1996 Lexus ES 300 Long Term Road Test

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1996 Lexus ES300: The Extended Repair

May 25, 2012

 Lexus in Tow.jpg

After nearly a week of being out of commission, our long term 1996 Lexus ES300 is back in the fleet. There's a long story behind the delay, but first I want to address a couple of comments and misunderstandings.

1. A number of readers have suggested that we handle every repair on this car as a DIY project. As I mentioned in the last blog, this project is trying to duplicate what the average person might do when owning an inexpensive used car. I work for Edmunds and I even worked in the parts department of a dealership (shipping and receiving) but this doesn't mean that I am qualified to fix a car. In fact, I avoid DIY projects. I don't have the patience for it and I usually end up breaking things. In that respect, I am like the average person. I tried a quick fix, it didn't work, and then I took the car to a mechanic. That’s what most people would do. And that's what we intend to do with any future repairs.

2. We never had the chance to try out nsx603's potential fix because the blog was written days after the car was in the shop. Think of this blog as a parallel universe. Just because it was posted on the blog, doesn't mean it happened that day.

Now that we've tempered the gear heads expectations, we can move on to what actually happened. I had trouble coming up with a place to take the car to because I didn't really know of any reputable independent garages, much less one near the office. I have always taken my personal cars to the dealership. Same goes for the Edmunds fleet cars. Yes, I know you can spend less at an independent garage but this is my preference. In anycase, I remembered someone telling me about a garage a few blocks from the office. It had good reviews on Yelp, so I gave it a shot.

We brought in the Lexus on a Friday afternoon. I got a call from the mechanic that evening. The mass airflow sensor needed to be replaced and the OEM part cost $1,000. The mechanic told me he would try to find a cheaper alternative over the weekend.

I had a busy Monday and I didn't have time to check on the car. On Tuesday morning I called the mechanic. He said he called a number of places over the weekend but couldn't find anything cheaper than the $1,000 factory part. I told him I would find something myself and bring him the part. His $1K price wasn't off base. One place I called was asking $980 for a non-factory part.

It took me five minutes to Google an O'Reilly auto part shop nearby, call them, and find the part for $220 (plus a $39 core deposit, which was refunded later). The place was less than five miles away from the mechanic. I can't attest to whether the guy looked that hard or if he even tried. I ordered the part but it was not in stock. It would be delivered the following morning.

At the same time, I knew that the Lexus was leaking coolant. I had filled it with coolant to the "max" line and it had dropped to the "low" line in a week. The mechanic confirmed that it needed a new heater valve. O'Rielly was asking $40 for the part. An independent parts shop nearby had quoted me $25 over the phone. When I arrived the employee brought out a part that cost $72. I mentioned that I was quoted a different price. The man I had spoken to on the phone remembered our conversation and showed the other employee that there was a cheaper alternative. I ended up getting the part for $20.

Our imaginary debt-free driver has now been out of the car for three days and has had to borrow a buddy’s car to buy the cheaper parts. I'm subtracting one day for the day I was busy.

It was now Wednesday. I picked up the parts from both shops and took them to the mechanic. He was surprised that I found the inexpensive parts and agreed to install them both for $140.

I called the mechanic Thursday morning. He said he had finished the repairs late the prior night. I picked up the Lexus and it ran fine.

Clearly this repair took way too long and I won't be going back to that same shop. Some might argue that if it were my own car, I would be raising hell until it was fixed. That's not really my style. I'm a low key guy. Perhaps my calls may have been more frequent if it were my car, but at the end of the day this car is a work project.We're trying to duplicate the average person's experience, but we aren't beholden to it. I had a busy week at work and I attended to it when time permitted.  

Total Cost (Including sales tax): $420
Days out of service: 6

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Editor @ 137,785 miles

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