1996 Lexus ES 300 Long Term Road Test

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Gauge Lights Fixed

February 18, 2013

1996 Lexus ES 300

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.

1996 Lexus ES 300

The last mechanic we went to said he wasn't able to repair it. Too specialized, I suppose. We had also seen someone on eBay who claimed he could repair it for $99, but we would have had to take out the gauge cluster ourselves and ship it to him. Who knows how long we'd be without the car?

My colleague, Phil Reed, thought of calling Sean McMullan, a paintless dent remover, who he interviewed for this article. McMullan has a network of mechanics he trusts and refers people to. He referred us to Alberto Garcia, owner of A&M Motors in West Los Angeles.

We took the Lexus to A&M Motors and a few hours later, we got a call from Alberto. He replaced eight bulbs behind the gauges at a cost of about $2 each plus labor. We'll still have to deal with the flickering and partially lit needle, though. According to Alberto, that component has a different circuit board and he would have to send it out to a specialist. I think we can manage with a needle light show.

We also asked Alberto to take a quick look at the engine and mentioned that the car wouldn't idle properly on cold starts. He noticed a disconnected vacuum line. It either came loose or wasn't re-attached when the O2 sensor was fixed. We hope this finally solves that issue.

The total cost with labor: $111.53
Days out of service: 0

Ronald Montoya, Consumer Advice Editor @ 153,549 miles


  • s197gt s197gt Posts:

    worth every penny. i hate burnt out interior lights.

  • quadricycle quadricycle Posts:

    It's the details that add up to a good car ownership experience, so I'm glad you guys are doing this. Also, a $25 Haynes manual (or other brand) would help you guys with a lot of these repairs... Owning an older, paid for car really saves you money IF you can do a good chunk of maintenance and repairs.

  • fordson1 fordson1 Posts:

    This car's bezel comes off with 2 screws, with you sitting in the driver's seat The gauge cluster then comes out of the car with 4 screws and 2 wiring harness plugs. You put the cluster face-down on a table, take out the 16 screws (sounds like a lot, but...it's just 16 Philips screws) that holds the circuit board to the cluster. This exposes the 8 light sockets that come out of the cluster with a quarter turn. The bulbs just unplug from the sockets. Reverse of above to put it back together again...that's why the guy called them back in just a couple of hours. I've done it...this is a 45-minute job. Box of 10 bulbs costs about $6. They won't try to fix anything in this car themselves. Failure to hold an idle just screams vacuum line...so you don't even just raise the hood and look for a disconnected line?

  • zhangrenhou zhangrenhou Posts:

    You're lucky to have so many good referrals! That's the key when trying to maintain these older cars.

  • noburgers_ noburgers_ Posts:

    WTF is with this car and the haphazard vacuum line issues? Doesn't anyone take any pride in their mechanical work? On a slightly related note, my backup car, a 1994 Dodge Intrepid seen last fall on Readers Rides, is getting donated next week. Worn tie rod ends did in the front tires, and with all the other issues, it is time to say goodbye. I would have owned it 19 years in April. You guys will definitely know when the Lexus' time is up, too.

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