Why Buying An Old Japanese Luxury Car Might Not Save You Much Money Over A Less Reliable German One

German Japanese Car Parts Cost

Here’s a sentiment likely held by my parents, the internet, Consumer Reports, mechanics, radio hosts, YouTubers and just about anyone who can drive. Japanese cars are generally more reliable than German cars. To an extent, this is largely true. After all, it doesn’t take a lot of searching to find that the Germans can’t always make timing guides, bearings, intake manifolds, variable valve timing systems, electronics or seals work flawlessly. However, just because old German luxury cars might not be as reliable as old Japanese luxury cars doesn’t mean that every German car is much more expensive to run than a comparable Japanese car. What the internet doesn’t tell you about old Japanese luxury cars is that parts costs are often insane. Don’t believe me? Read on.

2007 Ls 460 1500x900
Photo credit: Lexus

Let’s start with two flagships from the midst of the Great Recession, the 2009 Lexus LS 460 and the 2009 Mercedes-Benz S 550. Both of these executive sedans are quiet, cossetting and absolutely brilliant on long road trips. They both have V8 engines, they both have air suspension and they both have a bewildering array of gadgets and gizmos. But what do typical consumables like struts and brake discs cost? Let’s start with the Lexus.

[Editor’s Note: Thomas is obsessed with BMWs, so — as someone who believes writers should be allowed to fly their weird flags — I figured he could go nuts on this post about German versus Japanese luxury car ownership, even if it’s not something that applies to Torch or me. I do wonder if German car parts are cheaper because they fail so often, and have necessitated a more solid supply base. -DT]

Air struts — come on, they’re going to wear out eventually and they’ll cost a pretty penny to replace when they go wrong. From Lexus, front air struts are $1,658.40 each. Ouch. Blow out a pair of those and you’re looking at $3,316.80 just in parts. If you’re the DIY sort, you could hit up a reputable online seller like mylparts and catch a slight discount of $1,406.97 a strut, or $2,813.94 per pair. Decent savings but still not cheap. Meanwhile, the S-Class has a major perk of superior parts availability. Forget dealer pricing, let’s head straight over to a reputable online vendor like FCP Euro to find brand new OE front air struts for $1,220 apiece. That’s $2,440 for a pair or a savings of $373.94 over the third-party vendor’s OEM Lexus struts before factoring in shipping, a really solid chunk of change.

W221 Left Front Three Quarter
Photo credit: Mercedes-Benz

While air struts are hopefully something you’ll only need to replace once, brakes are more of a going consumable. On the Lexus, OEM front discs from mylparts are going for $76.82 apiece while rear discs retail for $94.41 apiece. Add up all four and you get a total of $342.46. Not bad. Still, the Mercedes proves cheaper once again with FCP Euro offering OE ATE-supplied front discs for $106.99 and rear discs for $43.79. Add up two of each and a set of discs ends up totaling out to $301.56. The last time I checked, $40.90 in savings isn’t exactly insignificant.

2007 G35 Sedan
Photo credit: Infiniti

Okay, so maybe you’re not in the market for a flagship. With these gas prices, who could blame you? Maybe you’re more of a compact sports sedan person who’s cross-shopping a pair of stylish and sensible rear-wheel-drive three-pedal options. The 2007 BMW 328i and the 2007 Infiniti G35. Let’s see what major consumables are like on these things.

How about a set of dampers? OEM front dampers from Infiniti’s official parts site retail for $297.68 each. Yeah, I needed to collect my jaw off the floor as well. Third-party vendors of OEM parts can certainly do better, with typical pricing of $238.68 each. Strangely enough, rear dampers are cheaper through Infiniti’s official channels at $160.65 apiece. That’s $798.66 for a full set. What are these dampers made of, myrrh? Let’s contrast this with OE sport pack Bilstein dampers for the BMW because of course you’d find one with the sport package. Each front strut retails for $115 through FCP Euro which each rear damper retails for a sensible $73. Add it all up and dampers for the BMW cost $376, or $422.66 less than a set of dampers for the Infiniti. Holy crap. If you’re the wrenching sort who values high-quality OE or OEM parts, you could replace the dampers on the BMW, replace the electric water pump and thermostat preemptively and still have $55.99 in the bank.

Thomas 325i
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

Alright, let’s move onto brake discs. OEM front and rear discs for the G35 retail for $90 apiece from Infiniti, but third-party vendors are legit with the savings. We’re talking $69.30 apiece, front and rear for a grand total of $277.20 for all four. Hey, 23 percent off isn’t bad. So what about discs for the BMW? Well, OE ATE-supplied discs retail for $59.99 up front and $50.99 out back, or $221.96 for the set. I don’t know about you, but savings of $55.24 buys like half a tank of premium.

Now you may be wondering why I’m using OEM parts for the Japanese cars and OE parts for the German cars. You may even wonder what difference the letter M makes. Don’t worry, I’m here to break it down for you. OE or original equipment parts are usually identical to the parts installed on cars at the factory. They may have gone through a few revisions but they’re guaranteed to fit every time and not be any worse in quality than the stock parts you’re pulling off. OEM or original equipment manufacturer is just an OE part with the car manufacturer’s name on the box as opposed to Bilstein or ATE or Continental.

Img 2187
Photo credit: Thomas Hundal

We know who supplies OE parts to German car manufacturers, but who supplies OE parts to Japanese car manufacturers? As ever, it’s a mix of brands. Denso supplies a lot of electrical components, Exedy moves volume in OEM clutches, Akebono offers brake pads for several factory applications, and Tokico manufactures a lot of dampers. However, it can be difficult to trace a supplier to a manufacturer and sometimes it’s almost impossible to buy OE parts. Not every manufacturer uses the previously-listed suppliers and some suppliers don’t even have a consumer web presence in North America.

For instance, many Toyota trucks use Sumitomo brake pads that are almost impossible to get outside of heading to the dealership parts counter. It’s a similar deal with Tokico, a brand that doesn’t even have a web presence in North America. Meanwhile, suppliers like Mahle and Lemförder that supply to German manufacturers are much more forthcoming with OE status and have a huge presence in North America, often through distribution deals with independent retailers. Ergo it’s much, much easier to get OE parts for a German car than OE parts for a Japanese car.

Lemforder Oe Control Arm
Photo credit: Carpart24

So there you go. Sure, the average depreciated German luxury claptrap will require more fixing than the average old Japanese luxury car, but if you’re handy with a wrench, total cost of ownership using good parts might be closer than you think. Believe it or not, I found this out the hard way. My old G35 was lovely but parts costs were abominable. [Editor’s Note: One of the reasons why I sold my Lexus LX-470 was that parts pricing was absurd (Also it was a bit boring and it sucked gas like you wouldn’t believe). -DT]. For instance, not only did the radio fail, the radio was discontinued when it failed, a pretty poor practice for a common failure point. Replacing the radio with an aftermarket unit required changing the entire center stack. When I sold the G35 for a slightly slower 3-Series, everybody thought I was crazy. Well, I’ve now owned the 325i for a little more than two years and I’ve saved thousands of dollars over my first two years with the G35. As ever, your mileage may vary, but it really does pay to look at total cost of ownership. You could end up with a posher, nicer-to-drive vehicle for very similar overall money.

Lead photo credit: Thomas Hundal

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54 Responses

  1. Completely unconvinced by this article. I hope I never own another BMW, but would be happy to drive someone else’s. I notice no mention of cooling systems in this article, or window regulators, or shrinking plastic intake components, more let me find the bits I can find cheaper and highlight those. I jumped in my 2005 Sequoia and delivered a car from Houston to Tucson over the weekend without a worry. Years ago I was worried to drive my relatively new 2003 X5 outside of Houston city limits as it had such a tendency for failure. Fancy Nissans are not the pinnacle of Japanese cars either.

  2. Honestly, I chalk it up to a cultural/regulatory thing.
    “Wait, regulatory?”

    Yep. High end German cars don’t really sell well in Germany, because they’re even more exorbitantly expensive than they are here. In the US, an S500 will set you back a cool $113k or so. In Germany? €166.933,20 for the diesel. Then you’ll need to tack on 19% VAT, bringing you to a cool €199k or nearly a quarter of a million USD. That’s pretty common across all of Europe – both the 19% tax rate and the much higher prices.
    Consequently, buyers over there demand more life out of their car. The average age of cars in Europe is pushing 12 years. Because of that demand, plus the costs in engineering the parts, it makes sense for European makers to use more common parts and to keep spares in production much longer. Especially since these old cars still need to pass TUV and similar. And because owners keep the cars much longer, there’s much more demand for repair parts, making a viable aftermarket possible.
    European regulations also help significantly, because when Porsche buys coilpacks from Beru as an example, Beru basically must make the exact same part available to others at a price similar to what they charged Porsche. Which is why you can buy the Porsche-specific Bosch FGR-4-NQE-04 for $10.50 as a Bosch or $24.50 as a Porsche. Same part. Coil pack? Beru is $46.75, dealer is $64.25. And remember, these are parts for low-production sports and supercars. So parts for something like a BMW 3-series have even better availability.
    They also have stricter laws and regulations about anti-competitive behaviors, which are enforced. It’s very hard for any manufacturer in Europe to prevent a company from making an aftermarket equivalent part with the usual bullshittery we see over here.

    Japan is very much the inverse and one of the most old car hostile countries in the world. By far and away. The average service life of a car in Japan is just 8 years, despite the average mileage they drive being so much lower than elsewhere in the world. What gives?
    Shaken. If you think TUV is strict, you haven’t seen strict. Shaken (technically 自動車検査登録制度 or Jidōsha Kensa Tōrokuseido) is not only insane but also insanely expensive. It was literally designed to force people to buy new cars. “Illegally modified” vehicles can’t be repaired or registered. A perfectly maintained used car will cost you over $100,000JPY every 2 years. When a car hits 10 years old, it can more than double, and becomes annual or bi-annual depending on the car and age.
    So your 10 year old Toyota while running perfectly will cost you over $750 per year to put plates on, every year, eventually increasing to thousands of dollars per year.
    And when I say strict? Let’s see. David’s minivan would not even make it past the exterior inspection, because it has rust and non-clear windows. Yes, having rust-through on non-structural body panels is an automatic ‘unsafe.’ Any rips or tears on the interior? If they’re not repaired or securely taped that’s a fail. Any cracks in the plastic? Also a fail. Rust on the brake lines? Automatic unsafe. Is the alignment dead on to factory specs? If not, that’s a fail. Is the speedometer accurate within 2km/h and consistent within +-1km/h? That’s also a fail. Headlights correctly aimed and aligned? Functioning brakes? OBD-II isn’t enough, they’ll be doing a tailpipe emissions test as well, and checking for rust and weld quality on the exhaust system as well. That bushing looks like it’s dried out, that ball joint is leaking grease, there’s surface rust on the springs, your car just failed. Oil leaks? Fail. They even check spark plugs.
    No, I’m not joking. Surface rust on springs is an automatic fail. Non-functioning 4 wheel steering? Also an automatic fail. You can’t remove or disable the 4WS to pass either. And once you fail, you MUST remove it from the roads permanently – either by destruction at a disassembler or by export. And the inspectors are employed by the government directly – making any attempt to bribe them a guaranteed prison sentence.

    Consequently, Japanese car makers have absolutely every reason to NOT continue making parts, or to make large numbers of spares. Particularly for domestic market cars. In Japan, Toyota gives zero shits about their cars going 200,000 miles because they absolutely will fail Shaken as ‘unsafe’ before half of that. Remember: Japan is an island, humidity is generally high, the whole country is subject to snow and winter conditions, and much of the population lives near salt-water coasts. So surface corrosion is ultimately guaranteed.
    And because the cost to repair and maintain cars in Japan is so high as a direct result, there’s a direct counteracting pressure on aftermarket and repair parts. Something as simple as an oil change can cost more than double what it does in the US, easily. Mechanics are hard to find, and very expensive. So it ends up significantly cheaper to scrap your 6 year old Corolla and buy or lease a new Corolla.
    And what is Japan’s largest export market? Yep, the US. No exhaust, 4 broken coil springs, two deployed airbags, one functioning seatbelt, no OBD-II codes? Here’s your registration, sir/ma’am. Safety inspections? Ha ha ha. Even where we do have them, they’re non-government employees, often at shady ‘mechanics,’ and more than happy to look the other way for a few bucks. With a market like that, where people aren’t going to fix rust on coil springs or dried out bushings, and will just scrap it when something big breaks anyways? Not a lot of incentive to make parts.

    1. I seem to recall that a law in the US requires parts availability for 15 years. While I may have imagined that, I know Honda has committed to 20 years parts supply. I own a 2015 Fit.

      1. There is no law in the US requiring parts availability for 15 years. What we do have is a hodge-podge of pointless attempts by states to occasionally force manufacturers to not generate tons of waste, and some very very basic emissions and safety rules.

        Case in point, emissions parts. Manufacturers are required by law to warranty “specified major emission control components” for 8 years or 80,000 miles. “Oh cool, so they have to make computers for 8 years, and replace them free!” NOPE! That regulation got whittled and whacked and slashed to the point where literally the only part covered is the catalytic converter. That’s it.
        Over 200 parts listed as important emissions components, and the only one they have any liability at all for is the catalytic converter unless you can demonstrate the ECU only failed in controlling emissions. Good luck with that, especially when it bricks. And no matter what, they’re only required to have enough to supply the estimated demand. If they under-estimate, “whoopsie, sucks to be you, we’ll have to cover a compliant aftermarket (with next to no post-installation liability.)”

        Honda’s “20 year parts supply” commitment is 110% pure fucking bullshit and straight up lies. Ask someone with a 2014 Honda Insight about that one. Your IMA cooling fan broke? Too bad, discontinued years ago. Oil pan cracked? Well, you’re just fucked. You need a new motor battery? Nope, you have to buy a whole new car, because that was discontinued years ago.
        Honda is not even remotely going to produce parts for 20 years. They’ll claim they estimated the parts supply for 20 years and it’s not their fault it ran out when their estimates were based on every single car they make going 300,000 miles without needing a single repair.`

    2. Not a lot of incentive to make parts.

      And yet I have no problems finding parts for my 12 yo Hiroshima built Mazda 5. Not exactly a high volume seller, even in the U.S.

      That may partly have something to do with the fact it’s MZR engine and parts of its rear suspension are shared with the Ford Focus. And that it’s tie rod links are the same as those of a BMW 740. Even so model specific body and interior parts are available and reasonably cheap. Even more so for my 16 yo Honda Accord, not that it needs much.

      Besides even if Japan dosen’t care China does.

      1. This doesn’t change the fact.

        The Mazda 5 parts situation is similar to the Acura DC2 situation. Manufacturers make and purchase parts based on estimated sales numbers, warranty claims, and failures over the lifespan of the car. If they don’t sell enough cars, or too many cars end up scrapped or wrecked, or you have a nationwide infestation of rice-rockets with +5HP red stickers on cheap PVC hot air intakes, then they end up with too many parts. And if the car shares parts with another, they can swap boxes, improving availability and reducing costs.

        Which is why it’s just like the DC2. The parts are simply available because there wasn’t enough demand for them, and they’re still selling off what they had. Some of them may have been parts that were meant to build cars and instead ended up in a box on a shelf. Other parts are common or identical, so they just happen to work or are propped up by other demand (like the MZR, the Ford shared parts, and such.)

        And China does not give a shit. China goes where there is money to be made, ethically and often otherwise. If they can make money selling trash quality MZR camshaft sensors by the gross, they’ll do it. If they can do it using something else to make it even cheaper, then they’ll do it. But if they aren’t going to sell enough to make it worth their while, then they aren’t going to do it. Same as anyone else. If it costs more to make than they stand to sell, there is no profit in it.
        Just because it’s cheaper in China does not mean setting up tooling – even fake tooling that just embeds a $0.03 resistor in plastic – does not cost money. If they can’t sell enough of something to cover the costs, there’s no reason for them to make it either. 50 people who won’t buy a new car doesn’t keep the lights on in the factory.

        1. “The parts are simply available because there wasn’t enough demand for them, and they’re still selling off what they had.. ”

          Sorry I wasn’t clearer. My point was NOS OEM or junkyard parts are not the only options available, especially for non critical but often damaged items like bumper covers, glass, rearview mirrors, tailight and headlight enclosures.

          “If you’re the wrenching sort who values high-quality OE or OEM parts”

          Sure…IF the original part wasn’t a POS to begin with. If you are replacing it for reasons other than normal and reasonable wear or crash damage it’s probably a POS and an OEM replacement will be a POS too.

          Even critical parts like brake pads, rotors, suspension arms, half shafts, etc you can buy good quality non OEM that work just fine, maybe even better than the original depending on how crappy and failure prone the OEM part was.

    3. > Consequently, buyers over there demand more life out of their car. The average age of cars in Europe is pushing 12 years.

      The average age of cars on the road in the US is… 12.2 years (projected, for 2022).

      1. 11.8 currently, 12.2 for 2022, yep. Europe was at 12.8 for 2020 based on the data I found. Also remember that nearly everywhere in the world drives significantly less on average than the US, as well. The average miles driven per year in the US is 11,000-15,000 miles. Europe ranges between 7,500 and 13,800km per year for 2019 (by country) – that’s between 4,660 and 8,575 miles.
        Even before COVID, the peak was Finland at 19,200km/year (11,931mi) in 2002 which dropped to 16,800km/year (10,439mi) by 2008. The next closest was just 14,500km/year or about 9,010mi/year.

        So assuming average driving habits and replacing the car at 100,000 miles, your average European driver gets between 21.5 and 11.7 years of mileage. And at 100,000 kilometers, it’s between 13.3 and 7.2 years.

        By the way, the country with the least average driving? Italy, of all places. Maybe it’s deliberately flawed methodology on their part, maybe it’s legit. But it’s been in decline since a peak of 12,398km in 2004 and was just 8,464km for 2019 (up from a low of 8,096 in 2017.)

    4. You said it. There are practically no new parts for 25-yo JDM cars. There are, however, thousands of perfectly good cars being cut up for parts so there are lots of used bits available.
      Now back to trying to find new door rubbers for a 1993 Honda Today Associe, unavailable since about 2005…

  3. Owner of a 2008 Lexus LS460 here, 133,000 miles. Bought at 70,000 miles. Yes, parts can be expensive, but the good news is you rarely need parts for it. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that everything works on my LS. Every. Single. Thing. And the car looks almost brand new. Working on it is relatively easy, and believe it or not, there are great resources online for how-tos and wrenching advice for the LS (clublexus.com) These cars ruin you for other cars by how good they are.

    Show me a 2008 MB S-Class that can even come close to being as trouble free and durable as the same era LS. The LS is the used car steal of the century (at least, before all used cars went nuts).

    1. Another ’08 LS 460 owner here. There’s a couple problem areas on these chassis, but for the most part – the interval where parts go bad is lower than on the german counterparts.

      This particular LS chassis is known for premature control arm bushing wear (new arms $$$$, but you can get new bushings and press them in for $ instead.), brake accumulator failure (or even just noisy, squawking sounds – new accumulator with labor is $2k+), and melted interiors (there was an extended service available and many of the cars got new dashboards and door panels already, but some have not).

      Other than that, the LS 460 is fantastic. Oh – and to Mr. Hundal – the LS 460 only used air suspension on the long wheelbase models – so most of these are regular coil spring vehicles. One other thing to consider, too – there are often part interchanges with Toyota, so I can usually find what I need, even from a dealer at a 50%+ cheaper price than what Lexus lists it at.

      I also have had a fleet of BMW’s, and other than slightly more frequent service intervals for certain items, they’ve been relatively affordable to maintain as a DIY’er.

      The biggest boon to a Euro owner, though, is definitely FCP Euro. So long as they stay in business and have the infinite warranty/exchange program, it makes the ownership experience much better. That said, most people switch cars so often that most won’t take them up on it, but if you are the type that does/would, it’s remarkable.

  4. The big thing with buying German cars is not only to buy a good example, but know which models to get, which engines to get/avoid, and what to expect on each of them. Avoid the BMW N54 engine and most V8s, the NA I6 and the N55 are solid. If you want a flagship car, avoid BMW and get a Benz instead, still realize it’ll be expensive to fix if needed but the 2008-2013 S is pretty reliable.

    I haven’t had any engine issues with my N55 335i, the issues I have had out of warranty were expected based on research. Consumables aren’t really any harder to replace than on something like an Infiniti, so as long as the powertrain is good you’re most likely going to be just fine.

  5. They’re both absurdly expensive, especially when moving beyond consumables as v10omous mentioned. We have a 2011ish 750iL parked, seemingly permanently, due to electrical problems. It will run, but locked itself down with no way to disengage the brakes or take the transmission out of park (nothing inside responds, I mean nothing beyind starting the car).

    These cars are not for the faint of heart. If you’re wealthy enough to try to keep a 2009 top-of-the-line luxury car not only alive, but in tip-top condition with all OEM parts, is saving $55 down the road on your radar? Or would you just buy what you wanted and deal with it?

    I admit that I admire several generations of the Lexus GS, but several parts for my old Camry were ridiculously expensive, I’m sure the Lexus is many times worse. It’s the little things that cost crazy money. And every time you go to a Toyota parts counter, pre-pandemic, it’s ALWAYS “oh those are in really high demand and are backordered”. But T O Y O T A?

    Still, I’d take one in a heartbeat over a 2000s or newer BMW, Audi or Mercedes.

    Most people drive these cars (at this age) until something breaks, and then they get something else. They’re not going for OEM brake pads. All they care about is that badge on the back when they should’ve stayed where they belonged in a beater midsized sedan.

    1. You raise a good point about the target demographic.

      When the Japanese luxury cars first appeared on the scene, their near-immediate success demonstrated that there were plenty of people who just wanted a reliable vehicle with a badge that in effect said “this cost a lot of money”.

      The racing heritage, performance connections, etc. reasons that these people would previously employ to justify why they’d in the past purchased European cars turned out for many (not all, but…) to be just rationalizations. The Japanese cars had little of that. I know things are changing (go IMSA Lexi!), but it takes time.

      And that demographic likely isn’t as committed to long-term upkeep, as there will always be newer and better cars to acquire that signify their resources.

  6. If you do the work yourself, the parts cost is the big ticket item, but if you have to go the stealer (or an indy shop), labor will probably be more than the parts. Based on watching the Car Ninja on Youtube, BMWs seem to be designed to not be worked on.

    I do my own work for the most part but know from my wife’s car that the local Volvo dealer charges about 35% more per hour than the local Ram/Jeep dealer (on the plus side, they actually fix it right the first time, whereas the Ram/Jeep dealer never gets it right the first time). I wonder how the Euro dealer’s labor costs compare across the board to the Japanese dealers?

  7. I’d still go with Japanese because I’m not buying the flagships. While I typically buy OEM, if the cost from my favorite online dealership is still too high, I buy OE or better. It isn’t that hard to find quality asian parts even if you don’t know who made the OEM. Stick with the stalwart manufacturers like Akebono, Nissin, Centric, Denso, Aisin,…etc. You got options.

    Like Thomas, my first hand sampling size is only a coupe cars. In both cases, the Benz and BMWs cost more to maintain. You could go to the dealer for genuine OEM, but the cost is more than Asian dealerships tend to be. The problem I kept running into is that there are a good number of parts that you cannot go out and buy from you local parts store for German cars. That left dealerships or possibly EU suppliers. At least today the supply of German parts is better from US warehouses.

    1. Yeah but Thomas is a BMW fan so wanted to prove he wasn’t delusional. Also as a fan knows the place to buy cheaper German parts as the owner of the Japanese car would learn but he couldn’t be bothered.
      Frankly both cases are expensive.

    2. These prices aren’t so bad. I had to buy four new shocks for my 1996 Toyota Caldina (a bread-and-butter JDM station wagon), but everything is discontinued. After two weeks of hunting I shipped two shocks from Japan, one from Sharjah, and one from Dubai. Another three weeks of waiting and they were all here. Total cost? $1,516.

      The original set lasted just over 25 years in Japan, which should hopefully equal at last five years on NY roads.

  8. I think if anyone is expecting to drive an old luxury car for cheap they are generally going to be unpleasantly surprised. Repair costs correlate more with original MSRP than depreciated value (one of the primary reasons luxury cars depreciate so much to begin with).

    Consumables like the items in this article can generally be planned and budgeted for, it’s the unexpected $1000 sensor repair that will really get you.

  9. I would take my 3 consecutively owned W212 Benz sedans over any of the dozens of Japanese cars I had previously…. And I love me some Hondas, but the Benzes have been absolute dreams to own and have been so much cheaper to maintain than I anticipated…. Granted, I’ve had 3 E350 4Matics in a row so we’re talking about the German equivalent to a Crown Vic; they’re indestructible tanks. Something like an AMG specialty model would be a bit more to deal with I’d imagine but even then, the smile-to-cost ratio is totally worth it.

  10. The writer point out a couple of examples of German vs Japanese Ownership. I’ve owned about twenty of each. I assure you owning and maintaining a Japanese car is considerably cheaper than maintaining a German one. This is of course assuming you’re keeping them stock. When you start tuning anything is fair game. When I was in German cars a few examples were a w210 e55 or an e39 sport wagon along with a slew of e30’s. Rarely a week went by that my indy didn’t see me. This was because he could order parts and have them next day at cost. I also had a few integra’s and rsx’s scattered in there as well. Indy could still get anything I needed for them as well. While the prices weren’t a whole lot different the trips were much less frequent. The point I’m trying to make is my indy specializes in German and Japanese cars. Guess where almost all of his income comes from. It’s not the japanese cars. These aren’t old cars either. Most of what he and his staff work on is less than ten years old. They’re just out of warranty. His entire parking lot is filled with Audi’s, BMW’s, Range Rovers, Mercedes’ and even a couple of Bentley’s occasionally. I’m currently driving an 01 lexus land cruiser with 440k miles on it. My wife is driving a gl450 with less than half that. Guess which one’s air conditioning decided to stop working yesterday.

  11. I’ve been told that the big Lexus sedans, even without air suspension, need front control arm replacement around 100k miles. It’s not a 100% (likelyhood of hazard=1) thing. The cost isn’t nothing (harm of Hazzard not =0). Thing is, without air suspension not much else is likely to go wrong. Comparing the price you can find after becoming an expert on BMW DIY to – not the equivalent on a Lexus is big bias. At least find out what the fan websites say is the best value source of parts, or compare dealership to dealership costs.

  12. The price of parts means nothing if you never need to buy them. I’ve been burned too many times before by my love affairs with old German barges.

    Lexus, for people who actually expect to use their car for transportation.

  13. I have a 2012 Benz SL63 AMG. I was quoted just a little over $3k for front brakes by the dealer.

    I enjoy some wrenching on my stuff, so I got upgraded discs and matching pads from Rock Auto and did the whole job myself for less than $800.

    The dealer’s parts cost would have been closer to $2k for inferior parts.

    1. I just slapped drilled and slotted rotors all around and brembo pads on mine when the service intarval light chimed for half of what the dealer quoted to get the fronts done. The labor markup on German performance sedans is insane. Also did my own brake flush with the Motive bleeder kit, cakewalk stuff.

  14. Respectfully I disagree.
    I make no claim at all about being an expert and I have not wrenched on a BMW (although I have owned a couple VWs)….When I bought my beater 2004 Infiniti G35x, I knew nothing about them. It was cheap, it was 4 wheel drive and it wasn’t rusted to hell. I knew it needed some work, so I set to it and learned a lot. Here is what I learned.

    1) Parts are dirt cheap and easy to get at rock auto and parts-geek. You can get everything because it is the same stuff they put in 20 different Nissans for 20 years. I bought a NEW alternator (without even a core charge) for $110.
    2) Parts are even cheaper at the junkyard or ebay and still readily available.
    3) This is one of the most serviceable cars I’ve ever wrenched on. Everything has a drain plug AND a fill plug that you can reach. I changed the engine oil, transfer case fluid, and front/rear diff oil in less than an hour total. On serviceability it rates better than my 1970 Jeepster Commando. Even the transmission has a drain plug. None of this sealed for life crap that Europe seems to love (I’m looking at you Jaguar!)….also it doesn’t require $18/qt transmission fluid.
    4) It is simple and therefore everything still works. When the AC was not working, I just mashed some buttons on the HVAC controls and it went into service mode and that lets me test all the actuators and sensors…Told me right away that pressure was too low to engage the compressor, so I knew it was worth trying a can of R134. Working great now – no special service tools needed.
    5) Unlike German cars, this one is designed to be the simplest, most cost effective way to achieve the desired outcome. This car is not a statement of technological wonder, beneath the fancy engine cover the VQ35 would be right at home in 1995, which is just fine with me.
    6) Infiniti G35 is not a luxury car. Not even close. Not even a little.

    1. As someone who has lived and breathed 350Zs and G35s for over a decade… you’re spot on. These cars are dead simple to wrench on. Nearly everything is accessible and fixable with wrenches. Used parts are plentiful and if you want new, often you can just go with upgraded aftermarket parts for a similar price to OEM.

      MAYBE some Japanese cars are as expensive to maintain as German ones, but the G35 absolutely ain’t it.

  15. Meh – I don’t buy it. A few parts for Lexus/ Acura/Infiniti might be hard to get, but the vast majority are shared across platforms. And they last a lot longer in the critical places – engines, transmissions, bearings, etc. This is maybe less for Infiniti. But still – those German cars are WAY more expensive over any 200,000 mile period. And they are harder to work on.

  16. The difference between your average Lexus and BMW is that the Lexus will easily go 300,000+ miles and never really need much of anything other than tires, oil, brake pads and other stuff along those lines. Perhaps the parts are more expensive. But they also DON’T break so you probably won’t be replacing them anyway. That is not usually the case with BMWs which are comparatively more fragile and prone to failures.

  17. Tokico went out of business a few years ago (before the pandemic)

    Though some parts may be more expensive at the dealer, Japanese cars are MUCH more reliable than most German shit. You failed to consider costs such as downtime, time without your car, and labor if not doing the job yourself. Once ALL costs are accounted for, Infiniti and Lexus come out way ahead!

    While even Toyota can’t make air suspension reliable, NOBODY can! EVERY car with air suspension has problems with it! Most people convert them to regular coil spring suspension.

    Mercedes still offers parts for every car they’ve ever made, yet they are one of the less-reliable cars out there. Remember, the most expensive car is a cheap Mercedes. Parts availability isn’t always the best yardstick to measure with.

    The US also has a more robust aftermarket than other places.

    1. Why are car air suspensions so unreliable?

      Truck air suspensions are reliable, and are subject to much more abuse doing thousands of miles a week.

      Are car air suspensions value engineered too much? Is it car mechanics not knowing how to work with air systems? It seems like it should be possible to make a reliable car air suspension.

      1. I’ve never owned a vehicle with air suspension (well technically my Roadmaster has rear air load leveling but it’s the one thing that doesn’t work on it) but I suspect that there is maintenance on the system that isn’t done on personal autos vs. commercial trucks. It may also be a packaging thing. Trucks have plenty of space for large compressors but cars don’t so you have to stress small components to get more performance, maybe?

      2. @DavidTracey…
        Paging David

        This is actually something I’ve wondered about as well for exactly the same reason (air bags seem to work on semi’s no problem, why the hell are they such a cluster fuck on cars & light trucks?)

        This would be an excellent basis for an Autopian article!

      3. Heavy truck air suspensions are extremely simple and almost every part is exposed and easy to swap, plus you already have a huge beefy engine-driven air compressor on-board. The air bags are thick and beefy, and when one does start to leak, it’s relatively cheap and you can swap it in a few minutes. The (pneumatic & mechanical)pressure switch that controls ride height is right there where you can see it(as long as you’re bobtailing) and all the lines are easily accessible.

        Passenger cars, OTOH, have a wimpy electric compressor that dies once you get a leaky bag because it’s not designed with a 100% duty cycle in mind, the air bags are thinner and often wrapped around a strut where it’s a PITA to change, and many of the systems are computer-controlled so there’s wiring and sensors to have to troubleshoot.

  18. “You could go to the dealer for genuine OEM, but the cost is more than Asian dealerships tend to be.”

    I think you may have missed the point. ( My experience is with BMW, I dont know much about the other German brands )
    *Dont* go for OEM, go for OE. You get basically the same part, but at a lower price. You wont find them at the dealerships. There are many online outlets where you can get these. Some even outline the difference between OEM and OE and will sell you both. If you want original BMW, go for it. An example, say Lemforder makes the suspension part you need. The BMW boxed item will cost some amount, the Lemforder boxed item will ( generally ) cost less.

    “The problem I kept running into is that there are a good number of parts that you cannot go out and buy from you local parts store for German cars”

    True, to some extent, but I have found that you can get many parts. You wont be able to specify the brand as easily, and they will generally have to get them shipped to the store rather than having them on hand. I had one issue where the vacuum hose on my 328 got cut ( !@!#$!! ), and I could not find it online. My local oreillies managed to get the part ( it took two tries, though… ).

    One more note, again, BMW specific, there are *many* enthusiast sites for BMW cars. Many of them have directions ( usually reliable, if you make sure they worked on the same car you are working on ) for performing many repairs. PelicanParts.com is a parts supplier, they also have how-to pages and a Q&A section on each page where staff will answer questions.

  19. It’s the dealerships that give luxury cars a bad name for maintenance, my front rotors and brakes came up and I was quoted $600 in parts and $700 in labor. I bought all OEM parts for $300 (even overpaying slightly on the pads) and a reputable shop run by Master Certified Techs installed for $180. While I was at it I even bought all the fronts for about $400 and when it comes time to install in a few months it will be just another $180. Not to mention a lot of the maintenance plans and warranties for non consumables are really reasonable and save you a lot in the long run, I have owned 3 BMW’s and now having fun with 2 Audi’s and in most cases the care plans have paid for themselves many times over or in the case of BMW’s I have found their included maintenance plans make it cheaper than a non-luxury car despite paying a higher monthly payment. If you are smart about it and never buy a luxury car new, buy your own parts, find reasonable mechanics and leverage extended warranties with dealerships for the bigger fixes and services a luxury performance car can cost just as much to run as some of the “cheaper” ones.

  20. I’ll tell you why I appreciate David’s approach of live and let weird. Because I get to learn so much about cars I’d never otherwise set out to familiarize myself with. Which means I get to expand the overall breadth of my automotive knowledge, while also providing context.

  21. happens at the lower end of the car market too. One of the reasons I didn’t buy another Toyota, was parts cost and availability. Sure it’s slightly more reliable than a Ford, but any part will be several multiples of the cost of the equivalent Ford part. The part will also probably be available only from the dealer or specialty suppliers. I spent more on maintenance for the Sienna than for any Ford I’ve owned.

  22. From my experience the big difference between german cars reliability and japanese cars is that the former require their actual maintenance be done on time and with the right spec fluids/parts, compared to the latter, which are a lot more forgiving.

    On our shores, most people don’t really care to do their cars’ maintenance correctly (I bet the majority of car owners have never opened their car manuals, ever), and the dealer techs are absolute garbage (every time I had to take my cars in for warranty work to a dealer I had to argue with the service dept to get them to do their job, sometimes I had to diagnose the car for them, and most times I got my cars back more broken than they went in).

    The fact that US fuel quality is quite a bit lower than in Europe (for both gasoline and diesel) make it all the more important to follow the maintenance schedule to a T on a european car, although you can still end up with BMW Nikasil liners issue or VW diesel pump failures from the crappy fuels.

  23. I wonder if the parts availability might change eventually as the (for lack of a better term…sorry guys) Fast and Furious generation ages and has more money/resources to work on the Japanese cars they idolized when young?

    European cars have been popular in the states since at least the ’60s, and their general performance heritage vis a vis most U.S. cars made them desirable & worth fixing. Meanwhile, it wasn’t until the tuner culture of the ’90s that a large enough group of people thought the same thing about Asian makes…

    1. I could be wrong here, but based on the prices of S2000s and old Supras, I think they’ve already got plenty of money burning holes in their pockets :p

      As someone who DDs a BMW and has *knocks on nearest wood* never had a serious maintenance issue, I’m currently 100% aboard the German luxury ship right now.

    2. By and large, it absolutely has not. Certain manufacturers have started up very limited production for certain very desirable halo cars, and a few invitation-only factory restoration programs. But if you’ve got an old Corolla FX16, no matter how hot those things get, you are still super-fucked on parts. Old Civic DX? Dream on. And since the aftermarket was almost entirely fly-by-night faux-performance trash at fire sale prices or extremely expensive near-race parts, and typical drivers just went “they run forever and then I trade it in,” it was much harder to justify tooling for more typical repair parts.

      Case in point: look at what’s happened with Acura Integras and Mitsubishi/DSMs. Prices have absolutely skyrocketed on both, and stayed there for good examples.
      Honda is not making new parts for even the Integra – they’re still working off original stock for DC2 parts. All of them have been discontinued for ages. You can’t get an OE DC2 front strut for love or money. Once the existing stock is gone, it’s gone.
      And Mitsubishi of all companies you would think would do something since they’ve historically put tremendous effort into making sure certain models can be kept on the road in Japan for decades. There was an actual RalliArt restoration parts catalog which even had sheet metal, exactly for that purpose. But nope. Crickets. And Mitsubishi has had truly noteworthy cars in Japan since the 1964 Debonair if you want opulent comfort (which stayed in production with absolutely no changes other than emissions for 22 years,) or the 1970 Colt Galant GTO if you want to go fast with the latest technology.

      1. I did not know that about Mitsubishis, but I have noticed that Japanese Mitsubishi guys are a) generally more nationalistic and b) much less likely to ship abroad, even going so far as to refuse to ship to clearing houses like Buyee or Tenso that foreigners use. I guess it all relates.

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