Why were American Cars Considered So Bad for So Long?


For a while, American cars have served as the punchline of jokes. Every joke’s punchline features a Chevy by the side of the road with a Honda circling it. These jokes may be funny, but they’re also puzzling. Do Americans actually find their automobiles to be so unreliable, and if so, why?

Actually, contemporary American cars aren’t unreliable. Years of poor manufacturing and cost-cutting have damaged their reputation. The modern American car can compete head-to-head with any other vehicle on the market, unlike the very unreliable American cars from the 1970s and 1980s. 

Defining American Cars

It may sound absurd, but a vehicle qualifies as an American car if the majority of its manufacture is carried out here. The following is a nearly full list of American automakers in 2021:

  • Ford
  • Cadillac
  • Chevy
  • Jeep
  • GMC
  • Buick
  • Dodge
  • Ram
  • Chrysler
  • Lincoln

The “Big Three”—Stellantis North America, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors—are the only parent company that encompass all of these brands. Almost every American car you see on the road is one of these three. A few companies are an exception to this rule, including Hennessey.

Reasons Why American Cars were Considered Unreliable

Vintage American Muscle Car

The word “reliability” is frequently used, especially when discussing automobiles. It grew to mean “enduring for a very long time without breaking.” The explanations for why American cars were for a very long time regarded as being unreliable can apparently be found below.

Bulky Design

The fact that American cars are so big is one of the few causes of their unreliability. One explanation is that American automakers typically enlarge their automobiles to appeal to customers who appreciate size and power. Cars need to be bigger to maintain stability and safety at high speeds since American highways are often broader and have greater speed restrictions than roads in other nations. Finally, because of their family-friendly features and off-roading capabilities, many American shoppers favor SUVs and other larger cars. Whatever the motivations, it is evident that American automakers have no plans to reduce the size of their cars anytime soon.


Vehicle recalls happen when the manufacturer discovers a quality or safety issue with their products. In order to address the quality issue and prevent a major issue down the road, they advise car owners to bring their vehicles to a shop. 

For instance, when the Prius’ gas pedal would stick, Toyota issued a recall while the investigation was ongoing. Even though it proved out that there was nothing wrong with the gas pedal, they decided to conduct a recall rather than risk injuring additional people.

A vehicle with numerous unresolved recalls is very unreliable.

Frequency of Repairs

It won’t be long until you need to make a repair. This is true for anyone who has owned an automobile for more than five years. The simple truth is that your car will eventually need repairs. The degree of repair varies greatly, but what matters is how frequently it happens. It’s a significant problem if you have to bring your car in every week because something broke off. If this is the case, your car is quite unreliable.

Minor Inconveniences

Sometimes a car’s unreliability only manifests as a small annoyance. This may be something like a creaky passenger seat, noisy brakes, or an occasionally jammed air conditioning knob. Although none of these problems would make you want to scrap the automobile, they are all somewhat unpleasant.

Why Reliability is a Big Deal?

Reliability should be important to everyone. Whether or not your car takes you to work in the morning and home in the evening is the heart of reliability. Every time you turn the key in a very reliable car, it starts up and keeps going until you remove the key. You’ll spend a lot of time by the side of the road in an unreliable vehicle, popping the hood or squeezing your tools underneath the vehicle. You don’t need the numerous difficulties and frustrations that this causes.

Another metric that people typically consider is longevity. When you first drive a car off the lot, it may be dependable, but how will it look in 10 years? You want to spend as little time as possible in the shop if you want to buy a car and put a lot of miles on it. Purchasing a usually dependable vehicle is necessary.

Why are Japanese Cars More Popular in the US?

Sports Honda Civic

Japanese automobiles are more favored in the US, perhaps because they focus more on producing small, efficient vehicles. They are also more concerned with making their cars as safe as possible and have far lower accident rates than Americans.

Are European Cars Better than American Cars?

Red Coupe parked near a tree

Because they tend to be more fuel-efficient than their American equivalents, European cars are sometimes regarded as being superior to American cars. Compared to American cars, European cars are typically more dependable and better constructed. And lastly, compared to American cars, European vehicles frequently provide a more comfortable and opulent ride.

Today’s Reliability on American Cars

That business strategy was never going to succeed, of course. American businesses began to change their tune after years of losing to the international auto market. It began in the 1990s and truly came into its own in the last ten years or so. Reliability is currently one of the top issues for American businesses.

Yes, they still worry about their bottom line, but they also understand that producing dependable cars leads to profits. American manufacturing merits a great deal of admiration. According to a 2016 study, American-made automotive parts outlast their foreign counterparts in the same vehicle. The automobiles produced in America today cannot be compared to those of the 1970s. Significant progress was made, and the transformation is astounding.


Modern American cars

One of the main factors contributing to the restoration of American automobiles’ reputation is the development of engine and gearbox technology. Many American automakers have made significant investments in research and development, which has led to some of the best engines and transmissions currently available. Additionally, American automobiles are renowned for having superior fuel efficiency to their foreign competitors. Performance has improved as a result of the hard effort the American auto industry has put into lowering fuel usage and pollutants. There is no reason to think that American cars will ever be worse than those from other nations, and it seems likely that they will keep getting better. The most significant traits of American vehicle manufacturers are quality and dependability.