By on July 26, 2018

“We buy year… then we buy mileage… then we buy condition.” That was a favorite axiom of the used-car appraiser at my old Ford dealership. What he meant was this: In the first few years of a car’s life, people will pay more money if it’s a bit newer than a similar model sitting right next to it. Once it’s about five years old, the conversation switches to mileage: you’d rather have a 2012 ECTO-300def with 75,000 miles than a 2014 model with 105,000.

Usually by the time a car reaches the decade mark, and certainly by the fifteenth anniversary, it’s all about condition, condition, condition. Are you in the market for an Eighties Porsche? Condition is king. Are you limited by fate and circumstance to something like a 2005 Ford Focus? Then it’s doubly true.

Which leads us to today’s episode of Ask Jack, in which the person doing the asking is… uh… me.


JB writes,

Hey, you handsome devil, let’s talk about that 2004 Lexus ES330 that our old pal John has for sale. He’s the original owner. It’s been in a garage its whole life. Looks brand-new despite 147,000 miles on the clock. Even the seats look new. The tires and brakes? You guessed it — they’re new as well. This car has always been maintained by the book. It’s virtually a new car, albeit one with enough mileage on the clock to blow a Subaru Legacy’s fourth set of head gaskets.

John went to trade this in on his new Acura ILX, but they only offered him $5,000. He think it’s worth $7,000. It would make a great commuter car for rainy days and Mondays. The problem is that cars of this age and mileage tend to go for $3,500 or so at all those corner lots. Is this even worth considering? Should we make him an offer in the $6,000 range? Or is it cheaper and better to just keep putting the mileage on other cars?

I don’t have any real desire for an ES330 in my life. But this is the very definition of creampuff and it’s likely to run another 100k without encountering any fatal difficulties. The problem I have is that there’s no way I will get my money out of it if I change my mind at any point in the next five years. The moment I buy it, this Loofa-scrubbed Lexus luxury car goes from a one-owner indoor-storage diamond to a two-owner, acid-rain-washed used Toyota.

If I put 50,000 miles on it and sell it for three grand, I’ve gotten those miles much more cheaply than I would if I put them on my 61,000-mile Accord coupe. But given that I’ve kept this Accord this long precisely because of its affordability compared to say, a Challenger T/A or even a lime-green Audi RS5, it seems stupid to get a cheap car to save my cheap car.

What say you, B&B? And if anybody here wants to pay John $7k for his perfect stone-grey ES330 with black interior (it’s not the car in the photo) then let me know and I’ll allow you to step in line ahead of me. The age of the car? Not great. The mileage? High. The condition? Out of this world.

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47 Comments on “Ask Jack: Lex Loofa?...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    “We buy monthly payment…then we buy year….then we buy mileage…then we buy condition” might be a more appropriate axiom for many people these days.

    • 0 avatar
      Shortest Circuit

      He was talking about the buyer at a dealership. Not the customers. Customers buy color first, then maybe monthly payments, but even if you’re a deadbeat, the Tier IV financier will have something. In the 20% range of course.

  • avatar
    7402

    They offered your friend $5,000. Offer him $5,500 firm and let the gods decide. If he takes the offer, the Lexus is where you spend your next 30-50,000 miles. If he says no, wish him luck on craigslist and keep driving the Accord.

  • avatar
    gtem

    I hated how these looked even a few years ago. Since the age of the predator grill, these are actually looking pretty demure in terms of styling. Predates the worst of the interior cost cutting, and while it misses the creamy powerhouse that is the 2GR, the belt-driven 3MZ is a perfectly smooth and good pairing to this kind of cruiser. 3MZs all have a factory oil cooler so they avoid the risk of sludge that affected OBD-2 1MZ V6s. This was also when Lexus was still tuning cars for comfort.

    Jack I’d say check out how it drives. While the engine and everything may have been maintained in tip top shape, at 147k miles you’d be right around the timeframe of the original struts giving up the ghost and needing replacement. You and I both know that throwing on some cheap Monroe Quickstruts would not retain the comfy factory ride. OE Lexus suspension bits cost a pretty penny. So if it’s on original struts that’d be the biggest caution.

    And even aside from that, sounds like you’ve already made the rational conclusion that the Accord is the car to pile miles on as it is. Honestly I’m surprised the dealer even offered $5k for the trade, I’m assuming they’d attempt to sell it on their own lot and not wholesale then? Excellent condition or not, I think your friend will have trouble finding a buyer through the typical channels (CL, facebook marketplace) that would appreciate paying $7k for a 147k mile ES330, full service history or not.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    Another vehicle clogging the driveway that you must insure, wash, etc., and its purpose largely overlaps with your Accord (which will depreciate similarly over time no matter how many miles you put on it).

    No doubt its a great deal, just not for you.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      What Ramrod said. I’m similarly afflicted with a disease of seeing really clean well maintained older cars that pop for sale for a good price and I’m instantly motivated to become their next caretaker. In fact I’m kind-of-sort of in the midst in my next beater-flip, motivated by getting a line on a low mileage B5 A4 Quattro with a service history at my brother’s shop for a pittance. Granted the condition of said Audi includes the PO taking a brillo pad to the paint to try and remove tree sap, and an aftermarket bumper cover and K&N intake courtesy of the Russian Baptists who owned the car before that. My excuse in my head is that I was going to flip the Ranger for a cheap FWD car this fall for the winter commute anyways so a car with old school torsen Quattro is even better! :p

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      Exactly. As another guy with a smallish suburban lot and a two car garage, the number one limiting factor for me is driveway space and not wanting to have to move even more cars to get to the one I want (that lives in the garage). Seems like a giant PITA as well as tying up $5-7k in another car just to keep miles off of the (admittedly nice) appliance you already have.

    • 0 avatar
      srh

      Yup. I’ve given in to the siren song of a “cheap commuter” too many times. My current iteration is a used Nissan Leaf. It was cheap to buy, it’s super cheap (~= free) to maintain, and it’s super cheap to operate. Oddly /not/ super cheap to insure… It cost more to insure my $12K Leaf than my Focus RS, my BMW 4 GC, or my F-150. Each of which are objectively worth 4-5x more. Go figure?

      But my inner-engineer knows that even with all that, I’d still come out ahead if I’d never bought the Leaf and put the miles on my F-150 instead.

      • 0 avatar
        Sam Hell Jr

        Insurance costs for any car with a big battery can be higher than those of a comparable ICE vehicle. I think it’s a risk of loss issue with all the expensive electronics. My HEV midsizer is roughly as expensive to insure as the notoriously high-premium tC it replaced.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    While I am sure the unit in question is a very nice car, it certainly is not a rarity. Plenty of Lexus (Lexi?) are parked in the garages of the elderly with far less miles on them in that year band. One of them used to visit my street on a semi regular basis. The owner was the father of my neighbor, he sadly passed away recently. They are trying to determine what to do with the low mileage ES350.

    Honestly, your Accord will provide a better long term high mileage experience most likely. The Lexus are not as problem free as the age as many would have you believe. Certainly not a par with say a 7 series, but in the same vain not similar to a Accord.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “I don’t have any real desire for an ES330 in my life.”

    Then I wouldn’t bother. It’s not like you’re impoverished or trying to live the Dave Ramsey lifestyle.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    A great deal on a car you don’t need is not a great deal. If you could use a second car for a family member or something, sure. But buying a car so you can put less miles…on your car is silly. You already have a daily driver.

    Yeah, if you keep it long term it probably pencils out. Is it worth the risk that it won’t, plus the hassle of keeping another car? But I’m a minimalist, partly by choice and partly due to circumstances, so definitely biased. We’re not talking a ton of money and you seem to be OK financially, so really, do what you want. There’s no “right” call here.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Everybody loves a good deal on a good used car, but if I bought every good deal that came my way I’d have a used car lot. No matter what the price if you don’t need it and you can’t recover your cash outlay through resale or use then it’s not a good deal. Pass

  • avatar
    gtem

    On second thought Jack, buy it and help me proselytize older Toyota sedans as viable used car options and nail our list of 95 theses on the door of the Church of 3800, they’ve grown rather uppity here as of late!

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Toyota/Lexus products are excellent used vehicle options. The problem is the “Toyota Tax”, which as you’ve seen in your CL shopping is baked-in even on things ready for the junkyard.

      If we kept everything about this scenario the same but made the car a LeSabre Limited, we’d likely be dealing with a (maybe) $3K potential offer instead of a $6K one.

      I personally don’t consider the difference in driving experience enough to justify that delta and although you should get some of it back at resale time I don’t think the long-game is any less risky a position than saying the Buick won’t cost $3k more in repairs/maintenance.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Oh I’m strictly tongue in cheek at this point, I fully appreciate the old H body sleds for the value they offer at the low end of the market. Like I outlined above, a set of decent struts alone sink the value on this Lexus, and that’s the same reason I sold off my ‘96 ES, it was getting due for struts at 209k miles and in my case the generic Camry parts actually wouldn’t work. When I was offered a $200 Lesabre earlier this summer, a bit of rockauto window shopping confirmed that suspension parts were perfectly affordable and aviailable.

        I will say it is entirely possible to find a decent older Camry that isn’t subject to Toyota Tax, but they sell really quick and you need to be willing to drive down that same evening with cash the day that the ad goes up. Heck these days increasingly the clean older H bodies are starting to get a little rich for much blood. Again ther are plenty of deals if you wait a bit and look, but I think the market likewise appreciates how good they are as cheap sturdy cars.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          This Bishop of the Church fully appreciates reliable prophets of torque regardless of the badge.

          The Toyota MZ/GR Family of engines are certainly true Prophets. (Once they grew above 3 ltrs.)

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            I wouldn’t poo-poo the 3.0L 1mz either, the one in my ES was clean as a whistle and ran smoother than my parents’ 2GR in their RX350.

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            Didn’t the 2.5 V6 and 3.0 have sludge issues if improperly maintained?

            I always figured that was one of the reasons that my Toyota 3.5 has a 7 quart oil capacity. (Local Toyota dealers oil change specials never apply to me – 5 quarts or less on the “special.”)

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            The ‘97+ cars were susceptible, Toyota tuned them to run leaner and therefor hotter. Oil would start to coke up and then for people that treated their Toyotas as “I never have to do anything to it!” Issues started to crop up. Folks with barely driven cars (short trips, not burning absorbed water off from the oil) were also having problems. But it’s a massively less pervasive issue than the internet hive mind makes it out to be. Toyota just made a big deal about taking care of people IMO. Shopping used I’d take one look under the fill cap and ask how often it was changed and not worry beyond that. You want a real slugder look at the early 1.8t VAG motors where the factory specified a mineral oil on a hot running turbo motor with not much capacity. My brother has an 80k mile 03 Passat in the shop now that is a horror show (old lady’s short trip beater). To my knowledge VW was much less forthcoming about admitting fault or paying for repairs.

    • 0 avatar
      Mike Beranek

      “Church of 3800″…Ha that’s a good one! Sign me up, I’ve got one and I’m not sure any other engine will satisfy me.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    If you NEEDED a beater then this would make sense BUT if the Accord is really going to be your “cheap” car then this makes no sense.

    Back when gas prices shot up a few years ago one of the principals I was working with had just purchased a new 4Runner – it was his only vehicle. After a few months of filling it up he was having sticker shock from his monthly gas bill (his commute was about 70 miles round trip daily – mostly interstate.)

    At the same time his parents were preparing to trade in their early oughts Buick LeSabre to the local Buick dealer for a Lucerne. The Buick dealer would only give them $2500 in trade so the dutiful son offered to pay his parents the same amount cash. He was happy because he had a fairly efficient 3800 powered commuter car and only drove the 4Runner when the weather was bad.

    That is the kind of situation where picking up an old Lexus ES makes sense. This is not your situation Jack.

  • avatar
    Carroll Prescott

    A dealer’s “offer” is about as valid as the news that the Alphabet media offers these days.

    I think the question asker is out of his mind thinking this is worth $7 with 147k on the odo. It would not fetch much at auction or on a used car lot hence the “allowance” by the dealer. It might make a nice $5,500 – $5,750 private sale car, however especially if the asker presents potential buyers with the maintenance record.

    If the vehicle has not been problematic, I’d keep it and drive it until the wheels fall off; I’d also be in the market for a second car (used) with higher mileage and newer with maintenance records to go with it. You save huge money on the second car and you would still have the dependable current car and likely no car payment and far less personal property taxes to endure.

    BTW – I’m going to be adding a first generation Ford Probe GT to my lineup since they are cheap as chips and I’ll pay cash – this is a second car to go with my non-problematic 21 year old Ford. Cheap insurance if something OEM goes on my current car – and if the Probe needs work, I’m not out of a car and still won’t have payments.

  • avatar
    a5ehren

    $5k actually seems reasonably fair for a dealer offer on a 14 year-old car. CarMax would probably give him 5500?

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    “Ask Matt”

    The ES330 would make a great first car for a suburban teenager… except the littlest Baruth is a kart racer and still in grade school, right? He’s going to want an old Civic Si or BR-Z in six years or so, not the world’s cushiest Camry.

    You should pass, Jack. The Lexus is a great solution to a problem you don’t have.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Theoretically the 993 is his when he turns 16.

      In practice it’s gonna be the Accord until he learns that traffic on public roads isn’t:

      a) all going in the same direction
      b) competing for season points

    • 0 avatar
      Peter Gazis

      Matt

      If my sons were still in their teens. I’d be look

      • 0 avatar
        Peter Gazis

        Matt

        If my sons were still in their teens. I’d be looking for something small, good on gas, reasonablly reliable, cheap and easy to work on; and built like a tank. The last generation Cruze & Malibu come to mind.

        The Lexus will end up a driveway ornament.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          Peter I’d be willing to bet that a late model Malibu will be in the shop of a BHPH with a guy trying to diagnose the 2.5L’s stretched timing chain and the Cruze will be belching oil past its turbo seals before the Lexus quits.

  • avatar
    Vanillasludge

    Little Old Lady-Mobile. Pass.

  • avatar
    mikey

    A rust free 14 year old Lexus with 236,000 KLM’s would be extremely rare in these parts. “If” and thats a big if ,it came with an Ontario safety , and emission check ???Maybe $5500.00 CAD retail. Dealer might go $1000.00.. on a trade . A “you pull” scrap yard might look at all the saleable parts and go $1500.00..

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Up to about 2006-7, I think was Lexu’s best quality, especially in materials. These are the last cars that will go forever if they are simply maintained and kept clean. New cars of course go much further than in the past, but I just don’t sense that they are intended to go “indefinitely” like an older Lexus. My 2000 GS interior looks new still, and the car drives exactly as it did 10-years ago when I bought it. So, offer the man $6,000, drive out for another 150,000, that’s pretty decent value for a nearly new, reliable driving experience.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Dude you’re on crack at 7, I can’t even believe you can get 5 for an 0 fricking 4 that isn’t even a GS or LS with those miles.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I’m always looking for another car, no matter if its needed or not. For me, “want” is a viable reason, however not even that applies in this case.

    I’d advise you to decline. You don’t need it, you don’t want it, and it would just get in the way. Hard pass.

  • avatar
    Sam Hell Jr

    A plush low-cost commuter only makes sense to me if you do in fact buy the Chally and then flip or deep-store the Six/Six.

  • avatar
    22_RE_Speedwagon

    Time to apply the John Giorno Theory of Economics: “I don’t need it, I don’t want it, and you cheated me out of it!”. You don’t need it, you don’t want it, but you sense some value here that’s slipping away. But you can’t really profit from that value — your ownership destroys it. It’s not especially fun, it’s not collectible, it offers no utility over an Accord coupe than two extra doors and a bigger backseat. Its not ironic or even worth a chuckle. Gas mileage is a wash. Buying it slows the depreciation on your Accord but doesn’t stop it — now you’ve got two depreciating assets.

    Maybe if you sold the Accord it would make sense – provided you have enough access to other toys. I’ve never been happy with cars I’ve bought for purely economic reasons.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    This vehicle, which is neither rare nor collectible, with 150,000 miles on the odometer and being 14 years old, is worth between $3,750 and $4,250.

    The dealer is offering more to get the new sale.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      I’m inclined to agree DW. Now, if I were cheap commuter car shopping, I would definitely appreciate the difference between this cared for example and a typical $3750 used car lot unit, and would be willing to pay $5500 or so for that. Just catching the $3750 car up on maintenance with a timing belt job and a non-Chinese set of tires would eat that 5500-3750 price differential up.

  • avatar
    otaku

    @Jack Sounds like the car is in good shape both mechanically and cosmetically. So the only question(s) that really comes to mind, since you mentioned driving it cross-country once, is this:

    Is this something you would enjoy driving on a regular basis? I mean, based on your memories of driving it, was it fun/pleasant to operate? Did it offer an experience that was distinct enough from your current daily driver (V-6 manual Accord coupe, right?) to make it worth owning? I don’t know too much about the Lexus in question (except that it seems like a loaded up version of that model year’s Camry), but I would guess that its overall handling/steering and power to weight ratio are probably not as sporty feeling as your Honda. If my assumptions are accurate, would you consider these traits positives or negatives in your book?

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I envision myself using it for things like the drive to R&T’s office in Ann Arbor, which is 378 miles of monotony for which I am I am usually not paid directly.

  • avatar
    PwrdbyM

    Not sure what the point of buying something like this might be? Trying to keep miles off an Accord Coupe? Who cares, it’s going to be acid rain used car filth itself in a few years so drive the piss out of it and enjoy it. If you want to bring on another car to the stable then make it something with passion or collectibility. A used ES? Nah.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    Based on some Craigslist browsing an ES330 in that age/mileage range is commonly available through private party sale in the Mid-Atlantic region at $4500-$6500. Getting a $5000 trade offer from a dealer is money in the bank and he should have taken the money and run. He’ll be lucky to sell it within a few months on his own for anything more than the dealer offered not to mention dealing with the hassle.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    He should have taken the $5k trade. It would have reduced the tax burden on his new car purchase which would have helped close the gap between the trade value and his perceived value. Then he wouldn’t have to carry this and deal with the inevitable Craigslist nightmare.

    Why Jack would want this when he has an Accord coupe, I’m not sure. Another vehicle on the policy, another parking spot lost.

    • 0 avatar
      DavidB

      My 2002 ES300 has had 3 owners – My mom’s late husband who purchased it new, then my mom after he passed, and finally me after my mom decided not to drive any more. So, 3 different people on the title, but all in the same family. The Lexus dealer here in KC offered me $6K in Feb 2015 when it had 90K miles on it. Perfect condition still but a 2004 with 147K miles at $5K wholesale seems high, even if it is perfect.


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