On Its Last Legs? - 1996 Lexus ES 300 Long-Term Road Test

1996 Lexus ES 300 Long Term Road Test

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1996 Lexus ES 300: On Its Last Legs?

February 14, 2013

1996 Lexus ES 300

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.

Such is life with our 1996 ES 300. As Ron described in his post another editor experienced a hard start problem. A short time later, the check engine light came on again! Oh man, it seems like this car's falling apart.

The engine code indicated that there was a vacuum leak, which could have been almost any loose piece of spaghetti under the hood. Or it could have been something major, like the charcoal filter under the exhaust system. And then again, maybe it was triggered by replacing the O2 sensor. We decided to reset the code and hope for the best.

Monday morning, after a weekend of driving, with no reappearance of the check engine light, I took it to the car wash for a quick bath. On the way back to the office, I noticed my attitude toward the old car improving. "How could I have ever thought it was down for the count?" I wondered. "This has plenty of life left."

But every couple of miles, I nervously glance at the gauge cluster, dreading the glow of the check engine light.

Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor, @ 153,452 miles


  • gloss gloss Posts:

    I'm driving a 2003 Mazda Protege and this describes my relationship with the old thing to a tee. Some days I feel like maybe it's on its way out, but others I feel like it's never going to die and give me the excuse I need to replace it.

  • smudge12 smudge12 Posts:

    ^Haha, I'm the same with my '02 Protege.

  • Yep. And then there is the fear that if you wait something bigger than you'd want to pay for might break and leave you with a very large paperweight.... or you could sell it today and not have to worry. Because if you fix the transmission or engine head or other costly item it will still have all the little things failing. And in reality most cars I've driven into the ground ended up there because of numerous small (yet expensive) things going and not a major component.

  • zhangrenhou zhangrenhou Posts:

    In my experience, 1980's and 1990's Honda and Acura products can be driven for years with the light on. I've done so when my mechanic could not pinpoint any problem(s). Not sure if the same holds true for Lexus products.

  • mslaff mslaff Posts:

    This car is an excellent argument for just going ahead with a new car lease at the lowest possible payment. Surely a 2013 Impreza, or something similar, would be about as cost effective and absolutely more reliable. How much time could the average person afford to spend chasing down repairs on this car, honestly? Time to part this one out!

  • quadricycle quadricycle Posts:

    I know none of us would want an unreliable car for our (future) kids, but I think that this is the perfect car for a teen. It's cheap, and I wouldn't mind paying for all these little repairs so that the rascals can learn about how cars work and how to fix them. My first two cars never left me stranded, but had continuous little things going wrong. That's how I came to be interested in how cars work.... Maybe I'm just romanticizing the past though.

  • lincolnman3 lincolnman3 Posts:

    I'd put money this car has plenty of life left in it. As a retired military member working now as a civilian on a military base here in Japan, I see lots of these..... Most US military members are here in Japan on an assignment for three years, so everyone purchases cheap wheels. This model, called "Windom" in JDM form, is very popular - for the same reasons yours is; very reliable, parts are mostly cheap, and it has Lexus cache and refinement. Don't give up on her yet........

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