The next repair caught us off guard. One morning, the Lexus had trouble starting. The engine cranked into life, but the driver had to step on the throttle to keep it running. With no foot on the pedal, the engine would not stay at idle. It just shut off.
Edmunds Engineering Editor Jason Kavanagh suspected the idle air-control valve was the culprit. We ran a Google search on this and found a YouTube video that involved a similar scenario. It outlined a quick fix that involved cleaning the intake manifold. It seemed simple enough. If a $4 bottle of carburetor cleaner would solve our issue, why not give it a try? The Debt-Free Car Project's goal is to duplicate the average person's ownership experience. As such, we wanted to keep costs down and find alternative solutions. So we opened the hood and went to work.
It took Kavanagh less than five minutes to remove the air intake hose. He sprayed the small opening in the throttle body as the video instructed. We waited for the cleaner to dry, put the hose back on and started the car. No go.
We were disappointed that this fix didn't work, but were generally satisfied with our attempt to avoid a potential costly repair. We called a tow truck and had them take the Lexus to an independent shop a few blocks away from the office. Neither of us had an Auto Club membership at the time, so we had to pay for the tow out of pocket. The 9-mile trip cost $141. That hurt.
We dropped the Lexus off on a Friday afternoon. We received a call from Sergio, the mechanic, that evening. He said the mass airflow sensor needed to be replaced and that an original equipment part would cost $1,000. Sergio said he would try to find a less expensive alternative over the weekend. And here's where our troubles started.
We didn't hear from Sergio until we called him on Tuesday. He said he had called a number of places over the weekend but couldn't find anything cheaper than the $1,000 factory part. We told him we would find the part on our own and bring it to him. His $1,000 price wasn't off base. One place we called was asking $980 for an aftermarket part.
We're not sure how thorough Sergio's search was, but we were able to find and buy the part in less than 10 minutes. An online search pinned down the part at an O'Reilly auto parts shop nearby. We called and priced the part at $220 (plus a $39 "core deposit," which was refunded later). We ordered it for delivery the next day. The shop was less than five miles away from the mechanic, by the way.