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Lexus RX Transmission Problems



  • OK everyone. I have searched in vain to see if there is actually an active Class Action Lawsuit ongoing with Lexus. There are a couple of issues here. One, we have sudden, unexplained transmission failures. In fact, I am on these boards right now because I almost had an accident about 3 hours ago due to the transmission in my 2000 pre-owned RX300 failing, no waring, nothing. Secondly, the car was said to be "towable" as in four tires on the ground, and towable behind a coach or RV. Several folks have had transmission failures after towing so there is obvious a problem. Heck, in the couple of hours since I have been back home, I have found so many complaints via google specifically regarding the RX300 that I am convinced it is something Lexus has to know about. I have contacted a law firm ALREADY who specializes in class actions. This is not about the money (actually it is - I mean I don't want to pop for a $5000 repair when it is an issue Lexus should be taking care of) but it more about making them accountable. I want to compile a list of folks with problems. It appears the years affected are 1999 - 2002. My email address is ContactChrisWhite AT gmail DOT com and I would be more than happy to start working on this. I am pissed and I know that there are those of you out there who share my feelings. I know if I don't jump on this now, I will pay the repair bill and just get over it but that's not right. So feel free to contact me. Shoot, I will even put my cell number out there. Stupid? Maybe, but someone has to get the ball rolling. Call me. I'm central time zone, US and my # is 850-712-6962

    Let's do this.
  • Stanley Chassley, a very prominent class action lawyer in Cincinnati , has been, at my request, reviewing this situation for a class action law suit. However,on Friday I received a letter from Stanley telling me that he would not be pursuing it.
  • Well that's disappointing but glad to see others are stirring the pot. I will continue with my firm if anyone wants to attempt to follow through. I think the more we can come together, the more seriously Lexus will take us. My offer still stands if anyone wants to call or email me. I am NOT a lawyer, just a disappointed Lexus owner, for what it's worth.
  • avery1avery1 Posts: 373
    Did he give a reason?
  • I am interested in joining a class action. I really just want Lexus to buy back my vehicle, so I can just move on. I hate driving it because I am always worried that it's going to have another issue with the transmission. :mad:
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    edited October 2010
    Transmission failures seem to be more common with the '99-'00 RX300 model years.

    By 2001 the reactive F/awd system using a VC had been abandoned in favor of TC use, "last minute" TC use, to reapportioning engine torque to the rear.

    The base problem, beginning with the introduction of the RX series, was the result of a design change to the transaxle's internal operation, abolition of the earlier ATF pressure sustainment system in favor of a "real-time", "reactive", ATF pressure control system.

    That resulted in the inability of RX transaxles of that period to provide a quick re-acceleration downshift. So the downshift sequence was done with ATF line pressure being inadequate in firmly/fully engaging the clutches used in the downshift gear ratio.

    Other than the castrating of the F/awd system with the 2001 and on, until the RX330 arrived, I really don't know what was done to help alleviate the premature transaxle
    failures. As a result of the burned condition of my F/awd '01 RX300's ATF at only 40,000 miles I suspect there was a firmware control change that kept the "real-time" ATF line pressure at an elevated level ALL THE TIME in order to reduce the wear rate of those downshift clutches.

    I also suspect that my '01's extra ATF cooling radiator was actually a factory requirment for the F/awd system, not really a "tow hitch" option. Sustaining the "real-time" ATF line pressure at a even a slightly higher level than the initial design called for would undoubted result in localized, right at the ATF gear type pump, overheating of the ATF.

    With the introduction of the RX330 the VC was dropped entirely(***) and DBW was adopted and used to delay, 1-2 second delay, the onset of rising engine torque subsequent to a downshift resulting from a re-acceleration sequence.

    *** In 2001 the F/awd system became a "one-wheel drive system" absent the belated, "last-minute", REACTIVE ONLY, activation of TC. So there was no reason to include the cost of the VC beyond that point.

    Some time later, '08(?), firmware was added that watches the driver's actions on the brake and accelerator pedals in order to more accurately predict when/if a reacceleration activity is upcoming. If the system predicts a reacceleration event is likely then the transaxle will remain in the lower gear ratio. On a normal accelerator pedal "lift" the transaxle would quickly upshift. If the accelerator lift is "fast" that would often indicate a desire to slow using engine compression braking and thus remaining in the current lower gear ratio would be more appropreate.
  • The 2002 RX's had the same problem. Transmission burnt out with 88,000 miles on my RX300 AWD.
  • jbl85jbl85 Posts: 49
    It almost sounds like a change in driving habits might help the situation. Realizing that can be impractical, but if you decided to come to a complete stop before re-accelerating instead getting on the gas after you have slowed down and the trans has had a chance to downshift?

    Also, it seems to me that if the majority of miles in this car ('99-'00) are highway miles than theoretically you are at less risk?
  • No. But he did caution to be aware of the statue of limitations but didn't say what that is. Probably varies state-to-state.
  • I just wrote the $2800 check yesterday for the rebuilt transmission on my 2000 AWD. I think I got a deal through a mechanic who's a friend of mine but anyway, the car only has 119,000 miles on it - mostly highway. The mechanic said the "planet gear assembly" failed and it was caused by low speed towing. Does that make sense?
  • jbl85jbl85 Posts: 49
    How much towing would you say you did? What did you tow and how much did it weigh?
  • la4meadla4mead Posts: 347
    edited October 2010
    Towing may exacerbate the condition; The RX comes with a transmission design that is, well, less-than-stout. Wear tends to show itself in the form of contaminated (from worn parts) and/or burned fluid long before failure, and Lexus mfr and service - like many cars - does not make frequent transmission service a recommendation. Sometimes (if at all) the dealer will advise to "flush" the fluid, but that often makes problems worse. Lexus and Toyota do not service the transmission (until it needs to be rebuilt or replaced). Any dealer service dept. I've asked said they only flush.

    Still, nearly 120,000 miles and towing too, that's pretty good (but not great) longevity for a "SUV" these days.

    I tow (very rare) but I added an additional cooler and thermostatic fan in addition to the factory's "tow package" cooler in the passenger fender well after my trans was replaced. I also cut larger ventilation holes the plastic fender liner behind the cooler to allow better air flow. When I do tow, (very light motorcycle trailer) I always upshift manually (well into the RPM range) and lock-out 4th gear (OD). I never leave it in "D" when I'm stopped in traffic - use neutral until it's time to go. I notice that the only time the extra fan thermostat needs to come on is during low-speed maneuvers, traffic, and when I stop. The rest of the time the fluid stays cool from air flow (at speed). I'm always thoughtful of the RX's tendency to burn fluid. But these are things I do when I'm driving my Ford trucks, too.

    My RX is not on the original trans, either. It was replaced with a brand-new when I reported burning fluid and shift problems under warrantee (and before I ever towed anything). I was told my new one is a more modern design and it does not burn fluid or have shift issues like my original and others have complained about.

    I recommend to any RX owner to check the fluid yourself (often) for contamination from wear and/or burning whether you tow or not. Do not rely on the dealer to do this. It's easy; just pull the dipstick and wipe it on a clean white paper towel. Inspect for color (bright pink) and smell. Also, make sure you take it to a (trustworthy) transmission shop for transmission (specific) service, and they will show you any wear from the pan magnet and filter.

    It's a good car, but the transmission can be a weak spot if left unchecked. I hope you enjoy it for another 120,000 or more.
  • The AWD has a flawed design which Toyota knows about, but hopes we
    all don't call them on it. Lexus abandoned the reactive system in favor of
    TC use to reapportion engine torgue to rear wheels.

    ATF line pressure was inadequate to firmly engage the clutches. The result
    the clutches simply worn out. The transmission fluid after just one years will
    show a very high concentration of metal particles.

    Toyota madde a [non-permissible content removed] product and refuses to take responsibility!
  • la4meadla4mead Posts: 347
    edited October 2010
    You're right the original transmission design was "[non-permissible content removed]" but they have been taking responsibility for a long time... going back to cars built in 1998. They have been extending partial cost-sharing for some owners of cars more than 8-12 years old, long out of warrantee repaired at their dealers, not likely because there is any incentive other than to help earn customer "loyalty". Most other manufacturers of cars (that age) would not likely be nearly as helpful for transmission failures this far out of warrantee. Ford laughed all the way to the bank about Windstars, Taurus's, Sables, etc. Chrysler, GM, MBZ, Audi... Many thousands of RX's keep on going... without premature transmission trouble.
    But it is a bummer whenever you have to deal with an expensive repair on any car, and I don't mean to down play it. I'm just lucky I'm suspicious by nature, and had been on top of it while the car was under warrantee (which for 1999 models was 7/70 standard) and Lexus responded. But that was a long time ago.
    Lesson learned: Personally take responsibility to check the trans fluid often, and have the transmission serviced often. Don't rely on dealers and especially quick-lube shops. I'd do this on any car in my garage.
  • I am currently experiencing the same problem 2001 RX and it is costing me $4,800, I sure wish I knew where the $2,000 person recieved repairs........At any rate I will not be a Lexus loyal.

    Go to small claims court as I did . This transmission is junk. WE had two cars
    both failed and not once did we tow anything, or have a teenage driver.

  • Just got off the phone with Lexus and they won't even consider it as I dont take it to the dealer to get serviced. I take it to a Lexus Specialist as he only repairs Lexus and Toyota's but apparently that isn't good enough. This is a major problem as I have read a bunch of these posts. My guy can repair it as its AWD for about $4000 with a brand new tranny from Lexus. How did small claims court do for you?
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    $4,000 parts and labor would most likely be a rebuilt (by Lexus?) not a brand new transaxle. Besides the availability of a new RX300 transaxle still being on someone's shelf is pretty low.
  • la4meadla4mead Posts: 347
    Yeah, I would ask them if it's rebuilt or new and if it is a Lexus rebuilt (or done by a 3rd party). When they ordered mine new from Kyushu it took nearly a couple weeks for the dealer to get it (after they tried two rebuilt units that were not updated back in '04, their solution was to get approval for a new (really) updated transmission on a nearly six year-old car that was still under warrantee).
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    '01 F/awd RX300.

    Just as I should have expected, just as it was at 40,000 miles, my RX's ATF was dark brown and smelled burned. I have checked it at every oil and filter change, on the average twice a year, and up until now it appeared to be okay.

    Drained 4.5 qts inclusive of the diff'l drain, and re-filled with 4.5 qts of factory specified ATF. As I did before at 40,000 miles I will repeat the drain and refill in a week or so.


    As I drained the ATF it was not so hot dripping on my hands and fingers as to be really discomforting. I had just driven it about 25 miles and then directly into the garage to drain. I have the practice of draining engine oil this quickly so that any particulates will remain in suspension and be drained along with the oil.

    The engine oil is always HOT and quite discomforting so given that the ATF is clearly showing signs of being over-heated, burned, I find this somewhat surprising.

    My conclusion is now more firm in that I believe the heating, OVER-heating, of the ATF is localized, most likely ATF pump, and so the extra external cooler, tow package, my RX came with is probably useless since I don't tow.

    I remain fully expectant that my transaxle will fail before reaching 120,000 miles at which point I will repair and the RX will become a R/awd vehicle. SOLID drive coupling to the rear and an early VC, '99-'00, for coupling in the front drive.
  • I will add my recent experience which happened an 8 hour drive from home. I had 109,000 miles on the car and previously had BG flushes done at 30K, 60K and 90K at a nearby Toyota dealership. A Lexus dealership was a 1 hour drive away from home, so I conveniently used Toyota. The car slowed down and exhibited a burning smell and then travelled no further. I had the car towed to a nearby Toyota dealership since there were no Lexus dealers nearby. A reman transaxle was installed for a cost of $5233.16 with the part being $3552.23 of the total cost. I submitted a claim to BG Flush protection plan via my local Toyota dealership and received a reimbursement of $1000. I submitted a claim to Lexus and was granted a $750 Lexus service chit but I complained that a Lexus dealer was so far away, they stated they would mail me a check. I really expected more from Lexus since the reman cost so much and they obviously have a design problem with the RX300's. I wonder if the $750 even covers the profit of the reman. The paint and interior have held up well and we like the size and space for our needs but instead of driving it into the ground, we will sell it and probably not go Lexus again.
  • These RX 300 Transmissions are junk and poorly engineered. I have been driving
    over forty years and this is the first transmission that went out. We drove our
    RX 300 like a baby. The transmission went out at 107,000 miles.

    I bought the very first LS 400 in 1990 and it was a GREAT car. I drove it
    for over 300,000 miles and it was greatest care I ever owned. Lexus
    has gone down hill and their slogan "THE RELENTLESS PURSUIT OF PERFECTION" is a lie and toal fraud on the buying public.
  • 1smartdoc1smartdoc Posts: 4
    edited February 2011
    I have just read all 53 pages on this blog and am plenty concerned:
    I JUST bought an '02 RX 300 (AS-IS) from a luxury car dealer, and am wondering/worrying about the transmission on my 4wd car w/95K miles and towing pkg. Service history is not available; the car was transported by truck from the east coast to Denver, where I live.
    Symptoms include 3 episodes so far (in 2 weeks of ownership) of what I would call a "hard miss" in the engine(?)-which I thought might be a clogged injector-leading to the immediate flashing of the check engine light (actually pulsated on/off every 1-2 seconds, and after about 2 minutes stayed on)-along with the VSC light in the upper left corner of the instrument panel. Fuel injector cleaner seemed to help initially, but this has recurred twice since then. The condition led immediately to weak/hesitant acceleration (I didn't push it, and was very easy on the gas) for a couple of minutes after the occurrence of this. Feels like an engine miss more than anything else, but I've never had an automatic transmission problem before (I usually drive a stick).
    There is also a sense of mild hesitation when proceeding forward in drive (D) from a standstill, but nothing in reverse. I have not yet checked the transmission fluid, nor had the tranny inspected/serviced by a pro. I would also add that I have the extended warranty purchased from the dealer, which should pay for major repairs if needed (minus deductible, of course).
    Vehicle still has the original-size 225/70 R16 tires, but there is a good bit of tread wear for the front tires, and they will need replacement soon.
    A few questions I need some help with:
    Has anyone experienced these symptoms prior to tranny failure?
    The significance of the VSC light, and if illuminated, does that prevent the car from entering OD?
    Does parking on an incline withOUT the parking brake fully engaged have any bearing on tranny failure in this-or any other-vehicle?
    Is there any merit to the statement I've heard from 2 tire dealers, to the effect that a mere 3/32nd" difference in tire height (front to rear) due either to different tire manufacturer's specs, or tread wear differential)-frequently leads to tranny failure in this-or any other 4WD-vehicle? Could this be the reason so many of these trannies have failed?
    One person has apparently had some success with Lucas tranny additive-anyone else tried this, with what kinds of results?
    This has been a very informative site, I've learned a lot, (and will follow the various recommendations of the contributors)-and hope to avoid the travails of those who've been stuck with these repairs (of course, I wish I hadn't bought the car in the first place, after reading all this).....thanks!
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    edited February 2011
    "...tire height (front to rear)...."

    As of the '01 model year the VC fluid was reformulated to always remain "flaccid", no significant level of drive coupling to the rear wheels. Instead of the VC these later models us TC braking and engine dethrottling to prevent loss of directional control due to loss of traction at the primary driving, front, wheels.

    So, no worry about drive line component failure due to disparate F/R tire circumference.

    Be that as it may I would rotate the rear wheels to the front and buy new tires to put on the rear. The better tires should ALWAYS be at the rear.

    TC/VSC is always disabled with a CE, Check Engine.

    "..Service history is not available.."

    Most Lexus dealers will publish the service history given the VIN.

    "...(AS-IS)....purchased an extended warranty..."

    An oxymoron...?

    "....w/95K....(AS-IS)...purschased an extended warranty..."

    seems odd, VERY.

    Don't ever tell the extended warranty company that you purchased the vehicle AS-IS.
  • thanks for your response. The extended warranty provides considerable peace of mind. The dealer sells it, but offers no warranty himself.
    I've checked the tranny fluid; it is a brownish pink and thus, from what I've read here, needs replacement. As to its level, I have yet to determine that, since the car was cold when I checked its condition.
    Any knowledge as to the additive question, or parking on an incline without the parking brake being engaged? I automatically do this every time; my wife can't seem to remember to do so at all....
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    Using the "Park" position of the transmission only locks the drive shaft, the diff'l might still allow the wheels to turn. I would advise ALWAYS using the e-brake on an incline, most especially in winter.

    I never use an additive.

    Selling a vehicle as-is and/but with a warranty puts the dealers ethical nature into question IMMHO.
  • Use of the word "ethics" and either "used car salesman" or "politician" in the same sentence is suspect on its face...
    anyway, another question- is it OK to mix brands of struts on the same RX 300 vehicle? I am purchasing a set of Gabriels for the rear, but don't know if I can find the same brand for the front-opinions out there on this?
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    Side to side would give me pause, but not F/R.
  • just wondering what happened to your lexus? I just had mine replaced from a repair shop that specializes in transmissions; only to find out it is now running "rough" and not driveable ... what else needs to be done after a replacement? does it have to be resynced with the computer upon the change of transimissions? I'm new to the game of trans with lexus; thinking i will just trade it in and let it go! Too many headaches!
  • The computer codes have to be reset. Your transmission shop should have known this. The transmission shop I brought my Lexus to, had to bring my auto to a Toyota dealer after he repaired the transmission to set the code.
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