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

Most Recommended Comments

By eric_l
on 03/25/13
5:17 PM PST

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.

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By fordson1
on 03/25/13
12:58 PM PST

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

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By shadow101
on 03/25/13
5:39 PM PST

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?

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