with allof them-I usually drive a new car around 150K miles, then sell. My GF has a NISSAN (1991) and just hit 70K miles-in this time she has put in:1 complete exhaust system, 4 sets of brakes, 2 front universal joints, new battery, etc. My SATURN (1196) has gone 126K miles with NOTHING replaced. Why do Jap cars have such a good reputation? I can tell you-repairs and parts for NISSAN ain’t cheap!

I certainly hope you consider taking your vehicle to a mechanic soon. Items such as brakes, exhaust systems, batteries, et cetera have limited lifetimes. Brakes wear more quickly if used more aggressively. The two U-joints seems excessive, but general maintenance is necessary. I’ll grant you the fact that Nissan parts aren’t cheap, but I wouldn’t drive you’re Saturn if it’s never been serviced.

I prefer American cars myself. However, with a few exceptions (like the Chevrolet Corvette) American cars without a direct Japanese equivalent are held to a lower quality standard. That’s simply because they’re not competing with anything for that class of vehicle. Cars that have an overseas equivalent are built to a higher standard in order to compete with that vehicle. So, your Saturn which is made to compete with a similar Honda is built to last. Manufacturers also use something called “Planned Obsolescence”. Have you ever noticed how a lot of your stuff tends to break just after the warranty expires? That’s Planned Obsolescence in action.

Its important to remember that american cars have gotten MUCH better in recent years, especially since about 1995. Most late 90’s American cars have a quality record comparible to a like-priced Japanese car…

That being said, between about 1978 and 1995, Japanese cars were (on the whole, anecdotal examples notwithstanding) better built and have better stood the test of time. A few 80’s era mid-to-low priced American models have lasted, but cars like the Honda Civic and the Toyota Tercel have far outlasted their American counterparts. Now while brakes, pumps, batteries, clutch, etc. are not meant to last the life of the car, and ALL cars should have these replaced regularly, the important parts, such as the trannie, engine, etc. on 80’s era Japanese cars last MUCH longer than on their American counterparts. Again, not every American car has outlasted every Japanese car, and I’m sure that there are a few 1983 Ford Escorts that still run like new, but there are far more 1983 Toyota Tercels that run like new.

I drive a '67 VW Beetle. There’s a car to stand the test of time. The parts are CHEAP. Right here in this catalog I can buy a new hood for $35.

Anywho, when I used to drive an '88 Civic the thing never gave me a single problem which could not be tracked directly to some abuse I had put it through. I only got rid of the thing a year ago 'cause it got totalled when I was forced off of the road. I still get a tear in my eye for that car.

On the whole, I like the feel of the Japanese engineering over that of the American cars. Somehow it’s more efficient. My Civic was a tiny little car, but I could fit a ton of stuff in there. Then I get in something like a Grand Am and there’s no room at all.

There cannot be much doubt that competition from Japanese manufacturers has forced others to up their game.

US cars tend not to be ‘world’ cars, you don’t see many of them ,in comparative terms, sold outside the US.
The Japs OTOH make cars that sell in just about every market in the world so you get a one size fits all mentality.Their truly big sellers seem to me to be bland but competant.

The only US cars we get over here are aimed at niche markets like the Jeeps and maybe the odd sporty model.

Can we extend this to bikes as well? I don’t want to go off topic.

I don’t know if Japanese cars are still better overall, although it’s my impression that that’s still true, just by a slimmer margin than 15 years ago.

Our '86 Accord finally got old after it passed the 240,000 mile mark. (It now has 249K, and we’re getting ready to sell it.) So naturally, we replaced it with a 2000 Accord. We love it.

I notice that the hottest car in America right now seems to be the new Honda Odyssey. You need to put down a deposit and wait in line just to test-drive it, according to the Washington Post.

I’ve got just two words to settle this American vs Japanese cars debate:

German Automobiles

…there is no substitute…

Essentially, the 70s and early 80s were a Dark Age of American Auto Quality (Aspen/Volare; Pinto; Tempo; Vega; Chevy Citation; AMC Gremlin). So compared to these … things … the average Japanese import’s quality was astounding. Now, to be fair, the good American cars were much easier to work on, and could take lots of abuse. But still, a well maintained “rice burner” could last you forever, compared with its closest US equivalent (Chevette vs. Corolla, anyone?).

Nowadays the US producers are competitive again on many lines (though they seem to have given up on the subcompact, which is good since they never got it) and have the advantage of lower prices for the car and the parts. And the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and other high-selling “Japanese” cars are made in the USA. When US carmakers care to do it, they produce Da Stuff. But you hafta put a gun to their heads, it seems…

Are Japanese cars better than American cars? Yes.

I agree that American cars in general have gotten a lot better in recent years. But we still don’t know if they are going to stand the test of time. I am sure that they will be better than their early-1980s counterparts, but I am hardly convinced that they are comparable to Japanese brands. These “better” cars are still in the 1-5 year old and 5-10 year old age ranges.

I would like to see how it goes when they are in the 10-15 year old range. That is a more telling indication of “quality.” It is common for a car to make it to 10 years without reaching the junkyard. By 15 years, though, will it still be on the road?

And whether a car gets kept or junked does not only depend on questions like “how long will the belts last?” It also depends on how much people like the car.

I have a 1986 Toyota Camry. What a great car! It is nice to drive, gets great mileage, is completely reliable, and has a ton of room. I can cram so much stuff into that car–it’s unbelievable. I also have a Thule system on the roof, so I can strap all matter of stuff to it. I take it on all kinds of bad roads and non-roads in all kinds of weather. And its ground clearance is very good-better than some so-called sport utility vehicles. The trunk is very comfortable for sitting on. It has a sunroof!

I love that car.

Point is, one of the reasons you see so goshdarn many Camrys on the road is because people like them. They like to buy them, and they like to keep them. They don’t get rid of them for the reasons that people get rid of inferior cars–too cramped, unreliable, bad mileage, unpleasant to drive. When people do sell their Camrys, they find willing buyers, because there is a demand for good used cars.

Comparable American cars may be a little less…bland, but they are sure a lot more quirky.

If you were to purchase a car now that you knew you would have to be driving in 2014, would you buy the Honda or take a chance on the supposedly “improved” Chevy? I’d take the Honda, thank you.
And with regard to the OP’s comments on the cost of Nissan repairs: Nissan parts are known to be expensive–moreso than other brands. I don’t know why this is, but don’t judge the other brands by this one example.

Also, I just realized that your friend’s car is 9 years old and yours is only 4 years old. A lot of the “repairs” that you mention are the kind of things that you just have to do between 4 and 9 years, no matter how many miles have been driven (within reason). Exhaust systems rot out with time. Batteries die with time. Brakes get more worn out in stop-and-go driving. Highway miles are a lot easier on a car than city miles.

egkelly, I suspect that you don’t know a whole lot about auto repair. I, too, am concerned about a guy who has driven 126,000 miles without having his brake pads replaced.

I’m young. I only started driving in the past six months (in that time, I managed to total an ‘86 Mercedes… loved that car… but the other guy was goin’ 65 in a 45 zone… damn him!) Anyway, now I’m stuck driving my mother’s (yeah, I still live at home… I’m THAT YOUNG!) Expedition… it’s a great car, it’s fun to drive… I’d prefer something smaller, though (like the Merc…::sigh::…).

Anyway, my point is… my point is… did I have a point…? Yeah, I did. My point is, half the time when I get stuck behind a car, it always seems to be a Honda Civic or accord. Now, that proves nothing, of course… just an amusing little tidbit of information for you who are more experienced car-wise to chomp your bit on.

By the way… I agree with the superiority of German cars. That Mercedes saved my life (got hit right on the drivers’ side door). If I had been in almost anything else… Japanese or American… I’d have bucked the kicket. And the car that hit me was a Nissan Altima, too… so I guess my opinion is slightly biased.

I bought a '99 Chrysler Cirrus and my wife bought a '99 Honda Accord Coupe about 6 months later.

The Chrysler seems to have better fittings and nicer interior touches.

The Honda leaves the Chrysler in the dust in every measure of performance I can think of. Granted, that particular Honda is made to be a better performing vehicle but things like braking are NOTICEABLY different between the two cars (the Honda is MUCH better). The Honda has about 40 more ponies under the hood than my car but it feels like 100 and is incredibly smooth in its response.

The Honda cost about $4,000 more than the Chrysler but I would have thought the Chrysler would measure up better than it does. The brakes on the Chrysler downright suck to the point I think there is something wrong with them but the dealership naturally says all is ok.

While statistics show American cars are on par with Japanese cars in terms of reliability the Japanese still seem to manage a solid touch that American auto-makers still don’t seem to get.

Of course, German cars are a class unto themselves…

In my opinion, American automobile makers have gotten too used to the American public being a captive audience in that the options have been few for ages. Even when the foreign imports arrived, got better (remember the first Toyota that, like, started rusting two days after you drove it off of the lot)? and started selling more, a buyer had to contend with the high price of ‘imported’ repair parts and locating mechanics who would work on them – for a high price.

Plus, the Japanese beat the greedy American Automobile Industry in providing a car that does not start falling apart 10 days after buying it, so that the owner needs to get another on in a year or so. I recall timing gears designed to fall apart at 64,000 miles, being plastic coated. The replacements were steel. (Not only did the gear fall apart, but the plastic teeth turned into grit, which fell into the oil pan, got sucked into the oil pump, and clogged the various oil ports when they melted. Cleaning out the engine was an expensive job.)

Any car with mileage over 30,000 miles was considered a risk to buy. Planned obsolescence (planned greed) filled our junk yards and generated a multi billion dollar a year automobile service industry, which is all linked back to the auto makers. Now it fuels the very lucrative practice of stealing cars for their parts.

(Ford might make that bucket seat for $50. They sell it to the repair guy who, at your request, needs to replace yours, for $150. He sells it to you at $275 plus installation. A car thief steals a car and sells the seat to your repair guy for $25. He sells it to you for $200 plus installation and you figure you got a deal.)

I had to buy a headlamp assembly for a Ford van which was new, so none were in the junk yard yet and no clones were available. $100. It consisted of $5.00 worth of material! Even adding on labor for the over paid assembly line worker to snap it together in 4 minutes – $14 -, it was worth only $19. Add in a reasonable profit and it goes to $36. THIS was from the Ford company – not a reseller who would add on another 50 to 100%.

PLUS, I needed only part of the assembly, BUT they would not sell anything but the complete piece. Now I can get the part I need from the junk yard for $5 or a new clone for $50.

The Japanese wisely started making their cars not only to last longer, but to require less major repairs and be fuel efficient. (American cars being shipped to Japan MUST be specially modified to meet their very strict emissions laws.)

Then we have the American Public itself, prompted by the Automobile makers. When gas is high, they promote and people buy fuel efficient cars. When gas is low, they dump the fuel easy cars and buy gas guzzlers. (Those SUVs only get about 8 to 16 mpg!) It NEVER seems to dawn on people that the gas prices are going to go UP again. Economy cars, especially those made entirely or in part, in Japan get 28 mpg. Japanese SUVs get at least 20 mpg.

Economy American Cars have this ‘crunch’ problem also. It used to be that compact cars were heavily reinforced in the drivers side and passenger compartment. Cars had crash bars in the doors – something bigger trucks did not. Now, after observing crash tests and piles of wrecked cars, it’s apparent that most small American cars cave in around the drivers side. Plus, the door crash bars are gone.

(You could roll a 56 Ford off of a 20 foot cliff and down into a ravine and the roof would barely buckle. Roll a Ford or Chevy today and the roof almost meets the dashboard!)

The Japanese are starting no only to introduce higher mileage cars, but cars which require less repair and cars which have some form of protection built in around the passenger cage. Now, the American Auto industry has to catch up and will no doubt charge us extra for improvements that should have been there since decades ago. (The Ford Maveric sold in the 70s for $1,999! New! Anything comparable today will run at least $14,000 and not be built as strongly.)

Well, my Corvette is 15 years old. You wouldn’t know by looking at it. Not only has it been very reliable, but I have never in my life driven a more enjoyable car. Yep, it’s a gas guzzler (about 14mpg in town, twentysomething highway), but it’s got power. Tons of it. It handles better than most vehicles produced even today. The thing is, you can’t even compare it to a Japanese car, because they don’t make an equivalent. To quote a phrase from a book I read “A Corvette is not a car. It’s a Superman suit. You don’t drive it, you wear it. And when you put it on, you feel invincible.”

True, but OTOH, the sort of medium-speed front-end crash that you’d walk away from now, would have had the steering column kissing the seat back in that '56 Ford - right through the driver’s spinal column.

Regardless of how American cars compare to the rest of the world for surviving accidents, comparing today’s American cars with their predecessors in that department is a no-brainer. Today’s cars - domestic and foreign - are much more likely to see you safely through an accident than cars built in 1980, 1955, or whenever.

I know I am hijacking the thread, but I would like to point out to the OP that WWII has been over for 55 years and perhaps a bit more decorous language would be in order.

However, I’ve owned both American and Japanese cars and haven’t noticed any appreciable difference in repair costs. Since many Japanese cars are now manufactured here in the US, I would think that the difference in prices for parts should be getting smaller.
The operative word there being “should.”