By on January 24, 2012

Junked 1978 Peugeot 504Ever since I began writing about cars for various online publications, one argument keeps showing up in readers’ comments: Many European cars that are regarded by Americans as totally flaky (e.g., Fiats, anything French) are considered quite reliable in their home continent. The subtext of this argument is generally “You can’t let Americans have anything nice, because they’ll destroy it like a bunch of chimpanzees given unlimited meth and armed with claw hammers.” Meanwhile, the American readers of these comments usually fulminate about Yurpeans being a bunch of public-transit communists who don’t understand cars. This age-old debate— which I suspect appeared for the first time in an automotive BBS, circa 1979— surfaced again in the comments of yesterday’s Cadillac Catera Junkyard Find. What’s going on here?
One big difference between Western Europe and the USA is that it’s easy and cheap to have a car on this side of the Atlantic; most states will give you a driver’s license if you fail to kill anyone during the driving test, registration fees and taxes are low, and you can find a beater car that runs (after a fashion) for next to nothing. The American economy is so dependent on everyone being able to hop in the primered-out, space-saver-spare-shod Lumina and careen down the nearest highway that the idea of putting serious hurdles in the path of car ownership is unthinkable. In Europe… well, it’s not like that. How do these differences lead to such disparity in perceived reliability of, say, the Peugeot 504, which manages to survive hundreds of thousands of kilometers on African roads with little maintenance while its American counterparts fell apart in a matter of months?
As far as I can tell, the primary arguments in this ancient debate boil down to these:
1. Americans are idiots. Americans, their automotive sensibilities ruined after generations of exposure to such primitive monstrosities as the Dodge Dart, became accustomed to ignoring all maintenance requirements on vehicles. They don’t change the oil, they get electrical problems fixed by their drunken, inbred, duct-tape-wielding cousins… and when the poor abused machine fails, they shoot it full of holes with their ever-handy firearms and buy another one.
2. Europeans are idiots. Europeans, accustomed to legions of nanny-state bureaucrats dictating their every life decision, follow the ridiculously onerous maintenance requirements of their spindly-ass cars to the letter, handing over what little loot they may have held onto after taxes to their mechanics. When some Bosch or Lucas or Magneti Marelli component fails for the fifth time in a year, this is seen as a normal operating expense.
3. Americans drive a lot more. Everyone seems to agree on this point. Does this mean that Americans simply use a tougher yardstick to measure the number of trouble-free miles a car needs to be considered reliable?
4. American roads suck. Also, American weather sucks. The idea here is that European cars are too fragile/sophisticated (depending on your point of view) to handle the Bangladeshi-grade asphalt roads of the United States, and that North Dakota winters and Death Valley summers would kill any vehicle more complex than a Model T.
I don’t know why I bother to list those arguments, because we’ve all suffered through the endless flame wars. Perhaps we can analyze this question with logic and wisdom instead of passion and brickbats. Or not. What do you think?

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180 Comments on “Question: Are European Cars Really More Reliable In Europe Than In North America?...”


  • avatar
    LeMansteve

    I think you are hitting some of the high points, mainly I think the expectations of maintenance are very different. We Americans drive our cars every day for many miles and expect them to be reliable and require little to no maintenance. When faced with a repair of any magnitude, the cost seems magnified because all other financial barriers are relatively low. In countries where it costs thousands of bucks to get a license, insurance, registration, etc., spending $200 on a new POS Bosch sensor every year is a drop in the bucket. In America, we would bitch and moan about getting ripped off.

    As a % of overall cost of ownership, it would seem that maintenance is a smaller % abroad than in the US. It is all about perception of “reliability”.

    • 0 avatar
      Pan

      My guess would that most cars in Europe and in the U.S. seem to be more reliable in their own countries because there is a familiarity with their engineering. Of course, the exceptions are Japanese and Korean cars which seem to be truly superior in any country.
      This is the opinion of the owner and driver for the past 38 yrs. of a 1974 TR6, which, believe it or not, has been VERY reliable.

      • 0 avatar
        econobiker

        “Of course, the exceptions are Japanese and Korean cars which seem to be truly superior in any country.”

        The true test is that the Japanese cars last long in the US and other 2nd and 3rd world countries. The Japanese themselves do not keep the cars long enough to care due to the inspection requirements on their home shores.

      • 0 avatar
        blah4321

        Korean is hit or miss, alot of people that have bought into there luxury car market are very disapointed! Japanese put out lemons to just no one will admit it. How many transmissions does a Honda Odysee require to stay on the road? Did your Honda Civic pass the emission test? One of my cars is a 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt 2.2 eco-tec 5 speed. I bought it 2 years old with 42000kms it now has 371,000 kms (230,000 miles). Regular oil changes, spark plugs, one starter, 2 sensors, 3 sets of brakes, 3 sets of tires, Never did the timimng belt chain whatever it is in these. It needs struts badly but w/e Ive driven worse. I dont let this car warm up. I floor it all the time but it is mostly highway. Trip computer says 7.2 litres per 100 kms of gas. My other car I bought used 3 years ago its a truck 1998 chevy 1500 2wd 4.3 Litre Vortec had 269000 kms on it. Just been doing oil changes, did the brakes, put on tires, alternator went $220 installed its got 336000 kms. So who ever wants to be brainwashed and pay more for a used Honda good for you, thats cool leaves more used chevys for me.

  • avatar

    Our Peugeot 404 “humped” in Europe, leading to a bunch of misdiagnoses (it’s the bobino [coil]! said the mechanic in Lago di Garda, who installed a new one). Once we got back to the US, the problem ceased with no mechanical intervention.

    Of course, this was back in ’65-66, so I’m not sure how relevant it is to today.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Americans drive a lot more. Everyone seems to agree on this point. Does this mean that Americans simply use a tougher yardstick to measure the number of trouble-free miles a car needs to be considered reliable?

    No, it means that the stuff that falls apart under heavier use happens that much sooner in the US than it does in Europe. We drive 50% more than the Europeans, so this does make a difference.

    You didn’t mention the impact of the company car market in Europe. About half of new passenger cars sold in the EU are sold as company cars. A lot of car buyers there are just leasing for the short term, and don’t have to cover much, if any, of the expense.

    Reliability becomes less important when the problem is owned by somebody else and when a new car isn’t likely to be in one’s life for more than a couple of years. And now you know why BMW is smart to operate with the business model that it does; if you make ownership easy, then reliability doesn’t matter so much.

    • 0 avatar
      albert

      Based on the statistics I found, the statement of greater mileage in the USA is greatly exaggerated.
      The difference is not more than 20%.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The difference is not more than 20%.

        You are wrong. I responded to you about this just yesterday.

        The difference is 50%. Follow the links: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/junkyard-find-1998-cadillac-catera/#comment-1838437

      • 0 avatar
        Fusion

        No – you are missing a key point in your cited statistics – US numbers are per driver, EU numbers are per car.

        An average car in the EU does 14.000km a year (http://www.acea.be/news/news_detail/vehicles_in_use/).

        As you correctly stated, an american driver does 21,600km a year (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ohim/onh00/bar8.htm).
        There are 210 million drivers in the US (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2010/dl22.cfm), but over 245 million cars+trucks (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2009/mv1.cfm) as of 2009. Meaning that the average vehicle in the US travels about 18.500km per year, or about 32% more than the average european vehicle.

        Not statistically unsignificant – but I doubt those numbers really explain the far greater difference in perceived quality. Especially since a higher part of the US mileage occurs on (relatively slow) high- and freeways, while EU driving occurs (relatively) more in cities and on higher speed highways, which will be more demanding of the car…

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I’ve owned two Peugeot 504Ds, two Peugeot 505TDs, and two gas engined 505s. All were very reliable, nothing but routine maintenance and what I would consider normal stuff wearing out and needing to be replaced as a car gets old.

    I think the overwhelming majority of issues with European cars 20-40 years ago was that the typical American mechanic had not clue one how to fix anything more complicated than a 4-barrel carb. As I maintain my cars myself, this was never an issue. Now that all cars are at pretty much the same level, surprise, the “reliability” of all cars is much closer than it ever has been before. The Germans in particular did have a bad patch starting 15 years ago when they had to cut costs to keep the cars affordable by mere mortals, and it certainly showed in the lack of reliability of those cars.

    Second is the fact that the idea of “maintenance” is lost on most Americans bar the occasional oil change. I see this in my own family – my Grandfather, who is otherwise one of the smartest people I have ever met, simply refuses to spend ANY money on his cars (other than oil changes) once the warranty is up, unless something is actually broken. He really believes that the maintenance schedule is just a scam for the dealer to make more money. Luckily modern cars need less maintenance than ever before.

    Finally, the ability of Japanese car owners in particular to gloss over issues that I think are ludicrous is amazing. My buddy with the ’02 Accord V6 thinks it is the best, most reliable car ever, but it is on its third transmission, has had endless check engine light issues, and needed its brake and fuel lines replaced due to rust last year. Seriously? Rusty brake and fuel lines at 9 years old??? The brake and fuel lines on my ’93 Volvo with 100K more miles on it are still SHINY.

    I find the key to reliabilty is when you buy a used car, go over do your research and find out what the weak points are. Then address them BEFORE they cause a problem.

    • 0 avatar
      A Caving Ape

      Wait, did you just comment on this post without mentioning your 328iT!? For shame.

      • 0 avatar
        jeffzekas

        Or my older brother’s M3… the FIRST WEEK he owned it, the window regulator went out… NOT acceptable on a zero mileage car costing over $50,000! Since then, the convertible top mechanism has broken (again, on a car with less than 50,000 miles… Would this happen on a $20,000 Miata? Answer: No.) and he has had constant, niggling problems. Prior to the BMW, he owned 3 Honda Civics, all trouble-free, 200,000 mile cars (contrary to anti-Japanese car propaganda, Japanese cars have earned their reputation for amazing reliability). Needless to say, last time I saw my bro, he said, “I am NEVER buying another BMW!”. And the Europeans? Evidently, bringing a car into the shop twice a month is considered “reliable” and spending $500 to $1,000 every time you bring it into the shop is considered “reasonable”.

    • 0 avatar
      carbiz

      In my days in the show room, I can’t remember how many times the innocent question,”So how do you like your [insert name of popular Japanese model at the time]” would provoke a snarling match between spouses that in one particular case actually turned into a shouting match between them. This is where the vehicle’s owner, in order to justify the extra up front costs, the ‘maintenance’ galore necessary to keep in good standing with the warranty and the general nuisance the vehicle had been, simply enters a delusional state and refuses to acknowledge the thousands spent.
      Japan Inc was fortunate to have a clean slate in the late ’70s, just as EPA and CAFE regulations forced technical complexity on vehicles that nobody was ready for. Detroit was forced to allow their loyalists to do their own oil changes, brakes, etc.; whereas, Japan Inc could train their new customers to return every 3 months like a good puppy, thus enabling the dealer to quietly rebuild the vehicle and ensuring its sterling reputation.

      • 0 avatar
        WRohrl

        Actually it was probably more of a negotiating point that should have been addressed prior to entering the showroom. If I tell the dealer that my current car is a total POS that I cannot wait to be rid of, that (in my mind) is not going to help me when negotiating either the trade-in or the purchase price of the the replacement vehicle.

      • 0 avatar
        carbiz

        @WRohrl – sorry, my comment was a bit vague. In the particular instance of the couple that nearly divorced in front of me (the lady in question called the next morning, apologized for her husband’s behavior, scheduled an appointment and then bought a Venture to spite him), the husband was an import humper and made it clear he did NOT even want to consider an American car. He had a 3 or 4 year old Accord, so in an attempt to smooth things over, I wanted him to chat about his vehicle. There was no trade involved.
        About 10-11 years ago, the tide was really beginning to turn in the greater Toronto area: GM had about 30% market share nationally, but in the city it was down to about 12-15%, I was told. We owned 2 import stores, so I had an unique vantage point of what was really going on in the industry. I was pretty good at disarming import humpers who were just there to spoil the process.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      The brake lines rotted out in your Honda for the same reason that the brake lines rotted out in my Cadillac with 72K miles on the clock. The US DOT allows steel brake lines in the US…your Accord was US made. The Europeans and Japanese require copper/nickel alloy brake lines…copper nickel alloy brake line will outlast almost all the other components in the car.

      The reason why US car companies still use steel brake lines is cost. You can buy bulk 3/16 diameter brake line(used on most cars) made of steel for $25 per roll of 25 feet at Autozone…..$1 per foot. Copper nickel line in the same diameter costs about $60 for a roll of 25 feet…..$2.40 per foot. That’s 2.4 times as much.

      The average car with ABS will probably use a total of 30 feet worth of brake line. Now I don’t know what brake line costs in bulk when purchased by the auto makers, but lets assume that the cost ratio is the same as when it’s sold at retail.

      Build 1 million cars a year? If copper/nickel brake line cost $24 per car, steel line will cost $10. That’s a difference of $14 per car. By switching from copper/nickel to steel, $14 million dollars drops straight to your bottom line. $14 million is not chump change.

    • 0 avatar
      Duncan

      Depending on the vehicle and dealer, I think your grandfather may be correct on the dealer maintenance schedule being a scam. I ignore the dealer “recommended maintenance” because it dramatically exceeds the factory recommended maintenance and I consider it a scam. I do agree that identifying weak points and addressing them is important, but I don’t think dealers do a great job of identifying these weak points and custom tailoring their “recommended maintenance” to address said weak points.

    • 0 avatar
      probert

      Have you ever explored a 4 barrel carburetor? Have you ever marveled at the magnificence of the quadrajet? Anyone who can diagnose and repair one is a genius in my book.

      • 0 avatar
        AKADriver

        They’re certainly more complex than a 1bbl Weber.

        It’s less an issue of complexity and more of mechanical familiarity. The engineering of imported cars was typically worlds apart from American cars for many years. They didn’t start to converge until the ’70s, and in fits and starts. I’m only 30 but I’m old enough to remember when certain shops still didn’t work on imports.

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      I think you’re right about the maintenance, but you give people too much credit for oil changes. Almost every car I check for oil and tire pressure is shockingly off spec. I’m talking friends, family, random broken down cabs, police cars(!), everybody. If I, just curious and helpful, can uncover a dry dipstick, imagine what else they owner is getting up to.

      • 0 avatar
        carbiz

        How about going 43k km with NO oil change whatsoever? A friend drove his ’98 Z24 2 years with never returning to the dealership, until his pouring water (not even distilled!) into the rad began to leak out faster than he could fill it. The water pump had cracked because there was NO OIL in the engine. Critics claim the 2.4 was a capricious engine, but after a water pump change, oil and filter (not under warranty, naturally), that car went another year before the lease was up. Color me impressed.
        Of the thousands of customers I served in my career, a shocking number just couldn’t get in to have a measly oil change done.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Okay I’ll throw in a few into this mix…

    1) Access to Repair

    Most independent garages have less experience with European vehicles simply because there are fewer available in the US marketplace.

    If I go through dozens of Chevy’s with the 3.1L during the course of the year, I’ll get to know the particular weaknesses of that engine and how to remedy it. However if I only see a few VW’s with the 2.0L, I may be less observant and capable of fixing it.

    I see that quite a bit in my trade. So much so that I will sometimes go to VW or Saab specialists since my regular mechanics simply aren’t experienced with working on these models.

    2) Cost of parts

    European parts are generally more expensive. What this translates to is that when it comes time to making a European car a ‘beater’ it has a shorter shelf life in the United States. Another related issue to that is…

    3) Neglect

    European vehicles ‘on average’ are maintained to a higher standard in Europe than in the United States. This has more to do with the cost of inspections and the higher overall cost of registering vehicles in Europe.

    As a consequence, small issues are routinely tended to in Europe while in the United States there is a tradition to turn down repairs and have the vehicle continue to operate for a few thousand more miles. Thus leading to a bigger problem down the road.

    I won’t delve into the inferior electronics, more fragile suspension parts, and more usurious labor rates that are typically a reality for most European car owners in the United States. Then again I don’t consider that a personal opinion. It’s a historical fact. When you look at enough vehicles at the auctions, you see enough trends with used cars.

    QUICK FACTOID: There are often more Camrys OR Accords at Carmax auctions with over 150k miles, than there are European vehicles with over 150k.

    In otherwords, either one of these models has offered more ‘keeper’ vehicles at Carmax when it comes to trade-in’s than VW, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Saab and Land Rover combined. Usually these models have about three times the volume of trade-in’s, with VW alone often exceeding the number of Camrys or Accords available at the dealer auctions.

    • 0 avatar
      Hildy Johnson

      2) Cost of parts – European parts are generally more expensive

      In America. In Europe, they will often be cheaper than parts of brands imported to Europe.

      3) … more usurious labor rates that are typically a reality for most European car owners in the United States.

      Also a function of prevalence. If a brand is very common, more garages will tend to it, and one will have a better chance to find one with decent attitude and reasonable labor rate.

      I’m very lucky with my indie Volvo mechanic, who however is getting on in years. I have decided that as soon as he calls it quits I will sell my car, as the only alternative is the local dealer, who is indeed usurious.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I would certainly HOPE that there would be more
      Accords and Camrys at the auctions – Honda and Toyota each sell nearly as many of these cars a year than the Europeans sell in TOTAL every year. IIRC, BMW sells ~125K cars a year, MB sells about the same, VW is now over 100K for the first time in ages. Saab and Volvo don’t sell 100K combined. Audi is in the 100K range. While sales of CAmry and Accord are off what they once where, 10 years ago they were selling something like 500K of them each.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      This is pretty close. Some other points:

      Warranty performance/Dealer and/or Subsidiary Performance
      European marques regularly *NSFW* their North American child companies and dealer networks, squeezing them on warranty claims, parts inventory and so forth. The dealers and subsidiaries, in turn, NSFW their customers.

      Having a crappy dealer service infrastructure is problem number one of the European marques. For the Germans, whose cars are marginal, it’s problem. For the French or Italians it was enough to drive them from our shores. By comparison, the Japanese made sure the supporting infrastructure was there so that even when the cars weren’t great, the service was.

      And it’s not the American cars were great, either, but at least they wouldn’t be in the shop for months while inventory-phobic distributors waited for parts to arrive on the slow boat.

      My related experiences with VW and MB dealers is vastly different from those who do Toyota, Honda or Ford. The former two absolutely dread dealing with the motherships, where the latter three have a lot of leeway.

      Lesson one: don’t screw your dealers, as they’ll just screw the customer in return.

      Tax/lease/miles (aka, Europeans don’t care)
      Europeans don’t own their cars as often (their employers do), they don’t drive as much, nor need to drive in a pinch.

      Murilee is right, here: the kind of problems that would have a North American spitting nails seem to be de rigueur in much of Europe, so much so that they’ll put up with whatever crap Volkswagen or FIAT deems fit to foist upon them.

      • 0 avatar
        ClutchCarGo

        And don’t overlook the chauvinism factor here. Both Europeans and Americans will likely be more tolerant of faults in vehicles designed by their own countrymen, and object more strongly to similar faults in “foreign” designs.

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        I remember the bright orange Volvo wagon my father purchased in the mid 70s to replace the sea foam green Toyota Corona wagon, which itself had been purchased to replace a dimly remembered monster Mercury wagon. Within months of its purchase a couple of the huge dashboard rocker switches had failed and were to be replaced under warranty. 6 months later the dashboard sported several large toggle switches set into hand-fit plastic panels, glued to the dashboard and identified with several inches of Dymo’s label tape. My father ended up doing that work as the Volvo parts people continually insisted “it would only be 2 more weeks now before our parts shipment comes in.” Dad suffered through a couple years of “2 weeks” as minor interior parts breakage turned into hardware store adventures and ended up dumping the solid but parts-unavailable Volvo for a Mercury Zephyr wagon, which served us faithfully and with no broken interior or drivetrain parts for a good 10 years.

        Several years after the Zephyr had departed his garage, my father asked my advice on what sedan he should replace his aging but cushy Camry with. Knowing how much he enjoyed borrowing my turbocharged L-body, I immediately said “SHO Taurus.” He test drove a couple of examples over a period of a few months, then with no warning (and no test drive) ordered a Volvo 740 Turbo sedan on the recommendation of an Upcountry mechanic who turned out to be an incorrigible shill for bad European iron. When my father called me to ask if I remembered the old Volvo dashboard toggle switch fix, I felt a chill run down my spine. It was the return of the 2 Week Monster as the driver’s seat control panel had failed and would need replacement. It took 3 weeks and the control panel part sent was for the wrong car. I’m not sure if it was a 760 or 780 part, but it was physically too large for the panel receptacle. It was spliced into the car’s wiring and glued into position, this time by the service technicians. When I flew back to visit that summer, I was picked up from the airport in the same car. As he drove up the mountain, my father simply said, “I should have gone for the Taurus.” I quickly and quietly said, “yes.”

        Having seen how badly one automaker’s service performance was – and how it had not improved one bit after 2 decades in the market – I know all of my future automobile answers are not going to be continental in nature. I also informed my friends back on the island to ask that mechanic’s advice as a barometer of what to avoid at all costs, since it was clear his favorite cars are those which require frequent servicing.

    • 0 avatar
      stuart

      Ditto on #1 and #2.

      Compare the life of a Peugeot in the USA with that of a more successful import: the original air-cooled VW 1300 (commonly called the “Beetle”). VW sold so many air-cooled cars in the USA that they became common, and our local mechanics developed expertise with them. The water-cooled Peugeots probably have more in common with the average American car than the air-cooled VW, yet Peugeots stayed novel due to rarity. And Peugeots developed a bad reputation because us dumb Americans never developed the necessary expertise to fix them.

      I used to drive Fiats and Peugeots, and whenever I bought another used one, it took about a year to find and fix all the bad repairs (wrong parts, parts installed backwards, &etc) done by previous owners and mechanics.

      For example, in the 70s, Fiat specified 90W non-EP oil for their gearboxes. Non-EP oil is hard to find in the US, so everyone used the common 90W-EP oil; close enough, right? Alas, the EP additive destroyed the bearings, leading to expensive failures. In the 80s, Fiat told their American dealers to use 20W-50 engine oil instead, but that was after a lot of ruined transmissions.

      stuart

      • 0 avatar
        Tinker

        Fiat never made it to the 80s in the US. In 1974, I bought a Fiat 128. I left the navy in 1976, and went back to school. Graduated in 1980. Some time between 1977 and 1979, Fiat went down the tubes in the US of A. (I remember that fiat 128 ate clutch cables like popcorn. Every 6 thousand miles, it got so regular I kept an 8mm socket/ratchet in the car to remove the 20-30 bolts under the front, and could correctly change the cable in minutes. By the second time it had already lunched third gear.

      • 0 avatar
        tonyola

        Fiat officially stopped selling cars in the US after the 1982 model year, though the X1/9 and 124 Spider lasted a little while longer under the Bertone and Pininfarina names. The last new Fiat model in the US market was the Strada (based on the European Ritmo). It was a disaster.

      • 0 avatar
        stuart

        I was very familiar with the 128 clutch cable.

        If you replaced the 128 clutch arm with the Strada equivalent, the cable lasted for years. This is an excellent example of “Fiat expertise” that never arrived in the USA.

        stuart

      • 0 avatar

        Like Tinker, I too owned a Fiat 128. A Fiat 128SL, to be specific. And my Fiat 128 also ate clutch cables like popcorn! Every 6,000 miles. In fact, my Fiat ate a lot of parts like popcorn. Distributor points – shot in 3,000 miles. Front brake pads – shot in 8,000 miles. Wheel bearings – shot in 15,000 miles. Transmission synchros – shot in 30,000 miles. It’s best trick was to intermittently stall out for an hour or so and then spring back to life, as if nothing had happened. This actually happened to me on the Pulaski Skyway in Jersey City, New Jersey; my near-death experience. I bought the Fiat new, from the dealer, in March 1973. After 42,000 miles of misery, I traded it in on a 1976 Buick Century coupe in November of 1976. No two cars could have been more different. The Buick lasted 190,000 miles and was trouble-free. It met its demise fifteen years later when it was hit by a truck. Oh, but the Fiat was more fun to drive….

      • 0 avatar
        stuart

        @Redbat01:

        Clutch cab;e: replace clutch arm with Strada/Ritmo arm.
        Distributor points: a smidge of lube on the dist cam. (Not too much.)
        Front pads: Dunno, maybe buy more expensive pads. Not a problem for me…
        Wheel bearings: It was easy to damage the grease seals during install; I ruined a bunch of bearings before I figured this one out. Damaged grease seals shorten the life of the bearings.
        Transmission synchros: Did you have the gearbox oil changed? EP was also bad for the synchros.

        Like I said, “Fiat expertise” never developed in the USA.

        stuart

  • avatar
    mikedt

    Oh man I would love to have a nice condition Fiat Rally. My neighbors had one about the time I was approaching driving age and I thought it was the coolest. Meanwhile my fellow students were lusting after Smokey and the Bandit Firebirds.

    • 0 avatar
      stuart

      Fiat 128s were a blast to drive, but they weren’t great climbing hills (too weak) nor on the freeway (no 5th gear: 4000+RPM @80MPH). Nor were they great for long drives, due to poor back support and a steering wheel that seemed to be directly over the pedals. :-) And the bodies rusted pretty badly. :-(

      128s also had great interior space efficiency, and they were plenty reliable if properly sorted. But all anybody remembers are the “blast to drive” and the troublesome parts. :-)

      stuart

  • avatar
    jmo

    One issue – and I’d like Mr. Karesh to chime in. From a statistical perspective, the quality gap doesn’t seem to be nearly as large as one would think from reading the comments.

    To read TTAC you’d think no Honda has ever broken down and all VWs are in the shop ever week. The reality is often .40 issue per year vs. .27 issue per year. Certainly a gap – but not one I would consider big enough to make it my only consideration when buying a car.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry, just came across this discussion.

      The differences are not as large as many people think, but they do exist, especially as the cars age. The worst cars in TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey results tend to be older European cars.

      There are a number of factors behind differing perceptions.

      But, first, maintenance, neglect, etc. (unless they’re extreme) are not a significant factor until after 100k miles, and only for serviceable parts (i.e. major mechanical, not electrical).

      Many people want to believe that if you perform all required maintenance, then nothing will break. But most repairs reported through TrueDelta’s survey involve parts that cannot be serviced. So why believe otherwise? Perhaps to feel like you’re in control and have nothing to fear. Do everything the way you’re supposed to, and nothing bad will happen. Not that maintenance isn’t important, only that its not remotely all-determining.

      So, what is a factor?

      First, even if the averages aren’t far apart, there’s likely more variance with the Europeans. The ones that are bad can be really, really bad. And the people who own really, really bad cars tend to talk about them. A lot.

      More than this, though, is the role expectations play. As soon as someone says, “The car required no MAJOR repairs,” I strongly suspect there’s more to the story. What a about “minor” repairs?

      Essentially, Europeans are much more willing to consider anything that doesn’t cost them a lot of time or money as “normal.” They tend to have much lower expectations than Americans concerning relatively minor repairs. The same is often the case with American car enthusiasts.

      The typical non-enthusiast American car buyer, though, increasingly expects absolutely nothing to break. They don’t want to have the car in the shop for anything no matter how “minor” other might consider it for at least the first 4-5 years, or even longer.

      Oddly, this isn’t an unreasonable expectation, as many cars these days do go years without no repairs at all.

      Because of the role cars with many repairs and those with absolutely no repairs play, TrueDelta has been reporting both of these stats in addition to the average repair frequency:

      http://truedelta.com/latest-lemon-odds.php

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Essentially, Europeans are much more willing to consider anything that doesn’t cost them a lot of time or money as “normal.” They tend to have much lower expectations than Americans concerning relatively minor repairs. The same is often the case with American car enthusiasts.

        This is an incredibly salient point. “Normal” people, especially in North America, want nothing to break. They won’t see or appreciate the difference between a Panther and a Camry, not when interior trim and electrical bits fail on the former and cost money anyways. They see time and money, not theoretical reliability.

        I’d also add that the best cars are forgiving of neglect and abuse, not just reliable when well-serviced. A Volvo 240DL or Mercedes W123 can go a million miles with care and feeding, but a Corolla can (could?) go an appreciable fraction of that with notional oil changes only.

      • 0 avatar

        This is an extremely valueble data but it does not address the car-in-its-environment difference. We need a Euro TrueDelta badly. Hopefuly Europeans would see a value in volunteering to join.

      • 0 avatar
        86er

        Psarhjinian: They won’t see or appreciate the difference between a Panther and a Camry, not when interior trim and electrical bits fail on the former and cost money anyways. (emphasis added)

        Now you’ve done it.

      • 0 avatar
        baggins

        I have a 2011 Honda. I am expecting to do nothing but oil changes for the first 5 years of ownership.

        9 months in, its hasnt seen the dealership or any other service provider. So far, so good.

        It does have an annoying squeak in the trunk, but I am not about to take it in just for that. I detest taking the car to the shop – screws up the day.

    • 0 avatar

      Forgot to include: different people focus on cars of a different age. Are we talking about nearly new cars? Those the first few years out of warranty? Over 100k miles? Over 200k miles?

      The older the car, the more people focus on major issues and ignore the small stuff.

  • avatar
    bdaniels_us

    There are a lot of variables. A lot of older European cars simply were not going to hold up under American driving conditions. A car such as the Fiat 600 or Renault 4 is fine for tooling around Paris or Rome but didn’t hold up well at all at 70 mph on the interstate. However I think the the notion that European cars are somehow more reliable at home must overall be mistaken. The Japanese and now the Koreans do brisk business in Europe. Part of the reason may be given in two words: “British Leyland”.

    On balance are not the European cars that have made it here well known for their unfailing reliability? Quality and reliability were long hallmarks of the Mercedes, VW, and Volvo experience. VW has maybe lost the thread but I still see Volvo 240s chugging around the rust belt northeast.

    More recently VW reliability has been a very sore spot. I understand they may be better now but my 99 Gulf was a nightmare. Do they use entirely different assembly in Europe? It’s difficult to imagine that broken window tracks and door handles, not to mention electrical gremlins are unique to U.S. marketed cars. A friends more recent experience with an Eos was not promising but another friends Jetta GLI has been very good.

    I don’t know that a car like the Peugeot 504 was any less reliable than an American car. They use these all over Africa as taxis and that can’t be an easy life. When they did break it could be hard to find parts and service. Owning a French car in the U.S.A. was always a risky proposition.

    • 0 avatar
      PenguinBoy

      “The Japanese and now the Koreans do brisk business in Europe. Part of the reason may be given in two words: “British Leyland”.”

      Really? Here’s a reasonably current list of the top 10 selling cars in the UK – which is the market which likely had the most exposure to British Leyland: http://www.motoringspy.co.uk/1465/top-10-best-selling-cars-september-2011/ One Japanese car ~barely~ squeaks onto the list, and no Koreans. Subjectively, I don’t notice many Japanese cars in when in Europe – certainly nothing like in the US and Canada.

      • 0 avatar
        carbiz

        Japan Inc only sells vehicles in North America and Asia. That’s it. South Americans and Europeans were wise to enforce import restrictions decades ago. Plus, until the EU gelled, nobody but Ford and GM wanted to bother selling to 20 separate markets over there.
        Hyundai/Kia and Japan Inc have not had it that easy across the pond. Or maybe they just didn’t invest the kind of resources like they did here.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        carbiz – the European market has gelled for a long time now, with the single market enacted in 1992. Japan Inc has invested in the market with 3 factories (Nissan, Honda and Toyota) in the UK alone. They haven`t (Honda and Toyota particularly) done very well when compared to newer Asian competition like Hyundai/Kia who have around 7% market share to the 5% for Honda/Toyota. This shows Europeans are not adverse to Asian (or Foreign cars).

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    First, let’s prove it through something more than anecdotal evidence. German cars have a strong positive image here after two generations of VWs, Audis, Mercedes, BMWs and Porsches. Opels and Trabis, not so much. French cars do not. British cars do not. Italian cars do not. So, we really cannot group these nameplates together as European cars, and blast them as failures.

    Italian, British and French car manufacturers have not had a strong presence in the US market since the development of modern engineering and computers. The bulk of these car experiences in the US are based on vehicles lacking modern manufacturing. When these brands failed in the American market, American and Japanese brands didn’t fair much better regarding reliability and build quality.

    Germans go out of their way to prevent mistakes. They seem to be overcautious when releasing new vehicle makes to America. While Mazda and other brands have shown a willingness to gamble, Germans don’t. Germans don’t like surprises, even pleasant ones. As a result, German vehicles are proven before they reach US shores. Often this means their vehicles may miss a market peak, however, considering their pricing and product placement, mass consumption within a submarket is unnecessary to find a profitable niche within that submarket. Selling an Audi is usually more profitable than selling a Buick competing within the same market niche.

    Since Germany is a part of Europe, I do not read anyone making a claim that German cars are less reliable than American ones. Based on that definition, I have to disagree with the premise that European cars are less reliable in America than other makes and models.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      Here I am, making a claim that modern German cars are less reliable than modern American cars. Much less reliable. Even the fanboys are conceding that modern German cars are only leaseworthy.

      Some are worth it. If the right lease deal came around I would be very quick to grab an A5 six-speed.

      Holding cars back before releasing them in the American market is something I associate more with Japanese automakers than German ones.

    • 0 avatar
      redmondjp

      VD,

      Have you ever OWNED a German car? Germans go out of their way to prevent mistakes???? Seriously? 1990s VWs and MBs have ruined the concept of German reliability and solid design in most people’s minds (which is why, in the wealthy areas near me, Lexus has almost universally replaced the MB as the Camcord for the 1%).

      Have you ever taken apart the door handle and latch mechanism on a 1997 Passat? It’s 277 misc. parts of mistakes waiting to happen (when the American equivalent may only have 55 parts).

      How about trying to disassemble a MB dashboard, with all of the hidden plastic tabs that require a plastic wedge and flexible spatula in exactly the right place to release (think of a locksmith using a slim jim in order to get somebody’s car door open)? It’s one giant mistake waiting to happen, esp. after baking in the southwestern sun for 10 years.

      And don’t even get me started on French cars, I’ve owned one Renault and that was a nightmare that I could write a book on (I like Click & Clack’s take on French cars as it sums it up in one sentence: “The French copy nobody, and nobody copies the French!”).

    • 0 avatar
      PenguinBoy

      “Italian, British and French car manufacturers have not had a strong presence in the US market since the development of modern engineering and computers. The bulk of these car experiences in the US are based on vehicles lacking modern manufacturing. When these brands failed in the American market, American and Japanese brands didn’t fair much better regarding reliability and build quality.”

      +1

      While the Malaise Era Euroboxes were no doubt pretty miserable when new, the Japanese didn’t start making *really* good cars until the mid ’80s or so. It’s called the Malaise Era for a reason!

      If someone traded a 70s Triumph for an 80s Honda back in the day, the difference would have been astounding. Part of this was no doubt due to Japanese vs. British build quality, but a lot of the difference could be attributed to advances in technology and manufacturing techniques from the ’70s to the ’80s. But by the 80s there was no Triumph to compare with the Honda here in North America, and in the home market the Triumph *was* a Honda!

      • 0 avatar
        carbiz

        That is exactly the point. While the D3 pounded each other into the dirt, trying to come up with a magical fix to make a 4,300 lb., six passenger land yacht get 30 mpg, Japan Inc quietly built lawnmowers with seats that got 30 mpg easily and were even kinda fun to drive. (There was nothing fun about a 1979 Cutlass Calais!) Especially GM, who had the money, the resources and the talent to try anything to NOT have to downsize.
        All manufacturers sucked from about ’74 to the late ’80s. It’s just that only GM and Ford sold enough vehicles to get noticed as their vehicles fell apart on the roads.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Gordon

        Ah the Triumph Acclaim, simultaneously the best and worst Triumph ever made…

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      “Germans go out of their way to prevent mistakes. ”

      Or, if your the guy in charge of the Porshe IMS failures, you go out of your way to deny them.

      • 0 avatar
        rustyra24

        “All manufacturers sucked from about ’74 to the late ’80s. It’s just that only GM and Ford sold enough vehicles to get noticed as their vehicles fell apart on the roads.”

        I totally disagree with this. The only reason Japanese cars starting selling like hot cakes is because of gas mileage and reliability. I had a 76 celica with an estimated 300’000 miles on it. It had about 182,000 back in 91. It was still going when I purchased it for 500 bucks. It had oil leaks but did not have any major problems. I actually replaced the stock alternator.

  • avatar
    Dan

    Japanese cars have never sold well in Europe.

    People who have never owned a well made car have a different definition of reliable.

    • 0 avatar
      Hildy Johnson

      That is not the case – Japanese cars have sold and are selling in substantial numbers, and people are aware of their general reputation for reliability. They have induced many European manufacturers to up their game, and while the Japanese tend to come out on top in reliability surveys, the gap is not dramatic. If you take into account the relatively lower costs of parts in the home markets of the European brands, costs for repairs may be similar overall.

      There also is a fairly pronounced loyalty to the home team in many European countries, which was nicely documented on this site in Matt Gasnier’s posts. This sentiment may not be as strong as in Japan and Korea, but it certainly is stronger than in America.

      • 0 avatar
        carbiz

        Eurozone 2011 sales:

        GM group 1.141M
        Ford 1.046M
        Toyota .523M (46% of GM)
        Nissan .443M (39% of GM)
        Hyundai .382M (33% of GM)

        Canadian 2011 sales:

        GM .242M
        Toyota .148M (61% of GM)
        Hyundai .129M (53% of GM) What can I say? Canadians will
        sell their grandmother for putine.
        Honda .108M (45% of GM)

        U.S. 2011 sales:

        GM 2.5 M
        Toyota 1.6 M (65% of GM)
        Honda 1.023M (41% of GM)

        Or Brazil, soon to be the #3 market in the world, 2010 (can’t find 2011 yet)

        GM .697M
        Ford .336M
        Honda .121M (17% of GM)
        Toyota .099M (14% of GM)

        Do you see a pattern here? We North Americans don’t give a rat’s a$$ about the future and will buy ANYTHING as long as it’s imported. The Euros are not quite so impressed and expect to keep the jobs there. Brazil, which has climbed out of a black pit in the past 3 decades, is also not so stupid and demands more than just an assembly plant or two.
        I’d expect Japan Inc to focus more on Brazil, since the homeland is imploding and their sales are plummeting in North America. Brazil looks like a nice, juicy plum, except the Chinese are already there. Good luck, Japan Inc.
        Korea? They’re doing a stand up job siphoning off all the fickle Consumer’s Reports disciples from Honda and Toyota. Let them eat each other alive. Karma is a … never mind.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        Hyundai/Kia has outsold Toyota in both the Eurozone and Canadian markets for the past couple of years.

  • avatar
    JCraig

    I think the biggest point made is the availability of cheap transportation in the US. Cars are cheap (relatively) to own and operate here, so people are pretty lax on maintenance. Combine that with minimal driver training and heavier use (we drive a lot more than Europeans) and you have the answer IMO.

    Cars get less use on better roads in Europe. People pay thousands more to buy, register and fuel their cars in Europe. Combine that with the abundance of public transportation and car unfriendly cities. So you have an expensive basic car, that may not be practical to even take many places in the city and costs a fortune to fill up. The car is getting less wear and tear, less miles per year, and an owner with a much higher incentive to stay on top of maintenance.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      so people are pretty lax on maintenance.

      What does that mean? Is there some electrical system maintenance I’m not aware of?

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Have you ever read a Jaguar service manual? It’s there in black and white: “Replace the entire wiring harness every 60K.”

      • 0 avatar
        JCraig

        That means fluids. Show me that a used Jetta has more electrical bugs than a Cobalt. My own conclusion is that the Europeans are more fragile/precise and it shows. But the fact that most European cars are high end also means there’s a lot more to go wrong, especially electrically. There’s a lot more going on in a 5 series than a Camry.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        Show me that a used Jetta has more electrical bugs than a Cobalt.

        The question is does it have more issues than a Civic or a Corolla – yes. That many more? No. Are the issue that exist related to “fluids”? No – not for the vast majority of issues owners encounter on both Civics or Jettas.

      • 0 avatar
        geggamoya

        For your Jaaaag…
        http://www.triumphrat.net/attachments/classic-vintage-and-veteran/37405d1307466658-stupid-me-lucas-replacement-smoke.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        docrock

        My dealer offers to top off the voltage fluid and rotate the power door locks every 3,000 miles . . .

  • avatar
    Number6

    I’m reading a lot here about maintenance. My sole European car was a 2003 GLI. The stuff that failed on that car was not due to maintenance. It was due to cheap, shoddy parts. Windows don’t fall into door sills due to maintenance. A leaky valve cover gasket doesn’t leak immediately after replacement due to poor maintenance. Countless strut replacements, blown trunk pistons, all due to poor maintenance? Hardly. 96K on the odometer, the thing broke down again on the way to trade it in. It ate pads and rotors too, despite only two sets of tires the whole time I owned it.

    German cars have a strong positive influence? I wonder how many VW owners are repeat customers…

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      I wonder how many VW owners are repeat customers…

      As the second largest car company in the world with 21% of the market in Germany – I’d say many are.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Same here. I wouldn’t buy another VW based on my experience with an ’00 Passat. Like Number6 the things that broke were NOT maintenance items… window regulators (VERY common problem), random interior parts breaking, peeling, scratching, headlight assembly falling out, cruise control failure, ABS computer failure and coolant leaks. How can these things NOT be happening in Germany? My VW was serviced by the dealership for everything except brakes, tires & suspension items.

      • 0 avatar
        espressovw

        I’ve had my ’00 Passat for four years and put the most recent 100k on the car out of the total odo reading of 213k. It does have a few issues but I have not experienced hardly any of the “common” issues I read about in forums and from other owners. Hardly a day goes by that, while I’m cruising down the freeway, I don’t consider how quiet and smooth my VW rides. It has never stranded me and it still looks to be in much better condition than most American cars of the same age. Yet, I constantly hear of many bad experiences with VWs. This doesn’t say much as for the differences questioned in the article but it sounds like totally different experiences even with the same make are likely here within the States.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        Based on the True Delta issue a ’00 Passat has a slightly above average 159 trips per 100 cars. A ’00 Accord has significantly below average 71.

        Is the Accord more reliable – sure. Is the Passat in the shop every week and the Accord never goes wrong – no.

      • 0 avatar
        espressovw

        Ref. my above comments regarding my ’00 Passat. I would not make any similar claim of my ’97 BMW Z3. But that was a first-run production car made here in the U.S. Do you think that makes a difference?

    • 0 avatar
      Jetstar 88

      Odd, my dad’s 2003 Wolfsburg Jetta was pretty reliable.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    I think it has something to do with regional markets and what particular car is popular in that market. The strength is in numbers.

    In Sweden, Volvo is the most common brand, a Volvo wagon has been the single best seller for eternity, at least for the last fifteen years in a row. Go back ten-fifteen years, when all the Volvo bricks began to be broken up for parts, you could run a 240 for peanuts. Volvo had the best service net, you could have it fixed practically in a barn. There was a big after market for parts, not counting all the broken up parts cars. I would say that for a time, the running costs of having a Volvo would be at least half of that of any other brand.

    And so I think the regional markets are all over the world. Whatever is the most common brand, will be the cheapest to run. Of course the 504 is popular in Africa, it’s virtually the only car they have. What works in the states? Any old truck, any old Falcon/Valiant/Panther/B-Body. Any exotic brand will be for those that knows what they are doing, and willing to pay the cost. Regardless if that brand may be the most common brand in Africa.

    • 0 avatar
      Ingvar

      i.e. It’s not about if certain cars are more prone to break, or if certain drivers in certain markets don’t know how to drive or maintain their cars. Cars will fail and break, it’s all about how convenient it is to have them fixed and running.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        maintain

        What do you mean maintain? Follow the factory service recommendations? OK. But that won’t impact blower motors or crank position sensors or stereo speakers or window regulators – will it?

      • 0 avatar
        Hildy Johnson

        +1. The advantage usually goes to the home team.

      • 0 avatar
        Ingvar

        @jmo. Follow the maintenance schedule. Have it serviced and fixed, change the fluids, and replace the parts when needed. But that wasn’t my point. My point is that cars (and certain parts) break and fail. There will always be lemons, or cars made on Mondays. But if you have a scrapyard with a hundred identical cars, not all of them will be lemons. You can pick your blower motor or your crank position sensors or your or your stereo speakers or your window regulator from anyone of those cars. And if they fail, there will be another hundred cars to take parts from at some other place. The strength is in numbers and the fact that common cars are a known entity.

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        “The advantage usually goes to the home team”

        That’s why I bought a locally made car, and will continue to do so as long as they’re manufactured here.

    • 0 avatar
      carbiz

      Interesting, but in North America, we love to bash the home team and, in fact, cheer wildly for them to fail.
      I wonder what Rome must have been like around 350 A.D.?

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        we love to bash the home team

        It’s not about that – the big 3 just spent way too many years building really s*itty cars.

      • 0 avatar
        Hildy Johnson

        I wonder what Rome must have been like around 350 A.D.?

        Not in as bad shape as might be imagined. Julian Apostata (meaning “the heathen” – he was the last Roman emperor to reject christianity) had restored the valor of the Roman arms in the North. His foray into the middle east ended in disaster (hint, hint). However, his successor Valentinian was a very capable and energetic leader, governing well and defending the empire forcefully.

        The decline and ultimate fall of the Roman empire was not at all straight and continuous; the empire repeatedly plunged into confusion and was then saved and restored again by extraordinarily capable leaders. Another prime example is Aurelian, who engineered an astounding reversal of fortunes in the mid of the third century A.D. Even a mere 40 years before the end of the West Roman empire, the Romans under general Aëtius managed to pull themselves together and, jointly with the Goths, to decisively defeat the Huns.

        So, if one wants to draw lessons from the Roman empire: Never give up – it ain’t over until it’s over.

  • avatar
    dejal1

    #s 3 + 4.

    If you live in the rust belt, you will have a hard time finding those cars in the photos in a junk yard. The junk yard might be full of American + Japanese iron, but they will still physically exist even as junk. Not a lot, but more than European stuff.

    Ford + GM like to tout “9X.XXX% of all XXXX trucks registered since 19XX are still on the road”. Is there any public info about everything else that can be had?

    • 0 avatar
      carbiz

      Well, in Canada, where rust is king, DesRosiers Marketing (our sort of equivalent of JD Power) did a study in 2000 that showed more ‘domestic’ vehicles were still plated and on the road, compared to their imported counterparts.
      The weak link in these studies is that it is impossible to know HOW the vehicle ‘died.’ Was it stolen and shipped to Nigeria? Was it stolen and chopped into parts? Demographically, do morons buy Camries, then drive them off cliffs?
      Too many variables to be accurate.

  • avatar
    EBradley

    I don’t think that usage of the vehicle (they have freeways in Europe too!) or road conditions (pot holes vs cobblestone streets) make that significant of a difference.

    I think it bears more on the owner and the expectation of what they are getting themselves into. On the Japanese side of the house, we have owned an Infiniti G35 and an Infiniti Qx4. The G was flawless during the entire ownership and met our “expectation” of reliability. However, the Qx4 was not and required additional services and maintenance – silly things like frying the entire emission system by taking it off road in Moab and going through a wet creek bed! So, we look at the G as a great car and disliked the Q. Same manufacturer, just two model years different. Would we recommend Infiniti? Yes for a car and no for a SUV. We expected flawlessness from Infiniti and since the Q failed, we disliked it.

    Now, on the other side of the house, we have owned a Land Rover Discovery II, a Range Rover, a Mercedes E320 and a Jaguar XJR. We expected to have issues with them, based upon research and other’s ownership experience.

    The Jaguar, surprisingly, has been almost flawless. The Discovery and Mercedes were “not bad” as we haven’t expected alot of maintenance issues and encountered anything major above and beyond routine service. The Range Rover has been required two complete motor rebuilds, two air suspension systems before coils, two complete hydraulic breaking system rebuilds, four sets of window regulators and the list goes on and on.

    Now, based upon our experience, we look at the Range Rover as reliable – for a Range Rover. We have friends who have experienced much worse. Sadly, we have a “good” one.
    I feel the Jaguar rankes right beside the G as reliable and would recommend both, without a doubt.
    The Discovery and Mercedes would get a recommendation, with small caveats.

    I think “reliability” has more to do with who you are and what you can tolerate. I think some European cars can, and are, as reliable as some Japanese cars. I also feel that some Japanese vehicles can be as bad, if not worse, than a comparable European vehicle.

    At the end of the day, “reliability” has more do with the person. Someone will call BMW junk because they hate IDrive. Someone else will call Audi junk because the finish is coming off the door switches.

    Someone else will put thousands of dollars into a Range Rover and consider it “reliable.”

    My two cents.

    • 0 avatar
      Downtown Dan

      I think this is dead on– it really is about what your expectations are. Luxury car drivers are more likely to see small, nonmechanical failings as signs of poor quality, whereas the average Corolla driver might have his headliner sagging for years and not think anything of it.

      So that’s really the difference between Europe and America. Here, German and Swedish cars are niche, upmarket products, bought by people who want something nice, or something a little funky and out of the mainstream (Golf vs. Corolla, for example). In Europe, they’re mainstream cars– I remember an astonishing stat that in the UK, the 3-series routinely outsells the midsize Mondeo.

      As others have noted, this split has ramifications in other areas– parts availability, repair costs, mechanic training and expertise, deferred maintenance– that all have an impact on the perception of reliability.

      It’s also unfortunate that the most popular European car of the last 20 years in the US was the Mk IV Jetta. Since a large chunk of America’s recent Euro-car experience comes from this one (largely unrepresentative) model, it’s no surprise that so many of us regard VWs and other Euro makes as unreliable. To paraphrase recent Honda commercials, everyone knows someone who hates a Jetta.

  • avatar

    OK. Good debate. Let me chime in from my part of the world. Brazil. Hot, hot sun. Perilous, harly maintained streets and roads. Heavy, heavy rain. Dust. Half-literate mechanics. The average driver goes about 10 to 15 000 km a year.

    Those are the difficulties.

    And the winners? Euro cars. Yes, small engines and high gas prices killed off the American car.

    Now, we are getting Jap-Kor-Chinese cars. Though the jury is still out on Chinese,the Japanese=Korean makes have a reputation for reliability, though sometimes it’s just a perception. Like Krhodes said above, I also know people whose Honyotakiandai spend time at the mechanic, but they swear they’ve never failed.

    Why Euro cars do better here? Ease of purchase, resale and maintenance. I Know most Brazilians don’t do regular maintenance either. Somehow Euro cars chug along. Somehow, VW and Fiat are considered reliable here. Is this due to the Beetle? Possibly.

    I also think Brazilians expect to spend somethign to keep the car. Though few of us do preventive maintenance, the Euro cars go on and on on remedial maintenance.

    My car was in the shop last week. Took many taxi rides. One that impressed me particularly was a Fiat Idea 1.4 with 400 000km. Yes there’d been maintenance. But the cabbie swore nothing out of the ordinary and a quick visual inpection suggested everything was working inside and all exterior trim pieces were there. So, take that as you will.

    I think, maybe the American perception is still in the late 70s and early 80s when Italo-French makes abandoned the US. They did this for many reasons. One was that their processes at the time was not up to date. Fiat for example was maybe the last major manufacturer to use rust resistant steel. That must have bore a negative perception in many NAmericans view of them.

    Such is not the case anymore. Euro fabricating processes lagged. Nowadays they don’t. I also agree with commenters above who say mechanics lack of ability play a factor. I know this is something that afflicts French makes in Brazil today. Indies see thousands of Fiats, VWs, Euro Chevies and Fords everyday. Some see a French or Japanese but rarely. However, if he can’t fix the French it’s the car’s fault. If he can’t fix the Japanese it’s the mechanic’s fault.

    So, how come Euro cars rule in Brazil and South America in general, but not in North America? Beats me but to resume: Lower expectations by costumers, poor mechanics and perception.

    • 0 avatar
      SLLTTAC

      Oi,

      My impression is that Btrasileiros must pay high prices for their cars due to high tariffs and that burdensome governmental restrictions discourage foreign manufacturers, such as the Asians. When I was in RJ recently I noticed for that few small cars have air bags and most cars are small cars. So Brasileiros pay a lot for little in contrast to North American buyers. What is your opinion?

      • 0 avatar

        olá SLLTTAC

        My opinion is that:

        1 – Competition exists, there’s just not enough of it. When Koreans and Japanese entered American market they did so by offering more for less. Here they did the opposite. Maybe Chinese car (and to some degree they already have) will force price down, but I’m not keeping my fingers crossed.

        Fact is when makers come here they settle into the general way things are done here. Yes taxes are high and whatnot but all makers here have good, very good margins. Back in the 90s the comment was though GM had just 5% of its global sales here, they reaped 20% of their operating profits from us.

        2 – Though yeah there are restrictions and whenever you start seeing a lot of imports the makers, gov, press get together and raise the red flags: jobs, de-industrialization, development, Though a lot of Brazilians complain (and this kind of complaint as been growing as laissez-faire attitudes grow in BRazil), there is widespread support for this kind of measure. After all, it does force makers to come here and open factories. To wit, in the next 2-3 years there will be a new Fiat factory, BMW, Hyundai (and possibly Kia at same site), JAC (Chinese), Chery (Chinese) and these are the confirmed ones. There’s also talk of MAN, BYD or Great Wall, Maindra and Tata, possibly Suzuki or even Mazda.

        Fact is we do pay alot. But in 2014 all cars will have to be made with Airbags and ABS. I believe that unless there is some concerted effort on the makers part (not an absurd idea in Brazil), there will be little space to raise prices. This will cut into margins somewhat, but don’t worry, all makers in Brazil are laughing all the way to the bank.

        The only way prices will effectively fall is if some maker breaks the mold (very hard cause just not cars are protected, think steel or petrochemical companies, too), competition just forces someone to break and lowball everybody, or the gov sits with industries and cuts some taxes in exchange for price reductions and other concessions. I don’t expect that either as a lot of Brazilians harbor that elitist mentality, “OMG, the traffic is so horrible! Even my maid has a car now!’. The gov of course, unwilling or unable to do its job, feed into and off those fears (so as to avoid investing in infrastructure).

        So, for the foreseeable future, we will continue paying through the nose for our mighty mites.

    • 0 avatar
      PenguinBoy

      “So, how come Euro cars rule in Brazil and South America in general, but not in North America?”

      Cheap fuel. People of modest means can afford to buy and run a big, cheap, plush car in North America. This also explains why North American cars are not popular in overseas markets.

      Note that “North American” in this context means the product is aimed at North American tastes, it does not need to be made by a North American brand. A Camry or North American market Accord would qualify as a big, cheap, plush North American car in my books.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      “Let me chime in from my part of the world. Brazil. Hot, hot sun. Perilous, hardly maintained streets and roads. Heavy, heavy rain. Dust. Half-literate mechanics. The average driver goes about 10 to 15 000 km a year.”

      Venezuela is mostly the same, drivers usually drive more than that, I’d bet they’re in the 20-25 kms / year.

      In Venezuela there’s a mix. I think that the ones winning are the Asians and Americans.

      If you look for an SUV, your main options are either American, Japanese or Korean. With cars, the Asians rule. This is mostly because of import restrictions, and even without them the balance would still favor the US and Asia.

      “One that impressed me particularly was a Fiat Idea 1.4 with 400 000km. Yes there’d been maintenance. But the cabbie swore nothing out of the ordinary and a quick visual inpection suggested everything was working inside and all exterior trim pieces were there. So, take that as you will.”

      My mom owns a 1st gen Fiat Siena. It has around 350K kms and is still on its original engine (it’s starting to smoke). The really big items replaced have been: leaky steering rack (under warranty), P/S pump seals wore (fixed by the mechanic and never failed again) and I think that’s it. It has had regular oil/filters/belt changes. Parts were dirt cheap last time I bought some and were (still) available everywhere.

      You forgot to add into your post that the European cars sold in Brazil (and most LATAM) are much stronger and simpler than their old continent counterparts, and in some cases (Fiesta, old Uno) very different too.

      • 0 avatar

        Hi Athos!
        Es siempre un placer.
        Don’t give up on the siena ’cause of a little smoke!!
        Sometimes a little smoke is just some small glitch in injection system or somethng simple like that, Sometimes not. If not, the engine is dying. Either re-build time or new car. Re-builds in Brazil vary enormously in price and quality. Due to complexity and rebuild necessities. See what’s up. Chage the damn belts and oil and thse Fiat engines are hard to kill…

        Old Uno, new Uno all different. Uno does not make it to Europe, though some say with new factory capacity will be there to at least try East Europe. Great car Athos. In a simple way. Try it if you can. Rides much better than old Uno/Palio due to new platform.

        Yeah, even March sold here is different from Micra in Europe. Though equipped with 2 air bags, it got a much lower crash test score from Latin-cap than Euro-cap. Speculation here is that steel used is somehow inferior to European product.

        So, to sum up, main differences between Euro car sold here and in Europe: Lesss safety equipment and hardier suspension and bits and pieces that keep car together.

        Hasta la viesta viejito!

      • 0 avatar
        Athos Nobile

        I think the Siena needs a rebuild. I remember a mechanic telling me Fiat engines are “hard”… the blocks are difficult to wear. In any case, we know a very good Fiat mechanic that already offered himself for the job some time ago.

        The Uno I mentioned is the old one. I saw almost side to side an Italian a Brazilian one and they share the shape, but the suspensions were different, engines were different and don’t know to which extent the body. The Brazilian Uno has a bonnet similar to the Fiat 147 (or Saab 900) in that it wraps around the sides while the EU Uno had a conventional one.

        Hopefully I get to test a new Uno or Palio someday.

  • avatar
    espressovw

    I owned older European cars when I lived in Naples. Italy. These were typical clunkers because there’s no reason to have a nice car in Naples. It will just get beat to hell or stolen. But when something went wrong, it was almost instinct that I try to fix it myself. Our Italian friends thought I was crazy for attempting such a thing! It was also more difficult to find parts and I’d usually get strange looks from behind the parts counter since I wasn’t a mechanic. Bottom line: I agree their mentality towards maintenance is quite different from that of most Americans.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      their mentality towards maintenance

      Maintenance or repairs? You seem to be talking about repairs.

      To me maintenance is everything called for in the manual, oil, brake fluid, air filter, timing belt, accessory belt, transmission fluid, etc.

      If you were supposed to replace the accessory belt at 100k miles and it breaks at 120k miles – that’s a maintenance issue. If it breaks at 80k – that’s a repair likely due to poor quality.

      • 0 avatar
        espressovw

        You’re right but in my experience the approach was the same for both: These are things that the average consumer should not attempt! Maybe the dependency on mechanics had an impact on the manner in which they drove in addition to how much they drove as did other cost factors such as gas, oil etc.

  • avatar
    Dipstick

    “2. Europeans are idiots… they follow the ridiculously onerous maintenance requirements of their spindly-ass cars to the letter, handing over what little loot they may have held onto after taxes to their mechanics”

    I can attest to this. My brother lives in Europe and never misses a scheduled car maintenance recommended by the manufacturer. He drives a Citroen and loves it.
    Over there they also think Volkswagens are bulletproof!
    But my wife here drives a 2000 Golf and I beg to differ.

  • avatar
    carve

    It’s only an anecdote, but my 2007 335i has had more problems in 50,000 miles than my 95 Cherokee has had in 200,000.

    Onerous maintainance requirements? The bimmer just came off it’s 4 years free service plan. Besides- it calls for 15k-ish oil changes, which I ignore and do every 7.5k (I would do it more often, but it takes 7 qts). Nevertheless, I’ve had to have the cam bearings replaced, the VANOS solenoids replaced twice, the rear brakes replaced, a leaking transmission fixed, an oil cooler installed to prevent overheating the oil in the desert, correct a software “fix” that introduced turbo lag, and of course the high pressure fuel pump. And oh yeah- a flat tire in the middle of nowhere destroyed my run-flats and left me stranded in a small town that didn’t carry that size of tire.

    The Jeep has needed a radiator, 3 water pumps, a catalytic convertor, an axle seal, a radio and brake work.

    What a wonderful car to drive that 335i is though. Wonderful to drive, terrible to own.

    I think I’ll replace both the Jeep and the 335i with an RDX this summer :(

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      According to Karesh the repair frequency for an ’11 RDX is exactly the same as a 335i – 31 trips per 100 cars.

      For 2008 a 335i would have 49 trips per 100 cars and the RDX would have 31.

      Again, the perception gap seems far larger than the statistical reality.

      • 0 avatar
        carve

        I intentionally don’t report on true delta. Why hurt the resale on my car?

        The new RDX will be simpler. No turbo, no SH-AWD.

        Long term reliability is what really scares me though.

        My wife has a ’98 Accord with 193k miles. Other than normal stuff (brakes, belts, etc.) it has required…..a starter and a cat. That’s it. It barely needed the cat, either. It still passes emissions…it just triggered a check engine light because it’s not as clean as it used to be. I just bypassed the sensor.

        Anyway, the car still feels tight and runs like new. It’s given me a lot of confidence in Honda products.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        My wife has a ’98 Accord with 193k miles.

        According to Karesh a ’98 Accord has 109 problems per 100 cars per year. A ’98 3 series has 115 per 100.

        If you’ve only had 2 problems in 12 years and the average owner of an Accord is having 1 problem a year – well…you’ve been very lucky.

      • 0 avatar
        carve

        Oh yeah- I forgot to mention that the Jeep and Honda are both on their original clutches. The Honda still has its original shocks. Hell- it still has the original cap and rotor! I did have the water pump replaced once in the Honda. It was fine, but I did it anyway when I had the timing belt replaced.

        Batteries I consider normal wear and tear, but if you want to go there the battery in my bimmer died at about 3 years old with only about 40k miles.

      • 0 avatar

        I need to find the time to perform some more sophisticated analyses on my data.

        The 1998 3-Series does appear to be very reliable as older European cars go. The thing to realize, though, is that European cars are not as consistently reliable as Hondas. Look at most Honda models, and nearly every model year is very good. Look a the Europeans, and there’s a lot of variation from year to year. Some good. Others very bad. The latter have much more impact on memories and perceptions.

        With the 1998 3, that was the final year in the E36. The 1999, the first year of the E46, has a much higher repair frequency.

    • 0 avatar
      slance66

      In contrast, my 2007 328xi has had zero problems. None whatsoever.

      My 2007 Lexus RX350, with the omnipresent 3.5L V6 has had a very early mileage full brake job, a battery replacement at only 49k, a right rear strut that had to be replaced and two coils gave up the ghost, all before it hit 60k. Plus the back rear window switch isn’t working. Fortunately Lexus covered the strut post warranty (only 49k but past the time by four months).

      As for general construction quality of doors, panels, interior pieces etc., the BMW is far ahead. Aside from some softer touch plastics and nicer map pockets, I can’t see any quality difference between the RX and my parents’ Highlander. Where I think the Japanese have an edge is electronics, but I avoided Nav and iDrive. So I’ve got a nice straight six with no trouble prone turbo.

  • avatar
    nvdw

    “Many European cars that are regarded by Americans as totally flaky (e.g., Fiats, anything French) are considered quite reliable in their home continent.”

    Please do note that the reverse is also true: just ask any European to vent their opinion on American cars. Just like a European car in the States, in Europe, an American car is the alternative choice, right after the Eurobuilt cars, the Japanese and the Koreans, in that order. Of course, I too have seen Caprices and Park Avenues as taxis with over 300,000 miles on the odo, even when equipped with LPG tanks to compensate for the tremendously high fuel costs. But all those Neons, Corsicas, Saratogas, Stratuses; they’re the plankton of the European used car market. We call ‘em just as crap as you would call that LeCar a piece of junk. They are simply out of place.

    It’s all about perception. That LeCar, or Renault 5 as we Yurpeans know it, might have been a shitter; I suspect the average lifespan of a first-gen R5 in daily use was 10 years. But then again, so was a Vega. Or a Citation. Try and find a Fiat 128 in Europe; I would be surprised if you’d find one in the breakers as Murilee did. It was just as much as a rust bucket in America as it was in Europe.

    But hey, even if your Vega was crap, you could still laugh at and feel morally superior to that neighbour who went through all the bother and expense to buy an Italian car only to suffer the same fate. That man tried to escape from American mediocrity and instead got Italian mediocrity. Imagine living in Europe in 1978 and your Plymouth Volaré failed to start. Even if any other Opel or Ford or Datsun in the street wouldn’t start either, you’d still be laughed at with that big Uhmurkan car that gets a third of the mileage.

  • avatar
    Acubra

    I don’t know where this notion about Euros driving less comes from. If you care to look through ads on any local trader.XX site (mobile.de, blocket.se, market.nl et al) you’ll see that most cars will be in a 250-400Kkm bracket.
    What makes them more “reliable” is the inevitability of state multi-point inspections where the shops that carry them have vested interest in replacing as much as they can see. So the ownere will suffer a large bill every (second) year, but the vehicle will be in better shape.
    Also, EU missed early emissions hurdles (cats became mandatory well after fuel injection and ECUs were perfected) and automatic trannies are not nearly as common as over here.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Lot of waffling here on this subject, as has happened many times before. Forget whether people drive more or less, go for some stats. What Car magazine in the UK compiles a reliability survey every year for older cars.

    http://www.whatcar.com/car-news/reliability-survey-2011/258307

    From the horrors to the best, it’s almost exactly the same story we get here, absent US makes in general because you couldn’t give ‘em away in Europe. What it shows is that the usual European commenter who gets on TTAC and goes on about VW, BMW and Mercedes being quality cars is talking out of his/her hat and being a brand snob as well. Remember Vauxhall is Opel. And the Saab faithful should just sob instead of wishing that turd outfit to continue making obvious junk, why wish hell on yourself?

    Of course, maybe things have changed dramatically since the 2007 model year, but probably not. Here’s the list from worst to first:

    35. Landrover
    34. Alfa Romeo
    33. Renault
    32. Saab
    31. Jeep
    30. Chrysler
    29. MG
    28. Vauxhall
    27. Mercedes-Benz
    26. Seat
    25. Jaguar
    24. Audi
    23. Volvo
    22. Rover
    21. BMW
    20. VW
    19. Peugeot
    18. Mini
    17. Fiat
    16. Porsche
    15. Citroen
    14. Ford
    13. Smart
    12. Skoda
    11. Daewoo
    10. Nissan
    9. Kia
    8. Hyundai
    7. Subaru
    6. Mazda
    3. Suzuki 3rd equal
    3. Mitsubishi 3rd equal
    3. Lexus 3rd equal
    2. Toyota
    1. Honda

    • 0 avatar

      Wait, Mitsubishi tied for third with Lexus? Head… spinning… world… turned… topsy… turvy…

      • 0 avatar
        Steven Lang

        Mitsubishi is a big shocker.

        Suzuki is a monster shocker.

        They must have different models in Europe. Few things depreciate faster at the auctions than a Suzuki.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        They must have different models in Europe.

        They do. But that isn’t the only factor.

        The methodology here may be a bit flawed. The data comes from warranty claims paid by an aftermarket warranty company, and the ranking isn’t just based upon the frequency of repairs, but also the cost and the alleged inconvenience. Whether their pool adequately reflects the norm, I don’t know.

        TrueCar also publishes the UK version of the JD Power survey. http://www.whatcar.com/car-news/jd-power-survey-2011/introduction/257096 The average car surveyed is two years old, unlike the US VDS which is conducted at the three year mark.

        Some of the results are a bit surprising from a US perspective. Then again, the average mileage of these cars is only 16,000 miles; assuming that those who are surveyed by JD Power in the US are average, then I would expect the average car in the US survey to have at least 40,000 miles.

        While the Prius and Accord do well in the UK survey, the Civic gets just an average reliability rating, actually placing it behind the Golf. They give the Lexus IS and Mercedes C-class identical reliability scores. But these days, you have to wonder what can go wrong after only 16,000 miles.

      • 0 avatar
        niky

        In Europe, Suzuki isn’t forced to sell rebadged Daewoos. While service can be spotty, depending on your local dealership network, and their big cars aren’t anything special, their microcars are fantastic feats of engineering, and the current 1 liter engine is a straight up economy monster, able to hit highway economy numbers well in excess of 60 mpg (US).

    • 0 avatar
      WRohrl

      Without seeing that list, here in the US, I think most people would (without statistically significant evidence, just off the top of their heads) say that a Jeep and/or a Chrysler are SIGNIFICANTLY better than a Saab or a Renault and CERTAINLY better than an MG or a Jaguar. Your list shows this not to be the case when viewed from a foreign perspective. The reality is that over there Chrysler and Jeep are American, foreign, and not very common. Hence a problem is a bigger problem that it would be otherwise. Same as the random foreigners over here.

    • 0 avatar
      Littlecarrot

      Skoda beats VW. FTW!

  • avatar
    wsn

    I think the issue should be divided into two parts for independent analysis: luxury cars and economy cars.

    1) Luxury cars are about image. A granny who only drives at 30mph would still buy into the Ultimate Driving Machine image. Not to mention, for many, a Caucasian brand (i.e. MB) is preferrable to an Asian brand (i.e. Lexus). It may be politically incorrect to say, but it does affect sales. Would you imagine a senior German executive choose a Lexus LS over a MB S, even if the latter is known to be less reliabe?

    2) Economy cars are about, well, economy. VW is the only European economy brand that had large oversea impact.

    In the US, VW has about 3% market share.
    In China, VW has about 16%~18% market share, soundly beating everyone. However, consider that (1) VW is the only Germany economy brand, if you add all Japanese economy brands, they beat VW. (2) VW starts at about half price as compared to Toyota/Honda.

  • avatar
    Tstag

    It seems to me that Europeans were never plagued by poor domestic cars for quite as long or as badly as Americans. Consequently whilst the Japanese car brands grew quickly in Europe when they first arrived the European car industry fought back relatively quickly and were led by Germany. Opel for example shifted production to Germany quite quickly which seemed to have the desired effect of boosting reliabity and quality. Once the Euro brands recovered the consumers then noticed that most cars are generally pretty reliable whether they are European or Japanese. Consequently the likes of Lexus never got very far even in Britain because the luxury brands like BMW emphasised values like RWD handling and styling which the European consumer now takes more seriously than reliability.

    it’s also worth noting that countries like China which never saw the Euro brands at their worst now lap Euro cars up very often at the expense of Japanese brand. Look at the massive sales success of Range Rover in China. Despite high import taxes the Chinese buy more of these cars than the Americans.

    Sadly for US brands they seem to suffer from everything in the eyes of the European consumer. A brand like Dodge for example is considered brash, American, poor handling and not very reliable. In other words it is perceived to have nothing going for it. So basically the speed with which Euro brands reacted in the 80s to the Arrival of the Japanese probably made reliability less of a concern than it is in the USA

  • avatar
    Tstag

    Wmba has kind of proven the point I was making above. Yes older Land Rovers come bottom for reliability but most Europeans take the view that you can’t buy a truly bad car these days so they focus on other areas like whether a car looks good. Notably Hondas sales are nose diving these days in Europe and therefore I’d suggest we don’t take reliabity as seriously as Americans do. At the end of the day if the sat nav breaks down in a Jag who cares? you just get the dealer to fix it. The engines are from Ford so it will get you from a to b

  • avatar
    stroker49

    Very interesting. I don’t have very much do add but everybody seems to miss a couple of things.
    Europeans are wrong!
    Americans are wrong!
    It take a long time to change peoples minds.
    Fiat is not bad these days. American cars are not huge gas-guzzling barges anymore of inferiour quality.
    Here in Europe people are avoiding American cars like the plaque.
    I take advantage of it and buy American. I bought my 2005 Cadillac STS for the same as a used VW, I think that is a bargain!
    Most cars today are great.
    We can all agree that asian cars are the most reliable.

  • avatar
    bd2

    Here’s AutoBild’s Quality Report rankings for 2010; AutoBild does the most comeprehensive analysis of reliability in the industry – also looking at service records, the TUV report, as well as owner feedback.

    1. Hyundai 2.3
    2. Honda 2.4
    3. Audi 2.6
    =4. Mazda 2.6
    =4. Toyota 2.6
    6. Mitsubishi 2.6
    7. Suzuki 2.7
    8. BMW 2.7
    9. Mercedes-Benz 2.7
    10. Nissan 3.0
    11. Seat 3.0
    12. Skoda 3.0
    13. Ford 3.1
    14. Kia 3.1
    15. Opel (Holden) 3.1
    16. VW 3.1
    17. Renault 3.6
    18. Citroen 3.7
    19. Fiat 3.7
    20. Peugeot 3.9

    Audi has moved uo quite a bit, but VW is still lagging behind (also, Hyundai repeated at the no. 1 spot for 2011).

  • avatar
    200k-min

    First of all, don’t tell me nobody in Europe buys “American” cars. Every time I’ve been across the pond I’ve seen all kinds of Ford’s on the road. It’s also not entirely uncommon to see a US vehicle. I’ve seen several Corvette’s, JEEP’s, even minivans in my travels around Europe. As a good friend in Germany has said to me, “a huge American vehicle is a big status symbol over here if you can afford it.”

    As for reliability, the publications in Europe are very much like the States – Japanese usually top the list with everyone else somewhere behind. In the US I think the bad rap the Euro brands gets is due in part to them being on average more expensive vehicles (excluding VW). If I’m spending BMW money on a vehicle I’m going to expect it to be flawless, but if I buy a used GM hoopty I expect it to be crap and am more forgiving. The Euro’s need to manage expectations better IMO.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      I’d say “check the plates” as it was at one time quite easy to check that said American car was actually owned by an American stationed overseas. Of course, now all cars are registered to the city where the servicemember is stationed. But by and large (coming from having lived there for 16 years), American cars are owned by a small, small, small (did I mention small) percentage of the German driving public.

      Most European cars here (and this has been said before) tend to come over loaded heavily with options compared to their European counterparts. Issue #1. Then there is the differential in parts costs. Issue #2. Perceptions are what they are…but having owned several German cars (as late as the early 2000s), my personal (admittedly single point of data) experience was that the German cars tended to have more quality issues than the Japanese cars I owned. While none stranded me, they did become a regular PITA. I guess it depends on how issues are ranked and rated…

    • 0 avatar
      slance66

      The Europeans don’t consider Fords to be an American brand. They have been building and selling them locally for so long, they are treated as a European brand.

      I always find it odd that VW has such a good rep in Europe (Top gear is always calling the Golf dead reliable, as if it were a Civic) and such a poor one here. Some of it may be explained by Mexico, but not all.

      I think the trend towards universal world cars, as Ford is doing, will diminish the perceived differences. Do Germans consider the X3 an American car?

    • 0 avatar
      stroker49

      Well, I’m living in Europe! The Fords you see here are made here. The Fords have not even been the same as the ones you have over there, that is changing now with the Fiesta etceteras. Opel and Vauxhall is GM but made here and has often been unlike anything from the USA. Chrysler don’t have any brands here but Voyagers have been assemblied in Europe and have been popular because it is a good minivan. Then you have nuts like me that like American cars and America. Some even import something fun from the other side like Panthers. We are talking significant numbers here! Not some odd Corvettes and Camaros. By the way, here in Sweden (and Finland and Norway) classic American cars is a big hobby. We have loads of classics, hot rods and more Harleys per capita than even in the USA. Big SUVs and pick ups are in fact not seldom American.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    I’ll offer another theory: European cars often have extra stuff over in the USA than in Europe. This technology is often unreliable since it is new and hasn’t had a lot of use in the field. In the 80’s and 90’s the USA Mercedes and BMWs got sunroofs, automatic climate control, power memory seats were, ABS, traction control, power windows, etc. If you got a stripped down European version with a stick shift and none of that electronic stuff, you would have half as much to go wrong. I had a mid 80’s Mercedes with two annoying rattles: the sunroof and the 3rd brake light–both avoidable in Europe.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I was just in Costa Rica for a week. I don’t think I saw one US make car, except for a 1964 or 1965 Comet on a car lot. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I saw a European car either except for a BMW or Mercedes or two. Everything was Japanese or Korean, and a high percentage of them including taxis that would make a Corolla look large were diesel-powered. There was also a very high percentage of standard transmissions, including in rental cars. Otoh, big trucks were the same mix of Kenworth, Peterbilt, and Freightliner that I see here on the west coast. Since I was in a big tourist area, the one vehicle I saw the most of was the Toyota Hi-Ace passenger van.

  • avatar
    lucas1980

    In Europe American cars are usually considered to be unreliable, but as some of you pointed out European cars are probably more expensive to run. Sadly the reliability of top European brands has decreased lately. It` all because of fancy equipment and strict regulations in terms of emissions. For example it`s common to have diesel injectors broken down even after 50 K ( kilometers) together with a dual-mass flywheel. And that typically would set you back a few thousands euro! I`m not saying about such terrible thing like diesel-particle filters that may last as long as 40 K in some cars. Of course such costs are considered to be “ normal operating costs”. Oh by the way
    krhodes1 nice Trabant, I`ve got two such two stroke rokets.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      Sadly, such items are now common on non-European cars. There are issues with Nissan Z DMFs, and, heck, DENSO high pressure injectors are, anecdotally, more likely to clog and foul than their Bosch counterparts, and cost a fortune to replace.

      good thing you can replace a DMF with an SMF, as long as you’re willing to put up with the vibration… And I know a guy who somehow refurbished a chattering Ford DMF on a Focus… But injectors? We’re all screwed on that issue…

  • avatar
    tonyola

    There seems to be a fundamental difference between European and American cars. I’m about to make a slightly tongue-in-cheek generalization but it’s not without some truth…

    The American machines can be carelessly put together and might slowly fall to pieces around their owners. However, no matter how decrepit the cars get, they can usually be expected to start in the morning and take you to your destination and back. It’s like the old saying about how GM cars will run badly longer than most cars will run at all. For example, just look at all the tatty and ancient Panthers and FWD GM H-cars still plying the streets.

    European cars are less predictable even if they’re often better-built. You can’t always depend on your shiny and well-crafted Euro machine to start in the morning and it can just up and quit anytime and anywhere. The odds of sudden failure increase proportionally with the heaviness of the traffic, the foulness of the weather, and the distance from the mechanic/dealer.

  • avatar
    skor

    A lot of this is perception, and perception that is influenced by prejudice.

    Since WWII, the Germans and, to a lesser extent, the Japanese have gotten grudging respect from Americans because “they had the guts to take us on”. On the other hand, Americans have little respect for their erstwhile allies who many see as having used the US, and as being ungrateful to boot. French “surrender monkeys”, flip-flopping Italians, effete Englishman. Or as they are collectively known to most Americans, eurof*gs.

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      Where did you get this idea? In the 1950s and 1960s, the European makers did very well in the US simply because there were no real domestic alternatives. Did you know that Fiat, Simca, and Renault were huge sellers in the US in the 1960s? British and Italian sports cars were bought and loved by the thousands. The US became the single biggest export market for Saab and Volvo. Even makes like Peugeot racked up respectable sales numbers. American car magazines enthusiastically championed the European makes to the public.

      Then the Japanese moved in and showed that US buyers could have the virtues of small cars with far fewer hassles. After some early mistakes, the Japanese did their homework and made sure that their cars were not only well built but also had the support of efficient dealer and service networks. The Europeans (outside of the Germans and Swedes), mostly failed to learn their lessons and slowly faded away. The Datsun 240Z alone pretty much destroyed the British sports car market in the US.

      • 0 avatar
        skor

        Where did I get that idea? Maybe from the people who sneer, “surrender monkey” every time they hear the word “France”. Or maybe from my neighbor. He saw an ad for Fiat recently, turned to me and bellowed, “FIX IT AGAIN TONY!”

      • 0 avatar
        tonyola

        The “Fix It Again, Tony” line is a statement from widely-documented experience, not prejudice. As for myself, I could tell you many stories about unhappy Fiat owners, starting with my older brother and the sweet-driving but monumentally unreliable and fragile Fiat 124 Spider he bought new in 1975.

  • avatar
    albert

    One item that is overlooked in this discussion is this: the Germans wanted always the newest gadgets in their cars, while the japanese never bother to be the first with something new.
    that has led to a lot of problems in cars as the Mercedes and BMW, where a Toyota would be reliable.
    Who were the first using ABS, ESC, airbags, satnav etc.?
    In 1996 I tested the then new Camry. Did not have something like electronically controlled brake force control on the rear wheels (something I like because of caravan towing). At that time every new VAG-car was introduced with that. Just to show how conservative Toyota operates. Do not introduce new features as long as they are not well tested.
    Another thing is that older cars are exported to developing countries. A lot of cars disappear into countries in Eastern Europe and countries like Iraq or African countries. So in general Europeans don’t have the very old cars.
    And remember this: the Mercedes E-Class is the taxi of choice and an example that does not reach the 400.000 mile is a bad one (a Camry falls apart after 200.000)

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      Same could be said for the Crown Victoria or Lincoln Town Car. The former are used as taxis and police cars, and the latter as limousines. They reguarly go 400,000 miles.

      And the problems with European cars in this country have gone beyond gadgets and electronic whiz-bang devices.

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    VW Passat. We all see them selling dirt cheap and their bodys still look good even 10-15 years in. They offer stick, wagons & 4 and 6 CLY. They have oil burners and even a W8. This should be the TTAC favorite car. It is not.

    Owning costs. They cannot be that cheap to buy if they were that good. It might go into the shop as many times as the Camry or Malibu. You just leave more money when you are there. That is what the public thinks.

    BTW my 1998 Jetta ate frozen brake lines in NJ at 55K when it was only 5 years old. Had CEL lights twice in that year I owned it. I like simple things. I don’t want to be part of the service writers life.

  • avatar
    Marko

    VW’s reliability in the US has gone up in the past seven or so years. The 2.5L five-cylinder (North America only, interestingly) cars, in particular, have almost Toyota-like reliability. Most VW reliability issues in that time period have to do with things such as 2.0T engine, keyless ignitions, and electronic parking brakes – in other words, items found on higher-end models. That may be a driving force behind the much-criticized VW “decontenting” (not that I am defending it).

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    Love some of the old chestnuts being trotted out here.

    The ’75 FIAT my Brother owned was a heap, so obviously FIAT must still make crappy cars 40 years later then. Seriously??

    I had to wait weeks for parts for my Volvo 15 years ago! Well, you know what, it is 15 years later and we now have this world-wide network of air couriers – Fedex, UPS, DHL – heard of them? My local BMW dealership can get anything from Germany overnight. Usually at no fee as BMW ships aircraft containers of parts over daily. This is on the RARE occasion that the part is not in the US warehouse already. The upside of Globalization.

    Another observation – here in New England, where the climate, driving conditions, and safety inspection regimes are probably the closest of anywhere in the country to Europe, European cars are very popular, and very common. Funny how that works….

    Ultimately, as one who travels 30-35 weeks a year and gets to rent pretty much everything American and Japanese under the sun, I will continue to prefer European cars. They simply are better to drive. And to me that trumps pretty much everything else. So I vote with my wallet, as the saying goes, and accept that I will not have the lowest possible TCO. I have no problem with that, if you have different priorities then buy something else.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      This is a lively and interesting discussion. European car fans initially claimed that the reliability gap is some sort of myth, and pointed to the opinions of European drivers as proof. Based on the experiences of Steven Lang and the data tabulated by Michael Karesh, this is not true. The gap is real.

      At any rate, posters have offered plausible explanations as to why a car that is considered reliable in Europe is not considered reliable here. It’s not just because of a bunch of posters are spreading the anti-Euro gospel on The Truth About Cars, or Americans are too dumb to know how to drive them.

      I’ve driven and ridden in European cars and completely understand why people like them. I’ve also listened to the experiences of the owners of some of those cars, and understand why, for many people, one European car is enough. (For the record, there are plenty of American and Japanese cars that are fun to drive, too.)

      My friend initially loved his VW Passat, but after a few years, he was wondering what would go wrong next. He bought a brand-new Hyundai Sonata last year, and, in his words, “I just took it in for the first-year check-up, and the amazing part is that there is nothing wrong with it. That sure wasn’t the case with the VW.”

      This also touches on a larger issue. VW has made no secret of its ambition to become a mainstream seller in the United States, on the order of Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota and Honda. It isn’t going to achieve that goal unless it really steps up its game regarding reliability and dealer service.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        My friend initially loved his VW Passat, but after a few years, he was wondering what would go wrong next. He bought a brand-new Hyundai Sonata last year,

        For the last year data is available for both models – 2008 the Passat and Sonata have exactly the same number of issues 72 per 100 cars.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        His Passat was not a 2008 model (I believe it was a 2002 or 2003 model – I do know that he had it for more than 4-5 years). His Sonata is the latest generation model.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        The reality is that European cars are not as unreliable as legend would have it, and Japanese cars are not as reliable as legend would have it. The gap is small and getting smaller all the time.

        Is a Corolla more reliable than a 328i? God I hope so – the BMW has stuff to break in places that a Corolla doesn’t even have. Is a Lexus IS more reliable than a 328i – probably, a little, but no where near the margin of a Corolla. And I know that a Lexus is no cheaper to service or fix by family experience. If anything, it is MORE expensive to service. The person who mentions the US only getting loaded European cars is certainly on to something, and I specifically avoided some known trouble spot features when I ordered my 328i.

        And finally, all those much loved super-reliable Japanese cars of the ’70s and ’80s are only so if you consider rust to not be an issue. Here in Maine they NEVER developed that reputation, because they never lasted long enough, and this continued right into the 90s. And thus you see old Saabs, Volvos, BMWs and MBs on every street corner here. The Japanese cars were very reliable right up to the point they got junked because of the rust. The Europeans got fixed and soldiered on. I can totally see why they caught on in mild climates though.

        American cars always seemed to be in the middle here. They lasted longer than Japanese cars, not as long as European, but they were cheaper to buy and to fix. But they are also CHEAP, as in not nice to drive or be in. What works in the wide open spaces of the Midwest does not work so well on windy bumpy backroads in Maine. I hurled out the back window of a number of American Family Truckster wagons as a kid. Urp.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The gap is real.

        My car is German. I’ve even had good luck with it. But I have no problem whatsoever conceding that the best of the Japanese beat the Germans for reliability, hands down.

        What the domestic and Euro fanboys refuse to accept is that Toyota led the way with lean production, and lean production produces better cars.

        A lean system, when combined with quality parts, will inherently produce a more reliable vehicle than can a traditional mass production system. A lean system is designed to check for errors more frequently, and to fix them more quickly.

        Toyota pioneered this, and Honda did an excellent job of copying Toyota. GM and Chrysler and the Germans have borrowed from it, but have never quite gotten the hang of it.

        After 20+ years of trying to get it, Ford has gotten closer, while Hyundai quality has improved now that they have people in positions of leadership who are devotees of lean methods. Implementing a lean system isn’t easy — not even all of the Japanese companies do well with it.

        The goal of traditional mass production was to keep a plant operating at something close to full capacity. It allowed a high error rate in the process, because keeping the line moving was considered to be the key to profitability.

        Toyota changed the game by allowing the customer to have access to a production alternative that had a lower error rate. It is not a conspiracy by the media or a myth, but a better and different way of making a reliable product. But lean doesn’t guarantee better styling or more engaging suspension tuning, and it is that deficiency that helps to get people like me to go German, instead.

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      So TUV, Autobild, What Car?, and others are making up their data about the mediocre-to-poor reliability of recent Fiats?

      • 0 avatar

        Find an Italian survey. Or a Brazilian one. Fiat will not do badly. Germans and British forgot buying Fiats long time ago. You know, mechanics familiarity with car?

        I know a Swiss guy. He always bought Fiats cause he liked them. Last time he bought a BMW 3 something or other. Why? Tired of indie mechanics (and dealership, too) who don’t know the heads from the tails in these cars. Got to a point in his life where he threw in the towel and joined the masses.

        Funny how in Switzerland BMW is masses and Fiat is for the knowing…Anywho, moving on.

        Anyway in autobild yeah – bad, not so much what car?. Never met a German in my life who admitted that an Italian could build something better than himself. Is that part of the problem there? In one broadstripe…I’m sorry but I suspect it is a problem. For Fiat’s perception.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    Surprised that this thread is so much about the cars when it’s the company culture that plays such a big influence. I would have no hesitation driving a VW in Germany, but I wouldn’t touch the brand with a 10-foot pole in North America, especially in the way that US concerns seem to be some kind of afterthought to head office and honoring warranties seems to be a legal game of dodge-ball.

    The other thing that’s missing is that the numbers probably do indicate that all cars are converging at a higher level of reliability… but that European car servicing costs more. Even if the defect rate is the same, people *are* gonig to remember the expense. My coworker had to get the the electronics for her A4 gearbox swapped… which for some reason required dropping out the whole transmission to get access at it. ???

  • avatar
    volvo_nut

    Homer: They charge you for parts AND labor? Pick one, buddy. I can do this just fine myself.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Lumping ‘Europeans’ into one category will always cause problems as well. Talk to a Frenchman, and they will gesticulate wildly whilst claiming that Citroen’s and Renault’s are wonderfully made and reliable. Talk to a German and again, they will tell you in no uncertain terms that VW, MB and BMW are by far an away the best made cars on the planet. Talk to an Italian and yet again, they will heap praise on Fiat, Alfa etc. You’ll always have patriotic drum thumping going on when it comes to cars from ones own country in Europe. You’ll also find anecdotal evidence which is held up as ‘CAST IRON PROOF’ that Johnny foreigners 4 wheel monstrosity is the most unreliable heap of badly designed junk ever. Only in countries like Britain where the domestic motor industry was a national disgrace for 30 odd years before collapsing into financial ruin, are people a little bit less over the top when recommending cars from their own shores. By the time Rover shut up shop, the only people recommending and/or buying the cars tended to be over 60 years old, retired and had memory problems.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    I can’t see anyone mentioning the reputation American cars have in Europe? And there is a difference between durability and reliability in my eyes, which is often mixed. Over here most American cars sold the last 20-30 years have been Conversion vans, trucks and Minivans. Chrysler has tried to sell us some of it’s passenger cars since it’s ‘rebirth’ in the 90’s. And I can tell you, neither of these are seen as very reliable. American cars from the 50’s , especially with a straight 6 could go on for ages,although in a crude tractor like fashion, but since the 70’s there was just a looong downhill. Automatic transmissions fail regularly, suspension and steering parts are already crude when new, and new service and replacement on a yearly basis, if you can find a way to even get them loose, electrics are just thrown in, lodged between the frame and body, and not very good to begin with. Not to mention parts are hard to get and expensive. People who need a full size pickup still hardly have a choice though, as the Tundra and Ridgeline aren’t regularly imported (some have found their way here though).
    And, as a friend of mine is unlucky enough to work on American cars daily, I can understand the part about Americans not doing maintenance, or even designing cars to have the option of being maintained at all. (splitting a Caddy to change oil and filter on the gearbox, changing oil on a smallblock :P, the three rear plugs on many V6’s , a good few of the sparkplugs on the last F-bodies with a V8, etc…

    • 0 avatar
      analoca

      True. American cars sold in Europe have a very poor record of reliability, which is bad, as buyers of those cars are in general American car lovers who try to keep them in good condition…

  • avatar

    Excellent question that seems to generate terrible answers.

    When it comes to reputation, perception is much stronger than reality. Perception is heavily affected by bias. That’s 90% of the answer, IMO.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Ok, I’m not the best and neither am I the brightest. I only know what I know.
    My first european car was in 1966 (vw beetle) and the last one was the Saab I bought 5-6 years ago. Every european car I bought had problems. In general nothing was beyone it’s normal expected useful service life when I bought it. Generally they were electrical in nature (including biodegradable volvo wiring). The last one was actually a saturn vue which went through some computers and finally threw a timing chain. I would not have bought it new if Saturn had advertised “saturn vue by Opel” or anything else moderately close to the truth.

    One thing I know. I do not expect to buy anything european in this lifetime. My list includes vw, opel kadett, mb, mg, saab, volvo, vue and probably more that I forgot. You can say what you wish but I think buying european cars is like hitting yourself in the forehead with a hammer. It fels so good when you stop.

    I own two chevs and a Nissan. If I was smart it would probably be three nissans. I am sure,however, it won’t be three europeans.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    North Americans tend to use a reality based definition of reliability.

  • avatar
    jogrd

    I do wonder about the nature of the way North Americans use their vehicles. The best example of a vehicle that had a good reputation in the rest of the world is the Diesel Hilux like everyone saw on Top Gear. Unquestionably one of vehicle with seemingly undisputed reliability. But somehow as they came over here as JDM imports (to Canada) the L series Diesels had a disasterous habit of lunching their engines, usually the head. The Prado and Surfs are just as bad. The classifieds often have engineless versions of these trucks available. I had a Hilux engine last 3 months from new in a work truck. We had 6.2 GMCs that lasted longer. (The 70 series diesel Landcruisers were unkillable though.) Yet everywhere but here the diesel Hilux seems reliable.

    I had a few gas Toyota trucks and they were reliable.

    I had not one, but two Fiat 128s. I loved those cars but they sure had interesting problems.

  • avatar
    namstrap

    My 72 Datsun 510 was one of the best cars I’ve ever owned. Too bad about the rust. I have fond memories of a couple of 411s as well. They weren’t as much fun, but they sure were reliable.
    Overall, I’ve been really impressed with Japanese cars. My current one is a 1993 Suzuki Swift with a 1.3 engine I picked up for $500. It’s a beater, but I love it. Wish I’d bought it new and kept it nice.

    • 0 avatar
      carbiz

      I learned to drive stick on my roommates ’73 Datsun 210. To its credit, the vehicle was in its 9th year and even the body was holding out. Yes, it was a fun car to drive. But it depends on how one defines ‘fun.’ In 1972, my father’s 3 year old fuselage Chrysler 300 was ‘fun’ to drive when it left a new Corvette in the dust on the freeway ( to be fair, the Corvette driver was taken by surprise). My first BF’s new ’78 Skyhawk was ‘fun’ to drive.
      But, I stand by my earlier assertion that in the ’70s and ’80s, most of the Japanese vehicles sold here had all the sophistication of a skateboard – that was the beauty of their design. They had nothing to break down, so reliable they were.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    I find it amusing that the rest of the world find American cars to be unreliable. Unfortunately for Americans the big 3’s financial issues cannot be blamed solely on Unions and politics. Product quality was bad… It’s a hard truth. Fortunately the big 3 seem to be getting their act together, one of them with a little help from the… ehem! Europeans.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    A few comments here have led me to wonder about differences in fuel types. Europe is highly regulated and it might be possible the cars are engineered to the regulated fuel quality and as such, are unable to cope with varying fuel quality?

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    I’m in the throws of having to replace my dying truck, a 1992 Ford Ranger with 236,850+ miles on it. It had its idle air controller go at least semi kaput on me so I can’t rev it like I could without it cutting power to about a 1000rpm before letting it climb back, only to do it again.

    A trip to Midas revealed other than what I’ve already known, massive oil leaks and a leaking cooling system. I knew about the oil leaks for a long while, the cooling system, last fall, the rest yesterday. I have a loose wheel bearing (left front), a loose U-Joint, a worn out serpentine belt, a battery that at just over 6 years old is about to go and got confirmation of the cooling leaks since I was notified of this at Precision Tune back in Sept. Not only is the radiator leaking, so is the timing cover and the thermostat (I knew it might be since I could not reinstall one of the bolts and just said fuckit and kept the two remaining bolts tightened as much as possible on the thermostat when I replaced it in 2010). The power steering leaks, however it starts just as readily as it did when new, brakes are good, as are the tires and the hoses.

    However, I’ve not touched the undercarriage much if at all other than new tires and a new exhaust. How many Americans actually have their underpinnings checked periodically, outside of the maintenance schedules and replaced as necessary? Probably not much once out of warranty. Very few warranties last beyond 36-50K miles, if that with Hyundai being one of the very few who do the 100K mile or 10 year deal on their basic warranties.
    I will agree that many Americans have this skewed expectation that one should NOT have to do a thing to their cars outside of periodic oil changes, if that for years to come. This is especially so now that cars don’t need the kind of maintenance intervals once required whereby you had to grease just about everything every 3000-5000 miles to keep it in good shape, just for starters.

    My truck spoiled me, even when I bought it 6 years ago, it was in great shape, despite having 189K+ miles on it then. It always started right up, ran great, stopped reliably and all that. The only major mechanical issues were the clutch slave and master cylinders. That’s it. I’ve had to put new tires on it and had to replace the exhaust 6 months after buying it but the rest, I’ve let lie as I just drove it, replacing spark plugs and wires and doing regular oil change/filter changes. To this day, it still fires up readily but now that the idle air controller is shot, I just can’t drive it on the freeway until it’s replaced and I would but I’d soon need to replace every seal and gasket in the motor to stem the oil leaks and that’s not dealing with the OTHER issues it now has. So, time to move along…

    Fortunately for me, rust isn’t an issue out where I live so the body is solid and the paint in great shape for a nearly 20 YO truck.

    But like all good things, eventually it gets used up, but this reliability thing, to me is more about expectations than anything else and I think we Americans to some extent may have a skewed sense of what is and isn’t reliable since we don’t seem to think about the other stuff like tie rod ends, steering knuckles, the steering racks, wheel bearings etc until they crap out on us, often not until the car has accrued something like 150K+ miles as they simply wear out.

    It seems Europeans respect their cars more mechanically speaking anyway and keep up on the things we often seem to ignore.

    Back when I was into VW’s of the air-cooled variety, I knew that even then, they’d be very reliable if you just checked them out periodically and kept things adjusted, fluids changed and they reward you with reliable service and for many a mile too. It’s when you didn’t that they’d spend time in the shop or on one’s garage inoperable. It’s the Japanese cars that have, I think done this skewing and so that may be what brought about this discussion in the first place.

    At least that’s how I see it anyway.

  • avatar
    vanpressburg

    I installed alarm systems for cars in Europe.
    I had costumers who had Japanese cars and European cars.
    The difference in reliability was huge. European cars are unreliable and Europeans lie to themselves: “I have 40 mpg” but they don’t mention thousands Eur per year for parts.

    • 0 avatar
      carbiz

      … anybody who deliberately spends more than they should to buy a ‘premium’ vehicle, then throws good money after bad in the way of outrageous maintenance, is NOT going to admit they made a mistake by buying the import in the first place! That’s human nature.
      Just like it’s human nature to ‘forget’ the bad things – that’s called nostalgia.

  • avatar

    When my new 2003 BMW had teething issues, the dealer and BMW NA were both right on it and did a great job. By comparison, my Acura dealer (new mdx) refused to replace coils and falsely billed warranty for spark plugs not replaced….I finally fixed the rough idle issue myself. While assuring Id not buy another Acura from Bedford hills Acura, they were clearmthatmanything busted had to go back to Acura and if the part wasn’t bad the dealer would get billed back. Meanwhile the customer is back to the shop 5x for a problem fixed with six coils……

    Yes, I’d buy another BMW…..just sadly not the 335 as I drive way too much and keep the car too long. Acura ? Penny wise and pound foolish…..and my canada built mdx has been overall more trouble than the bmw

  • avatar
    FJ60LandCruiser

    Europeans drive less. There’s no way of getting around it if your entire country is the size of one of our states that you will put 18,000 miles on a car in one year. Europeans are more likely to use public transport and most of their public transport is quite good rather than the drug addict/dealer delivery networks our buses and trains are. Europeans are patriots; Germans, Italians, and French are less likely to say a car made in their wonderful country (the source of all wonderment, culture, and advancement in the modern world) is crap. Also, when the weather in Europe sucks, they all go on vacation and just sit about and smoke. Here, we’re expected to show up to work rain or shine, hot or cold.

    When all your car is expected to do is take your entire unwashed family out into the paysage once a month to snack on stinky cheese and go wade about in a dirty creek with a bunch of other carvaners your expectations are much lower than if you expect it to start every day and then endure a 1-2 hour commute in any weather condition.

  • avatar
    Italian

    I think its all about the way we use and take care of maintenance and how little american machanics knew about european cars in past.

    I live in italy right now but I was born and grew up in the states. In the mid 80’s a family friend comes to italy and falls in love with a FIAT 500. He buys one e gets it fully restored and sent to the states. Once the car gets to the states it won’t start. 3 different american mechanics look at the car and can’t figure out what was wrong with it. One day my dad and I went over and when my dad saw the car and they told him the story on how it wouldn’t start, my dad opened the engine compartment looked at it a few minuts and with a screwdriver fiddled with it and started it. (He’s not a mechanic he just owned one before emigrating to the states and did hi own maintenance on it) This is only one of the stories about this car… After a few problems caused by professional mechanics my dad soon became the one who did everything on that car.

    German cars here are considered the most reliable cuz they don’t have many problems. My car is French (Peugeot) and I can’t complain. I could probably buy another one when I decide to change the one I have

    Don’t tell me its that we drive less. I drive an average of 15000 km a year with a 1.6 liter gas peugeot with only 110 horses.
    I drive on cobblestone rd in the city of milan and I take 800 km trips at an average highway speed of 150 kph (90 mph) Average seeing that we drive much faster here. My car is 10 years old and has 160000 km on it and the only problem I’ve had was with my roof (it’s a convertible hard top) and the cobblestone streets loosened a sensor so it wouldn’t open.

    In italy cars have to take a full inspection test 4 years after bought new and every 2 years after that.

    When I come to the states I usually drive a ’96 Ford Taurus regestered in Florida (no inspection required)

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Don’t tell me its that we drive less.

      Why? It’s a fact. 15000k is 9,320 miles significantly less than what the median US drives drives per year.

      • 0 avatar
        Italian

        I told you my average on my car. Not how many km I drive a year. I also use a 300cc scooter most of the summer and on nice days in winter and on that I do another 7 or 8000 a year depending on weather. (I used it sunday for a spin on the como lake (I went to Bellaggio precisely, its jannuary with a sunny mild day) Its great on gas doesn’t get stuck in traffic and you park almost any place it fits (who has been in a big italian city understands) As you see I do as many just about as many miles an american does (maybe because I to am an American but I decided to move to Italy) it’s just that I use 2 means of transport.

        I think that cars in some european countries such as italy, spain, greece are stressed much more than in america on day to day use. Traffic on congested narrow and not very smooth city streets and higher speed on smaller cars make a difference on how long a car can last.

        I had a 1989 diesel 2.0 mercedes and sold it at 310000 km and it went just fine. I sold it because it costed me to much for registration taxes.

        I have also had a 1987 fiat panda with a .750 (less than 1 liter) and I sold it with 190000 km on it and I never ever did anythig to it besides change oil, filters and brakes

  • avatar
    nikita

    Dealer network and manufacturer/importer support has much to do with it than just the manufacture of the car. VW became #1 import in the US and all the others faded out in the 1960’s. Why, yes, the car was well built, but far more complex and “delicate” than a Valiant. VW of America had a dealer network second to none. All parts were available in stock and the service departments were clean, well equipped and charged reasonable rates. At the luxury end of the market MB was the same, except far more expensive.

    I worked as an independent ‘ferrin car mechanic in the 1970s and was exposed to out-of-warranty VWs, Fiats and an occasional Renault, Simca, Jag, MG or Volvo. Trying to get parts for other than VW was always a problem. Usually, one dealer in town carried several European brands and was a pretty small with little inventory. Fiat did, however, have lingering build quality issues. Larry Reed Sportscars in Torrance had a good stock of crate engine blocks for Fiat in stock at all times. I was Tony, but drive a VW myself.

    MB and Volvo really glory years over here in the late 1970’s to early 1980’s, just when US cars were in the crapper. I still see/hear 240D’s clattering around here.

    More modern experiences? We had a 325i for over 100,000 miles, bought used. Routine stuff was easy and done on-schedule, but the care broke down far too often, mostly cooling system failures. We had a rental Fiat Uno on vacation in Italy, a new car thtat could barely do the speed limit on the Autostrada and it leaked when it rained.

  • avatar
    svenmeier

    The unpopularity of most American cars in Europe has nothing to do with their reliability. Their large size, overpowered engines and poor fuel economy and the resulting maintenance and tax costs (and lack of dealerships/spare parts) are the reasons why American cars never caught on.

    For example, Ford tried selling us the Excursion. It didn’t work. Nobody in Europe needs such a pointless car. So they made the 6.8 V10 an “optional” engine and made the 7.3 V8 diesel the standard motor since Europeans love diesels, right? It didn’t work. A 7.3 V8 diesel is an outrageous engine here and will be heavily taxed. Overall, the Excursion was a pointless car for Europe. It’s not unusual to see a Hummer H2 or a Cadillac Escalade in Switzerland, but these are rare status symbols bought by people who want to be different or have different tastes (and can afford it). The average European prefers practical cars and practical luxury cars with sensible running costs.

    On the other hand, there are many American cars that are very popular in Europe like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, PT Cruiser, various Chrysler Voyager vans and now recently the Chevrolet Spark and Cruze (the latter which were designed with Europe in mind).

    As for European cars and their reliability. Back in the ’70s I was a negotiator for for a major firm dealing with wood and this job required me to travel all over Western Europe – by car. My company cars were always French – mostly Renaults and some Peugeots. The preferred model in the late ’70s was the Renault 18. Cheap, reliable, easy to service, great on gas and comfortable. I owned two of these from 1978 to 1985, both with the 2.1 diesel. If memory serves me right, I put over 230,000 km on the first one, and a little above 200,000 km on the second one. In those times that was considered high mileage and the cars held up quite well. Basic maintenance was performed by myself and the Renault dealership. What did reliability mean to me back then? Well, the cars always started (was a little tough in the winters being an old diesel) and never left me stranded. I don’t consider parts that had to be changed due to wear and tear to be a reliability issue.

    I also had a 1985 Peugeot 505 Break (estate) with the small 2.3 diesel. I loved that car. It was so comfortable and even refined for a diesel in those days and it was also faster than the more expensive Mercedes diesels. It was a really good car and I liked it a lot. Company cars could be bought after four years and I bought the Peugeot in 1989 for my private use (had an Opel Ascona C as a company car by then) and kept it until 1994 when I gave it to my son. By then it had amassed a little over 400,000 km and was still running in perfect order. Reliability was top. Only parts affected by wear and tear were replaced but to me that has nothing to do with reliability since different materials wear out quicker than others in different cars. My son kept the 505 until 1999 when he sold it to an Eastern European buyers. I do not know how much mileage it had amassed by that date but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was still running somewhere in Eastern Europe. It was a good car and I have fond memories of it.

    Later in the ’80s my company switched to German cars, Opel Asconas and Kadetts and later a Mercedes 230E W123. These were good cars. Very reliable and cheap to fix if something broke, which was rare. I had an Opel Ascona C by the (I think it was a 1988 model, one of the last ones). A good car, not a great car. Reliable but very plain and boring with no real strong characteristics that stood out.

    My experience with French cars has been very good. The biggest problems they had were with rust. Currently I have a 2010 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TDI which I love and it is a very reliable car. I only had a dead battery on one occasion and a malfunctioning taillight lamp that was replaced under warranty.

    • 0 avatar
      Athos Nobile

      “Their large size, overpowered engines and poor fuel economy”

      I think that European cars actually have quite underpowered engines.

      European manufacturers tend to sell the higher displacement or power versions of their cars in countries with similar tastes to the US market. Por que sera?

      Some American engines are quite efficient, even if they are not as “sophisticated” as an European one. And sometimes they are easier and cheaper to fix too.

      Both markets conditions are very different. I guess what would happen if cars in Europe weren’t taxed by engine size or power or fuel type.

      • 0 avatar
        svenmeier

        “I think that European cars actually have quite underpowered engines.”

        No they’re not underpowered. Intelligent gearing and engine management mean our cars perform quite well and lively. Also, 150-horsepower today aren’t what 150-horsepower were back in the ’70s.

        Most Europeans prefer a fuel-efficient car because we’re also taught about the environment and energy efficiency from a young age. The average person will either buy a simple car that gets them from A to B with the lowest possible costs. Why? Because they’re not car enthusiasts and they don’t see the need for a Golf GTI when a 75-hp Golf is all they need. Things like 0-100 km/h or top speed aren’t really an issue – fuel economy is.

      • 0 avatar
        niky

        Underpowered is a matter of opinion. If a car can hit the maximum speed limit and can cruise on the highway at the legal minimum (usually 80-100 km/h, or 50-62 mph), then it’s not underpowered.

        It won’t be any fun trying to overtake anyone with something that just barely nip 80 mph (140 km/h), but then that’s not a necessity… just a want.


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