Yaw A. writes:
Long time fan of the blog. Sad that I have to ask this but the time has come. My mom bought a ’99 Lexus RX300 AWD a couple of years ago and has been having problems with it. She just came up on 135K miles and has been having oil lights come up + oil consumption problems. She got someone to look at it and the diagnosis is the dreaded 1MZ-FE sludge monster. The only logical repair seems to be to replace the engine; Lexus quoted her something crazy like $10K for a new engine and another $5K for labor.
My reflex answer when she asked was to find a junkyard replacement and get another shop to do the replacement. But thinking about it now, I’m not so sure. What if she does all that, only to find out the engine she replaced it with is sludged too? Plus the car is 13 years old, and I think she got a good 10 or so years out of it. Even if she went the junkyard route and it worked out fine, she’d be in a good couple thousand in a car retailing for not much more than $7000.
She is also looking to leave the country in the next 1-2 years, so a big new purchase is not necessary. I am thinking she should eat the loss and downgrade to something cheaper to run until she is ready to leave. What do you think?
My reflex answer is the same as yours. From what I see, it’s far too late for you to submit a claim for the sludge recall/settlement, so you got screwed.
About those junkyard motors: if you find one with low miles (around 50K) you’ll be fine. Have the mechanic pull the oil pan, cam covers, etc and inspect the motor before installing. Clean the oil pump’s pickup screen at the same time. If the mechanic doesn’t like the motor given by the junkyard, he’ll get another one under their warranty. The warranty is often for a year, so there’s no problem here.
Most modern junkyards aren’t very junky, it’s more like a networked group of warehouses around the country that can get you damn near any part for any vehicle. And I’m pretty sure that $2000-2500 gets a perfectly good motor installed for a few years of perfect reliability, at the minimum.
And that’s all you really need. For those who don’t plan on leaving the country soon, a junkyard motor that passes muster with your mechanic, with new gaskets, clean oil pump, regular (synthetic) oil changes will almost ensure years and many tens of thousands of miles with zero problems.
It’s worth the cash outlay, especially considering the resale value of any Lexus…even one with a sludgy reputation. My tune would change if this was a Mitsubishi Galant.