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Lexus Buyer, Some Questions For The Experts


dxt45
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I drive a Saturn right now, can't stand it, finally made the decision to switch over to Japanese. I'm looking at a 92-95 SC300 or same year ES300. From everything I've heard about them they're amazing, but are there key things to watch out for in these models, any key things I should know before jumping in and buying one? any help is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Doug

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Unlike American cars, there is no such thing as a "weak Toyota/Lexus engine" or "weak Toyota/Lexus transmission" or other "key things to watch out for".

However, you will be making a big mistake if you think a Toyota / Lexus makes a good "beater car" that can withstand alot of driver abuse and preventive maintenance neglect. The legendary reliability / durability of a Toyota / Lexus is dependent on the car receiving all it's scheduled maintenance on time. And the maintenance involves much more than "lube oil, filter" every 5,000 miles.

So the "key things to watch out for" is extensive preventive maintenance service records + gaining some knowledge about the driving style of the former owner.

SC300 owners may tend to be younger, boy racer types of drivers so those cars may be more subject to considerable suspension, steering linkage and drivetrain mechanical wear and tear.

ES300 owners tend to be older and less aggressive drivers and the ideal one to find would be one that was gently and calmly driven + had extensive preventive maintenance service records. Naturally, such primo cars tend to command a higher than average price, but they are well worth it.

If money is tight, you probably should not be considering a Lexus because then you might fall into the trap of buying a low priced used Lexus with an unknown or spotty service history. Then later you might find out the hard way the car needs $5,000 - $10,000 worth of repairs to make it a reliable daily driver.

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Unlike American cars, there is no such thing as a "weak Toyota/Lexus engine" or "weak Toyota/Lexus transmission" or other "key things to watch out for".

That is the MOST uninformed comment i have EVER heard you make.

the end. <_<

DXT45, you have an email.

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That is the MOST uninformed comment i have EVER heard you make.

Well it's true. As you know, Americans who have owned only Anerican cars know it's a matter of random luck as to whether or not a particular American car engine will turn out to be durable or not. Example: Your 1995 Ford Coutour's 4 cyl engine turned out to be durable whereas the Contour's V6 did not. Toyota owners, on the other hand, do not have to be concerned and worried about this matter because Toyota painstakingly designs ALL of it's engines to be extremely durable.

Toyota engines do vary in how well they can cope with maintenance neglect, however. For example, a Lexus LS400 V8 can withstand the abuse of an owner who goes 10,000 -15,000 miles

without an oil change from time to time whereas the ES300 V6 will start developing oil sludging problems if an owner does that. But if the LS400 and ES300 owners change their oil on time

(5000 miles), both engines will last for 500,000+ miles.

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Unlike American cars, there is no such thing as a "weak Toyota/Lexus engine" or "weak Toyota/Lexus transmission" or other "key things to watch out for".

That is the MOST uninformed comment i have EVER heard you make.

the end. <_<

DXT45, you have an email.

ArmyofOne, thanks for the email.

To Monarch -

I am not looking for a beater car, but I'm looking for something that's going to have more predictable reliability than the Saturn, as I have already had some problems at 40k miles, even with all oil changes done, i.e., I'm caring for an American car like I would for a German car.

My question is, with the ES and SC 300 models, if I find a decent 100k mile car, is it going to be a worthwhile investment, and do they truly live up to their reputation of being "bulletproof"?

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dxt45,

First of all, never think of any primary-purpose, driven-every-day vehicle as an "investment". It is in reality an "expense", and could become increasingly so as it ages and wears. Properly-selected investments appreciate. Your vehicle will only depreciate. Keep that in mind as you shop for cars from this point forward.

That said, some vehicles hold up better over time than others assuming they are properly utilized and cared for. And therein lies the key - if you can find a vehicle that has complete service documentation and was obviously well-cared for, you stand a better chance of gaining a long service life from that vehicle as long as you educate yourself on its specific care requirements and follow them. You'll save a tremendous amount of money if you can learn to do the routine maintenance yourself. With $50 to $100 worth of tools and a friend who possesses some basic car care knowledge, you can. But the routine maintenance MUST be performed, on schedule, in order to obtain the long life from the vehicle that you're looking for. Much of this routine maintenance is quite simple to do.

No vehicle is 100% bulletproof, even when it receives proper care. Components wear out and expenses can mount if you're having to pay a dealership (particularly a Lexus dealership) to do that work for you. You're looking to buy a 10-year-old (or older) car and although you may find a nice one, you must expect some maintenance and upkeep expenses right out of the gate. So set aside a portion of your funds as your designated maintenance reserves and be prepared to dip into them.

I agree that you'll have a greater chance of finding a "gently-used" ES than you will an SC, and an ES will benefit you greatly compared to an SC from an overall cost-of-ownership perspective (insurance, fuel, parts, maintenance, taxes, etc.). But you must enter into this situation with the understanding that for the most part, repairs and parts are going to cost you more with a Lexus than they do with your Saturn. What you hope for is that the repair frequency will be much less than you're accustomed to. But only your ability to find a well-maintained car, keep it so, and a little luck thrown in can determine that over the long run.

My best advice to you is to treat this like a business decision. No emotion, no "new car fever", no rash decisions. Take your time and find the right vehicle before you lay down your hard-earned cash to acquire it.

And finally, spend some time on this site in the ES and SC forums to learn about the common quirks and problems that owners typically experience for each of these models. Scroll through and read the threads looking for common failures. All models have some, and if they seem to be relatively minor, you'll gain confidence that you're headed in the right direction. Good luck to you.

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To Monarch -

I am not looking for a beater car, but I'm looking for something that's going to have more predictable reliability than the Saturn, as I have already had some problems at 40k miles, even with all oil changes done, i.e., I'm caring for an American car like I would for a German car.

My question is, with the ES and SC 300 models, if I find a decent 100k mile car, is it going to be a worthwhile investment, and do they truly live up to their reputation of being "bulletproof"?

Pretty much so, although like RX in NC said, you should budget some money for maintenance or

repairs the car might need right away. Mechanically, the ES is virtually identical to the Toyota Camry V6 so you can save money on maintenance parts by getting them from a Toyota dealer or taking your ES to a Toyota dealer for service.

The "bulletproof" aspect of a Toyota / Lexus pertains to high level of reliability and durability you can get from many components if they are treated and maintained correctly: e.g. water pumps can last 150-250K miles, alternators 150K miles, AC compressors 400K+ miles, hydraulic brake components 400K+ etc. fuel pumps 400K+ miles, ignition coils and igniters, 400K+ miles, etc.

whereas with an American car, no amount of preventive maintenance will stop alot of expensive things constantly going wrong (like my mother's '91 Buick LeSabre with only 38,000 miles has needed $2,600 worth of unexpected ignition, fuel system and suspension repairs over the years )

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Unlike American cars, there is no such thing as a "weak Toyota/Lexus engine" or "weak Toyota/Lexus transmission" or other "key things to watch out for".

This isn't true at all. The ES/RX series of Lexuses have some very serious engine and transmission concerns, the transmission in the AWD RX300 seems fairly weak and I've heard some problems in the ES line but not as many. These cars also have a serious engine gelling problem up until about 2002 unless the oil was changed according to the severe maintenance schedule. Lexus also has problems with their gauges in older models needing to be repaired, the first gen LS and SC have a bad power steering leakage problem and a stupid design that causes the leaking pump to fould alternators. There are also significant problems with the LCD screens in the dash that can be very expensive.

No car line is perfect, all in all Lexus is a fantastic car but to say there is no such thing as a weak component in these cars is pure fantasy.

Monarch and some others will tell you about huge hundreds of thousands of miles of life of specific performance out of certain components. Bear in mind those are PAPER figures and don't translate into reality like they assume they do. For instance Monarch's quote of 400k for an A/C compressor is rediculous, it depends on how often its used, the climate. My dad had one AC compressor go on his LS at about 80k miles.

American cars, while on average are definately less reliable than a Lexus or Toyota are not accross the board garbage. I know people with hundreds of k on Saturns and they're fine. Monarch's mom's Saturn, 14 years old and 38k miles? Come on Monarch be straight with the guy, that thing site 95% of the time and thats whats leading to component failures. You know as well as I do that sometimes driving a car is better for it than not driving.

Its not as cut and dried as some people would like to convince you it is.

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To emphasize what SW03ES stated above, I remind you that my wife's meticulously-maintained 2000 RX300 AWD has required over $9,000 worth of repairs performed by our local Lexus service department since September 2003. Some of this work was while the vehicle was under the basic warranty but quite a bit of it has been post-warranty work as well. Fortunately for us, my "refuse-to-lose" approach in dealing with our local General Manager has ensured that we haven't had to pay a penny for any of the necessary repairs.

We're grateful for the local red carpet treatment we've gotten as failures have surfaced, but that still doesn't change the fact that this will be our first and last RX.

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Man, there's a lot to this. I'm coming from owning a Ford SHO in past times, so anything that doesn't break weekly is reliable, and my Saturn is breaking monthly, which is too much for me. I was hoping maybe a well cared for used lexus would be extremely reliable, from owners I've talked to locally they are, but again, you guys are the experts.

I did find a good deal on a 92 SC300, timing belt changed, brakes, ignition (plugs/wires), water pump, all as preventive maintenance, 100k miles, also the PC valve I think it is, was replaced, as the bad one was causing the car to burn a little oil. All oil changes were done. My only hesitation is it has had coolant flushes done as preventive maintenance, and I know on some cars that can be bad for the seals in the system to pressurize it like that. From what I have heard, brakes, pc valve, and those things, are the first things I would have to replace. Is this a car worth going for?

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Oh it will be extremely reliable, I was just countering what some people here have said which is "The Lexus is perfect, it will run for 500,000 miles with never one problem as long as its maintained" and thats just not true. Its a machine, and all machines no matter how well made have problems. Some models have more than others. As a whole the vehicle will be very reliable, but its not a gift from God.

That SC sounds like its in good shape, have an independent mechanic that knows japanese cars look it over and see whats up with it.

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I was hoping maybe a well cared for used lexus would be extremely reliable

It will be quite reliable but don't confuse that with trouble free. Nearly all ES's will experience oil leaks(usually valve covers and cam/crank seals) and suspension problems(worn, cracked bushings usually lower control arms and/or strut rods)...I own LS and ES, and they both had suspension problems and have slow oil oozes, but the ES is more problematic. Problems with my ES in 25k miles(has 130k miles): they love engine sensors...I gone through 2 O2's, a TPS, VSV on egr, alternator, lower control arms(replaced in their entirety b/c bushings aren't available) and radiator. She's leaking oil from the valve covers and cam/crank, tranny fluid is comming from somewhere...dunno though. That's really not bad for such an old car though.

Common problems with 92-96 ES's: suspension bushings(fore and aft), oil oozes/leaks, flickering needles in the gauge cluster, regular oil changes are a must, worn engine and trans mounts, and some tranny's seem to go early(a few isolated cases on here. If I remember correctly between 100k-150k miles). Look for a '94+ because it has the newer aluminium headed 3.0.

I would like to tell you that service records are key on a used Lexus(a plus? absolutely. deal breaker? no), but I'd be lying. My ES was maintained by the dealer before I got it, and she's had her fair share of problems. My LS was not; the origional owner didn't even take it in for the free 30 day check, and this car doesn't skip a beat...ever. My LS has left me stranded not once (with 252k miles on it as we speak.); ES...can't say the same. What I'm getting at is, do a very, very thorough test drive and get under the car and look to see if it's leaking oil and what suspension bushings are cracked. 60k and 90k are the two big services(spark plugs and timing belt services respectively), but don't let those service stamps choose the car for you. I find that our 10 & 11 y/o Lexus have similar problems to anything else out on the road, but the level of engineering and quality that goes into these vehicles can't be matched. B)

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I did find a good deal on a 92 SC300, timing belt changed, brakes, ignition (plugs/wires), water pump, all as preventive maintenance, 100k miles, also the PC valve I think it is, was replaced, as the bad one was causing the car to burn a little oil. All oil changes were done. My only hesitation is it has had coolant flushes done as preventive maintenance, and I know on some cars that can be bad for the seals in the system to pressurize it like that. From what I have heard, brakes, pc valve, and those things, are the first things I would have to replace. Is this a car worth going for?

Who performed the preventive maintenance? If done by an independent shop instead of a Lexus dealer or Lexus specialty shop then the car could now have aftermarket brake pads, spark plugs, plug wires, water pump and coolant etc. which will degrade the reliability / durability of a Toyota / Lexus. There isn't much advantage of owning a Toyota / Lexus if the car is filled up with Ford and Saturn car quality aftermarket parts and fluids.

What do you know about the driver? If you don't know anything because the car is on a used car or dealers lot, that's another bad sign as the car could have alot of suspension and steering linkage wear including bushing wear due to aggressive driving. It could be a real challenge for you to find an enthusiat car like a SC300/400 that has not be driven aggressively.

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I did find a good deal on a 92 SC300, timing belt changed, brakes, ignition (plugs/wires), water pump, all as preventive maintenance, 100k miles, also the PC valve I think it is, was replaced, as the bad one was causing the car to burn a little oil. All oil changes were done. My only hesitation is it has had coolant flushes done as preventive maintenance, and I know on some cars that can be bad for the seals in the system to pressurize it like that. From what I have heard, brakes, pc valve, and those things, are the first things I would have to replace. Is this a car worth going for?

Who performed the preventive maintenance? If done by an independent shop instead of a Lexus dealer or Lexus specialty shop then the car could now have aftermarket brake pads, spark plugs, plug wires, water pump and coolant etc. which will degrade the reliability / durability of a Toyota / Lexus. There isn't much advantage of owning a Toyota / Lexus if the car is filled up with Ford and Saturn car quality aftermarket parts and fluids.

What do you know about the driver? If you don't know anything because the car is on a used car or dealers lot, that's another bad sign as the car could have alot of suspension and steering linkage wear including bushing wear due to aggressive driving. It could be a real challenge for you to find an enthusiat car like a SC300/400 that has not be driven aggressively.

It's actually at a used car dealer, but I called the former owner (now a BMW owner) and talked to him personally, he's not young, and he put 30k miles on it from 1998 to 2005. The work was done at an independent shop, but from what he said it was replaced correctly with OEM. It was also driven in an area where the roads are fairly good.......I would not want to buy one in Cleveland, that's what has killed my saturn. The dealer warranties all the vehicles as well for 6 mo/6000 miles. Not a Lexus CPO, but better than nothing.

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I did find a good deal on a 92 SC300, timing belt changed, brakes, ignition (plugs/wires), water pump, all as preventive maintenance, 100k miles, also the PC valve I think it is, was replaced, as the bad one was causing the car to burn a little oil. All oil changes were done. My only hesitation is it has had coolant flushes done as preventive maintenance, and I know on some cars that can be bad for the seals in the system to pressurize it like that. From what I have heard, brakes, pc valve, and those things, are the first things I would have to replace. Is this a car worth going for?

Who performed the preventive maintenance? If done by an independent shop instead of a Lexus dealer or Lexus specialty shop then the car could now have aftermarket brake pads, spark plugs, plug wires, water pump and coolant etc. which will degrade the reliability / durability of a Toyota / Lexus. There isn't much advantage of owning a Toyota / Lexus if the car is filled up with Ford and Saturn car quality aftermarket parts and fluids.

What do you know about the driver? If you don't know anything because the car is on a used car or dealers lot, that's another bad sign as the car could have alot of suspension and steering linkage wear including bushing wear due to aggressive driving. It could be a real challenge for you to find an enthusiat car like a SC300/400 that has not be driven aggressively.

It's actually at a used car dealer, but I called the former owner (now a BMW owner) and talked to him personally, he's not young, and he put 30k miles on it from 1998 to 2005. The work was done at an independent shop, but from what he said it was replaced correctly with OEM. It was also driven in an area where the roads are fairly good.......I would not want to buy one in Cleveland, that's what has killed my saturn. The dealer warranties all the vehicles as well for 6 mo/6000 miles. Not a Lexus CPO, but better than nothing.

Cleveland killed your Saturn? LOL. I think I can understand that. I bought mine in Mentor, but it was only a year old.

Anyhow, it sounds as if much of the expensive type service has already been done, so if the car is in good shape otherwise, and the price is right, it's probably as good as any of that model that you'll find. Any car that's over 10 years old is going to have some things deteriorate, but fixing stuff a little bit at a time shouldn't break the bank. A good private mechanic can do the brakes, and other items at much less cost than a dealership, and do just as good a job.

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Cool. I'm going to drive this car in a week or so, thanks for all your guys help. I hope to become an active member of the forum here, hopefully not in the same sense as on the SHO Forum......

only other question, are the SC300's as bad in the snow as, say, a camaro?

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a) Multiple owners

B) Serviced at a non Toyota / Lexus specialty auto shop

c) Used car dealer car.

These are all negatives that increase the chances a used Toyota / Lexus car buyer couldl end up with a car that is going to need some expensive mechanical repairs.

Here's an example of what can and has happened: An LS400 was maintained by an independent shop that used aftermarket green antifreeze which caused the heater core to eventually corrode and leak. Cost to tear out the dash and replace the heater core was $4,000.

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a) Multiple owners

B) Serviced at a non Toyota / Lexus specialty auto shop

c) Used car dealer car.

These are all negatives that increase the chances a used Toyota / Lexus car buyer couldl end up with a car that is going to need some expensive mechanical repairs.

Here's an example of what can and has happened: An LS400 was maintained by an independent shop that used aftermarket green antifreeze which caused the heater core to eventually corrode and leak. Cost to tear out the dash and replace the heater core was $4,000.

Could be, hoping not. It's had 2 owners, and from what the guy told me, he's replaced pretty much everything that usually goes wrong with them, from tires to the window regulator to timing belt to PCV valve. I'm going to check it out, I've been looking for over a month now for the right car, so I can easily wait another month if I have to. Anyone on the forum live near Boston and want to check this car out?

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[Monarch and some others will tell you about huge hundreds of thousands of miles of life of specific performance out of certain components. Bear in mind those are PAPER figures and don't translate into reality like they assume they do. For instance Monarch's quote of 400k for an A/C compressor is rediculous

SWO3ES our experiences are based on reality, not fantasy. Like this recent post from Maine92ES

"My '92 ES300 just rolled over 250K today(!). It runs great. I'm amazed that it's never needed a wheel bearing, a starter, an alternator, any pump or other mechanical accessory. But it has been, and continues to be, economical, comfortable, reliable luxury. It looks and drives like it's fuel comes from the fountain of youth!"

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