1996 Lexus ES 300 Long-Term Road Test - Interior

1996 Lexus ES 300 Long-Term Road Test

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Bonding

March 22, 2013

1996 Lexus ES 300

I took this picture to riff on how small the mirrors are in this 1996 Lexus ES 300. But now it seems a fitting farewell photo as the car leaves our fleet.

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Gauge Lights Fixed

February 18, 2013

1996 Lexus ES 300

You're looking at the almost-like-new gauge cluster on our long-term 1996 Lexus ES 300. The lights had been in a slow state of deterioration and had even gotten worse than when Brent Romans, first pointed out that they were fading.

It was most evident on the speedometer dial, where nothing was visible up to the 80 mph mark. I generally kept up with traffic and if I saw the speedometer needle, I knew I was going too fast. Clearly, this needed to be fixed.

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Sunny Greenhouse

February 11, 2013

1996 Lexus ES 300

Notice anything about our 1996 Lexus ES 300 besides the stunning gold kit? Look at all that glass in the rear window. While it might not be as safe in an accident, the increased visibility might actually help avoid collisions.

When I drive this car, lane changes are stress-free. That's because I don't feel like I'm looking out at the world through a peephole of a Sherman tank.

Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor, @ 153,358 miles

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Broken Door Fixed

January 17, 2013

2013 Infiniti JX35

If you're going to own an old car like our 1996 Lexus ES 300 you better have a reliable network of repair experts. We have met some great mechanics while handling our ES problems, such as the broken driver's side door handle.

To recap, on a recent trip to Death Valley, where we took the ES off road, the driver's side door wouldn't open from the outside and there was a nasty rattle inside the door panel. My first response was to nuke the latch mechanism with WD-40. When this produced no result, I shifted gears, so to speak, and watched YouTube videos of other people fixing their doors. It looked really complicated. So I took the car to Burke's Auto Body, in Long Beach, Calif.

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1996 Lexus ES 300: CD Player is Just Fine

January 7, 2013

1996 Lexus ES 300

A recent post reported that the CD player in the 1996 Lexus ES 300 was broken. It's not. The problem was that you have to put the CDs into the cartridge upside down or an error message is reported. I know because I've made that mistake before.

I wanted to make absolutely sure it was working so I grabbed the first disc from my stack of CDs that are busy gathering dust. I took it out to the car and put it in (upside down, as I already mentioned) and hit play. The Fab Four were soon amazing me with one of their best albums.

I moved on to the "jammed" cassette tape issue, also reported in the earlier post. I pushed play, then eject, and it finally both played and ejected. So we're completely back up to speed sound-system-wise.

There are plenty of things on the ES that could either be fixed or improved, so it's important to eliminate those things that aren't in fact broken.

Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor, @ 152,799 miles

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1996 Lexus ES 300: The View

November 05, 2012

Lexus ES rear window.jpg

I noticed something different about our old Lexus ES 300 when I started merging into traffic the other day.

What was it? 

I could easily see out of it. 

The A- and B-pillars are very slim by current standards, making the front and side views positively airy. The C-pillar is also reasonably narrow, while the semi-wraparound rear window is huge. 

I'm not going to say it's as structurally safe as today's cars. But damn, there's something to be said for being able to easily see the cars around you.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 150,865 miles.

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1996 Lexus ES 300: A Couple Other Minor Issues

October 19, 2012

 es_300_needles.jpg In an earlier ES post, a commenter noted that our gauges were looking pretty bad. And true enough, they are.

Actually, I think they've gotten worse since we bought the car. Carroll took an earlier picture of them, and while the needles were always flickering/burned out in that picture and video, it seems the number illumination was fine. But now we've lost illumination for part of the speedometer. It's not a huge problem, but it can be annoying not being able to easily tell what speed you're going. (And in daylight, it's actually worse than the above photo would seem to indicate.)

Ron Montoya's done some basic research. The fix entails pulling out the gauge cluster, disassembling it, and installing new bulbs. It looks like we've lost two bulbs so far. (And while we'd be at it, we probably just replace all of them.) Alternately, we can pull out the cluster and ship it to a guy in Wisconsin who repairs them for $99. He can also put in LED bulbs if you want, and will also fix the needles.

We haven't decided what to do yet.

The other thing possibly needing attention: our ES has got a couple leaks (oil, I think). Not terrible, and not unexpected for a car of this age. But it's also something it might be worth checking out during its upcoming 150,000-mile service.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Undiscovered Country

August 30, 2012

1996 Lexus ES 300

Look at that vast, unbroken veldt at the center of our Lexus's steering wheel. Note how empty it is, bereft of the channel-selecting scroll wheel, volume controllers and phone button you find on modern cars. Many aspects of Lexus's interior are reminders of how much new stuff has been added to cars in the last 16 years, and the absence of a gaggle of gadgets on the steering wheel is a fairly prominent one.

There are a couple important features that are built into our wheel's minimalist hub, however. One is the airbag, which I hope never to use. The other is the horn, which I chirped yesterday to remind a distracted SUV driver that a green light means "go." The beep sounds brand new.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @147,903 miles

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Droopy Visors No More

August 29, 2012

1996 Lexus ES 300

The driver's side sun visor in the ES was flopping down right into my vision. It didn't actually block my view of the road but it was irritating. And then when we tried putting down the passenger side visor, it broke and just hung there. Examining we saw it had snapped some time ago and someone tried to glue it.

Time to look on eBay for replacement visors. Sure enough, $29.95 bought us a pair of visors plus the little padded sun blocker thing above the rearview mirror. (Hey, I actually used it once!)

It was pretty easy to put in the new visors. Since there is a light in the vanity mirror we first needed to plug in the power wire. After the two screws were run home, a thin plastic plate snapped into place over the mounting bracket. We had to cannibalize the old visors for working light bulbs, but now everything is working perfectly. And here's the best part of the repair -- the visors stay in place either all the way up, or all the way down, or anywhere in between.

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1996 Lexus ES 300: Don't Be A Snob

June 28, 2012

Lexus ES beauty shot.jpg

I'll be honest, I was worried. Just how crappy would this $3,500 Lexus be? I mean, I'm an overly pampered journalist used to driving new cars. How could I possibly lower myself to driving this thing? Just kidding. 

Seriously though, our crappy old Lexus is fine. Even for stuck-up journos. Sure, bits of the interior are certainly looking rough, but there's more good here than bad, and for the price? Come on.

The brakes work well (thanks Dan Edmunds), there's no shimmying or wheel vibration, the ride is reasonably comfortable and the transmission only very occasionally shows some abruptness.

True, no one will accuse the steering of having feel. But dang, this V6 has some honest punch, both from a stoplight and even at speed on the highway. And the engine is smooth and sounds good.

I look at things like the sun visor that constantly falls down slightly as "character," not "just one more issue."

Now I wonder if I could get a bike in here... 

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 145,938 miles.

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1996 Lexus ES 300: A Macro Look at Interior Materials

May 14, 2012


Looking at these close-up shots of our 1996 Lexus ES 300's interior, one can't help but marvel over how well it's held up considering we found it in the back lot of a tiny independent car dealership. Sure, there is the matter of a missing passenger-side sun visor, some minor stains on its beige rug and some wear on the steering wheel but nothing major. Check it out for yourself.

Not all the seats are crusty like this. In fact this is just the worst part, which is on the seat bolster of the driver seat, but not as bad as it is in our Miata.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor @ 138,716 miles

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