I would own another LS 460L—perhaps with just RWD—but I’m highly interested in owning the LS 600hL. That one seems like an interesting experience, and I’d love to see what it’s like.
That’s what I said in my article about my 2011 LS 460 L, from a month ago. If you’re wondering why the formatting of the name is different, I have been reliably apprised by someone in Toyota’s marketing division that the “L” suffix is separated from everything else by a space, as in the LS 600h L and RX 350/450h L. Turns out, I got it wrong all these years. Oh, well.
The LS 600h L was the first time you could get a premium powertrain in the LS. It didn’t debut for the introductory year of the fourth-generation LS, 2007, but rather appeared in mid-2008. That said, Lexus carried it all the way through the end of the generation, 2017, in increasingly dwindling numbers. The LS 600h L was supposed to be Lexus’ answer to the German 12-cylinder cars: the V12-powered BMW 760Li and Mercedes-Benz S 600, and the W12-powered Audi A8 L. But instead of a V12, the LS 600h L employed a 5.0-liter V8 (a version of the same engine in the IS F, GS F, RC F, IS 500, LC 500, etc) and some motor generators for standard AWD and 438 hp, a notable increase over the regular LS 460/L’s 385 hp. What’s more, while customers in Europe, Asia and elsewhere could get a short-wheelbase “LS 600h,” our model was exclusively long-wheelbase.
In 2008, the LS 600hL’s power figures and performance probably were comparable to those of its V12 brethren. But, by 2013, those cars’ forced-induction V8s were probably making that same amount of power, to say nothing of their forced-induction V12s. So, it was an outmoded thing by then. But, when working properly, the LS 600h L is said to be the smoothest thing short of a Rolls-Royce. And for me, who is always interested in a quiet, solid, effortless luxury sedan, that was an attractive proposition.
Right after I wrote that last article in October 2023, the idea of the LS 600h L sat and rattled around in my head. Now these cars are rare—there are typically fewer than 10 of them for sale in the US at any time—but it just so happened that there was a gorgeous green-ish 2008 LS 600h L in Bixby, OK…pretty close to Tulsa and under two hours away. I was out of town at the time, but resolved to look at it as soon as I got home. But I called the dealership that morning and they let me know that someone had already come in to purchase it and was in the process of getting it inspected. I told the receptionist to please let me know if that changed. That car is still listed as being for sale on both the dealer’s website and on Cars.com, so who knows if they bought it, or if something on their inspection scared them off.
For my purposes, I went back to Cars.com and saw a beautiful 2008 LS 600h L with a Starfire Pearl (white) exterior and an Alabaster (basically white) interior. It only had 121,000 miles. The issue was that it was in Detroit…15 hours away. I called the dealership—a small outfit run out of a warehouse by three car guys—to ask if it was available and if they could send pictures, and it was, and they did. I then went to Google Maps and figured out how long of a drive that was from there back to Oklahoma City. 15 hours. A last-minute flight on American Airlines was $150. Luckily, the dealer was not too far from the airport. I could fly in that night, stay in a hotel, and then Uber to the dealership in the morning. Then drive the 15 hours home. Could I? Nah, it was too last minute. Plus, I wouldn’t get a chance to have the car inspected. But, you know how impulsive I am.
“Hold it for me,” I said, after I called the dealer back.
Cue me rushing to book a flight that was a few hours away, selling the Audi just to get it out of the way, and then getting to the airport. But I made it, and the trip was uneventful. So was my stay at a Hilton near the airport. In the meantime, I looked up a bit more about the car. The dealership had bought it from auction in California, where it had lived under two owners and seemingly always been serviced at the Lexus dealership. What’s more, Lexus allows you to create an account on its online portal and add any Lexus’ VIN to your profile, at which point you can see all the work—including diagnostics—that has ever been done at any Lexus dealership. That allowed me to see if there were potentially any big issues. There were.
A dealership in California had diagnosed a failing traction (hybrid system) battery in 2021. It had also recommended suspension work that the customer had denied. There was no getting around the traction battery, but I suspected the suspension was the front control arms, a big and inevitable job on the fourth-generation LS. In fact, the battery pack and control arms are two of the most expensive issues with these cars, so, with that in mind, I figured I’d be bringing a Lexus home with me if I could get it for a low-enough price to make it worthwhile. If not, I’d go home.
I also spoke to another CC reader over Facebook Messenger who had a 2008 LS 600h L of his own, with 225K miles on the odometer. His was still on the original battery, but he’d done the control arms at least once. Apart from the small trunk space, he loved his.
The following morning, a polite 25-year-old in a Chrysler 300 dropped me off at the dealer. The gentleman who greeted me, who was not one of the ones that I had spoken to over the phone, told me he’d just turned the car on and remembered that it wasn’t detecting its smart key, likely due to a dead key battery, and that all the tire pressures were registering low. I asked him if he could air up the tires and get a battery. While he did that, I appraised the car. It made a good case for itself, presenting well. Mostly. The original owner had paid to have the OEM 19-inch chrome wheels installed, and these had started to corrode and (I would find out later) couldn’t be repaired. Moreover, it didn’t include the spare tire, which was the same 19-inch design, but in the standard powder-coated matte silver. Inside, the interior was pretty blemish-free apart from some gouges in the faux-suede B-pillar trim, the passenger visor and a bit of the headliner. I had thought the previous owner maybe had long fingernails, but it turns out that the premium LS headliner material just didn’t wear well and was susceptible to this.
I knew from my last LS that these eat tire-pressure monitors, so I was glad to see the TPMS system report normal values after it was aired up. I was also pleased to see that the keyless entry/access system worked perfectly fine once the fob got a new battery. With these things sorted, the dealer let me go on a solo test-drive. I went around the block a few times, then put it through its paces on the highway. It confirmed what I’d seen in the Lexus portal. The engine seemed to fire up far more times than was necessary, suggesting the battery was definitely bad. And I got some profound clunking in the front end that wasn’t super noticeable at highway speeds, but definitely was around the city streets. Other than that, it didn’t have any issues.
This is where I’ll mention some of the goodies that this car had. All LS 600h L’s had the leather-covered dashboard and interior panels along with the 19-speaker Mark Levinson System. The Premium Package II got you an advanced parking guidance system, four-zone automatic climate control, rear seat side airbags, telematics, heated and cooled rear seats, reclining rear seats, a rear-seat entertainment system with a power-folding 9-inch screen and power rear-door sunshades. On top of that, it had the pre-collision system with adaptive cruise control and an active power-stabilizing suspension system. There was nothing wrong with any of it on the test drive.
When I got back, I informed the dealer of the issues the car had. They and I agreed on a price, we wrote up the paperwork and I paid them, then was on my way back home. I left at 1:00 in the afternoon on Friday, October 3 and didn’t get home until 6:30 in the morning on Saturday, October 4. Granted, that included a time-zone change (Michigan is EST apart from the part that borders Wisconsin and Oklahoma is CST), but the LS behaved itself the whole way. It was quiet and comfy. The only thing was that the radar would excuse itself from the party every few hours with a “Clean radar module” message, but then would come back after a few seconds. Maybe it really was dirty. It wasn’t my priority at the time.
One of the things I didn’t notice until I had someone sit in the right rear seat was that the rear door didn’t work. At all. It would open from the inside, but not the outside, and none of the switches on the door worked. It turned out the child lock was engaged, but couldn’t be disengaged; the switch wouldn’t move. I thought that was odd and figured something was disconnected behind the door panel. Perhaps someone had replaced a door lock actuator (a common failure point on many Toyota products of this era) and hadn’t reconnected everything correctly. That proved to be the case. After I got the door panel off, I saw that the cables for the door lock and the interior handle were just hanging. And an electrical connector was disconnected, which turned out to belong to the switch panel. Once I reconnected all of that and put the door panel back on, everything worked a treat. Later that day, I installed a GROM VLine system–as I had in my 2021 GX 460–giving me CarPlay on the factory system.
At some point, I went to the car wash, which was one of those types that grabbed a wheel and pushed the car along the tunnel. Those generally require your car to be in neutral. Well, the Toyota hybrids basically have a motor-generator in lieu of a torque converter, and that gets disconnected from the engine if the transmission is in neutral. So, while the engine can charge the traction battery in park or in gear, it can’t do so in neutral. Which is a big deal if you have a bad traction battery sit in neutral for a prolonged amount of time, such as in a car wash. You may deplete the battery to the point that the car can’t be moved by the time it gets to the end of the tunnel. Sure enough, I got a “Low Traction Battery” warning on the instrument panel. So I turned the car off, to save power, until I got through.
As far as the big stuff, first was the clunky suspension, which was detracting from my pseudo-Rolls-Royce’s experience. To that end, I called the Lexus dealership here in Oklahoma City. They couldn’t get me in until the 15th. I didn’t want to wait that long. So, I called the Lexus dealership in Tulsa. They could get me in the next day if I waited in their lobby. I booked an inspection and drove there the next day.
Not too far onto the Turner Turnpike, I had my first mechanical issue. The car chimed and then displayed “Hybrid System Overheat” on the instrument cluster. Fortunately, I was really close to the McDonald’s/rest stop that’s accessible on the east-bound side, so I pulled in there and turned the car off. According to a message on the Lexus forum, this could be due to a dirty traction battery fan. The Toyota/Lexus NiMH batteries are air-cooled, with a dedicated main fan and a secondary fan that also serves the rear cabin on some models. When I pulled out the rear air filter and checked the fan—which looked clean to me—I didn’t realize it, but I was actually looking at the auxiliary fan. The main fan, which is usually the culprit, is actually behind the trunk panels and screwed in…not something you’d be able to remove and clean in a couple of minutes.
The overheat message went away when I restarted the car, but then came back on once more when I was almost in Tulsa. Pulling the car over and restarting it again cleared it, and I drove it gingerly the final 20 miles. I apprised my service advisor of the new message, and asked them to specifically focus on the battery, the suspension and the motor mounts. And they did just that over the next hour, but that’s all the time they had. They diagnosed the hybrid battery as failing and told me the overheating message was most likely due to the bad battery creating too much resistance. They also let me know the inner CV boot on the left side was leaking and that the inner one on the right was torn and soon to leak. And the water pump was starting to leak, but could be postponed for a while. Everything else looked good. Still, they quoted me the price of doing all the work, which would have been $11,000. And that didn’t include the parts for the suspension, as they didn’t get a chance to review that within the hour. For that, I’d have to book another appointment.
And I did, for Friday morning, October 10. That turned out to be a bad idea. It’s not because of anything to do with my car—which didn’t display the “Hybrid System Overheat” message again or because of the Lexus dealership, but rather due to fate. That time, I needed to be back in Oklahoma City pretty soon after, so the dealer gave me a loaner, a 2023 ES 300h. A very nice car. Well, I was driving back from my friend’s apartment around midnight and so close to being home, when I struck a deer at 70 MPH in the loaner car, on I-35. I thought it was a dog, but then my vision was full of airbags.
That night, I called my insurance company and, the next day, the Lexus dealer. Both were cool about it, as was the trooper who eventually responded to the call. The car was towed to somewhere near my home, and it’ll be considered a not-at-fault. Whether the car is totaled (I suspect it is) or not, I’ll have to pay my deductible, though. Thankfully, I was uninjured apart from some airbag burn and soreness on my thumb, which was holding the wheel.
The Lexus dealership had let me know earlier that all eight (two upper, two lower per wheel) of my front control arms and my lower front ball joints were spent and attached pretty detailed pictures to the assessment. Exactly as I figured. Between parts and labor for OEM stuff, I wasn’t interested in spending $5,000 for a refurbishment of the suspension. You can re-use the original/OEM control arms and press in new bushings if you can a) find a shop that has a press and knows how to do that, and b) find one that also works on Toyota and Lexus products; I could not. So, new ones it was. A lot of the folks on the forum swear the aftermarket ones are all crap and don’t last 20,000 miles, but they seemed to cite specific brands. They hadn’t listed Beck/Arnley among those brands, whose control arms looked identical to the OEM ones. I decided to take a risk and order them, along with a CV-reboot kit and some lower ball joints that an expert in the Lexus forum recommended. The last shipment came today, so I have all the parts. Unfortunately, the shop that used to let customers bring their own parts no longer does (I completely get it), so I either have to have a mobile mechanic do it, or do it myself. If I do it myself, I’m going to need to buy some new tools and it’s going to be a couple of weeks before I find the time. I haven’t decided yet.
As for the battery, I found a company that claimed to have refurbished LS 600h L batteries for $2,700. I could have it shipped to my house without paying a core charge, and they’d also send me return packaging. But this battery weighs 200 lbs and I, frankly, didn’t relish the idea of doing it myself. They also had preferred installers who could receive a shipment of the new battery, and then you’d just drive your car to their shop and have them take care of everything. When I called the nearest of their installers, he quoted me $5,250 for the price of the battery and installation. Ouch.
Then I found another company, Greentec Auto. Their battery was $3,600 and change. You could get your car to one of their shops—the nearest of which was either Dallas (3 hours) or their national headquarters in Kansas City (4 hours)—and pay $250 to install it. Or you could have them come to you and install it for a price of $450. The new battery had an 18-month warranty and was transferrable if I did a private-party sale. I called Greentec Auto and spoke to a nice sales rep who explained all of this over the phone. I was thinking about driving the car to Dallas when the sales rep informed me that it’d actually be cheaper to have them drive to me. Since they hadn’t established a nexus in Oklahoma, they wouldn’t need to collect sales tax if the transaction took place here. He said all they’d need in order to get started was the $450 install fee as a deposit. I took a bit, then agreed, and paid that over the phone. A day later, Greentec Auto called and said they could come and install the battery in my car as early as that following Monday (October 13).
For my own schedule, and because I wanted to document the process, I decided to have it done Thursday, October 16 (yesterday). The two Greentec Auto technicians arrived all the way from Kansas City in a third-generation Prius stacked with enough batteries to make its rear suspension very unhappy…including a backup battery for my car in case the initial replacement didn’t work and a battery for a nearby customer who had a Yukon Hybrid (remember the GM two-mode hybrid trucks? Pepperidge Farm remembers). They were friendly and wasted no time in disassembling my car right in the driveway, proving that it was indeed as cumbersome a job as I thought it would be, and hoisting in the new battery. Unfortunately, I missed them actually swapping the batteries because I had to go inside and get on a meeting, but I saw the new one actually in the car before they put the panels on.
Ultimately, it took them almost three hours. They confirmed what I thought, which is that the original battery probably would still be fine if the prior owners had driven the car more often; these don’t like to sit. They said they didn’t see too many LS 600h Ls, for sheer rarity, but that a disproportionate number of them needed new batteries because they’d sat around too much. But after the install, they waited while I went for a drive and confirmed that the new battery worked and that the car didn’t do anything wonky. Indeed, it did drive much better. I noticed the engine came on far less often and the battery level didn’t deplete nearly as quickly. And even the engine felt smoother. I later took it to a car wash and did not get the “Low Traction Battery” warning, and the battery level didn’t drop a single bar on the indicator the whole time.
So that’s where we’re at. Next week, I’ll figure out what to do about the suspension and the CV boots, and then deal with the water pump when I get the chance, as long as it doesn’t get worse. I’ll also do engine oil, spark plugs and perhaps transmission oil and rear diff fluid at that time, and then she should be solid. After that, it’s just little cosmetic things and a new set of wheels.
My assessment of the LS 600h L, even more so than the LS 460, is that it’s reliable for a flagship sedan, but parts and labor are still obscenely expensive. And the LS 600h L one may be a Toyota product, but it’s insanely complicated, so no one buying this should expect Camry levels of simplicity. Still, the problems on this car are well-known, well-documented and straightforward to rectify. If it were German or British, unless you had or were a very good technician, you’d be paying hundreds in diagnostics fees and firing the parts cannon at it to see which of twenty possible subsystems could be the culprit for a malfunction.
Will it live up to my expectations as a cheap Rolls-Royce in terms of road manners and NVH? Time will tell. I was recently made aware of the fact that the Bree Van de Kamp drove an LS 600h L in Desperate Housewives, so I’ve christened the car after that character.
This concludes my COAL series for the time being. But you know I’ll be back, with newer and wackier stuff. And I’m sure I’ll be doing in-depth articles about specific models in the meantime. But, since I have a bit more time, I’ll share a few things I’ve learned across the 26 car purchases and various mistakes I’ve made in this series:
- Make sure it’s firing on all cylinders, literally. If your V6 is a V3, or feels like one, look into that.
- If it’s not written down, it’s not true. Whether it’s a dealership advertising a car as CPO or someone claiming they are the official owner of a car, make sure it’s in writing. Otherwise, it’s your word against someone else’s
- Even brand-new cars can have accident damage. Transport damage and even damage on the lot happens to new cars. All. The. Time. If it’s important to you, look for signs of non-factory fasteners, body shop paint, misaligned trim, et-cetera. Who knows; your brand new car could already have a storied past
- If there’s tape on a part of a used car, there’s probably a reason. Think carefully before you pull it.
- Don’t listen to “It just needs a…” claims from anyone. If someone is selling a car and it just needs something minor to fix a functional problem—an A/C recharge, a fastener, a key fob battery—insist that the seller demonstrates that before you buy it.
- If a car is causing you more grief than you can handle, get rid of it. Even if you’ve put a ton of money into a car, it’s not worth throwing more good money after bad. At some point, you have to stem the bleeding.
- It pays to look at the forums. Look for buyers guides. See where owners of whatever you’re buying have had problems. Ask people if there’s anything you should watch out for before buying. Why pay for knowledge someone else already bought?
- Have realistic expectations. A car with 250,000 hard-worn miles can’t be a Concours showpiece…not without a ton of money and time. So enjoy it for what it is and let it go when it’s time.
But that’s it! Goodbye for now!