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Transmission problems with Lexus ES?



  • It seems to me that the Lexus 5 speed is a bogus idea. Certainly, acceleration and mileage were not that much improved over the 4 speed. The differences in the 4th & 5th gears in the 300/330 are not that substantial. I think Lexus just wanted to receive a higher EPA clean air certification and perhaps a tad better mileage. Most late model V6 Camry's are 4 speed automatics with the addition of a button that actually down shifts to a constant lower gear - I think it's called ECT or ETC. When engaged (generally for city driving), the tach jumps up about 300 to 400 revs - about the same difference as between 4th & 5th on the 300. When not engaged it is able to drive on the highway in an "overdrive" capacity. The point is - those transmissions were excellent and the mileage was OK. The 300 trans seems to be constantly hunting, pecking, and clunking during city driving while ignoring "more juice now" commands on the highway. The fuzzy logic programming suggests that the unit would "learn" the drivers habits. It would know that the driver is not a lead foot in the city, but when on the highway and the signal to "MOVE IT NOW! - WE NEED TO PASS OR MERGE" is given, it would respond instantly. I have decided to move the shift lever to 4 and leave it there while driving in the city. If the traffic is real heavy and slowly moving, I leave it in 3. That's the equivalent of eliminating the ability of the transmission to "think" for itself. It is not a quick thinking/reacting unit, as is required in most major urban cities.

    The other issue is "drive by wire". I am not at all impressed with this electronic method. Yes, jets use this technology, but they do not "shift" gears. They simply increase air and fuel intake. I am not an engineer, but it seems to me that the car is maxed out in terms of weight to horsepower/torque. The small increase in HP and torque for the 330 was not at all substantial. This car should definitely be in the 250 - 275 range. That would not make it a BMW, nor do I want a BMW. It would simply mean there is ample power on tap to respond to today's driving demands in a safe and efficient manner.
  • But you need to accept the fact that you are a small minority who have this problem. Most ES300/330 owners are very satisfied with their purchase as indicated by both JD Power and Consumer Reports.
  • wrdwrd Posts: 40
    I don't know where you got the idea that only "a small minority" are complaining, but you are wrong. My dealer saw fit to "upgrade" ALL the cars in their loaner fleet and those being driven by their salesmen. The techs tell me that a large percentage of customers have expressed disatisfaction with the cars performance and they routinely do the upgrade. Lexus admits to customer complaints averaging 12% of sales of 300s. And that is just from people bright enough to recognize a problem. I have talked to techs at three other area Lexus dealers and they tell me that the "upgrade" is being requested by approximatly one half of all owners. SMALL MINORITY? BS At 61 years old I have driving legally for 45 years plus a few illegal years. I have owned dozens of automatic transmission cars, the oldest being a 1950 Oldsmobile. All of them shifted better and more dependably, even the ones on the way to a junkyard. That said, the 300 is second only to my 400 as a near perfect automobile. The transmission being a major drawback. I doubt that I would buy another. Lexus's refusal to deal with the problem also casts icewater on my plans to buy a new 430. What if the 430 has a problem?
  • vchengvcheng Posts: 1,286
    WRD: While this is not the main thrust of conversation here, I too was sick of the ES transmission, and decided to move up to an LS430. It does NOT have any drivetrain issues. Good Luck with what you decide.
  • I get the idea from Consumer Report JD Powers and other websites and from my own experience. My father owns a 02 Lexus ES300 and I own a 03 Camry V6 which has the same engine and transmission. A handful of people ranting and raving on internet forums can greatly exaggerate the true number of people having problems.
  • when they have experienced problems. So it can 'sound' worse than it really is, overall. I've 'test-hard-pressed' my pedal under several merging or out of parking into mainroad scenes and never sensed any hesitation on my 03 ES. It shifted up smoothly and effortlessly. Maybe my standard is lower but I'd think it's something, if there, very easy to tell.

    Also what I don't get is that this'd be something easy to catch for those that do when test driving the car, b4 buying it. Why did they still buy it?
  • wrdwrd Posts: 40
    Having owned Lexus LS400s since 1997, I would never have believed that Lexus would market a defective automobile and not stand behind it. I did not notice the "shudder" during a test drive.When I purchased the ES300 it became noticable with daily driving.. It didn't always do it and when it did do it, it was not that bad at first. If I had noticed it before purchase I probably would not have bought it.After the "upgrade", a whole new problem appeared. The "shudder" is gone. Slow, inconsistant shifts have taken it's place. Also, at highway speed, when you try to accelerate even slightly, it always downshifts and this takes a timed 3-4 seconds before it gets moving. I hope I never have to get out of the way of something.
  • wrdwrd Posts: 40
    Vcheng. I looked at a black ultralux today. As nice as it is, and with no chronic problems reported yet, I would be very nervous spending that much on a Lexus now. It would appear that Lexus' answer to a problem with a product line is to deny that the problem exists.
  • atoewsatoews Posts: 637
    But you have to do the right thing. Specifically, the problem does not appear when accelerating at a time that gas is flowing from the accelerator. The shudder happens when you pull back off the gas and then accelerate.

     To repeat the problem, get going to about 40 mph, then pull back on the gas so the gas flow drops off. Then reapply the gas. The reapplication of gas after dropping off is when the shuddering tends to occur on an unmodified transmission.

    The problem is not as evident during highway driving as it is in stop and go traffic.

    A person test driving the vehicle may not know what to do to repeat the problem and therefore might not feel it during a test drive.
  • vchengvcheng Posts: 1,286
    I too will reconsider my options for my next car, with this experience with Lexus leaving an overall bad taste. In the meantime I will enjoy my black ultralux, and wish you good luck in your decisions.
  • following your 'instruction' still came to no avail for discovering the shuddering on local. When you said "pull back on the gas so the gas flow drops off", do you mean to use brake to slow down or just let the car slow down by itself, and at what mph do you reapply gas, and also how hard do you have to apply it?

    If it's this tricky for me to find it I guess even it's really there it's no big deal. I'd hardly feel 'it' anyhow. Of course I'd never understand why some people are so 'frustrated' with it as I am just as frustrated finding it.

    One more thing tho, is this shuddering really what the tranny problem is. It does not seem to be the abrupt downshift or upshift hesitation issues also mentioned for it. Anyway, a few K miles already in the bag for me on both local and hwy. I am just about content with whatever tranny it's under the hood of my 300, unless it can occur only after certain mileage.
  • kreativkreativ Posts: 299
    As far as the specific shuddering described by atoews, this can be reproduced in other Lexus models back to 1990. I've experienced this in an LS and GS, but not yet in the 5spd ES (I don't doubt the same characteristic is there). I don't think this is the main complaint of those who dislike the new ES' transmission.
  • If there is a "problem" whether it is the transmission, or shuddering it should show up regardless of how I drive. It is strange that people claim you have to drive a certain way to feel the "problem." I mean why would I abruptly take my foot off the pedal after accelerating to 40 mph anyway?
  • atoewsatoews Posts: 637
    Just let your foot off the gas momentarily (say two seconds) and then try and feed it the gas; accelerate like you want to pass someone who is going 60 mph or like you need to get to 60 from 40 as quickly as possible. The car will have a delay and then surge ahead kind of jerkily as you are accelerating.

    I had a Camry for several years before I bought my ES300 and the Camry did not do anything like that. I suspect that Lexuses with 4 speeds do not do it. Also, for the other Lexuses, I believe fixes were issued by Lexus. I have test driven several ES300s (only 2002s, however) and they all do it.

    And yes, I think this is what people are complaining about. It can be scary when there is that delay when pulling out in traffic.
  • atoewsatoews Posts: 637
    I suspect that some folks pull off the accelerator before speeding up more than do others. If you typically accelerate smoothly, you probably will not feel it as often as those whose motor skills are not as good.

    I am convinced that an individual's motor skills or lack of them contribute to the problem, not only the frequency of the problem but the severity as well.

    Have you ever been a passenger in a vehicle where the driver could not keep up a constant gas flow? Where they kept speeding up and slowing slightly? I have, and it drives me crazy. The ES300 would perform very poorly for a person like that and I suspect that those few people who cannot stand the transmission tend to be that type of driver.
  • I've to say that's not a very common sequence but I'll try that out, maybe this time not on local road -- don't want to explain that to a cop. The only place I think I can drive like that w/o risking being ticketed or fingered is on entrace to highway, and there's actually a ligit scenario to that too. Will see. I very rarely have to drive like that for any car though.

    That said, I recalled my friend mentioned his 92 Camry having hesitation problem in merging but that's after quite a few years' miles on it. And also for most cars when you hit gas fast all the way from a stop line (like racing) you'd feel a sudden delay-and-burst. That seems normal but I am assuming that's not the one we're talking about for ES here.
  • After complaining months ago about my new '03 ES's transmission problem, and having the dealer upgrade the software, I find this fix didn't do anything to help the hesitation in certain instances. What i'd like to know is this: Are the '04 ES330 plagued with the same problem?
  • atoewsatoews Posts: 637
    If your car is perfect for you, you are so LUCKY. Don't go chasing a problem you are not currenly having. Why would you want to make yourself less happy?

    You are among the owners who are not experiencing the symptom. Just thank your lucky stars and enjoy your car.
  • wrdwrd Posts: 40
    i cannot understand why anyone would blame performance quirks on another persons "motor skills" or driving skills. This is a $35,000, 21st century automobile. It should perform on a par with other automobiles. IT DOESN'T!!!!!!!
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