Reliability has always been a relative subject as automotive manufacturers differ in quality of design, assembly and materials. However, in the opinion of our editors, some basics have held true for quite some time. Keep in mind that these are general observations, and carmakers with lesser reputations do come out with dependable models, and vice versa:
European manufacturers have held the upper hand in luxury and performance. Fit, finish and quality materials have produced some very impressive cars. But initial quality does not always hold up well over time, as a result, a lot of European models are thought to be susceptible to a higher than average number of repairs. And the higher cost of some imported parts can make things worse.
The big three U.S. automakers have their hands full right now. Economical upheavals have been brought on by factors such as too many models to produce efficiently, past disregard of the need for economically greener cars, and extreme labor costs (UAW). Quality and reliability of American made automobiles had already been a topic. There was a significant downturn following the late 60s muscle car era, but over the last decade we have seen improvement. Ford Motor Company seems to have a jump on the pack.
On average, Japanese built vehicles take top honors in reliability. Their high quality and strict manufacturing techniques incorporated by a well defined corporate structure has paved the way. Toyota and Honda have focused on a limited number of models while taking early strides in fuel efficiency and emissions reduction. Vehicles consistently top 200k or 300k miles while undergoing normal maintenance and minor repairs, without a major failure of the engine or transmission. Recently, there have been signs of a few models being sub par in reliability, with some believing the increase in U.S. built Japanese vehicles being an influence.
Hyundai and Kia (a subsidiary of Hyundai) are long time Korean companies who began U.S. auto-sales in the 1990s. And it was far from a healthy start. The cheaply built vehicles introduced by Hyundai held up poorly and were subject to ridicule, which provoked a new approach to production. Research, followed by improved engineering and assembly procedures has since raised the bar in quality, increased sales and made the Korean automakers competitive.