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.

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Rainy Weather Performance

December 01, 2012

 Lexus in Saugus.jpg There's a funny caption somewhere in this photo, but I won't go there. I swear that I was at this strip mall (no pun intended) on official Edmunds business.

I drove our 1996 Lexus ES 300 up to Saugus, a community that's about 32 miles away from the office. There was a light rain throughout most of the drive and the roads were pretty slick. Here are a few observations on how the Lexus performs in the rain.

Our all-season Kumho tires held up quite well. The car never hydroplaned, even with speeds of up to 70 mph.

The rear windshield could use a coat of Rain X, because the water didn't bead away. It just accumulated and made it hard to see out the back.

The Bosch wipers we bought in March are still in good shape and did a great job of clearing the windshield. But I think the wiper motor may be on its last legs. It seems to struggle to move the blades and squeaks at the low speed or intermittent setting.

The toughest part about driving the Lexus in the rain was dealing with other drivers (people who follow too closely, people without their headlights on, etc.).

Do you have any rainy-day driving pet peeves?

Ron Montoya Consumer Advice Editor @ 151,966 miles

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1996 Lexus ES 300: The Racer's Choice

November 13, 2012

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Drove the ES 300 to Buttonwillow Raceway Park for the annual Mazdaspeed competition, in which Mazda awards a season in the Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup to an amateur racer.

It was 300 miles there and back, and the Lexus made the long pull up the six-percent grade in the Grapevine pretty effortlessly to the top of Tejon Pass at 4,100 feet.

I took it easy on the car by not putting a heavy load on the engine with large throttle inputs, yet the car still cruised up the hill at 70 mph without a problem. No crawling up the pass in the slow lane with the trucks.

You'd think that there would be some shame associated with bringing an old used car to the race track, but instead the racers got the idea of this car right away. Any real racer spends all his money on his race car, so his street car is usually something that qualifies as simple transportation.

In fact, one Mazda guy said, "Hey, I did the same thing.  Got an old 1980s Mazda MX-6 for $1,800.  Still running, and maybe the smartest car purchase I ever made."

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Emunds.com @ 151,451 miles

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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: Proper Throttle Response

October 22, 2012

 es_300_throttle.jpg Take a dip in our hot tub time machine: our ES 300 has no more than an old-school four-speed automatic transmission. But it does have an old-school cable-actuated throttle, too. The ES responds in a nice, linear fashion to throttle inputs. Push a little, get a little. Push more, get more. There's no electronic trickery here by the automaker to tease out another 0.5 mpg by making things sluggish. Nor does the transmission upshift to top gear at the earliest opportunity.

It's throttle tuning back when gasoline was $1.86 a gallon (adjusted for inflation). It's quite nice, actually.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 150,244 miles 

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Enjoyable Highway Cruiser

October 8, 2012

1996 Lexus ES 300

We've already put a lot of highway miles on our ES 300 -- most notably, Phil's cross-country trip. And after after a recent (and much shorter) five-hour highway trip, I'd agree with his sentiments. Our ES is a solid cruiser. It's pretty quiet, it's easy to see out of, there's sufficient V6 power and the front seats are comfortable enough. And as a nice change of pace, I actually enjoyed being unplugged in the sense of not having Bluetooth or auxiliary/USB hookups. I listened to some terrestrial radio here and there, but for the most part it was just me and my thoughts.

The ES may be the doormat of our long-term fleet, but so far I'm enjoying it nonetheless.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor 149,872 miles

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1996 Lexus ES 300: A Priceless Piece of Americana

September 18, 2012

1996 Lexus ES 300

So as I rolled into the lane between the corrals where they were staging the car show part of the 2012 Hooligan, the parking guy looked twice at the 1996 Lexus ES 300 and inquired if I’d be entering the show.

“Of course,” I replied.  “It’s a priceless piece of Americana.” And after I thought about it for a second, I realized that this is more than just blather, because this cheap and cheerful ES 300 really is a car with a story to tell.

About 1996, the car industry had finally recovered from the big business bust at the end of the Reagan years that made sports cars disappear from the streets and nearly put Porsche out of business. The Japanese premium brands had all appeared and they proved enormously influential, changing car design both in the U.S. and in Europe (even though executives in both places naturally denied it). Lexus seemed to resonate the most with Americans, and in this Lexus ES 300, you can see why.

The Lexus ES 300 is meant to be perfect transportation, a refined, reliable and unobtrusive means of getting from here to there. It’s dressed up in the fashion of the 1990s – an elegant form, high-quality paint, the two-tone treatment that has been part of American automotive style since the 1920s, the glitzy self-indulgence of gold trim, and the flashy chrome-finish wheels that dominated the 1990s.

Even the cabin is an aesthetic marvel – the warm tones of the wood trim, the techno-trickery of the electroluminescent instrument display, the modestly bolstered chair-like seats, the wears-like-iron leather upholstery, and a steering wheel without control buttons.

This is simple transportation that has been executed according to a very high standard of quality, and it's interesting that this is what made the car appealing then as a luxury device and still makes it appealing now as a used car.

Surprisingly enough, this line of patter worked on almost everyone who passed by the ES 300. No one thought twice to see it parked next to a Corvette C2 or a Triumph TR-4 or the phalanx of Fiat 500s across the road, or even the street-legal Can-Am replicar.

Of course, the prize of the day went to a clone of an early-1970s Porsche 911 RS and not to us, but the Lexus got noticed. We were chatting about it with someone and actually never mentioned the name of Edmunds when a tall, spindly young guy with a floppy hat and shorts pipes up, “The ES 300 from Inside Line?!  I read the site every day!  Love that car!”  So apparently this Lexus is famous.

There were about 200 cars at my pal’s event, and he and his neighbors raised about $3,500 for their volunteer fire department. We’re going back next year. This Lexus ES 300 might just be a used car, but it still tells a story about the things that every American wants in a car, whether it’s new or used.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 149,100 miles

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Kumba-yikes!

August 11, 2012

1996_Lexus_ES300_captain_crunch.jpg 

Vehicle inspection stickers? California hasn't had such a program for years. I think Takahashi's '57 T-bird has one. And so we sometimes run across something like this.

I followed this somewhat rough 1996 Lexus ES300 for awhile and, surprisingly, the wheels seemed to be pointing in the right direction and it tracked straight. The cabin looks mostly intact too, but it's obviously in no shape for another hit.

It'll buff out.

Dan Edmunds, DIrector of Vehicle Testing @ 147,452 miles

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Listen to Your Dad

August 08, 2012

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Remember how your dad would be telling you to always live a little bit below your means and only put your money into things that last?

What if he was right?

What if this 1996 Lexus Es 300 were not just a used car but instead the ultimate smart solution, the equivalent of a Lexus LS sedan, Honda Accord, Toyota Prius and Smart Fortwo all rolled into one?

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 147,351 miles

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Driving Without Shame

August 07, 2012

1996_les300_r34_lexus_callaway.jpg
We’re trying not to be ashamed of driving an old used car.  We take it places, and we’re trying hard not to think of the Lexus as something second-rate.

For example, I drove it to the big grand opening of the Callaway Cars facility here in Santa Ana, California. As you can imagine, it didn’t exactly fit in with all the 500-hp Corvettes. At least the Lexus has chrome wheels.

As we’re all learning, it takes some courage to drive an old used car without shame. That’s because your fellow motorists treat you badly.

For example, there’s always some bright spark cutting you off on the freeway or squeezing in front of you in the middle of commute traffic. You’re going to get the second-best guy at the car wash, and he might forget to dry the mirrors. People will park very close at the big box store and not leave room enough for you to squeeze into the driver side door.  And in latitudes where brakes are apparently rendered inoperative and so instead your fellow motorists use the car horn to clear their path, you will get honked at with surprising frequency.

The Lexus helps me remember that the automobile is pretty much the way most of us represent ourselves to the people around us, and if you’re wearing the automotive equivalent of a haircut from the 1980s (all of which were bad, no matter which gender), you’re going to be treated like some kind of particularly loathsome catfish.

But we’re trying to cope without the automotive intimidation factor that is such a useful aspect of driving a new car.  (If you don’t believe vehicles are styled to intimidate, you should take a long look at the grilles of German luxury sedans and American pickup trucks.)

Personally I’m trying to be a bit more elbows-out in traffic. And when it comes to events like that at Callaway Cars, I simply remind people that this Lexus is a well-preserved example of the finest Toyota Camry ever built.

It’s not just an old used car.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 147,351 miles

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1996 Lexus ES 300: What More Do You Want?

July 30, 2012

Lexus ES 300 Mount Whitney.jpg

I invited a friend to go hiking with me this weekend but I warned him we would be driving to the mountains in a 1996 Lexus ES 300.
 
Him: "Can you guarantee that we will get there and back?"
 
Me: "No."
 
He agreed to "risk it" and came along anyway. So I gave him an assignment.
 
"What features or qualities does this old car lack, compared to modern cars, that you miss?"

"Well," he answered. "We're probably not going to meet any girls."
 
I had to admit that he had a point there. Girls, boys or adults of any kind did not express any interest whatsoever in this car. That might be because they didn't notice that it has the gold kit.
 
But the good old ES did make it 460 miles from Los Angeles to Lone Pine and back without incident. And from Lone Pine (elevation 3,400 feet) it climbed to the Whitney Portal at 8,400 feet. Not once, but twice! The 3.0L V6 had adequate power and the four speed automatic downshifted willingly.
 
My friend did admit that the ES has a nice big trunk for all our gear. But he's a tall guy and had trouble finding a comfortable seating position. It's hard to say if a modern car would have provided the adjustability needed to ease his pain. I dealt with the situation by telling him his pain was psychosomatic.
 
On the way home Sunday morning, we were cruising along at 73 mph and the 188 hp engine hardly seemed to be working at all. So I took this video to try to capture the smooth, quiet ride this old timer still provides.


 
Philip Reed, Edmunds Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 147,038 miles
 

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Local Phenomenon

July 26, 2012

Lexus Twin1.jpg

Since the 1996 Lexus ES 300 came into our fleet, it seems that I can't drive two miles without seeing another quite like it. The one pictured here is not our car, but its twin, which Ron Montoya photographed in a parking lot across the street from us.

Is there a surfeit of old Lexi around  Edmunds or is this an instance of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, "where one happens upon some obscure piece of information -- often an unfamiliar word or name -- and soon afterwards encounters the same subject again, often repeatedly," as the site Damn Interesting put it. Or in my case, when one drives a car of a certain age and soon afterwards sees it on the road, often repeatedly.

To help resolve the question, one of our super-cool analysts, Ivan Drury, pulled the current national and Los Angeles County registration data for the car from provider Polk.

 

Of the 30,399 1996 ES 300 models currently registered in the U.S., 1,414 are here in Los Angeles County -- 4.7 percent of the national crop. If you add up the currently registered first-generation ES 300s (1992-1996), there are nearly 7,000 in L.A. County, representing about 7 percent of the registered 1992-1996 ES 300 models nationwide.

Drury says that L.A. County is the No. 1 location for Lexus ES across all model years. Orange County, our neighbor to the south, is No. 2.

What old or obscure car do you seem to see everywhere?

 

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @146,516 miles 

 

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Terminal Transportation

July 03, 2012

ChinaShippingLine_1.jpg 

The Lexus ES300 is a big hit on my street. Guys walk over to look at it. It's the perfect car to drive down to the docks, they say.

That's because where I live everyone works down at the port and loads and unloads containers. And you need some kind of car to get you the two miles or so. You don't need much, because the docks aren't far and some truck hauling a container is bound to back into your car and leave a dent sooner or later.

You go down there to the docks and there are lots of interesting transportation choices parked outside the container terminals. Saw a Chevy Corvair and a Ford Maverick, neither exactly a collectible. Plenty of Chevy Blazers, a Pontiac Aztek, the odd Toyota Prius, and also I saw a 1990s Mercedes-Benz SL.

 

In this crowd, the Lexus is a kind of crossover, something nice in which to drink coffee for that first 15 minutes or so on a cold morning, but not so nice that you would care if you came back and it had been rumpled a little. No matter what you could always keep it parked in front of the house without feeling ashamed.

In my town, you get noticed when you drive a car like this. Drove by some girl flipping an advertising sign on a street corner -- one of those summer jobs that students get -- and she gave the Lexus a long, long look. Probably she was probably wishing that she had a boyfriend who drove such a car, since it would mean that he had a job.

In working-class town like mine, this old Lexus is actually a sign of wealth -- or employment, at least.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 146,155 miles

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1996 Lexus ES 300: License Plate Bracket

July 01, 2012

Lexus Newport Beach.jpg

Dang, a Newport Lexus license plate bracket? Fancy! 

Ultra-posh Newport Beach Lexus is like the Lexus of Lexus dealerships. Just that bracket alone has got to add at least, I don't know, $5 or $6 to the worth of our car.

That kind of leverage will come in mighty handy when we try to re-sell it. Consider yourselves warned, those of you that will be scrambling to buy this car off of us.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 146,071 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: Leaps and Bounds

June 17, 2012

Lexus Danville.jpg

This 1996 Lexus ES 300 eats up the highway nearly as well as any newer car. I drove from Worcester, Mass., to Cleveland, Ohio, a distance of 626 miles, in one day. Today I made it from Cleveland to Columbia, Mo., a distance of 676 miles. I would have pushed on but I ran into a violent thunderstorm with thick bolts of lightning exploding all around me. So I stopped in the Bates Motel.

Today's trip included a detour to Danville, Indiana, where I lived in this house when I was in second grade.  I wish my old house had aged as well as this Lexus. But at least they were proudly flying the flag.

There has been one minor maintenance issue with the Lexus which I will cover in the next blog. But I'll ruin the suspense -- it didn't delay me or cost any money. Stay tuned. 

Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 143,950 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: Props for Quick Repair

June 11, 2012

IMG_3256.jpg 

Dan Edmunds was right -- I found out how to prop open the hood of the 1996 Lexus ES 300 in a gas station in Utah. I used my Scotty Cameron putter. It provided great touch and feel. Most importantly, it gave me confidence to stick my head under the hood and check the oil and the coolant level.

I was checking the oil every other tank of gas and keeping an eye on the coolant level. However, as I was approaching my friend's house in Detroit last Thursday, I saw the temp gauge rising. My GPS showed I only had 3.4 miles left so I decided to go for it. As I rolled up out front of his house the needle was climbing. All I could think of was all the barren stretches of road where the Lexus could have overheated. Instead, it was nearly at my friend's house. Talk about great timing.

Early Friday morning, I followed my friend to a local Toyota dealership, Fox Automotive of Rochester Hills. The service advisor, encouragingly named Bradley Ernest, said they had a very full schedule and, if parts were needed it would have to have to wait until Monday. I told him I was driving cross country and needed to leave Sunday morning. I also asked him to change the oil and rotate the tires. Having done all I could, I did the only logical thing: went out and played golf.

When I got done, I had a message from Brad. I called him back anticipating a long song and dance about delays and extra charges.

Instead, Brad told me, "You're good to go."

"What do you mean?"

"It's all fixed. Come and pick it up."

When I got back to Fox, the Lexus was washed and waiting for me. Brad informed me that the hoses leading into the firewall were loose and the coolant had been leaking from there. Also, the radiator cap didn't hold pressure so they replaced it. The total bill for all items was $178. It seemed a little steep but I was rolling again and ready to stay on schedule.

Today I left Detroit, holding my breath and half suspecting that the leak would somehow reappear. But the temp gauge we level all day through 90 degree heat. Tomorrow I will be in Boston and halfway done with my trip.

Philip Reed, Edmunds Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 142,056 miles

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Crosswind Noise

June 07, 2012

aerodynamics.jpg 

For the past two days since I left Wendover, Nevada, I've been driving through a wicked crosswind. Tumbleweed is flying across the road, trees are bending, windmills are spinning and flags are snapping. When there's no crosswind, the 1996 Lexus ES 300 is nice and quiet. The weather stripping around the doors seems to hold out the wind noise just fine. But this crosswind has created a horrible turbulence in the driver's side window next to my left ear. It sounds like a hurricane.

I've noticed that when I pass an 18-wheeler I hit a zone of silence just as I approach the rear left back wheels of the truck. I have about 45-seconds of blissful stillness and then, when I approach the front of the truck, the racket starts up again. It's a wonderful demonstration of the importance of aerodynamics.

I've check and it doesn't look like the weather stripping around the driver's door is at fault. In fact, I think this same thing might happen in many newer cars since aerodynamics are design to deal with wind coming over the car from the front, not from the side. However, I have noticed that, here and there, bits of black plastic flashing between body panels on the Lexus have dried and, in some cases are curled up and flapping in the wind. I'm tempted to buy some epoxy and clue them back into place but so far, I haven't had the time.

Other than that, this old car is running fine and carrying me 600 miles closer to the Atlantic Ocean each day.

Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 140,866 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 ES 300: Coast to Coast

June 04, 2012

Lexus Pacific.jpg 

Here's our 1996 Lexus ES 300 parked by the Pacific Ocean. In about a week it will be parked by the Atlantic Ocean. I'm driving across country, something I've never done before, and decided to do it in the Lexus. Of course I'll be a bit nervous after its recent "issues." But as a good friend of mine said, "By now, it's fully sorted."

I'm taking the northern route through Chicago, Detroit, and New York State to Boston. On the return trip I'll take a more southern route through Denver and back to Los Angeles.

Thinking ahead to my trip, I keep remembering the famous line from the Blue Brothers as they set out for Chicago: "We've got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's night and we're wearing sunglasses. Hit it!"

Philip Reed, Edmunds Senior Consumer Advice Editor @ 139,602 miles

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1996 Lexus ES 300: DIY Key Fob Battery

June 01, 2012

 Key Screw2.JPG The 1996 Lexus ES 300 has a small button on the head of the key that can lock and unlock doors (The button is at the 4 o'clock position if you're looking at the photo above). The signal range isn't very far, but it's better than having to manually unlock the doors. When we first purchased the vehicle, the battery on both our key fobs was dead. And for a while, we were unlocking our doors in a manner unbefitting of a luxury car.

My colleague, Phil Reed, purchased the necessary batteries at Radio Shack for $5.99 a piece. Phil replaced the first battery and I did the spare key. That's about the limit of my DIY skills. The process went as follows:

I started out by removing a tiny screw on the back of the key fob with a Phillips screwdriver. The plastic cover needed a little coaxing from a flathead screwdriver, but it came off relatively easy. I used that same flathead to pop out the old battery and then put in the new one. I screwed the cover back on and was done in about 20 minutes. 

I pressed the unlock button to test it. The Lexus made an electronic beep when the doors locked and unlocked. The volume can be adjusted by a small knob on the lower left dash board.

Ron Montoya, Consumer Advice Editor @ 137,792 miles

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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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