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Lexus RX Transmission Problems



  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    For me the RX330's "conversion" to DBW in order to delay the onset of rising engine torque to "protect the drive train" upon a re-acceleration instances pretty much says everything.

    IMMHO the abolition of the old style ATF pump motor line pressure control and pressure sustaining accumulator during the RX300's design phase is the primary case of the early RX300 transaxke failures. Obviously any additional stress resulting from the addition of the F/awd system and the more robust VC would ahev served to excerbate matters in this regard.

    Note that along with the adoption of DBW for the RX330 the VC was also dropped entirely. IMMHO the adoption of TC in '01 eliminated the possibility that the VC, ANY VC, would ever become functional, be of any real service, in any case.
  • la4meadla4mead Posts: 347
    Is '01 when they went from a normal (no slip) 50/50 torque split (nicer for cornering) to the more fuel-efficient 95/5 front/rear split? Is that because they eliminated the viscous clutch?

    I bought the '99 2WD (FWD) with Traction Control on purpose, to maximize fuel economy, acceleration, and carrying capacity, which it apparently does. TC was not available on AWD until it's inclusion with the adoption of VSC, I think 2001. The 2000 AWD models I've driven did feel better in the curves (torque from the center of the vehicle is noticeable on comparison to my '99 2WD where the torque is "pulling" from the front) but that advantage was apparently lost when the 95/5 split was adopted.

    Since the FWD model with the skinny 225/70R16 stock tires did tend to obnoxiously slip the inside front wheel very easily, the TC would activate often to stop the slip (and also retard engine efficiency and the ease of making a quick maneuver -in a really ungraceful way- unless you pushed the "off" button quickly). I'm kinda picky about such things, and it bothered me. Other than the sloppy, overprotective way the TC nanny would slap my hands on the steering wheel and scary-slow left turn capabilities, I always wondered about the extra wear on the drivetrain and front brakes. Then I just put the widest and grippiest tire I could mount on the stock rims (255/65/HR16 Mich Cross-Terrain with hub-centric rear wheel spacers), which eliminated almost all slippage until the TC appropriately thumps in, in a more buffered manner.

    So what's harder on the transmission, drivetrain, and brakes? :confuse: Drag from the TC activating more often on 2WD? Viscous Coupling and AWD? AWD without VC? Maybe the weakness (Achilles heal) is the light-duty, less-than-robust design of the transmission. :sick: And to me, the lack of a "handling package" to flatten the cornering, but I'm the only one who seems to complain about that :mad:

    So on a side-note, the thought of selling my RX because of it's weaknesses reminds me that competing models with superior handling characteristics might punch a hole in my wallet much more than the cost of a replacement transmission, even if I had to pay for it, which isn't likely for me for a long time. Those models are not exempt from $4000 repairs, either. Check the Audi, BMW, and VW sites, not to mention the domestics.
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    "..So what's harder on the transmission, drivetrain, and brakes?.."

    TC braking is selective, mostly only on the slipping wheel(s), and only on the relatively rare instances of actual wheelspin/slip, and even then with INSTANT engine dethrottling. So TC would likely only reduce the life of the brake pads and rotors.

    A VC that "stiffens" rather quickly, as in, probably, the '99 & '00 models, would add stress to the drivetrain only in instances of some wheels having moderate to highly tractive conditions, resulting in driveline windup and/or tire scrubbing. A fairly common circumstance therefore a possible contributor to the premature transaxle failures of the '99 and '00 models.

    F/awd without VC..?? Probably an advantage with a sports car on a a race track but virtually USELESS otherwise, just has now been proven by Toyota and Lexus via the HL, Sienna, and RX. VC not available, or at least not a functional one, and a TC system as backup which you often must turn off in order to get up and going in the very conditions for which you bought the F/awd version to begin with.

    So the new Venza and 2010 RX350's F/awd system is/will be a definite improvement, but still not nearly as adequate as the SH-AWD system. Personally I'd much rather have a R/awd or even a RWD wherein primary propulsion is left to the rear tires and the front traction coefficient is primarily dedicated to mainatinaing directional control.

    But life is a continuous series of compromises.
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    The '01 and up RX300s still had the VC, but I strongly suspect it was severely DERATED. VC was dropped for the entire RX330 product run. Marketing says the RX350 uses a VC (just as they did with the RX330 until caught lying) but none of the factory documenation indicates that is true. The TC system would make a VC virtually useless regardless of its actual existence anyway. But maybe that's why they finally provided a means to turn TC off, so the VC could "come into play"...??

    My '01 F/awd RX300 was only able to "pull", at most, a 75/25 F/R torque distribution reading on a 4 wheel dyno test. 95/5 initially.

    I'd bet, with hindsight, the '99 and '00, new, would have pulled something closer to a 50/50 in the same test.
  • la4meadla4mead Posts: 347
    "I'd bet, with hindsight, the '99 and '00, new, would have pulled something closer to a 50/50 in the same test."

    So my guess is a 2000 model year with AWD would be more of a smile on the curves, as long as it has a good transmission (or replaced with a more modern one), ATF changed often, and with larger rubber contact patch on the ground.

    What are the chances I can find a retrofit to 5 speed (manual)? Ha ha. Probably the same as finding upgraded sway bars and links. Or maybe just a good used Legacy GT wagon, and give up on all the nice (but minor) features the RX has.
  • phm4phm4 Posts: 1
    My 01 RX 300 had a transmission that died on me this week at 150K miles. I am now deciding to repair it of $5,000 or look for a new car. Just thought I would check in in case any one is recording the information for data purposes.
  • la4meadla4mead Posts: 347
    150K on the stock tranny? Good for you... you did pretty well. That's about double the mileage compared to what most complaints are about. If you got 150K on most other make's SUV trannies that might be considered above average, too. But I think we all expected a little more attention to reliably robust designs when we bought the RX, and were disappointed with the weak design(s) they used for the transmissions.

    But if the car is otherwise in reliable and decent shape, I'd think it's worth shopping price on the tranny. But I still tend to favor spending a little extra if it's a Lexus replacement transmission; specs to a more modern design. I'm not generally a big advocate for dealer service, but it's worth it if you're not just getting the same type of tranny that failed on you before, with aftermarket parts, compared to one that's from an updated design. Plus, my guess is the Lexus dealer is pretty experienced at transmission replacements. And they might be able to get some kind of discount to you if they get the feeling it's to earn your continued loyalty (business). And cheaper than car payments. Just my hunch.

    Please keep us posted on what you decide, and what happens (and how much it hurts your wallet!)

    Good luck.
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    Care must be exercised regarding updated designs as those will often require different firmware or maybe even shift control components.

    Our '95 LS400 is now at 225,000 miles and the tranny is still pulling STRONG.

    A lot more room, of course, to put a strong and fully robust, adequate, transmission.
  • la4meadla4mead Posts: 347
    If it's an updated designed transmission "...Care must be exercised regarding updated designs as those will often require different firmware or maybe even shift control components", (Lexus is the only source I know of for that) Lexus already knows what will work and what won't. Ex: the much-improved new transmission they installed in 2004 in my '99 shifts flawlessly (for an automatic - I prefer manuals) and even the ECT switches that were phased out of later models still do their jobs (Normal, Power, TC off, & Snow functions still work) with the new transmission.

    I'm not a fan of automatics anyway, but I can't see how it could operate any better than the "updated design" new one except if it had paddle shifters (and I thought it was stout enough to shift manually). No hesitation, in fact I would call the downshifts "enthusiastic". All that and it doesn't demonstrate wear (burning fluid) the way the original did.
  • gbryantgbryant Posts: 9
    The tranny in my 2000 RX300 failed the other day at 96000 miles. Lexus has replaced it for $5000 with an offer to contribute $1000 towards that cost. The dealer told me I had an option to take the issue to a non-Lexus arbitration board and they gave me the number to cal. The process has begun with the next step foe me to detail why I believe that the transmission failure should be paid for by the dealer. Any suggestions from those who have gone through this process would be appreciated. I could also use documentation about the failure rater of the subject transmission, recalls, service bulletins, etc.
  • la4meadla4mead Posts: 347
    It's good to hear the dealer sounds helpful and accommodating. It also sounds like you got a reasonable deal on a Lexus replacement, which will likely be more reliable than the original.

    I wish I had suggestions for your claim. But unless the dealer did something wrong, your claim is more likely against the manufacturer, and it will be up to you to prove that failure after 96,000 miles of use is premature or an unsafe design. Yeah, it seems like there are a lot of reports of failure. I expected a more reliable design when I bought a Lexus. But I'm glad you got a big loyalty discount.

    I wish you luck and hope you find the info and reimbursement you're looking for.

    Please keep us posted how it goes.
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    '...big loyalty discount..."

    Yes discounting a $5000 charge by $1000...

    Except most STEALERS would have done that work for <$4000 ($3200 is more typical) to begin with.
  • mollertsmollerts Posts: 2
    Hello---I have just received a quote from my dealership that the cost to put in a new transmission on my 2001 rx300 will be $5000. It died, and by died, I mean had to be DRAGGED onto the towbed with not so much as a warning. That afternoon, at one point, it seemed as if the car had slipped into neutral and lurched forward. Driving home, this was repeated twice, accompanied by the sounds of something rattling around on the bottom of the car. Suffice it to say, when my husband went out to check it, the car wouldn't even go into neutral. So there is another statistic for those keeping track. The dealership has been helpful, but we will still be responsible for a new transmission.
  • After having my 2000 rx300 trans fail with 122000 miles on it,the dealer offered to replace the trans for $5000.00 Called luxus was offered $1000.00.Looked around for other deals.Found a trans shop that would rebuild it for $2500.00.They had rebuilt 4 or 5 already.So far so good,one other thing I told Luxus they would never see me or the car again.
  • mollertsmollerts Posts: 2
    I just reported my failure, so now the count is up to 48, I believe. Thank you for posting this site.
  • The transmission in my 1999 RX Lexus died yesterday. I'm a traveling nurse and the car has 171k on it. After reading these posts I'm horrified to find out it's going to cost me $5,000 to fix it. I just don't know if it's worth putting that kind of money into a vehicle with so many miles. The motor uses a quart between changes. What do you think?
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    If you're in MT, WY, ND, SD, and possibly elsewhere, you can shop around and get the transaxle rebuilt for $2000-2500, otherwise ~$3200 seems to be the going rate. Ebay has used/savaged for as little as $1800.

    171,000 miles for a '99 RX isn't bad, so much so I would suspect the transaxle has been replaced at least once before, if not twice.
  • la4meadla4mead Posts: 347
    I also would shop the price, and after they know you got estimates elsewhere, the Lexus dealer might also give you a break to earn your business but still be more expensive than independent shops.

    It sounds like you don't want to put a lot of money in your car the way you describe it uses a quart of oil in between changes, which is more than some cars but not excessive, however I'd be really, really careful about a choice to use a used/salvaged tranny (I wouldn't do it) because you're very likely to end up with the same problem in a short time. The original '99's were bad from the beginning, many replaced under warrantee. But some '99 4WD have been known to last a lot longer.

    If you decide to replace the transmission, keep in mind the way they were rebuild isn't aren't all the same. Original designs on '99s were fragile to begin with, but Lexus made a lot of changes to them to make replacements more reliable. A salvaged or even third party rebuilt might be more likely to have the same troubles or other troubles in a short time than one sourced by the dealer.

    So if you replace the trans, I'd recommend your oil often with a good synthetic. My favorite that cured a slight oil burning from the valve guides completely is Shell Rotella-T 5W40 (synthetic in the blue bottle) sold at Walmart for about $18-19/gallon. It's not labelled an "energy conserving" oil which ultimately means it was formulated with an additive package that allows more lubrication during cold starts wear most wear occurs. It also has a wider range of viscosity (thickness) than "energy conserving" oils. It's marketed towards big diesel tractors, but it works well in many vehicles including my RX. Many motorcycle owners on forums like this swear by the synth Rotella-T, citing independent scientific surveys rather than opinion, because that kind of additive package is no longer used in common motor oils like the ones car manufacturers are forced to reccomend as energy conserving, although, I haven't noticed a bit of difference in fuel economy over the "energy conserving" rated oils.

    Also, service the new transmission at least every two years with the right fluid. That is not included in normal "recommended" service by the dealer. They usually wait for failure to recommend anything.

    Let us know what you decide and how it works out for you. Good luck.
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    If you are electronically schooled or have a friend that is there is a relatively simple modification you can do to the '99 & '00 transaxle that will substantially extend their duty life.

    Any time the TPS (Throttle Position Sensor) returns to idle then over-ride the transaxle PWM voltage supply to the ATF line pressure control solenoid for the next 10-15 seconds in order to hold the line pressure high enough to support an immediate, sequential, downshift if you should need to quickly return to acceleration.

    I suspect that this is something like what was done to "cure" this problem with the '01 and later RX300s except there was no time-out.
  • Since the 1999 trans were so bad could I use a 2000-2003 if I could find one with low miles at a salvage yard? My husband is going to do the labor free, and even though I do realize that rebuilding it would be the better option, finacially I just can't make it happen.
  • wwestwwest Posts: 10,706
    Someone correct this please if I'm wrong.

    The 2000 is likely to have the same premature failure problem as the '99.

    The '01 and later RX300s have a problem with overheating the ATF(***) and may REQUIRE the tow package's external cooler. Lexus recommends a drain and refill of the ATF every 15,000 miles although the owners manual has no such requirement.

    If your's is F/awd then the VC for the '99 and '00 differs from the one for later RX300's so you might want to remove the VC altogether if you install as '01 or later RX300 transaxle.

    *** I suspect this is due to a not well thought out, quick fix, for the premature failures of the '99 and '00 models. It would have been relatively easy to change the firmware to keep the ATF line pressure elevated for a brief period of time upon a throttle release and if the transaxle were not in top gear. But since the ATF is quite clearly overheating in these models I moreso suspect the ATF line pressure is kept elevated, PERIOD.
  • la4meadla4mead Posts: 347
    To see how modular the fit and software is across the board, I would ask at a couple transmission shops that truly specialize in Japanese/Lexus RX's and see what they think. My gut guess is for a salvaged model to be completely compatible, you would have to replace it with one of a similar mfr. date and and drivetrain or risk having to tinkering with ECU's, VC's or something else.

    Salvaged/used means the unit will have similar problems lurking in the future.

    So matter what kind of fix you decide on, as Mr. West pointed out, going forward it will always be a good idea to increase the tranny cooling and especially transmission service intervals. If your husband can swap the tranny, he's likely more than capable of fluid, gasket, and filter changes at least biannually, even if it's not something Lexus officially recommends. And installing an additional cooler and/or small thermostatic fan for the cooler's factory ducting in the driver's side fender might be cheap insurance, but only once it's made reliable. Either way, these are common suggestions for all kind of cars.

    Good luck finding a fix that works for you. There might be a salvaged model that's a good match for your car. But an RX300 transmission expert might know, because they're likely to have done a bunch.
  • bgr1bgr1 Posts: 2
    i am circling back to let you all know what happened in my case.

    a few weeks back, i had a 2000 rx 300 with 77.5 miles when the trans died in elm grove WI

    lexus of brookfield wi quoted 4500 to fix and offered nothing from them but went straight to lexus customer service on my behalf. i thought that was nice of them but that only resulted in 25% off of the part offer. $480.00

    after seeing the other posts on this site, i expected more. so i then went into arbitration with lexus cust service only to be offered the same after 3 conversations and 3 weeks.

    Lexus offered $1000 for my trade in, what an insult, both nissan and mazda offered 4k right off the bat.

    So i ended up buying a new Nissan and resolving NEVER to give lexus any of our money again. They are missing out because in the past 15 yrs my hubby and i have bought 3 lexus and 4 toyotas.

    I have vowed to tell anyone that will listen to dump their 99-01 RX300 before the tranny goes out.

    We are very disappointed in how lexus handled everything. end of story
  • tidestertidester Posts: 10,059
    That's disappointing but thanks for the followup.

    tidester, host
    SUVs and Smart Shopper
  • ka1cvyka1cvy Posts: 4
    I'm appalled at reading all of the blogs. I have my car at an independant transmission shop, where the repair estimate is $3,200 for a rebuilt with a 1 year warranty. Like may folks on this site, I also have replaced the fluid, avtually I did it at 50,000 miles.

    It seems that Toyota has a design flaw with their trannys. Would it be likely that Lexus will reimburse me having the service done at an indpendant shop?

    Ron KA1CVY
  • tanyaftanyaf Posts: 2
    My transmission died on my 2001 RX300 at 125K. A month before the transmission died I took my car to the dealer because it was making wining noises and was sluggish. They said I need to have the idle air control valve replaced ($700). I took it to a reputable independent shop and they said it was very dirty and they could clean it for $200. I was so upset with the dealer I vowed never to go back. A month later my transmission goes. I don&#146;t know if that was a precursor or not, but I ended up spending another $3,900 to have the transmission replaced with a 50 month or 50,000 mile warranty. I was so upset. I Googled RX300 and transmission problems and found this site. It made me feel a little bit better that I did not do anything wrong, as I kept up with my car maintenance, but I am very upset with Lexus. I doubt they would pay for anything done at an independant shop.

    My co-worker has a 1999 RX300 with 160K on it. She says she has not had any major problems with her car, but I told her to be aware of the transmission problems.
  • glen2009glen2009 Posts: 3
    yep, my transmission on my 2002 RX300 died at ~90K miles. Cost was $5K at the dealer and a rebuilt tranny at that. Only one year warranty. A friend of mine with exact same year and model as my RX300 had her transmission die at about 90K miles as well!

    On top of that I recevied a notice that the 3.0L engine used in the RX300 may be prone to oil sludge build up which could cause the engine to seize. This letter came from Lexus.

    time to trade in for a new car! Also, I dont' understand how lexus can still be rated as a very reliable car?????
  • ka1cvyka1cvy Posts: 4
    The sludge buildup can be avoided, Ive read, if you do regular oil and filter changes. I domine every 4,000 miles or so. Lexus did acknoweldge that probelm and actually sent me a letter stating such and I understand will make good for a slugded engine if you can document that you did the oil changes.

    The transmission thing, on the other had, they seem to be ignoring. If enough of us complain, they may budge- what think?
  • I have 2002 RX300 too with 85000 miles on it. I have another year of extended warranty left (or 100,000 miles). So far I did not notice any transmission issue in my vehicle. Are there any tell tale signs that I should be aware of? If I notice something, then I can convince the dealer to change the transmission while in warranty. Thanks
  • glen2009glen2009 Posts: 3

    My transmission went out at 90K miles. However, the replacement is only a 1 year warranty. Also its a rebuilt transmission and not a new one -- you would think fo the cost it would be a brand new transmission.

    If you can afford it , trade-in and buy another car. good luck!
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