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Answer • Cars and Automobiles
Why do people still think American cars are bad?
WHAT THE REIGN OF TAILFINS AND CHROME ACTUALLY HID
Styling could not negate engineering defects, many of them, intentional
Robert Maybeth, former Mechanic on Bicycles, Cars, Trucks, Small Engines (1987-2015)
I worked in a government fleet for 30 years. Mostly Ford and Chevy/GMC/Dodge trucks with a lot of Ford Taurus and thousands of Ford crown vics in the police fleet. There were also several dozen Toyota Camrys and a few hundred Honda Civics in this fleet. I saw it all, and when you work with so many vehicles day in day out there’s really no more secrets as to how they’re made.
As a rule, I have seen that American cars have many, many designed in defects. I always believed that Americans could design cars just as good as the Japanese; but for some reason, they have deliberately chosen not to. I’m not talking about bad model YEARS since every car maker has those, I’m talking about the corporate culture itself – they deliberately made/make bad cars (when they could make good ones if they chose).
By “designed-in defects” I mean, problems that could have been eliminated in the design & engineering process – but were either left in or even actually added on later. I’m talking about “check engine” lights that come on at 20,000 miles, flimsy plastic parts (including such critical engine parts as intake manifolds) where metal should be used, poorly designed parts that fail too soon and are very difficult (read: more labor time) to access, replace or fix. Every mechanic is aware of these engineering disasters since they are the ones busy fixing them, and it’s discouraging. American cars are second-best unless you are one of those people that drives a new car every two years (before the defects begin to show themselves).
By contrast, most Japanese cars are masterpieces of engineering. They combine all the good elements – durability, function, cost – in the best possible compromise and sell that to the customer. The end user is seen as the one to be pleased and impressed (as opposed to most Detroit iron, which when you go to maintain or fix it seems like it was designed by your worst enemy). Most tellingly, the Hondas and Toyotas were rarely in the shop for repairs – no matter how many miles they had on the clock. It wasn’t just because the Detroit iron was over-represented in the fleet, it was because the Japanese stuff was just MADE BETTER. It became obvious, after decades of seeing this, that Japanese engineering is superior. It lasts longer, works better, with fewer problems than American stuff and this was a long-term trend. The difference might be explained by design philosophies, or the corporate management at the top (I have never doubted Detroit iron could be as good as Japanese stuff if the engineers were told and encouraged to do it) or something else that the Japanese were doing that the Americans weren’t.
I no longer own detroit iron – I stick to Toyotas now, especially now that I’m too old and infirm to crawl around under a car fixing them anymore. Japanese stuff is just better. I don’t like that, as an American, I wish it weren’t true, but everything I’ve seen says it is. I’d prefer to buy detroit iron. But since my money doesn’t grow on a tree in my garden – I can’t, I buy the better made cars.
Chris Everett, American.
Because for a long time, they were really terrible. From about the early 1970’s to the mid to late 1990’s, most American made cars were terribly unreliable in comparison to Japanese made vehicles, in particular. Nearly everyone has a story of themselves or an immediate relative that had a horrible lemon from the “Big three”, and they well remember the constant promises during this era that they were SO MUCH BETTER than they were five years ago.
They rarely were.
Further, while inexpensive Japanese vehicles still tend to be well made, inexpensive US vehicles tend to be poorly made. As many people’s first cars are naturally inexpensive, this tends to leave a poor taste in your mouth for the entire brand.
While you can certainly get very good vehicles from US automakers today, it will be a long time before people forget the generation long period of utter crap that they produced.
I have a Lada 2101 (1981). I was a fan of american iron. In 1987 A friend of mine bought a New Ford Escort, nice exterior I loved it, but the terminations, fuel consumption and agility were terrible in comparison with the old soviet [car], other friend had a Corolla SW (1982), better in fuel consumption than Ford with same engine size ( 1600 cc) and it had a radio (Ecort too).
Now, 2019, the only surviving car is the Lada. ripped seats, holes all around the body but runs smoothly. 30 mpg in city and faster from zero than a Suzuki Dzire. No radio.
I live in America.
Because most American cars sucked until very recently.
They were bad on gas, had cheap, plasticky interiors, broke down often, and were prone to rust in the northern states.
My father still owns a 1995 Chevy C-1500 with 160,000 miles on it. It’s 22 years old, sure, but even with relatively low miles for that age, nearly every single part on that truck outside of the engine block and chassis has been replaced at least once. Its frame is rusty even though it has been kept in a garage for its entire life. The A.C. never worked. It gets 13 miles to the gallon. Just a horribly unreliable, unpractical vehicle.
All other ‘90s American cars that my father owned have died horribly. Our ‘93 Dodge Minivan went through two transmissions in just seven years of life (among many other repairs) before being sent to car heaven. Our ’92 Chevy Cavalier had a cracked engine block after just six years!
On the other hand, our family never had any such problems with Japanese (excluding Nissan), Korean or German cars. My Mazda 3 ran for seven years on just oil changes before it was totaled in an accident. My father’s 15 year old BMW 3 series has 240,000 miles on it and has had maybe $1000 worth of work over the years. My sister’s Hyundai runs fine after 12 years. The Toyota runs fine after 10. Even my other sister’s Mini Cooper (not a brand known for reliability) has had only a few issues over the years compared to American cars.
I know that American cars have gotten better. I seriously considered them when recently car shopping. But I can totally understand why some people won’t give them the benefit of the doubt.
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