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Transmission problems with Lexus ES?



  • I went from a four year old Camry (had it since new) to a three year old ES (same generation), and there’s no way I’m going back. The ES is soooooooo much nicer in virtually every way.

    But even this ES (a 1999) has what you describe. It’s like it has a manual clutch that gets disengaged every time you let up on the gas. The next time you put your foot down, you almost always have to wait (up to only one second) for something to happen, and it feels just like a manual clutch engaging. And those few times when there is no delay, I’m caught by surprise.

    I even remember test driving my first ES three years ago. I came to a familiar corner, hits the brakes, turned in, pressed the gas on exit, and there was nothing for a good second, and I wondered what was going on. Then, all of a sudden, the car just took off.

    I still liked the car, so I bought one anyway, but that must’ve contributed to the fact that I’m much less aggressive now with the accelerator, and didn’t notice it on the new car unless I looked for it. I do remember one time with the long drive in the current ES where I pressed down and waited, and the transmission seemed like it went into one gear, decided against it, and then engaged another. That was very off-putting.

    But I see this as Lexus’ way of making this car as smooth as possible, which is the goal of this model. (For smoothness, they want minimal engine braking, so they disengage the clutch as much and as quickly as possible the moment you let up.) They have two cars the same size, the ES and the GS, and if you want performance, you get the GS. But then they equipped and priced the two cars differently, and they’ve wound up with people who want performance (or responsiveness) but who can’t (or won’t) afford a GS.

    The smart (and simple) thing for Lexus to do is simply add a switch, much like the adjustable suspension switch, that lets the driver decide how he wants the transmission to behave, and give up on this dumb notion of a “learning transmission”. They need to accept BMW’s finding that you can’t guess what the driver wants -- BMW even offers the driver 11 settings! Hey, if they want to compete with BMW, they need to think like BMW (or at least smarten up!).

    Buuuuuuuut, … it’s hard to give up on the brand. I can’t ignore what you’re all saying about the current ES, so I’m considering a used GS.
  • motownusamotownusa Posts: 836
    The smart (and simple) thing for Lexus to do is simply add a switch, much like the adjustable suspension switch, that lets the driver decide how he wants the transmission to behave, and give up on this dumb notion of a “learning transmission”. They need to accept BMW’s finding that you can’t guess what the driver wants -- BMW even offers the driver 11 settings! Hey, if they want to compete with BMW, they need to think like BMW (or at least smarten up!).

    First of all, the Lexus ES is no BMW. Lexus never intended to compete with BMW with the FWD ES. The target demographic was 40 something white collar workers who make close to six figure salary who want to move up to something that is more luxurious than a V6 Camry. Judging by the sales figure, they have succeeded. Now, if you want a Lexus that drives like a BMW get the upcoming IS350. With a 306 HP engine and a six speed auto, that is one heck of a car. I am sure there will be absolutely no hesitation with that car
  • scoti1scoti1 Posts: 676
    You may want to check out the Engine Hesitation forum - much of the focus is on the transmission hesitation in the various Toyota/Lexus models.

    "Engine Hesitation (All makes/models)"
  • I just bought a 2005 Lexus ES 330. It now has 700 miles. The transmission hesitation and rough shifting is driving me crazy. Lexus can only recommend using a high octane gasoline. I would pursue the lemon law here in Massachusetts, but I need four repair invoices, showing the dealer's inability to correct the problem. My problem is that the dealer says that it is normal for the car, and won't attempt any repairs. I'm dissapointed to learn from the forum that it's such a widespread issue.
  • scoti1scoti1 Posts: 676
    Lexus/Toyota has acknowledged that this is a problem because they have issued a Technical Service Bulletin documenting what needs to be done for the repair. Take your car in, try a different dealer if necessary, and demand that they perform the fix outlined in the TSB. This may or may not fix the problem (there have been mixed results). If it doesn't work, have them do it the multiple times needed to invoke your state lemon law.
  • pilot130pilot130 Posts: 319
    You may have unintentionally given some wrong advice Scoti.
    Yes, Toyota/Lexus has acknowledged a problem *may* occur by issueing that TSB.
    However, a TSB doesn't mean it's a universal problem affecting all of a given make/model.
    The intent of a TSB is to advise a fix for a given symptom or condition--if it occurs.
    A TSB does not indicate a "Problem" is designed into a given make/model, and it certainly doesn't mean that everyone who owns a given make or model can expect the condition to occur.
    You also suggest a Lemon Law litigation after 4 visits to the dealer--right from the git go. Guns blazing isn't always the right approach.
    Given that a fix is available if a problem occurs, plus--given this is the way DBW trannys feel not only on Toyota products but common to others as well--advising Lemon Law option straight away is premature.
    I think the right advice would have been just to take it back and get the dealer to try again because switching to high test gasoline didn't get satisfaction. Perhaps try another dealer. Try contacting the manufacturer direct. See if it occurs in another unit of the same make and model.
    Fixating on Lemon Law litigation could very easily turn out to be a disaster.
  • scoti1scoti1 Posts: 676
    Did you take the time to read the post I was responding to?
  • pilot130pilot130 Posts: 319
    Yes I did, and I spoke out because I honestly believe it wasn't good advice by raising the expectation that a Lemon Law route might be the way to go at such an early stage.
    You did suggest two, but I believe it may have been wiser and more prudent for you to suggest other alternatives before pulling the trigger on Lemon Law.
    This individual is a long way from a "last resort" alternative.
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    "....such an early stage...." ???

    The initial TSB was available in the spring of 2003, was it not?

    And does the TSB, in any form whatsoever, indicate a limited application, certain vin#'s, build date, etc?

    Anyone wonder what the car rental agencies are doing about this?
  • pilot130pilot130 Posts: 319
    What I meant was "such an early the development of this individual's problem."
    And you're correct in that this TSB isn't limited to a specific time, application, etc.
    But any TSB is well short of a recall as you know. Furthermore, any TSB is not in any way indicative of a systemic problem with an entire product line, in spite of inferences to the contrary by some.
    All things considered though, I still think it's premature to jump into Lemon Law so quickly.
    700 miles, one trip to a dealer, then go direct to Lemon Law? Unwise in my opinion.
  • scoti1scoti1 Posts: 676
    It was the individual who brought up Lemon Law as an avenue. You seemed to ignore that and that is why it seemed apparent to me that you did not read his post. I guess you just chose to ignore that portion of it.
  • scoti1scoti1 Posts: 676

    Below is the link to the TSB as found on for the Lexus ES330. I suggest you print this out and go back to your dealer or go to a new dealer.
  • dshahsdshahs Posts: 35
    I test drove the 2006 es for about 30 minutes and there were no hesitations at all. I then test drove the 2005 es and i could definately feel the hesitation. The 2 cars are night and day different. FWIW i would say buy the 2006 es if you are worried about the hesitation problems.
  • Sorry, buying the 2006 doesn't help. The drivetrain is identical. The problem is caused by the way the transmission learns your driving patterns. I would guess that the 2006 hadn't been driven enough to learn the driving patterns.

    After every update, I've found that the problem went away - for about 500 miles. If Lexus would just go back to the default and disable the learning, I'd be happy.
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    Let's put a stop to this "urban legend", PLEASE.

    There are some aspects of your personal driving habits that some of the newer vehicles adapt too, adjust certain parameters.

    But every one of these learned traits goes through a BRAIN WIPE when the ignition is turned off.

    How can it be any other way, otherwise the car rental companies would need a special procedure to follow each time a car was returned.

    It is my understanding that within 60 seconds of when you start the car in motion the system has roughly categorized you into one of four driving styles/types. within the next 120 seconds it further resolves, refines, your driving style into one of sixteen categories.

    Thereafter it keeps only a three minute memory of your activities and will revise your driving style/type again and again if necessary.

    Now, having said that, there are certain parameters, unique to each car, and only to the car, that are "learned" on the fly. One of these being the idle air bypass control solenoid. Over time the car learns the proper PWM duty cycle for this solenoid based on the downstream feedback from the oxygen sensor and the fuel feed level required to maintain the factory designated engine idle speed.

    The ES owes its smooth, elegant ride in part to its revised five-speed automatic Electronically Controlled Transmission with intelligence (ECT-i) that gives you smoother shifting and effortless acceleration. Improved grade logic holds the transmission in lower gear when going downhill, decreasing the amount of braking necessary so there's less brake wear

    Could this be the reason for improved performance ?
    What do u think WWest ?
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    "Improved grade logic holds the transmission in lower gear...."

    That statement appears to be an oblique way of saying that the new transaxles exhibit more reluctance to upshifting during closed throttle coastdown circumstances.

    Hopefully that will constitute a final fix for the engine/throttle hesitation symptom.

    But I would guess that ther are not yet enough 2006 vehicles in the hands of owners to be able to say with certainty.
  • Complaints of a hesitation/transmission problem are starting to appear in various Toyota Avalon forums. One would think Toyota would engineer it out of a brand new model. Apparently that's not the case.
  • atoewsatoews Posts: 637
    If they keep making larger, heavier cars, with the same or enhanced power, with the same or better gas mileage, would not SOMETHING have to give SOMEWHERE?

    The fact that they continue to do this leads me to believe that the 2007 will not be any better without one of these parameters (power, gas mileage or size, or cost) being changed in an undesirable direction. Specifically, the problem will still be there if we keep the increased size, reduced gas mileage, increased power, and price of the 2006.
  • es4jbes4jb Posts: 17
    I now have driven my ES330 for 3500 miles and I have some conclusions about the vehicle. For starters, I don't think there is anything wrong with the car - it's just doing what it was designed to do. Basically the vehicle is a sophisticated computer controlled system which pretty much decides how the engine and transmission work together. We communicate with that system with our hands and feet. In the old days a car had real linkage with the engine so when you pressed down on the accelerator, you "gave it gas". Those days are long gone. Now when you press the accelerator, it's to let the computer know you want to go faster.

    I realized that no amount of "reprogramming" is going to make this car "feel" like an old-style vehicle. So I am learning to live with it.

    I don't use the "D" drive mode much. I put the car in 4th most of the time and pop into "D" when I want to engage the 5-speed at cruising speeds. I think that the car goes into overdrive much to soon, which feels like less power.

    I use premium gas. Yeah, I know, it's expensive, but this car really wants it, and it does make a difference.

    I don't use the AUTO mode for air conditioning. I think the AC system drains too much power. I rarely put the blower on high.

    These 3 things have made my interactions with the car better. It's not a BMW or a Porsche. It's a comfortable car not a performance vehicle.
  • From the time we bought my wife's 2003 ES 300 it never had a smooth start from a complete stop. It feels like the car goes into a sudden jolt even with slight pressure on the gas pedal. My wife took it to the dealer but as you guess it they say nothing is wrong. Anybody had similar experiences. Does it have anything to do with the transmission problems.
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    My 2000 GS300 had a serious surge problem at initial throttle "tip-in". There was just simply no way one could ease that car into motion.
  • x021627x021627 Posts: 152
    I agee and have driven my car about the same amount of miles. It is not a BMW (which I was driving prior to now) or a Porsche, but is a nice luxury car. I started using mid grade two tank fulls ago and can see the difference. It's a nice luxury ride car that isn't going to be a roadster like other cars. I must say that the japanese either do performance or luxury and can't balance the 2 like BMW does, but I was looking for luxury. toyota isn't know for performance.
  • I'm glad you are happy with your ES330, and have overcome its design shortcomings. However, what is the point of paying for a premium car if it is necessary to abandon important features to achieve satisfactory performance?
  • es4jbes4jb Posts: 17
    Actually, I am not happy at all. I don't think I ever said I was happy. I just posted the message to report in a factual manner how I have dealt with this problem, and I DO consider it a problem. I happen to agree with you, there is NO point in paying for a luxury car that drives like sh*t. The things I am doing do not solve the problem. I will probably have the transmission flash performed around 5K miles. Or I may even sell the car and take a loss.
  • Has anyone had success getting Lexus to buy back the car, or remedies under the Lemon Law? Please share.

    I have just engaged an attorney to assist in some type of remedy for my 05 ES330 due to the transmission problems, and any helpful experiences would be appreciated.
  • scoti1scoti1 Posts: 676
    Yes, some have reported success. Here is one case reported in this forum:

    wilmill, "Transmission problems with Lexus ES-300 ?" #343, 10 Dec 2003 11:27 am
  • scoti1scoti1 Posts: 676
    The moderators had to close the Engine Hesitation forum and make it a "Read-Only" due to some continued rudeness by several posters. It is a good read, but ignore my previous recommendations to post there to discuss your Lexus/Toyota hesitating tranny problems.
  • My wife and I experienced the same transmission/shifting issues with our 1999 ES300. It occurred when shifting from 1st to 2nd in low gears only. We were told by the Lexus dealership that the transmission was supposed to do that (what everyone else has been barking about). We moved to the seacoast area of NH a few years back and started getting our ES 300 serviced at the Toyota dealership. I ran into a serious issue one morning driving about 2 months ago when the ES 300 fell out of gear going down the road at 50mph. I had it towed to the dealership where they changed the filter and put new transmission fluids in it.

    They offered no real explanation (things fail?) but said a new transmission might be a good idea (Toyota @ $3200), they proceeded to say the vehicle which has 80,000 miles might go on for another year or longer without problems-? but did not know, unfortunately the car is out of warranty by a less than a year. It has been a great car (for 6 years) except for this issue. I thought I was the only one with this issue. I was even looking at new 05, 06's ES 330's but may reconsider now, which is to bad, as it’s a good luxury car with a bad design flaw. You would think Toyota or Lexus would remedy this issue, as this transmission must be used in other Toyota vehicles.

    How about the modertors or the editors of Edmounds using their powers of persuasion to contact Lexus re; this seemingly huge issue i.e. many posts on this from different people with Lexus/Toyota products?? As they don't seem to listen to the little guy unless we all stop buying Toyota products which will not happen.
  • Lemon Law, thats real helpful..

    The bottom line is that we were hoping that the 1999 Lexus ES300, which we bought brand spanking new at the time would give us trouble free driving and for the most part it did... But a luxury car of this price & caliber should not experinece an ongoing issue.

    In my humble opinion the fault seems to be a Toyota design issue rather than an individual(s) driving habit, this flaw has not been resolved in subsequent model years, from researching all the posts/complaints in this forum. For every post there "might" be others out there who have no clue and others who have no problems but it seems as though the Lexus/Toyota issue is ongoing and unresolved.

    We were going to upgrade to a newer model or a take step up in the Lexus model lineup-- but I am not convinced the transmissions failure or surging/hesatation issues are resolved...
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