COAL: 2004 Lexus RX330 – Ridin’ High

In late 2012 my girlfriend, now wife, had an accident totaling out her 2000 Toyota 4Runner. Leaving her without a car, and me just getting my ’08 Volvo, her dad was looking to get her something. Since this was my wife’s car that she had, and I spent a lot of time myself behind the wheel, I consider this my car as well. Surprisingly, there are no surviving pictures of the Lexus that her dad bought for her, so all the pictures in this post are off the net.

My wife’s dad is an insurance agent, so he was sitting pretty good when the 4Runner got totaled. He had a decent budget to find a used car, with lower miles that would last Anna (my wife) until she got out of college on her own. He has always been a Toyota man since I have known them. So Anna’s dad found her a nice used 2004 Lexus RX 330. It was forest green pearl over a grey interior. I was surprised to find this color is named “green pearl”, as it was basically a dark grey. Just goes to show you that classy color names sell, as it was a very popular color.

This RX was decked out with all the options for 2004, minus AWD. I can remember sitting inside for the first time, and thinking “wow a back up camera and navigation in 2004, my Volvo doesn’t even have that!”. It was true, I was very impressed how much tech, and luxury that they were able to squeeze in this SUV. In a lot of ways her Lexus beat my XC90, and it was 4 years older. It had the tech, the ride, the power, more rear leg room, and the quality. In my opinion that is one thing that Toyota has done well at: the quality of materials used. One thing that it was lacking, was the comfort of the seats. To this day my, wife and I argue about which car has better seats, and I always think that hands down Volvo, no matter what model, has the best seats out there.

The car was originally bought out of Oklahoma City by a younger guy, who then traded it in on something else. It wound up here in Arkansas at a small used car dealer, where they bought it. It only had about 100,000 miles on it, and the previous owner took excellent care of it. Knowing it was a Lexus, there was not a whole lot that would go wrong with it. Her dad knew it would last her for a while. I can remember taking it to Little Rock for a football game, and it rode like an older Cadillac. The car seemed to bounce quite a bit in the rear over bumps, even though the suspension had been checked out. I guess that is just the way it rode, as later Anna’s mom would have a 2007 RX 350, which is the same body style, and it rode the exact same way.

I only recall one major thing that went wrong with the car, and it ended up being its downfall. I can remember a few things that popped up on the car, like the headlights getting really foggy. Like most cars now, with plastic headlight covers, they get micro scratches that cause them to look foggy. The RX was no exception, as about 125,000 miles they had gotten really bad. I had remembered reading an article about how they were recalled because of this, so I did some research. Sure enough, all we had to do was take the car to the nearest Lexus dealer (2 hours away), and they would change the headlights free of charge. So one Saturday we made an appointment, and got a rental from Lexus, and made a day out of it in Tulsa. Then there were maintenance items, like drive belts that started to squeal, brakes and tires. The one and only power plant for this model I believe, was the 3.3 V6. Like most Toyota engines, it was rock solid.

The issue that did this car in was the transmission. At around 150,000 miles, the transmission started to act kinda funny when I drove it. I had asked Anna if she had noticed anything weird with the car, and she said it had just started doing it. The transmission would flair when it would go into certain gears, and when it would shift down it would go in hard. Starting with simple things, they had the fluid changed at a local transmission shop. Then when that had absolutely no effect on it, we took it to the dealer again for them to check it over. After about an hour there, the tech came out and said it was toast. It wasn’t throwing any codes, and you really had to be looking for it, but it was confirmed that it was on its way out. I guess this transmission had this “learning mode”, where it would learn the driving patterns of each driver, and shift differently with each driver. For example, if you were a bit of a “sporty” driver, it might shift quicker than if you were easier on the gas pedal.

We were just sophomores in college, and her dad, taking pity on her, said he would buy her one more car. Anna is a very modest person, and did not want her dad buying her anything fancy. She wanted to get another older RX, but her dad was not having any part of that since this one let him down. He told her that she is getting a car with a warranty at least, and find something in the $20,000 range. In the end, it came down to a Subaru Crosstrek, and a Honda Crosstour. Right after Subaru just had an issue with their engines in the Crosstrek consuming oil, I was strongly against this car, but hey I wasn’t paying for it.

The Lexus really wasn’t a really memorable car. Yes, it had cool features on it for it being a 2004, but it was so boring. Looking back, I really have to think about that car because it really doesn’t stick out. My wife still talks about how she would love to get another “Lex”, but honestly I find it a waste of money. To me, it was like crab legs, you work so hard to get to the meat, and when you do its hardly anything. Oh well, we had a good run at it, on to something else.