Reader Question: Car Buying Counsel?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

Henry asks: I am currently driving a 2003 Lexus ES300 that I have owned since November 2016 that had 99,000 miles since I bought it. It looked pristine. With the luxurious interior and quiet ride, I was looking forward to many effortless miles.

I do heavy, lead footed highway driving and a healthy mix of suburban as well. This car seemed perfect for the job. It has adequate acceleration and moderately okay handling. After about two years of driving, I think I have had to do an excessive number of repairs, given its mileage. I have 146,000 on it today.

I have had to replace the alternator, timing belt and water pump (twice), and monkey around with the struts as well. Right now, the heater is not working and the rear window does not roll down. The rear window part is a minor thing, but the heater isn’t. Based on this repair experience, I cannot say that Toyota based cars are necessarily reliable. I don’t think they are that great to be honest.

This car is nearly impossible to work on. I can do basic maintenance tasks and some amount of repairs, but there is no way with only one primary car up here that I want to chance being without transportation as winter approaches.  Because of Toyota’s impeccable reputation, I didn’t think it would be an issue, but having the car in the shop every couple of months is getting annoying. I am getting ready to offload this on someone else, but I am looking for ideas on a car that is decent on gas, reliable and easier to wrench. I like sedans. My main criteria are the following. Excellent highway ride, quiet. Decent highway gas mileage (>25 mpg). Easier to work on. I don’t care about age, but more about parts availability. What comes to mind?

My reply: I think the main reason for your issues with this car is that it’s a Lexus rather than a Toyota. Or, to be more exact, that it’s a luxury car. A modern luxury car. These cars are not made for the long haul. They are laden with elaborate and often delicate systems and features designed to impress the new car buyer. The new luxury car buyer. This kind of buyer typically leases – or trades in after five years or so. Your ES is 15 years old – a very ripe age for a modern luxury car. They tend to become money pits after about eight years and by ten the hemorrhage is often arterial. It is the nature of the beast.

So, let’s write off any luxury-brand car from the beginning – unless you are interested in new or nearly new (and warranted).

Knowing you, my immediate recommend is a Dodge Charger with the Hemi V8. You will love the ride and the power and – yes – even with the V8, the highway mileage is within your parameters. This car has been in production for years, largely the same. It is a proven (and durable) design. No turbo and the older models do not have DI. You may have to deal with some “little things” – trim and other minor less-than-greats – but the major mechanicals are pretty solid and they are more DIY-friendly than a lot of the other stuff out there.

I’d also consider the Charger’s brother, the Chrysler 300. Nominally a “luxury” badge, I realize – but its basically the same car and not laden with elaborate tech.

Another strong recommend – again, custom-designed for you! – is a TDI-powered VW Passat, preferably un-“fixed.” The ride is ethereal and the torque of the diesel is like an irresistible rip tide. And the thing will easily give you 45-plus MPG on the highway.

Keep us posted!

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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3 COMMENTS

  1. 2200 miles on a Charger, fine and dandy. 30,000 miles on the same car is commonly a nightmare.

    Maybe it’s the difference between one type of vehicle and the other, but something like the same year model and mileage on something like a Tahoe and it’s night and day.

    I understand preferring a car like the Charger opposed to something like a Tahoe is comparing apples to oranges.

    OTOH ,durability is a whole nother thing. A Tahoe is nothing compared to a Charger in handling but that’s about where it ends. These days cars are not nearly as reliable as SUVs sad to say.

    I had lots of friends with Lexus and those types of cars that were bulletproof…up to a point. Then suspension and other parts prone to wear began to give it up after several years and repair costs were prohibitive.

    There are trade-off points that can be compared between many vehicle lines.

    It’s the reason I’ll probably never go back to “cars”.

    Then again, I’m not the typical customer since I don’t “need” a car. Yes, I’d like a car but have to make a choice between a car and a pickup or a an SUV….and a big SUV, not a wanna be.

  2. I was thinking Charger also. I drove a rental in 2013 in the USA that was ultra quiet compared to cars I’ve driven here in Australia. A great handling car that was such a pleasure to drive I wanted to bring it back to Australia. My son’s gf has a right hand drive Chrysler 300 with the V6 sitting outside in my driveway now. Unfortunately I’ve never been allowed to drive it.

    • Morning, t05!

      The Charger (and 300) are wonderful cars; I think Swamp would love either one. They’re also the last of the line. I doubt such cars will ever be made again in this country.

      Seize the day!

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