Foreign Vs. American Cars: Is There a Difference?

The long-standing debate over American vs. foreign cars has been evolving with the ever-changing auto industry: so where do we stand in 2015?

bmw: foreign vs. american cars

Back in the day, when Ford ran the motor vehicle game with the Model T, American-made was the only way to go. However, since tech and innovation have made somewhat of a race of the auto industry, foreign cars from now big-hitters like Japan and Germany have stolen much of the thunder that American cars used to hold. This debate is a multi-faceted one with many complex subtopics involved. But the bottom line is that there has been a significant difference between what we’ve seen from domestic and foreign auto-makers. So, here we are in 2015, after Detroit has picked up on the fact that Japanese cars are killing the auto game—which is better? So, foreign vs. American cars: what’s the verdict? And what is the difference, really?


The long-standing foreign vs. American cars debate has a few hot topics we should be aware of when looking at each side of the coin: quality, style, price, and fuel efficiency.


In the past, American vehicles have been notoriously low on quality and price alike. Foreign cars have been the long-time winners in categories involving quality, such as reliability and longevity. I’m sure we all have that friend who has owned their Japanese-made Toyota Camry for twenty years with no problems. Many Japanese brands were and still are known for their quality and reliability, while European brands are often recognized for their superior craftsmanship and driving performance. One auto-industry expert we talked with explained:

“German automakers, in particular, are known for their impeccable high-performance engineering, building fast and stable cars that can go around corners at high speeds without any trouble. Foreign cars have a huge edge on American cars when it comes to handling, suspension and steering.”

Today, however, we’re seeing a closing of the gap between domestic and foreign auto quality. Some of the “best in class” vehicles recognized by credible auto review publications have even been newer American models. But once again, how you define “quality” will lead you to a more clear answer within our domestic/foreign debate, because each entity carries its own respectable strengths. For example, one prevalent opinion among car-buyers is the longevity as foreign cars’ strong suit.

Today, we’re seeing a closing of the gap between domestic and foreign auto quality.


When it comes to style, the bottom line is that it really just depends what you like. Whether you’re joining the domestic or foreign market depends on whether you’re looking for one particular style or another. Once again, in the past, foreign cars have been noted for their high-quality aesthetics, lines, and style offerings (they’re called “exotic” for a reason, people), while American cars have lagged in terms of innovation. Recently, however, with the popularization of the American muscle car, there have been more options for the domestic buyer.


Pricing is one area where American models often take the cake. Domestic auto-makers can often give buyers more bang for their proverbial buck, offering a cheaper vehicle with all the features buyers look for in their cars today. Mike Rabkin, owner of From Car to Finish, a national new car negotiating service and information provider, gave us some insight on domestic vs. foreign pricing:

“American brands in many cases offer more value/features/performance for the money vs. some of its foreign competitors, but certain models of foreign brands (such as Hyundai and Kia) compete in those regards quite competitively, if not better, than their American counterparts.”

Another factor to consider here is the cost of repairs. Buying foreign car parts for cars (especially European cars like Volkswagen or BMW) can be extremely pricey. To repair an American car is often easier on your wallet and your time-table.


American cars, through time, have been known for their inability to keep up with efficiency trends. Fuel efficiency standards are much higher in Europe and other regions of the world, so naturally American cars won’t be able to run the efficiency race alongside foreign car-makers. This table from TTAC gave us some numbers to put behind this idea:

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As you can see, in 2011 and 2012, foreign cars far surpassed their American counterparts when it came to fuel efficiency. Again, American auto-makers are working to close this gap as of late, but foreign cars have notoriously been able to give American car-buyers better efficiency in their wheels.


Rabkin told us, “Comparison is not necessarily American vs. Foreign, but rather which brands (or models) are better for what you’re looking for in a car.” Regardless of which may be “better” than the other, there have been significant differences between auto-makers. So the big idea here is not debating domestic or foreign, but rather understanding what you’re looking for, and which models will meet that criteria for you. Recently, however, it has been widely recognized within the auto industry that those said differences are decreasing more and more as American auto-makers step up their own game in terms of quality, style, price, and efficiency.

Do you love your American or foreign car—and would you consider purchasing the alternative?

  • Jane Fox

    These are great things to look at when considering purchasing a car. I’ve gone with both foreign and domestic cars, and I’ve enjoyed both. I will say, however, that my Toyota engine needed virtually no repair compared to my Chevy. There’s lots of good cars out there, but you’ve got to understand what the long-term costs (such as repair) are going to be.

  • Casey Jones

    Thanks Hanne for the run down on foreign versus American made cars. As you mentioned, I like foreign cars because of their better reliability and fuel mileage. You are right though, it can be harder to find a foreign auto mechanic. However, as long as you stick to something common like a Honda or Toyota, you should never have trouble finding someone that knows how to work on it.

  • Jeffrey ” Doc” Furtado

    Hi Abby: Toyota cars are usually slightly lighter than USA cars. In addition, they put more money into R&D research and development. Therefore, the parts are designed to last much longer on average. Of course, you still have to do the maintenance.

  • Javier Castro

    In the USA, some of the major Asian car brands, like Toyota, Nissan and Honda, have their own models in the USA version of the car and are not the same as the ones we get here in Latin america. We also have the US version of those cars here as well, but are sold by used car dealers, since they can get them cheaper, by importing them from USA. Usually the US version comes better equipped but the ones that are the Japanese version, has proven to be a lot more reliable here than the US version. The Toyota, Nissan and Honda that you buy in the US is like buying a Ford or a GMC, it looks and feels just like an American car and actually even some models of US Toyota cars like the Highlander are only for North American market. So it is like Toyota and Nissan have their own American car models that they release only in North America. So in my opinion those should not compete as real foreign cars. A real foreign Toyota and Nissan car, are the ones sold outside the USA and they are 100% more reliable than a lot of American cars. American cars from like the 1990’s an on, are sold to people that are not planning to keep the car for longer time, since it is cheaper to change to a newer car in the USA than else where. Real foreign cars, like the Toyotas made in Japan, are build to last much longer, like my Toyota made in Japan Corolla 1.6 liter, year 1999 that has over 187,000 miles and it still makes around 29 mpg and still goes strong and has never let me down.

  • fishonjon

    They don’t you are just brainwashed with marketing hype.You can barely keep a Honda on the road.33 years as a real mechanic.

  • fishonjon
  • fishonjon

    Well they were above average in reliability once in ’07!”According to Consumer Reports, Mercedes boosted its reliability a bit in 2011, but is still inconsistent. The same can be said for Mercedes’ German competitors, Audi and BMW. In Consumer Reports last five annual reports, the last time these German brands have been above average in reliability was back in 2007. Since then, they’ve all slumped below the average in the industry.”

  • fishonjon

    Honda transmissions are easily the most popular in transmission shops.Just ask any of them.There have been times when I do two Hondas for one of everybody else.Buy a Buick you would be really hot in a Cascada maybe??Let Hanne Keiling buy a Honda.

  • fishonjon


  • fishonjon

    I bet you didn’t that a Porsche mechanic is the lowest paid mechanic in the business either

  • fishonjon

    Us mechanics shouldn’t tell you dummies about these junk German and Jap cars because it might decrease work flow

    • Centia Scipp

      O wow, you seem like one of those mechanics that make issues up or say things are wrong that aren’t just for money😒. It probably decreases because of your intentions as a mechanic..who wants to trust someone more concern filling his pockets than a good rep. With customers trusting you with their cars and some what their lives..smh.

  • Jasper Whiteside

    It’s interesting to see the different specialties that each country brings to the table. You mention that Japan makes long lasting cars that are incredibly reliable. European brands are known for craftsmanship and performance. There seems to be this tug of war throughout history between domestic and foreign cars. I know a lot of people who get confused and think that Henry Ford invented the modern car. Even though he didn’t, he did perfect the assembly line, which doubtless impacted the world.

  • Eric Anderson

    i have a dodge neon with 270,000 miles on it, but besides someone hitting me from the back it still running! But the radio was defected i had to replace it twice before the warranty ran out,and it had a bad ecm, and the gas mileage went down from 300 miles to 160. Now!!! The heater which i think was defected, i have a crack across my dashboard!!!!!!!!

  • John Thomas Brennan

    M/B has only one year with a car above average in reliability.You have GM transmissions and patents in Bentley’s,BMW’s,Audi’s and more.They are so intermingled you wouldn’t know the difference without looking at the emblem.Ford and GM are building 9 and 10 speed transmissions together and GM and Honda are working on fuelcell cars.