1996 Lexus ES 300 Long Term Road Test

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Broken Door Fixed

January 17, 2013

2013 Infiniti JX35

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.

At Burke's I met Manuel who frowned at the door and said, "Give me 30 minutes."

I said, "I work for Edmunds.com, an automotive web site. Can I take pictures while you fix it?"

He said, "Take pictures." You see, Manuel is a man of action.

In less time than it takes to write this, Manuel had the door panel off and he was performing all kinds of machinations with the door glass and interior mechanism. He reached inside the door panel and took out a small, yellow, plastic clip.

2013 Infiniti JX35

"It broke," he said holding it out.

"Can you fix it?" I asked.

"No problem," he said.

I can't think of any situation where "no problem" would be a bad answer. But after a brief phone call by the office manager, Gloria, she had a worried look on her face.

"It will be $100, parts and labor," she said, and cringed as if I might yell at her.

"That's very reasonable," I said. But inside I was jumping for joy. From all the work Manuel was doing, it should have been way more. Or, just for fun, think of what a dealer would charge. Better yet, don't think of that.

When I went back a few hours later to pick up the car, Gloria was busy with another customer. So I followed the sound of an air wrench and found Manuel back in the shop under a '65 VW Bug.

"Hey Manuel," I said.

He rolled out and squinted at me.

"Thanks for fixing the door handle."

He squinted some more. I don't think he remembered our long conversation from the morning.

"The door handle on the Lexus. Thanks."

"No problem." He went back to work.

When I got home I told my wife about the whole deal.

"How much did it cost?" she asked.

"A hundred bucks," I said.

"Beats a car payment."

I didn't respond. But I was thinking that that was such a cool thing to say.

If you've read this far, make sure you read the next part too. Because here is my sage advice. If you find someone who is willing to fix your old car, and they are honest and reliable, treat them like the most important person in the whole world. Pay without complaint and thank them profusely. Frequently ask them if they've lost weight. Laugh at their jokes. This is all because of this one sad fact: You need them much more than they need you. They already have plenty of customers.

Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor, @ 152,793 miles

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