Are Japanese Cars More Reliable Than American Cars?

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When looking for reliability, many consumers tend to choose Japanese cars over their American counterparts. But are they right to do so?
The answer is important for car-owners, many of whom prioritize reliability when choosing a new car. In a YouTube video for Carwow, Mat Watson sums up the question on their minds: “Which country should you buy your next car from if you want it to be as reliable as possible?”
close up of the front of a Suzuki
According to a report, five out of the 10 most reliable car brands in the UK were Japanese-made, including Suzuki.

Japanese cars have a reputation for being more reliable

The assumption that Japanese cars are more reliable may be overly simplistic, but it is largely correct. According to a recent report by Warrantywise, five out of the 10 most reliable car brands in the UK were Japanese-made, including Suzuki, Isuzu, Toyota, Lexus, and Honda. Watson chalks this up to Japanese brands’ “attention to detail.”
In his YouTube video, Watson cites two strategies used by Toyota to ensure maximum reliability: “Kaizen,” which, according to Watson, means “continuous improvement,” and “Jidoka,” which means, “automation with a human touch.”
He explains “Jidoka” further: “It’s a bit like having a human babysitting all the factory robots…and this person can stop the production line if they spot an issue with any car.” While this process is initially time-consuming, it saves time in the long run and ensures greater reliability.
Moreover, Japanese cars are built to last. “When you over-engineer a car like this to make it super reliable, you also make it really strong,” says Watson. He adds that certain Japanese models, such as the Toyota Hilux and LandCruiser, “have a reputation as absolutely indestructible.” Due to the intensive engineering process, these cars are longer-lasting and less prone to breakage.
Japanese-made cars are usually a good bet, especially if you’re buying a used car. However, in some situations, American-made cars prove more reliable.

For compact cars and SUVs, choose Japanese cars over American

According to Autotrader, when buying a compact car or an SUV, you should stick with a Japanese brand.
Autotrader compares three J. D. Power Vehicle Dependability studies conducted in 2008, 2010, and 2013. Data from these studies shows that if you’re looking for a compact car or an SUV, Japanese brands are most reliable.
For compact cars, the Japanese-made Toyota Prius ranked first in both the 2013 and 2010 J. D. Power studies, and Japanese models took home two of the three top spots. For SUVs, Japanese models ranked first in two out of three categories: compact SUV and midsize SUV. In fact, in both the 2010 and 2008 studies, Japanese-made Toyota and Honda models snagged winning spots in almost every SUV category.

When buying midsize sedans or new cars, American-made beats Japanese cars

Japanese brands aren’t universally superior to American brands, however.
When it comes to midsize sedans, American cars beat their Japanese counterparts. American brands scored two of the top three spots in both the 2010 and 2013 J. D. Power studies, with the title of most reliable going to the American-made Buick LaCrosse in 2010.
Additionally, if you’re looking to buy a new car, you may want to choose a non-Japanese make—at least according to the 2013 J. D. Power Initial Quality study, which considers the reliability of a car during its first three months of use.
This study placed Porsche, a German make, in the top spot, with the American-made GMC next, and the Japanese-made Lexus in third place. Across categories, the American brand Chevrolet placed in the top three most often. The data suggests that while used Japanese cars are superior to American cars, new Japanese cars don’t fare as well.
Autotrader speculates that this data suggests one of two things: either non-Japanese brands are still improving, or Japanese models are simply more durable. Regardless, numerous studies have shown Japanese cars to be the top pick when considering reliability, and the J. D. Power studies support this claim—especially when it comes to used cars.
This being said, it’s important to note that every car is different. Ultimately, taking care of your car properly will prove just as important as which model you buy when it comes to ensuring its reliability.

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