1996 Lexus ES 300 Long Term Road Test

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Fuel Economy Update for February

March 4, 2013

1996 Lexus ES 300

Our long-term 1996 Lexus ES 300 only went through a tank and a half of gas (417 miles) in February. Those two fill-ups averaged about 18.6 mpg, which is a bit lower than our lifetime average of 24.8 mpg. Still, our lifetime average is well above the revised EPA combined rating of 21 mpg.

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1996 Lexus ES 300: January Fuel Economy Update

February 4, 2013

1996 Lexus ES 300

Our 1996 Lexus ES 300 didn't see much action on the road last month. It was only driven about 430 miles. This was partly due to the car being in the shop for a few days.

The ES 300 only had two fill-ups in January and it averaged about 20.7 mpg. This is down from our lifetime average of 24.9 mpg. I'm going to chalk this one up to the faulty oxygen sensor. The Lexus is capable of much better fuel economy.

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Off Brand Vs. Major Brand Gas

November 01, 2012

Lexus Gas Photo.jpg

"I'd never buy gas at --" fill in the blank. Yes, we've all heard this from friends and family from time to time. So we decided to set up an informal test. For the past month we've filled our 1996 Lexus ES300 on 87 octane gasoline from so-called off-brand gas stations. We wanted to see if there was a drop off in performance or fuel economy. Next month we will only fill it with 87 octane from the big boys, those companies that say their gas is better because it contains a secret sauce with a high-tech name.

This month we got an average of 23.9 mpg over almost 1,000 miles. The previous month, running 91 octane we got 24.9 mpg over 1,800 miles. Yes, we know, we're mixing apples and oranges (or, in this case, regular vs. premium). And then there are different driving styles and conditions to account for the variation.

Anyone out there think there is a difference between the gas from indies and the majors? Or is it, as a friend cynically suggested, "all just marketing."

Philip Reed, Edmunds Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 150,689 miles

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Fuel Economy Stats

August 22, 2012

1996 Lexus ES 300

We've been keeping two fuel logs on our long term 1996 Lexus ES 300 -- the normal logbook we use on every long term car and a record on Fuelly.com. It has been about three months since we last reported on the figures. Since then, the car has gone across the country, served as an airport shuttle and taken a weekend trip to the local mountains.

The miles have been adding up and we're well ahead of schedule. We had set out to drive the car for 15,000 miles during a year of ownership, but at this rate, we just might reach 20,000. All the highway driving has helped raise our average mpg from 23.2 to 26.1, a 12.5 percent increase.

According to the EPA, the 1996 Lexus ES300 has an estimated fuel economy of 18 mpg in the city, 26 on the highway, and a combined 21 mpg. Our current average does match up well with the highway number. In July, the Lexus had the sixth best fuel economy in the long term fleet, beating out the Toyota Camry and the Subaru Impreza. Not too bad for a car of this vintage.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Editor @ 147,577 miles

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Back Home Again

June 20, 2012

Lexus Wrap Up.jpg

The 1996 Lexus ES 300, aka the "Debt-Free Car," made it from California to Massachusetts and back again, logging 6,834 miles in 16 days. The Lexus now has a hefty 145,786 miles on the clock. There was one problem when the car overheated in Detroit. It was an inexpensive fix, costing only $126 to retighten two hoses and replace a radiator cap. An oil change and tire rotation was performed at the same time. Other than that, and an on-again off-again check engine light, the ES perform admirably.

Here are a few other thoughts about this odyssey.

In the final miles of the drive I found myself wondering whether the trip would have been a lot more comfortable in a brand new car. The answer is, obviously, yes. But that isn't to say that this trip was uncomfortable or this 16-year-old car was sadly lacking. It cruised quietly and efficiently at highway speeds and strong cross winds couldn't knock it off course. It even climbed well in the high oxygen-starved passes of the Rockies with surprisingly smooth down-shifts providing adequate power. The 18-gallon gas tank allowed 400-miles between gas stations and the fuel efficiency was always in the high 20s on 87 octane.

As noted before, the lack of storage space around the driver was annoying, as was the 6-disc CD cartridge in the trunk. The simple addition of a windshield mounted $100 GPS guided me without any problems.

One major difference between this old car and any modern counterpart was the suspension. The struts are tired and the suspension setup is out-dated. Most of the time I didn't notice these shortcomings. In fact, the ES is a great cruiser. But get it on rough pavement, or put it into a sharp corner, and the difference becomes apparent.

Like with so many other issues, the trade off is money. We paid $3,480, plus tax, for this car. Yes, we've put money into it since then, most notably fresh tires and a new battery. But still, the total is far, far less than even a base economy car. And here's a surprise: I didn't have to add a drop of oil the whole way. Yes, the oil was changed in Detroit, but the level never dropped below F on the dipstick. It left me wondering how much farther this car can go.

To all those who commented, both pro and con, thanks for riding along.

Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor @145,786 miles

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Made it to the Atlantic

June 13, 2012

Lexus Atlantic.jpg  

Eight days ago this 1996 Lexus ES 300 was parked beside the Pacific Ocean. Now, here it is beside the Atlantic, in the small town of Noank, Connecticut. I took the long route so the trip meter is now showing 3,450 miles. I had one mishap -- the car overheated in Detroit due to an earlier faulty repair. Other than that, and a rock chip in the windshield, it's been smooth sailing.

We are doing this project to show that a car with 142,000 miles (and climbing rapidly) is dependable. This probably isn't news to people that know cars and realize how incredibly reliable cars have become. The advent of fuel injection has helped enormously (cars now start in the cold and run more efficiently) and so has onboard computers that monitor various sensors in the fuel and exhaust streams. But since 1996 there have been a lot of creature comforts and new features that this old guy doesn't have.

The feel of this Lexus is vastly different than the new cars. The suspension is so soft it reminds me of my Dad's '65 Chevy wagon, the seats are almost like benches, the storage is poor and the cup holders are almost unusable (small and too close the dashboard). But on the plus side, the visibility is wide open, it's quiet, roomy and comfortable with a Big Gulp trunk. And I'm getting about 29 mpg on the highway. It's not going to carve canyons, so I consider its handling to be a non-issue. Hey, it's a point A to point B car. And as for the gold kit, my Dad thinks it looks sharp.

I really appreciate the comments on the posts about this trip. Some have requested a wrap up when I get back home. I'll certainly pull everything together when I finally get back to Los Angeles which, hopefully, will be in a week and change.

By the way, this picture was taken in the parking lot of Costello's Clam Shack (picture below), a seafood joint right on the dock. Next door is a similar restaurant with a related name. Together the names evoke the memory of a great comedy team from early television. What is the other restaurant called?

Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 142,501 miles

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1996 Lexus ES 300: A Whole Lotta Nowhere

June 05, 2012

Lexus Nevada.jpg

My route took me through a section of the West I'd never seen before -- eastern Nevada. Looking at a map I thought it would be incredibly barren and visions of being stranded miles from any garage filled my mind. But once I got rolling on Highway 93, I realized I was in for a treat. The road follows a series of valleys with green meadows, towering cottonwood trees and grazing cattle. I arrived in Wendover, Nevada, a total distance of 640 miles, without any mishaps.

Reading the comments to my first blog I was really happy that so many readers dug the idea of a road trip in a beater. But I realized I didn't introduce this project very well. I should have mentioned that we've had the Lexus checked by no less than three different mechanics including a mechanic from a dealership. We also bought new tires and a new battery for it as soon as we got it. We've done all we can do and if there is some gremlin lurking deep in the engine that's just a reminder of the uncertainty of life itself.

Still, when I'm miles from nowhere, and I feel what I think is a misfire, my heart skips a beat. But during this long drive the ES's motor churned away faithfully and delivered 28 mpg. The seats are definitely old school with only a suggestion of lateral support. But the leather is polished so it's easy to slide around on the seats when you get restless from sitting too long. What I like is the way the low beltline and the skinny A-pillars give a good view of the scenery.

Highway 93 also provided an interesting surprise, which is on the jump.

This is Extraterrestrial Highway which is near Area 51. I didn't dare go any farther for fears of alien probings.

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1996 Lexus ES300: Tracking our Fuel Economy

May 17, 2012

 Lexus Fuelly2.jpg We mentioned that we would keep track of fuel economy and costs in our introduction of the Lexus ES300. The Edmunds testing team typically has a spreadsheet to make these calculations, but it does not keep track of fuel costs. We're big fans of a Web site called Fuelly.com, which is where we created an account for our Lexus.

This site keeps track of your fuel economy data, and presents it in a number of tables and charts. You can compare your data to vehicles like yours, and even look at what fuel economy other cars are getting. Fuelly also makes it easy to share your data via Facebook, Twitter or even as a forum signature. If you are away from the computer, you can use the mobile site to update your stats.

As you can see our Lexus is averaging about 23 mpg and costs about $0.19 cents per mile to operate. The best mpg is held by yours truly. We're paying an average of $4.35 per gallon.

According to the EPA, the 1996 Lexus ES300 has an estimated fuel economy of 18 mpg in the city, 26 on the highway, and a combined 21 mpg. These numbers are the EPA's revised versions, not the original numbers that appeared on the window sticker.

One final note: Take our "City vs Highway" pie chart with a grain of salt. This is just a slider that you select when you are inputting your data. If you do nothing, it defaults to a 50/50 split.


Follow this link to view the stats on our Lexus.
http://www.fuelly.com/driver/debtfreecar/es300

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Editor @ 138,770

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1996 Lexus ES300: Vegas Road Trip

May 16, 2012

 Lexus in Vegas.JPG Last month, I drove our long-term Lexus ES300 to Las Vegas to attend a Buy Here Pay Here (BHPH) Dealer convention, at the organization’s invitation. This BHPH convention was a gathering of dealers to discuss best practices and to get a feel for where the industry stands at the moment.

It was actually the second Vegas run the car made after we purchased it, but I’ll leave the story of that trip to Phil Reed, our senior consumer advice editor, who is on sabbatical until July.

As we discussed our convention visit with one of the dealer association’s representatives, he questioned whether an average buyer could find a reliable and inexpensive used car in our target $3,500 price range, since it was tough for the dealers themselves to find anything decent for under $5,000.

Buying our Lexus wasn't a cakewalk, but it was certainly doable, and we found one for much less than $5K. Since the convention was being held in the far corner of the Caesar's Palace, I didn't have the chance to show off the car to the convention attendees. But I took comfort in knowing that the car made it to Vegas and back without any issues.

As for the trip itself, I found the Lexus to be very comfortable to drive in long stretches. The cruise control and auto climate control both work and I used them for most of the way. I drove a total of about 600 miles and I was pretty consistent with my driving style. My first tank on the way to Vegas, and a portion of the return trip, I averaged 27.4 mpg. I drove less miles on the return tank and also averaged 27.4 mpg. This is almost 1.5 more mpg than the EPA's highway estimate.

For entertainment our Lexus has a tape deck in the front and a multi-disc CD changer in the trunk. My colleagues suggested I get a tape adapter so I could listen to the full music collection on my iPhone, rather than be limited to a few CDs. But I went with something more modern. I have a portable Bluetooth speaker that I placed on the front seat. This device has great sound quality for music, and also has a microphone so I could take calls. I kept my iPhone’s battery topped off with a car charger that plugged into the cigarette lighter.

This setup was working well enough until I realized I couldn't turn off the speaker. Sitting in the sun had fused the speaker’s power button into a permanent "on" position. I'm hoping it's still under warranty.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Editor @ 137,464 miles

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