Farewell, Old Friend - 1996 Lexus ES 300 Long-Term Road Test

1996 Lexus ES 300 Long-Term Road Test

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Farewell, Old Friend

March 25, 2013

1996 Lexus ES 300

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.

We've offered plenty of nice cars to our employees, and you would think they'd be lining up to purchase them. Among our offerings were a Dodge Challenger R/T, a Pontiac G8, and an Acura NSX. But when it came time to buy, we've never had more than one interested employee — until now. Then again, there had never been a car that was such a screaming deal.

If we had sold the Lexus on Autotrader, we would have listed it for about $4,000. I'm fairly confident we would've ended up accepting an offer of somewhere around $3,300. But our standard protocol is to offer the cars first to employees before we turn to Carmax or a private party sale.

We listed the Lexus internally at $2,668, which is the Edmunds private-party True Market Value (TMV). About five people responded to the listing, but in the end it came down to two employees: Bob and Blake.

Edmunds policy states that when there is more than one interested employee, the matter will be decided by a drawing. This way, no one can be accused of playing favorites.

1996 Lexus ES 300

We dusted off an old raffle cage that's used for events at the office and called in the VP of HR to supervise the proceedings. She placed three crushed paper balls, with each person's name on it, in the cage. After a couple of spins, we had a winner: Bob.

Bob was looking for an inexpensive daily driver that would replace a Honda Civic in his garage. His main car is a Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG, but is too much of a gas guzzler to drive on a regular basis. The Lexus would likely deliver twice the fuel economy of the Benz.

Cars are machines, yet somehow we build connections to them. As the co-author of the Debt-Free Car project, I felt a sense of attachment to this car like none other in the fleet and I'm sad to see it go. It was fun to drive and it possessed a '90s-era charm that I was really into.

I put the second most number of miles on this car (Phil Reed and his cross-country trip take first prize). If things broke down, I was one of the "go-to" guys for handling repairs. If someone was down on the car, I'd be the first to defend it.

I know this car was well-liked by the readers, too. It generated plenty of discussion. Sometimes, we had different interpretations of our "imaginary owner" and how to handle repairs, but it was all good.

I gained a better appreciation of aftermarket parts and independent mechanics. I had always been an OEM guy, since that was where we take other fleet cars. I also learned how helpful message boards can be in troubleshooting issues.

We drove the Lexus a total of 18,394 miles, far more than the 15,000 we had originally set for our goal. In a perfect world, we'd keep it another year and see how the costs amortized. But our long-term cars have always been one-year snapshots of ownership.

I'll hold back my overall conclusions about the project and its costs for the full-length wrap-up later this month. Stay tuned.

Feel free to give your thoughts on the Lexus and also tell us what you'd like to see us do if we pursue another used-car project.

Ronald Montoya, Consumer Advice Editor @ 154,206 miles


  • duck87 duck87 Posts:

    Thanks for the 1 year journey, Ron (and ES). It was an interesting exercise, even if some events were controversial, and it was a bit astounding to see you were able to perform some mechanical work on the car! Hopefully this car will be able to provide another decade or two of reliable service before riding off into the sunset.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    "I also learned how helpful message boards can be in troubleshooting issues." You learned this in the past year?

  • eric_l eric_l Posts:

    By far the best long term vehicle ever to grace the Edmunds fleet. While most of the long term reviews lend little more than to reinforce how terrific brand new cars are (and how troublefree they are while under warranty, provided one pays the asking price for dealership maintenance), the ES test highlighted some of the more unexamined aspects of vehicle ownership, such as prioritizing vehicle repairs (not an issue when every other long termer is just a dealer warranty service away), managing expectations for an older vehicle, and appreciating reliable transportation for its significance in the real world rather than how much fuel you can charge on the corporate card after doing burnouts and canyon drives just for fun. I hope Edmunds picks up another reliable beater for a similar test.

  • shadow101 shadow101 Posts:

    I am really confused, or really dense... You're posting in 2013 that you've sold your 17 year old Lexus that you kept for a year and put 18,000 miles on? What has it been doing for the last 16 years? Is this an old post revisited?

  • bassracerx bassracerx Posts:

    used bmw m3 good idea or nightmare waiting to happen?

  • bassracerx bassracerx Posts:

    @shadow they purchased the vehicle at the end of 2011

  • lincolnman3 lincolnman3 Posts:

    Great choice - have really enjoyed reading about life with this car. As I mentioned in one of the updates, there a tons of JDM versions here on US military bases in Japan - all running with lots of kms..... For your next cheap wheels, I vote for a mid-90s Volvo - perhaps the 850 Wagon that was in every suburb during that decade - if you can find an 850 R, so much the better.....

  • zhangrenhou zhangrenhou Posts:

    I'm glad you sold it to an employee, who will most likely be taking good care of it. If you're looking for something similar, another Toyota or Honda product would be interesting to me.

  • How about getting a car that would represent something a high school or college student might pick as their first car. I have been considering something for my daughter that is reliable, safe, efficient and less than $5000.

  • noburgers_ noburgers_ Posts:

    With the demise of Inside Line, I would rather see the "old car" long term tests go away, with the exception of your project cars. Those blogs are pretty good. I agree that this Lexus long-termer produced a great deal of comment volume, mostly in disagreement on how much should be spent on repairs, and what should be a DIY job. You had a frustrating set of vacuum hose leaks. You bought new tires that everyone hated. You dared to take the car on long trips. It was a great piece, and thanks for putting up with the (minor) abuse I and other readers gave you. And it inspired me to ditch the old Intrepid last month after 19 years ( a car that appeared near the ending days of "Readers Rides"). Thanks for taking on this kind of story. I look forward to the wrap-up.

  • texases texases Posts:

    @shadow101 - they bought it used a year ago.

  • minere minere Posts:

    This long term test was great entertainment, and closer to reality for many of us than your tests if shiny new models. Please do another similar test. Suggestions: Keep the test car for several years so we see how problems/cost even out. Put more effort into the search and selection process. You could have done better if you had spent more time hunting for a well kept ES. Buy privately, avoid used car dealers. Have someone skilled look at the car before you buy it. Put some more money into a preventive maintenance (hoses!) Consider a newer car than 16 years. 8? 12? For our entertainment, how about a Mercedes E-class, a Lexus LS or something similar as part if the charm buying old is that you can get a grand ride for a low price.

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