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Toyota has endeared itself to the American driver by building cars, trucks, and SUVs that are among some of the most reliable available. In fact, Toyota just won Consumer Reports’ most reliable brand. But don’t think that Toyota earned this reputation for legendary reliability by accident. Here are three secret ingredients in Toyota’s recipe for legendary reliability.

The Toyota Way

An inflatable Toyota logo advertising the automaker at a NASCAR race.
Toyota Logo | Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One major Toyota difference is codifying its company philosophy in “The Toyota Way” back in 2001. This pamphlet insists on two things: respect for human resources and a philosophy of continuous improvement. Though this is more recipe than ingredient, Toyota’s transparency is one of the keys to its corporate success and even reliability.

One philosophy that Toyota lays out in this pamphlet is that it prioritizes the long-term over the short-term. This is not easy in the corporate world, as automakers’ shareholders are most interested in quarterly profits. But Toyota has stuck to its guns.

The first principle is “Base your management decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial goals.” But this philosophy trickles down to the actual vehicles Toyota builds. Specifically, the sixth principle: “Use only reliable, thoroughly tested technology that serves your people and processes.”

This is why Toyota used–and perfected–legendary engines such as the 22RE of the R engine family for decades. But there may also be downsides to this philosophy. It is also why there are still few electric Toyotas, and the company is still fine-tuning its hybrid technology.

Equally important as the technology Toyota uses in its vehicles is its goals for the vehicles it designs. Guided by The Toyota Way, this automaker focuses less on exciting cars with high performance numbers, and more on reliable vehicles that offer a low cost of ownership because they are fuel efficient and easy to repair.

‘Jidoka’ is one ingredient of Toyota reliability

Toyota engineers reveal the special 30th anniversary edition of the Land Cruiser, famous for its reliability.
30th Anniversary Land Cruiser | Yoshikazu Tsunoy/AFP via Getty Images

The fifth principle in The Toyota Way is Jidoka. “Build a culture of stopping to fix problems, to get quality right the first time.”

What does this mean in practice? When designing a new part, Toyota engineers first build it by hand. In fact, they must perfect the new part by hand before they engineer a process to automate its production. The result is very reliable components that Toyota uses across as many vehicles as possible.

Toyota doesn’t limit this hands-on philosophy to its engineering. In fact, the automaker is installing a traditional, punch-card assembly line in every factory. Why? Workers will apprentice on these more hands-on machines before graduating to modern, computer-driven machines–according to Motor Trend. The result is a higher quality of Toyota components and ensured reliability.

‘Kaizen’ is another aspect of Toyota reliability

A Toyota factory worker inspects a vehicle to ensure the company's legendary reliability.
Toyota factory worker | Tomohiro Ohsumi via Getty Images

Finally, Toyota seeks to continually improve its assembly process. This is so important to the company that it is the second principle in The Toyota Way.

In practice, Kiazen means that any worker can stop production at any point if they have an idea to improve the production process. And Kaizen is not just a motto, it actually happens. While Ford stops the F-150 line an average of 2 times every week, Toyota lines may stop 2,000 times a week.

Each one of these stops is a person on the front lines trying to hone the Toyota process. This improves the process and also gives the workers a sense of ownership of the vehicles they build. The result is higher quality Toyota components with better reliability, built at a lower cost.

What do you think? Let us know if you think The Toyota Way works and the Toyota vehicles you’ve owned have proven reliable in the comments below.

Next, read why there is no electric Toyota truck yet or watch Donut Media’s discussion of Toyota reliability in the video below: