Major or Minor Service?
The 150,000-mile service on the Lexus ES 300 is considered a major service by dealer service departments. The owner's manual calls for a whole list of things, including an oil and filter change, new air filter, new A/C filter, replacement of the brake fluid and coolant and a bunch of systems inspections. At the dealership, this service would cost us well over $250.
If our Lexus were a new car, we would abide by the owner's manual. But our goal for this project is to put ourselves in the shoes of a budget-conscious family and take the lower-cost route. So we took the car to an independent garage. We told the mechanic there to take care of the bare essentials — an oil change and tire rotation. We also asked him to look into a potential oil leak.
A few hours later, we got the condition report: There was an oil leak around the timing-belt cover. This could have led to a domino chain of repairs. If you take off the timing belt cover, you might as well check and, if necessary, replace the timing belt. And if you do the timing belt, you might as well replace the cam seals and the water pump. This would add up to about $798. Luckily for us, we knew the timing belt was in good condition. We had it checked at the last oil change. But we made the decision to live with the oil leak and periodically check on the oil level. After all, what old car doesn't have some type of fluid leak? As long as the oil isn't gushing out, we can live with it.
The cost for our 150K service was $75, which was more in line with the cost of a minor service. By not going the soup-to-nuts route, we saved about $200.
Also in November, one of our editors noted that the Lexus' headlights were quite dim at night. Part of the problem was the clouded headlight housing. The other problem was old bulbs, which seem to have lost wattage with age.
Senior Consumer Advice Editor Philip Reed had cleaned the headlights with a DIY kit when we first purchased the Lexus, but the effect seemed to last only a few months.
Since there was money in our budget, we bought a set of Philips "X-treme Power" headlight bulbs for $28 on Amazon.com. The company claims they give off "80 percent more light," so we tried them out.
There was a definite improvement in the light quality, but not quite 80 percent better. During the installation, Reed also noticed that one of the high beams had burned out. He picked up a set of Sylvania Silver Star bulbs for about $24.
Plotting a Course for Uncharted Waters
The Lexus is now heading into its final stretch of months with us. We don't see much reason to drastically alter our maintenance course. We will continue to change the oil every 5,000 miles, the interval recommended in the owner's manual.
We've driven more than 16,150 miles in the Lexus so far — well past the 15,000-mile mark we set out at the beginning of our project. At this writing, we have stayed within budget for seven straight months and have a surplus of $942.
Our Lexus still has a few lingering issues, but what car of this vintage doesn't? We'll keep a close eye on things and handle any repairs as they surface.
The Debt-Free Car Project Chapter 1: Finding and Buying an Affordable Used Car
The Debt-Free Car Project Chapter 2: Preventive Car Maintenance
The Debt-Free Car Project Chapter 3: Curbstoners and Internet Scams
The Debt-Free Car Project Chapter 4: Dealing With Repairs
The Debt-Free Car Project Chapter 5: Driving Cross Country in a 1996 Lexus ES 300
The Debt-Free Car Project Chapter 6: Midyear Check-In
The Debt-Free Car Project Chapter 7: Sailing Past 150,000 Miles
The Debt-Free Car Project Chapter 8: Wrap-Up