Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Chris asks: I bought a ’98 Lexus a couple of years ago. Thought I’d use that to learn to work on cars. Then the check engine light came on for the catalytic converter and also upstream and downstream from it. I believe it is the oxygen sensors and the mass air flow sensors that are also an issue. Not sure because I haven’t gotten in there yet. Now, I can’t weld and it’s too much to pay someone else to swap out or repair the catalytic converter. The car is too old. So is it worth keeping that car for those purposes or should I try and get the $1,000 or so out of it and invest in a better car for working on?
My reply: For a beginner, a used late-model luxury car is probably not a good place to start. These cars are almost always more complicated – being luxury cars – and also more expensive to repair, being luxury cars. Not always, but there are often critical parts specific to them that can cost daunting dollars. Example: I once owned – briefly – an ’87 Lincoln Mark VII LSC. This car had the same 5.0 V8 as the same-year Mustang GT (simple, common parts – good news!) but also had an air-suspension system unique to the Lincoln that was both unreliable and haltingly expensive to fix when one of the air bladders (there were four) failed.
As regards your Lexus: It might be worth fixing, if the car is otherwise sound. But if you want to learn to work on a car and not go broke doing so, I’d recommend something along the lines of a same-era or Civic or Corolla. These will have OBD II, so you can use them to get hip to the diagnostic process that applies to all new cars. You may also want to consider going back even farther – to a car without any computer controls at all – to learn and master the basics of mechanical and electrical systems. My go-to recommend on this is an old Beetle, as they are literally lawn mowers that carry passengers. But the principles involved in maintaining and fixing them scale. They are also – nowadays – great investments. Buy one, play with it/fix it up – then sell it for more than you spent to buy it.
But, anything built before the early 1980s will suit, too.
I would avoid cars made from – roughly – the mid-1980s through the early ’90s, which have computer controls, but not OBD II (and so have the common OBD II port and access to codes, etc.). These can be a real PITAS to diagnose and fix, if you’re not well-versed.
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