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Transmission problems with Lexus ES?



  • johnparjohnpar Posts: 2
    There is definitely a transmission performance issue. Some people (me included) find it a minor issue; others see it as a major problem. I noticed the slow downshifts of my 02 ES and had the software upgrade done. I noticed an improvement, but the downshift hesitation did not go away altogether. I now have an 04 ES, and its transmission acts the same as the 02 after the upgrade. I don't find it particularly annoying, and feel the ES330 is one of the finest cars I've ever driven. Very quiet, smooth and comfortable.

    My wife drives an 04 RX330 (formerly drove an 02 RX300). We've not noticed any transmission issues with either vehicle.

    I note with interest some of the posts that complain about service from the Lexus dealers. Over the last 25 years, I've acquired 24 different vehicles of various makes from 10 different dealers. The two Lexus dealers I've dealt with are head and shoulders above the rest. My current dealer, Lexus of Shreveport, is outstanding. On my 02 ES, as I dropped it off for its 10K maintenance, I mentioned to the service manager a slight shimmy when braking. He called me a little while later and said they were replacing the brake rotors at no charge. Similarly, I stopped in one day and told them I had begun hearing some unusual road noise. They took one look at the Toyo tires on the car and told me they would be replaced. I got a set of five new V-rated Goodyear Eagle GA's, including balancing and alignment at no charge. No fuss. No muss. I've never experienced that type of proactive service from any other manufacturer's dealers.
    Of the six Lexus vehicles I've owned, the two items mentioned above with the 02 ES are the only times any of the six have been in the shop for anything other than scheduled maintenance. The only other car I've ever been able to say that about was a Saturn my daughter drove for 70,000 miles. Lexus does make great cars, and my experience says they stand behind what they sell.
  • lobslobs Posts: 21
    I read much of this discussion before recently buying a new ES330. In my test drives there was some evidence of slow downshifting and hunting for a gear. I was somewhat concerned but I went ahead and got the car based on its overall excellence. I now have about 600 miles on the car and have frequently tried driving in ways to confuse the shifting and also to accelerate rapidly. There has been a clear decrease of the slight, negative symptoms in a very short time. The downshift delay is a fraction of what I had with my 2000 Jaguar S Type(really irritating - even dangerous). On the other hand, it is not like the instantaneous response of my BMW 330i. I am definitely NOT unhappy because of the transmission shifting. The anomalies are insignificant.
  • jragosta1jragosta1 Posts: 49
    I just did some checking on NHTSA's web site. There have already been 9 complaints about 2004 ES330 models, 28 complaints about the 2003 model and 50 complaints about the 2002 model that appear to be related to this problem.

    Unfortunately, those numbers are not firm because different people coded the problem differently and I didn't read the whole complaint to be sure.

    I'd suggest that everyone who has the problem should contact the NHTSA to file a complaint. It's quite easy and will only take a few minutes at

    To ensure that the complaint gets full attention, I'd suggest that everyone enter the same thing under 'equipment'. That way, the problem won't be neglected because it appears to be so many unrelated problems. I would suggest that you enter the following two items for equipment:
    Power Train:Automatic Transmission
    Vehicle Speed Control:Accelerator Pedal

    Since no one knows for sure what the problem is, but the drive by wire seems to be one culprit, those choices seemed reasonable.

    Please take the few minutes to file your complaint if your car is affected.
  • drbeedrbee Posts: 1
    I leased my ES 300 and wanted to purchase the car. Not with this transmisson problem. I went to pass another car on a two lane road...punched the gas and the car just stood there....accident waiting to happen. It's hard for me to beleive that a car of this quality has not fixed this problem.
  • jragosta1jragosta1 Posts: 49
    Please file a complaint with NHTSA (see post #472). If enough people take action, the government will likely force Lexus to act.

    It doesn't cost anything but a couple minutes of your time.

  • toydrivertoydriver Posts: 227
    jragosta 1 :
    Will do. Thanks.
  • vanboyvanboy Posts: 6
    Hi Folks. Just had the pleasure of driving an ES330 as a loaner for the day. It had 7,500 km (5,000 miles) on it. Yes, I'm from Canada.

    Its a wonderful car with a smooth, velvety ride. What you would expect from a Lexus. As for the transmission long as I was moving forward at ANY speed, anytime I pressed hard on the accelerator, the was a momentary pause....BUT a very small and most people wouldn't even notice. Yes for those car enthusiasts out there, you would definitely notice but I wouldn't classify this as a problem. I have driven a lot of cars, some owned, some rented and some belonging to other family/friend members. Most cars have a momentary lag, albeit a micro-second long, when you stomp on the gas. I'll add that none of these cars a drove would be classified as a sports cars. Even my Integra had a small lag that wasn't really noticeable or a problem.

    The only real issue I noticed was that the shift from first to second was a bit "klunky". Not as smooth as the rest of the gear changes. But all in all a very smooth car with lots of features and what should be great reliability and resale value. Even if there really are shifting problems I don't think it will cause any real transmission problems in terms of repairs in the future.

    Thats my 2 cents.
  • texas83texas83 Posts: 107
    Be sure and file complaints with the NTHSA. I wrote U.S. Texas Senator John Cornyn, and he forwarded my letter and documentation to the NTHSA. They wrote him back and said there have been only 37 complaints filed with them. Frankly, I find that a shocking few, with how many people are on this board complaining. There should be a lot more. The 37 are complaints on the '02 and '03 and they noted me as one of the parties complaining. The complaints relate to a surging problem, but they say they have no complaints on hesitation, or flat out failure to deliver power to the drive train. I would urge you to file if you want anything done about this.
  • texas83texas83 Posts: 107
    I was getting my oil changed at a dealership in Houston. Killing time, I walked around and looked at new cars. The sales manager came up and asked if I wanted a new one. He asked if I liked my car and I told him about the bad transmission, and how everything else was fine with the car. He looked down at his feet a bit, then looked up at me and said "It probably wouldn't surprise you to hear you aren't the first person to complain about that." He said "He didn't understand why nothing had been done." I told him that I spoke with the Atlanta Lexus Rep. and that the Rep. said that the dealers were all mistaken about telling customers that tranny problem would be fixed. The Rep. said that "There is no problem with the car and the dealerships are misinformed." He just shook his head and said "I'd sell the car if I were you. You can still get a good resale." Frankly, I was really taken off guard by his honesty. I really appreciated it. That same Atlanta Rep. has since acknowledged there is a problem, but that the Japanese are happy with the vehicle and they aren't going to do anything about it.
  • jragosta1jragosta1 Posts: 49
    Texas83, if you're in touch with your senator, please provide him with the real numbers. You can do your own research on NHTSA's site.

    I counted over 100 complaints for 02 alone. Something like 60 last year and 10 already on the '04 models.

    The problem is that NHTSA only looks at the description. If the descriptions don't match properly, they don't count them. For example, they count 'power train:automatic transmission:torque converter' as a different complaint than 'power train: automatic transmission:shifting' even if they both describe exactly the same symptoms. It's even worse in this case because many people listed the problem under 'accelerator'.

    If you go to the NHTSA web site and review the complaints for 02, 03, and 04 Lexus ES300/330 individually, you can see pretty quickly which ones cover this specific problem. The numbers are much higher than NHTSA is willing to admit. Close to 200 complaints on a car that only sells a few thousand units per year is huge.
  • bjk2001bjk2001 Posts: 358

    I am just wondering: Are you a Lexus ES owner? What year is your ES? Do you have any tranny problem? Seems like all your 3 posts are asking people to file complaints to NHSTA. BTW I think Lexus are selling more than a few thousands ES a year more like over 60,000. If you include V6 Camry wih A5 then that's more. @ NHTSA site for ES330 I could only find out 8 complaints in POWER AUTO TRAN and 1 for POWER TRANS.
  • jragosta1jragosta1 Posts: 49
    Yes, I have an ES330.

    You can't count the Camry in with the ES330 since they have different drive trains. The transmission problem doesn't seem to appear on the Camry.

    Your numbers on the complaints are incomplete. First, you're only looking at the 04 - which is less than a year old. Second, as I've pointed out, many of the complaints are probably listed elsewhere. For example, Lexus keeps telling me that the problem is the drive by wire and not the transmission. So there are also some complaints listed under that category. You want to look at the complaints for unexplained hesitation on acceleration. THAT was my point - people should be consistent in their complaint so they all get tracked together. If you have 100 complaints and they're all assigned to a different category, it won't be noticed.

    As I said, there are many, many more complaints on the 02 and 03 ES300 cars.

    My gripe is that everyone I've talked to at Lexus is aware of the problem - and many, many dealers reported by readers here have also admitted to being aware of the problem. But Lexus refuses to acknowledge it. If they refer to it at all, it's a 'concern', not a 'problem'. When every Lexus employee I know is aware of the problem but they refuse to fix it, they need to be forced to fix it.
  • motownusamotownusa Posts: 836
    The 2004 Camry SE shares the same 3.3L 225 Hp, and 240lb-ft of torque engine with the Lexus ES330. The Solara V6 also has the same 3.3L engine and 5 speed ECT-i (adaptive transmission) as the 330. The Camry, Solara, and the ES are based on the same platform and hence the same powertrain. All major companies share powertrain among multiple cars to save costs. The V6 versions of the LE and XLE Camrys still have the 3.0 engine as the outgoing Lexus ES300. The Avalon still has the same powertrain as the pre 2002 Lexus ES. The only reason NHTSA has not issued a recall is because the number of complaints is very small in proportion to the number of cars sold. But if this car has fallen short of your expectation, the next ES is coming out in less than a year with a 3.5L 275 hp engine.
  • davidzdavidz Posts: 35
    Where did you get that tidbit about a 3.5/275 hp engine in the ES within a year? Everything I've read says that the '05 ES will have the same 3.3 as the '04.
  • jragosta1jragosta1 Posts: 49
    Careful about your title - I didn't claim that they'd release a 3.5 next year - that was motownusa. I'm with you. I can't believe that they'd release a new one just a year after the old one.

    Not to mention that it's irrelevant for me. I just bought an 04. Even if I could afford to replace the car after a year, there's no way Lexus is getting any more of my money the way they're handling this issue.
  • jragosta1jragosta1 Posts: 49
    You can't read too much into the fact that the specs on the Toyota and Lexus engines are the same. For example, Lexus uses a drive by wire system that is at least part of the problem. Also, the transmission programming is apparently different. As evidence, consider the fact that it's been reported that Canadian 330s don't have the problem - because they're not certified as ULEV vehicles and have different transmission programming. I read that one person had demonstrated that they could fix the problem on a US 330 by installing the Canadian transmission logic - but this voids your warranty.

    There's more to the drive train than just the specs.
  • wjlwjl Posts: 11
    Not sure if I'm looking at the site correctly or not, but.... for the 2002 ES300, I do see over 100 complaints as you mentioned, but most have to do with other items (gas cap, appearance of the gauges, etc). I also noticed quite a bit of duplication in entries (same tracking numbers). I went through all 107 entries and only came up with 20 that were definitely related to the shifting/trans problem. And perhaps another 15 that could be related (cruise control, etc)... which adds up to perhaps about 35 entries (not counting the duplicates). Also, Lexus sold about 20,000 ES300 or more in 2002.
  • georgeb7georgeb7 Posts: 35
    I believe you support your argument very well. Your posts are clear and back your assertions. I agree with what you have summarized. Lexus is not owning up to the problem. I have seen complaints from other web sites also.( I do not remember which ones they are on off the top of my head, but I will post them as I remember). I believe some Lexus owners are in denial. They do not want to admit they have made a bad purchase. Buyers remorse has turned into "Buyers Denial". I am not referring to anyone one specifically, just in general.
  • jragosta1jragosta1 Posts: 49
    There are many categories that can be linked to the problem. For example, 'Power Train', 'Automatic transmission', 'Vehicle speed control', and so on.

    I don't remember the exact number, but I came up with over 100 for 2002, 2003, and 2004.
  • igibanigiban Posts: 530
    I've tagged in over 10K miles on my 03 ES and have not experienced any hesitation or surging. I don't drive aggressively but did have to floor the throttle a few times and it sped up just fine. I did sense some minor shuddering occasionally though when I gently press the gas pedal after coasting the car bit, kind of like it's driving over a mild uneven road. It does not happen a lot, and when it happens it does not bother me at all, as it's very gentle. Overall I am very pleased with ES smooth quiet ride. Not a sporty one for spirited driving for sure, but a very comfortable car. Just an ideal luxurious family sedan to me. That said, if I ever sense some jerking behavior I'll not be blind/quiet to it.
  • questionerquestioner Posts: 11
    I was planning to flush the tranny on my 94 ES300 recently. But the service consultant at local Lexus dealer suggests me to do a tranny service (drop oil pan and change filter) instead of a tranny flush because he thinks my ES300 is too old with 110K miles to have a tranny flush. While my tranny flush still looks pink and doesn't smell burnt(I bought it used in 2002 so I don't know whether the previous owner had flush the tranny before or not).What's your guys opinion on this? Should I go with a flush or just a service?
  • jragosta1jragosta1 Posts: 49
    I would go ahead and have a complete tranny service done. 110 K is a lot when you don't know what the service history is.
  • questionerquestioner Posts: 11

    Yes, 110K is a lot. That's exactly the reason why the service consultant suggested me not to flush but to do a tranny service. He said it's company policy not to flush tranny on cars with more than 100K miles because it may cause tranny problems since the new fluid may not protect the seal as well as the old fluid does.
  • bjk2001bjk2001 Posts: 358
    That's something new to me not to flush tranny fluid just do a tranny service for car over 100k miles. Typical if you do a tranny service you got about only 1/3 of the fluid out the other 2/3 stays. New tranny fluid should be better than the old one, doesn't make sense that new fluid won't be good for old seal. Anyway, if the fluid color looked and smelled good maybe you don't have to flush it. My 97 Avalon has 122K miles on it. I never flushed it only changed fluid very 30k, doesn't have engine oil gelling problem. Car still runs as the same as it was new.
  • amf1932amf1932 Posts: 79
    I think we're getting away from the main discussion that concerned '02 to '04 ES transmission shifting problems!!
  • bjk2001bjk2001 Posts: 358
    LMAO! Does this thread say '02-04 transmission shifting problem only? BTW 04 is ES330 not ES300.
  • seabushseabush Posts: 68
    I'm contemplating purchasing a 2004 ES 330. However, the comments regarding transmission issues leaves questioning my decision. If you had it to do over again, would you purchase your ES 330?

  • jragosta1jragosta1 Posts: 49
    I'm honestly not sure.

    When I bought my ES330, I drove a number of cars. Frankly, there wasn't even any contest. My wife had just bought a Volvo at the local Infinit/Volvo dealer and they were offering me a great deal to buy my second car there. But I bought the ES330 without hesitation.

    At the time, the dealer acknowledged that there were transmission problems with the ES300. He said that they had been fixed with the ES330. Since both the engine and transmission were reported to be brand new, I figured it was a good bed.

    Had I known that the problem wasn't fixed, I just might be driving an Infiniti G35 today. Probably 50:50 chance.
  • toydrivertoydriver Posts: 227
    Good question.
    On the 5 days a week that the transmission basically behaves itself - I'd say yes.
    On the 2 days that it clunks into gear or hesitates during an anticipated shift, I'd say no and I start thinking about what I want to trade it in for - Volvo S60/S80, BMW 330 xi, wait for the new GS model. Maybe a Crossfire roadster.
  • dennydenny Posts: 17
    My 2004 ES330 transmission is getting worse as time goes on. In an earlier post I complained about how sluggish the transmission was. Now, with 1,400 miles, it also jerks, balks, surges, hesitates, and shudders. Most of these occur when slowing down for a stop or turning a corner, but not exclusively. Some occur at highway speeds also when you decellerate momentarily. The dealer checked the transmission control computer and says the car is operating as designed. I called Lexus HQ and all they did was call the dealer and tell me the car is operating as designed. Given Lexus' indifference and refusal to acknowledge they have a major problem with their transmission, my answer is a resounding NO. This is my first and last Lexus.
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