April 2, 2013
The "Debt-Free Car Project," featuring our long-term 1996 Lexus ES 300, has come to a close. After selling the car, I promised that I would give a final breakdown of all the maintenance items and our overall conclusions on the project.
March 25, 2013
Our long-term 1996 Lexus ES 300 rode off into the sunset this week. An Edmunds employee bought it, and in the process, the car made a bit of Edmunds history.
March 22, 2013
I took this picture to riff on how small the mirrors are in this 1996 Lexus ES 300. But now it seems a fitting farewell photo as the car leaves our fleet.
March 13, 2013
We're getting ready to sell this old guy and we had to get a smog test before we did the deal. We were a little nervous about whether it would pass, what with all the "issues" we've had lately (mass air flow sensor, check engine lights, O2 sensor etc.). So it seemed prudent to change the oil first and do a little highway driving. One smog test expert explained that long drives are helpful because it allows the catalytic converter to heat up enough to burn up all of the oil residue left from the inevitable "blow-by" in an older engine.
March 12, 2013
In our popular article "Stop Changing Your Oil," we were critical of Jiffy Lube for recommending too-frequent oil changes. We had heard that Jiffy Lube had changed; that its techs would give customers manufacturer recommended oil change intervals. Since we needed to get an oil change before getting a smog test — and needed that inspection before selling it — we decided to go back to Jiffy Lube and see how things had changed.
We even decided to try playing "gotcha journalism." Here's what happened.
March 6, 2013
The key to keeping maintenance costs down on a car is to find a reputable mechanic and build a working relationship. Seems like a no-brainer piece of advice, but for us it hasn't always been easy to follow. We've taken our 1996 Lexus ES 300 to a number of mechanics, based on who was driving the car and where we were at the time.
March 4, 2013
Our long-term 1996 Lexus ES 300 only went through a tank and a half of gas (417 miles) in February. Those two fill-ups averaged about 18.6 mpg, which is a bit lower than our lifetime average of 24.8 mpg. Still, our lifetime average is well above the revised EPA combined rating of 21 mpg.
February 26, 2013
Just when you think you have an old car sorted out, it seems that something else always surfaces. The infamous "Check Engine" light is back on in our 1996 Lexus ES 300, just over a month after we cleared it for the oxygen sensor.
February 18, 2013
You're looking at the almost-like-new gauge cluster on our long-term 1996 Lexus ES 300. The lights had been in a slow state of deterioration and had even gotten worse than when Brent Romans, first pointed out that they were fading.
It was most evident on the speedometer dial, where nothing was visible up to the 80 mph mark. I generally kept up with traffic and if I saw the speedometer needle, I knew I was going too fast. Clearly, this needed to be fixed.
February 14, 2013
I've owned a lot of old used cars and I've noticed that, when there are a few problems, you feel like a car's on its last legs. But if you keep the faith, and fix the problems, it suddenly seems good as, well, not quite new, but at least back up to speed.
February 11, 2013
Notice anything about our 1996 Lexus ES 300 besides the stunning gold kit? Look at all that glass in the rear window. While it might not be as safe in an accident, the increased visibility might actually help avoid collisions.
When I drive this car, lane changes are stress-free. That's because I don't feel like I'm looking out at the world through a peephole of a Sherman tank.
Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor, @ 153,358 miles
February 5, 2013
As Phil noted in a previous post, the cassette player doesn't eject tapes. It takes a bit of timing to finally dislodge a tape, hitting the eject button, then quickly lifting the cassette with a narrow fingertip to clear the opening. Not a big deal, especially since I'm one of the few on staff that still uses period-correct mixtapes.
The player itself is pretty good, I must admit. I was assuming that it would have an auto-detect feature for metal tapes, just like our NSX had, and I was right. I popped in a TDK MA-XG and up came a "METAL" indicator on the LCD display. Sweet.
February 4, 2013
Our 1996 Lexus ES 300 didn't see much action on the road last month. It was only driven about 430 miles. This was partly due to the car being in the shop for a few days.
The ES 300 only had two fill-ups in January and it averaged about 20.7 mpg. This is down from our lifetime average of 24.9 mpg. I'm going to chalk this one up to the faulty oxygen sensor. The Lexus is capable of much better fuel economy.
January 31, 2013
On a road trip to Death Valley, the dreaded check engine light (CEL) came on. When we came back, we took the car to Pep Boys and they read the code for free: P0135, which meant that the oxygen sensor in "bank 1" was malfunctioning. It was surprising to learn that something was wrong with the car, since it still seemed to be running fine.
Even though a car seems to be behaving normally, experts say a faulty oxygen sensor can cut the fuel economy by 40 percent. Sure enough, when we checked our fuel records for the driving we did while the CEL was on, our fuel economy dropped from about 27 mpg to about 24 mpg.
January 25, 2013
We heard that our long-term 1996 Lexus ES 300 had trouble starting one afternoon, and since Phil and I have become the go-to guys for all ES 300 issues, we went to take a closer look. A colleague told us that the Lexus' engine cranked, but wouldn't hold an idle and would consequently shut off.
January 17, 2013
If you're going to own an old car like our 1996 Lexus ES 300 you better have a reliable network of repair experts. We have met some great mechanics while handling our ES problems, such as the broken driver's side door handle.
To recap, on a recent trip to Death Valley, where we took the ES off road, the driver's side door wouldn't open from the outside and there was a nasty rattle inside the door panel. My first response was to nuke the latch mechanism with WD-40. When this produced no result, I shifted gears, so to speak, and watched YouTube videos of other people fixing their doors. It looked really complicated. So I took the car to Burke's Auto Body, in Long Beach, Calif.
January 7, 2013
A recent post reported that the CD player in the 1996 Lexus ES 300 was broken. It's not. The problem was that you have to put the CDs into the cartridge upside down or an error message is reported. I know because I've made that mistake before.
I wanted to make absolutely sure it was working so I grabbed the first disc from my stack of CDs that are busy gathering dust. I took it out to the car and put it in (upside down, as I already mentioned) and hit play. The Fab Four were soon amazing me with one of their best albums.
I moved on to the "jammed" cassette tape issue, also reported in the earlier post. I pushed play, then eject, and it finally both played and ejected. So we're completely back up to speed sound-system-wise.
There are plenty of things on the ES that could either be fixed or improved, so it's important to eliminate those things that aren't in fact broken.
Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor, @ 152,799 miles
January 4, 2013
The 1996 Lexus ES 300 is an extremely reliable car. What's most reliable is that it is always down in the garage waiting to be driven. I was supposed to take a vacation road trip to Death Valley in one of our new cars but I was bumped, and wound up in the ES. No problem. We're old friends.
My two sons and I headed out and drove north through driving snow to the little town of Lone Pine, Calif., some 230 miles away. The next morning I came out to find the ES covered in a layer of ice crystals. I fired it up, turned on the defroster and rear window heater and went back inside for a second cup of coffee. When we left for Death Valley, all the glass was clear and the interior was toasty, but our hopes for good fuel economy were destroyed.
December 25, 2012
The trunk-mounted CD changer in our 1996 Lexus ES 300 is broken. Well, it's not broken per se, but it doesn't play CDs so it may as well be broken.
Oh, and there's a cassette stuck in that player so it's nothing but silence and the sweet, soothing grinding of a 152,000-mile V6. Terrestrial radio is 100% unacceptable.
Mike Magrath, Features Editor @ 152,854 miles
December 21, 2012
We installed new headlight bulbs in our long-term 1996 Lexus ES 300 last month. The photo above shows the previous bulbs. I have a few impressions and photos of the new bulbs after the jump.
December 06, 2012
Recently our 1996 Lexus ES 300 joined a convoy of long-term cars that, together, shuttled a small army of journalists to a local track day. Prior to one particular exercise the instructor infromed us, "There's no need for helmets on this one. Go ahead and set them down someplace."
I'm not one to point fingers, so when a nameless cohort walked over to our innocent ES 300 parked nearby and plopped his helmet on the trunk, we laughed. Then we followed suit. But I promise, it was done out of love and appreciation for its elegantly sweeping, but more importantly, flat trunk lid.
Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 151,970 miles
December 01, 2012
There's a funny caption somewhere in this photo, but I won't go there. I swear that I was at this strip mall (no pun intended) on official Edmunds business.
I drove our 1996 Lexus ES 300 up to Saugus, a community that's about 32 miles away from the office. There was a light rain throughout most of the drive and the roads were pretty slick. Here are a few observations on how the Lexus performs in the rain.
Our all-season Kumho tires held up quite well. The car never hydroplaned, even with speeds of up to 70 mph.
The rear windshield could use a coat of Rain X, because the water didn't bead away. It just accumulated and made it hard to see out the back.
The Bosch wipers we bought in March are still in good shape and did a great job of clearing the windshield. But I think the wiper motor may be on its last legs. It seems to struggle to move the blades and squeaks at the low speed or intermittent setting.
The toughest part about driving the Lexus in the rain was dealing with other drivers (people who follow too closely, people without their headlights on, etc.).
Do you have any rainy-day driving pet peeves?
Ron Montoya Consumer Advice Editor @ 151,966 miles
November 30, 2012
Every old car is bound to have some type of fluid leaking from it. Our 1996 Lexus ES 300 is no exception. There are two distinct leaks here, the light brown one on the left and the dark red one on the right. I should point out that this didn't happen overnight. This is about nine days of accumulation.
Can you guess the two fluids? For reference, the ES 300 was backed into its space. The driver's side of the car is on the right side of the photo.
The stain on the left is motor oil. We found out about this one some time ago. There is an oil leak in the rear cam seal, near the timing cover.
The stain on the right is power steering fluid. We found out about this recently, after the last oil change. The mechanic noticed that a hose leading from the power steering to the pump was leaking. The leak is near the exhaust manifold. This may explain the smell that occasionally wafts into the cabin.
It would cost us roughly $400 to fix the power-steering fluid problem, and probably another $250 for the oil leak. We're going to pass on these for now. But if the leaks get worse, we may have to take care of them.
Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Editor @ 151, 855 miles
November 23, 2012
Recently, we wrote the ES 300 might need a new timing belt and we would save the $360 a month allotted for repairs until we had enough to pay for the $800 job (timing belt + water pump + cam seals). This prompted some comments about the concept of the Debt Free Car in general.
"I am a fan of this project, but the basic premise is false," writes Bankerdanny. "People who are looking for a $3,500 car as a primary driver are almost certainly unable to afford a $360 monthly payment, that's why they are looking for a $3,500 car. So once they buy that car they are not setting aside $360 a month for repairs."
We don't have scientific proof to counter this opinion. But we would like to say that economically challenged people can still be organized. Thinking ahead doesn't cost money. Besides, we aren't saying all people handle car repairs this way. We are suggesting that they do this.
There was once a grand tradition in this country where people "saved up for" the things they wanted. But because of easy money loans, credit cards and aggressive encouragement to buy! buy! buy! that trait seems less common. Let's bring back that tradition and set aside a little money for emergency repairs.
In the meantime, the blogs, and your comments, have been a great opportunity for discussion. Thanks for chiming in, even when you don't agree with us.
Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor @151,856 miles
November 23, 2012
I spent a few minutes the other day just admiring the lean silhouette of our Lexus. Muscular curves are all well and good, but there's something classic and elegant about this sedan's more slender, stretched-out approach to design.
Aesthetically, there's just one thing about the car's exterior that bugs me...
...and it's this: its gold badging. Gold just strikes me as being on the garish side. And while I think the car's sheet metal still looks attractive and fairly current, the gold badging is the one aspect of the vehicle's appearance that screams "1990s."
Are you a fan of gold badging?
Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor