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I’ve Been Using a 950,000-Mile Lexus as a Daily Driver

Not too long ago, our editor/overseer/cause celebre Doug DeMuro expressed amazement at discovering a Ford Excursion with 603,000 miles on the clock. Me, I wasn’t as impressed — because I’ve been cruising around in a 1996 Lexus LS400 with half again as many miles as that old Excursion.

The car fanatics among us may well be familiar with the car: It’s the Million Mile Lexus belonging to Matt Farah, host of The Smoking Tire Podcast (on which yours truly will appear, with any luck*, sometime soon).

For those who are unfamiliar, Matt bought this Lexus a couple of years ago with some 850,000 miles on it (maybe more, maybe less; the story changes depending on who’s telling it). Apparently his first car was an LS, and someone saw this car in Florida and thought Matt might find it cool. Matt’s idea was to try to get the car up to a million miles. Why? For the same reason any male does anything. Because.

Matt’s plan, as I understand it, was to loan the car to anyone who has someplace far away to go. I first drove the Lexus a few months ago, when it was in the 940s. My wife and I drove it from Los Angeles up to the Central Coast. More recently, the car spent a good chunk of November and December with us, and during the interval I watched the clock pass through 950,000 miles. I handed it over to another Friend of the Show who had a road trip to take; it was closing in on 952,000. To put that in perspective, it’s covered the distance from the Earth to the Moon and back almost twice. (Actually, if you measure from the point where the Moon is closest to the Earth, it’s already done that, plus two trips around the Equator.)

How does the 950,000-mile Million Mile Lexus drive? Let me put it this way: My wife, Robin, prefers it to our 140,000-mile Honda Accord wagon, mainly because the air conditioning works. And the defroster. And the front end doesn’t shake when you hit the brakes. (Anyone who has dealt with the captive rotors on a fifth-generation Accord will understand why the chewed-up rotors are still on the car.) In fact, that’s how we’ve wound up spending so much time with the car in our possession: When it’s here, we drive it. It’s like dog-sitting: We love the damn thing, and better yet, we don’t have to pay the vet bills.

How is the car holding up? Better than you might think. Now, I don’t want you to think the car has been maintenance-free for its last 38 trips around the planet (or the equivalent thereof); the transmission has been rebuilt a few times, and the suspension has had plenty of work. No one is quite sure about the engine — though as I understand it, a couple of Lexus engineers who used the car for One Lap of America pulled the valve covers to redo the gaskets and were pretty impressed by how nice everything looked.

From my experience with the car, it’s pretty clear the U-joints are unhealthy (they clunk in and out of gear and as you get on and off the throttle), the power steering needs some attention (there’s little assist at low speeds once the fluid warms up), and the lights on the center stack don’t work. The plastic trim on the back of the driver’s seat won’t stay attached, which weirds out our dog to no end. (There must be something in there!) One of the oxygen sensors is throwing a code; I was going to surprise Matt by replacing it, but there are four, and I haven’t figured out which one is bad. And it’s pretty much a gamble as to which of the speakers will be working on any given day.

In all the miles Robin and I have put on it — a few thousand — we only had one incident. The car was having trouble cold starting, and it would run rough for a few seconds until it warmed up a little, and then it ran fine. My guess was a coolant-temp sensor, and my scan tool agreed, but I heard that it also needed what Matt called “The mother of all throttle-body cleanings.”

Other than that, it’s fine. And I mean that in every sense of the word. It’s a great car: You get in it, you turn the key, and it fires right up. You pop in your favorite cassette (Matt keeps an impressive stash under the armrest), and away you go. The 950,000 miles notwithstanding, it still drives like a Lexus — smooth, quiet and serene. You almost have to pinch yourself to remember the car has nearly seven figures on the clock.

In fact, it’s so normal it makes other high-mileage cars seem … well, kind of disappointing. I mentioned my Accord with 140,000 miles on it — that’s nothing. My 196,000-mile Suburban? Barely a fifth of its way to where the Lexus is. I once owned a 25-year-old school bus that had 670,000 miles on the odometer. I’d have to make one hundred and one trips between LA and New York to get it up to the same mileage as the Lexus.

And a 600,000-mile Excursion? Pshaw. Yes, it’s noteworthy … but have the owner call me after another 350,000 miles. If it’s still running, that is. I bet the Lexus will be! Find a used Lexus LS 400 for sale

* Lucky for me. For the listeners … not so much.

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  1. Mileage doesn’t mean anything. Where and how you got it that matters. A car with 100,000 miles that only drove on highway is newer than one that drove 50,000 miles in city traffic or one that drove 10,000 miles in track. Also people can just roll it back.

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