Lexus RX (XU30) 2003-2008

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Plenty of people think that this second generation Lexus RX is a very reliable car. And not only very reliable, they think that it’s a car with bulletproof reliability!! It’s Japanese so it has to be reliable, right??

Please, forget about all that overhyped crap from all those overhyped people (even though I’m not saying that this Lexus is unreliable, naaaa, it’s pretty awesome actually). But Every car has it’s own share of more or less specific and more or less serious issues – EVERY ONE. So the only question is: are these possible issues major or minor? And how many of them are there?

Interior

The interior of this SUV or crossover (whatever you want to call it) is, well… it’s practical: numerous storage areas, enough space for the passengers (not a huge amount, just an enough amount) and also a sliding center console between the front seats – so it can slide back and forth creating more legroom for the rear middle passenger.

The front and rear seats are comfortable enough and the interior is also pretty quiet for an SUV from 2003. And to top of that it can be equipped with some interesting features which were awesome back in 2003, like the:

-ASF xenon cornering/adaptive headlights

-parking camera

-touchscreen multimedia system display

-power tailgate

-adaptive dynamic laser cruise control (not easy to find a car with this particular feature)

-or the driver side knee airbag, which was absolutely not standard back in 2003, and actually it’s still not standard in plenty of today’s cars

The interior build quality is also good and the materials are mostly durable.

But just mostly, since there are many cases of cracked dashboards. The crack usually starts on the passenger side and slowly it’s going to crack further. This is more common on cars used in hot climate areas, but the other cars can get these cracks as well. Sadly, the extended warranty for replacing the cracked dash ended in 2017, so nowadays you are on your own with this problem (replacing the dash at the dealer from $1 200). And if you still want to call the dealer to get a free dash, then be prepared to get an answer like: “We are respectfully declining from fixing the dash”

The playstation 1 navigation system graphics in the older models is also not the nicest, but cars made from the end of 2006 (so 2007 model year) do have an updated navigation system and parking camera graphics comparable to a playstation 2 – that’s definitely better. However if you want some up to date music/phone connectivity then the easiest is to install something line this: bluetooth and iphone aux kit

Fun fact: the parking sensors were not available in these cars at all – not even as an optional equipment, however plenty of these cars do have these sensors – either aftermarket sensors or Lexus actually offered an official parking sensor kit which could be installed by the dealer.

Another Fun fact: the aerodynamics of this Lexus was tested in the Japanese Maibara wind tunnel. This wind tunnel was also used for the development of the Shinkansen bullet train and is capable of generating wind speeds up to 400km/h.

Body, paintjob, rust protection

The rust protection of the body is very good which means that there should be no rust on the body panels, unless: the paint was damaged, the panels were repainted in the past or the car has very high mileage. Although to be honest, the front hood is more prone to stone chips.

However it’s not all that great, so on cars which were used on winter salty roads it’s definitely worth to check for excessive rust especially on the rear part of the undercarriage. Since cars used regularly on winter salty roads can have bigger amount of rust on the rear subframe and in some rare cases even holes in it which can cause issues at MOT checks / safety inspection.

Occasionally the fuel line from the fuel filler cap to the fuel tank can start to rust as well, which can lead to a smaller fuel leak while filling up the car – but this is still not like very common.

All in all, it’s definitely a good idea to protect at least the rear subframe and the fuel filler line with some wax or something, to prevent the future rusting.

Possible issues

As you would expect, this Lexus doesn’t have many major issues, but this doesn’t mean that there are no issues at all, so:

1. -there are many cases of broken key shells which can be annoying new aftermarket cheap key shell link

stronger aftermarket key shell link

how to replace the key shell with an aftermarket one and how to modifiy it video

2. -issues with opening or closing the power tailgate are not that uncommon either, although this can be often caused by the weak gas struts, but sometimes it’s the tailgate motor: how to replace the tailgate motor to fix the power tailgate video

3. -the rear brakes can be a bit stuck, usually because of the caliper slide pins or even because of the stuck brake caliper itself /this issue is more common on the hybrid models since they have regenerative braking so you don’t need to use the brakes very often/

4. -numerous owners had/have issues with excessive headlight condensation so it’s good to check the headlights more closely. The good thing is that plenty of cars got new headlights for free since there was a recall/extended warranty for this. The bad thing is, that the condensation/leak can occur on the replaced lights as well. Keep in mind that over time if a bigger amount of water collects in the headlight assembly then of course the HID ballast will fail too so the headlight stops working !! Replacing the complete headlight is obviously the fastest but also the most expensive solution, however in a lot of cases it’s enough to reseal the top of the headlight housing: some information on how to seal the headlights,video how to remove and where to seal the headlights

5. -then it’s worth to check the power steering fluid level regularly since there are numerous cases of leaks from this system. Usually it’s enough to replace some random power steering line but the steering rack itself can leak too – even before 100 000 mi, which is obviously much more expensive to fix. Although some owners with a leaking steering rack are just topping up the fluid regularly and they are hoping that the leak will not get worse. And actually, there is a high chance that the leak is not going to get worse anytime soon, but who knows right?

how to replace the steering rack video

+ it’s definitely worth to preventively check/replace the high pressure power steering line behind the engine which can more often leak and even suddenly burst and dump all the fluid out – older RX300 and RX330 models.

more information about the high pressure power steering line leak rx300, rx330

how to replace the high pressure power steering hose RX300, RX330 video

Lastly, to extend the lifetime of the power steering system you should definitely occasionally replace the damn power steering fluid, and keep in mind that the Hybrid models have electric power steering instead of the hydraulic, which means that there is no oil in it – so it is maintenance and leak free!

The electronics in this Lexus is very reliable, which means that you can experience various electronic gremlins usually just when the 12volt battery is on it’s way out, or if you got water in the interior. And actually the water leaks into the interior can be a very real big issue on these cars → so definitely check for traces of water in the front and rear footwell area and in the trunk area too:

Water leaks into the interior

1. SUNROOF DRAINS

-first there are the sunroof drains which can clog. As the other cars, this Lexus also has 4 drains, however mostly just the front drains can clog causing the water to overflow and leak down the A pillars. Now, on a regular car it would be enough to clean these drains with compressed air or with some edge trimmer line. But not in this Lexus. Since the front drain hoses are not going all the way out from the body in one piece, which means that they end in a strange box/cavity/compartment section next to the front footwells. This box section has another drain which will clog → then the water will accumulate in this box compartment → and then it overflows right into the interior (and no, you can’t access this drain ending from underneath the car). This is a completely shit design, since when you clean the actual drain hose you will still get water in the front footwell because the box section drain is still going to be clogged!

The bad thing is that it is very hard to access these drains in these box sections of the body, and you can’t really see them properly either. But there are 3 magical methods how to fix this damn issue:

-the first method is to disassemble some stuff in the footwell area and vacuum the crap out from the box section drain

-the second method is similar but you will have to disassemble less stuff, put some metallic wire thru one of the hole of the box compartment and poke around until you clean the drain (a couple of minutes of poking around should do the trick)

-and the last permanent solution is is to: 1. drill a hole somewhere in that area and extend the drain hose to make it end out of the body, OR 2. use an existing plug in that footwell area to extend the drain tube and reroute it to make it end out of the body in one piece.

rerouting/drilling method video

Keep in mind that all of these methods require some trim and stuff removal so if you are afraid to do it yourself then you will have to find someone who is not!

“rarely you can get a leak from the rear sunroof drains too which can be kinked, but this is not very common”

2. TAIL LIGHT SEALS

-the next interior water leak can be caused by the outer and inner tail light seals which can let the water to leak into the trunk floor area, by the way if you got leaking tail light seals then there will be most probably also a visible condensation in these lights too

how to remove the outer tail lights + tail light seal leak explanation vid

3. WELDED SEAMS

-then there are the welded seams around the tailgate. Definitely check them closely too, since the poor quality body sealant on these seams can develop small cracks which will let the water to leak – again into the trunk + the seam sealant behind the rear bumper or under the roof rails can crack as well and let the water in so if you have water leaks then definitely check all these areas too!

To fix this seam leak you can simply put body seam sealer on the panel joints/seams, or some of the dealers also re-welded them which is a permanent but a more expensive solution.

some info about fixing seams with sealant

(It’s good to check the various plugs in the rear bumper area for water ingress too)

+occasionally also the roof rail bolts under the roof rail feet /where they are fixed to the roof/ or the trunk lid gas strut base can let the water in

Lastly, it’s good to keep in mind two things related to these leaks: 1. the water can easily run from the trunk area to the front footwells, 2. and the battery in the hybrid model is located under the rear seats which means that the water can destroy it if you won’t notice the leak in time! So if you got a hybrid then ITS EXTREMELY important to regularly check for traces of water on this carpet-which is covering the battery pack, since there are already numerous cases of hybrid battery failures because of this leak!

“Take out the storage boxes in the trunk floor to check for traces of water!!!”

how to remove the stuff in the trunk to check for water – video

Also because of the various leaks some of the owners who desperately tried everything and could not fix them, just sold the car. And some of the owners said fuck it, and drilled strategic holes in the floor to let the water leak out of the car “drilling a few strategic holes does wonders though”. But if you are like really pissed of then you can also dry the car out, sell it and make it someone else´s problem? LOL. Ok, it’s not that funny, or is it?

Suspension

This Lexus can be equipped with the:

-standard coilover suspension

-height adjustable air suspension

As usual there are no nasty surprises related to the standard suspension, the shock absorbers can withstand a long time and they are cheap to replace.

However the air suspension is a different story. In this case the air struts will start to leak at some point, and the air compressor will fail too. So usual shit. But what is not that usual are the air struts themselves: Interestingly the top and also the middle part of the air strut can easily start to rust and the rust will spread to the air bag itself which will in this case start to leak sooner then it should. This means that the air strut leaks are more common on cars used regularly on winter salty roads! Now, if you want to replace these struts then you have 3 simple choices basically:

-you can buy a brand new strut which is not the cheapest

-you can buy a used one which is a bit of a gamble as we all know

-or you can buy an aftermarket coilover conversion kit and live your life without worrying about the air suspension leaks

Aftermarket or a refurbished struts? There are none-because of the specific design, although I found one seller from China. But if you have seen refurbished or aftermarket air struts for this Lexus then let the World know in the comments!

“cars equipped with air suspension do have a ride height adjust button above the shifter”

All in all, if you are buying a car with the air suspension then it’s good to check not only if the car raises and lowers without any issues but also check these struts visually for excessive rust.

Then there are the height sensors which can seize up or occasionally fail-due to water ingress, so if your Lexus has air suspension or if it has the adaptive xenon headlamps then it’s good to sometimes check and clean these sensors. some more info about fixing the height sensors

The other suspension components are fairly durable, but the wheel bearings, the front drop links eventually the front and rear anti roll bar bushings can be more often worn, so as usual check for all those usual noises from the suspension. how to replace front wheel bearing

Engines

This Lexus was available with only the well-known V6 petrol engines. After some of the interesting possible issues mentioned earlier you would think that at least the engines are completely bulletproof, right?

And yes, you are partly right since they can easily withstand more than 200 000 mi. And mainly the older V6 engines are really very reliable so they can run like forever without any extraordinary issues. But as I said you are just partly right because the newer 3.5 l V6 can have 2 serious problems which can kill the engine like completely:

RX350 issues:

1.oil cooler lines

The first problem is related to the oil cooler lines located on the front lower part of the engine. You like it or not, these rubber lines will get hard and brittle and they can burst at any time resulting in a major oil leak since the oil in these hoses is flowing at a high pressure. After the burst → the engine will make a rattling/clicking/knocking sound → next there will be a burning smell → the oil pressure light on the dash starts flashing/eventually the check engine will illuminate too → and if you don’t stop the engine very early then you will end up with a damaged or a completely destroyed engine (since if you don’t know this fact: the engine is going to break without oil, yeah crazy I know!)

Interestingly Lexus also realized that using rubber lines is not the best idea so there are the updated metallic oil cooler pipes available. Sadly, they realized this issue way after the production of this RX ended. But at least replacing the pipe assembly is not hard and actually it was already replaced on plenty of these cars since this oil cooler line was covered by a 10 year extended warranty, and in Canada there was also a recall for this (so at least here they should change these lines preventively and for free, since under the extended warranty the dealer usually replaced the lines only if they bursted or started to leak, funny guys…). Now I don’t know if the warranty or the recall is still actual for this problem so if you have more information about this then let the World know down below in the comments section!

Also some say that certain FWD cars are not equipped with these oil cooler lines at all. This means that you should definitely visually inspect your RX350 for these lines no matter what version you have, or ask the previous owner if he replaced them. If you still got the old rubber lines then you should replace them with the new metallic line assembly ASAP, unless you like to gamble on a high level.

“If you still got the rubber oil cooler lines then be prepared that they are going to fail sooner or later dump all the fluid out, leave you stranded and if you don’t shut off the engine in time then you also end up with a destroyed engine!!!!”

RX350 how to replace the oil cooler lines video 1 video 2

2.VVTi line

-The next problem is also related to a line. But in this case it’s the rear VVTi oil line which feeds oil up to the camshafts. This line can leak too, however this leak is usually slower than the oil cooler line leak. But it can also get bigger, which can again result in an engine damage because of low oil level (so basically the same possible outcome as the oil cooler line failure – if you don’t notice the signs early).

The good thing is that MOST of cars had this hose replaced in the past since there was a bigger recall/extended warranty for this which should be extended until 2021, so most of the cars got an improved line. But even though this newer line is improved it’s again made from rubber which can theoretically start to leak again. And because of this the safest option is to buy a full metallic VVTi hose and put that shit in there!

“By the way if you are checking your car history-if these hoses were replaced, then KEEP in mind that in the past the dealer sometimes called the VVTi hose – the oil cooler hose, which means that if you found in the history that the oil cooler hose was replaced, then this can mean that only your VVTi hose was replaced and NOT THE ACTUAL OIL COOLER HOSE !!!!!!!”

“the VVTi line was replaced on A LOT more cars already, while the oil cooler line was not”

RX400h Hybrid

But let’s briefly check out the hybrid version:

-the engine in it is reliable

-the hybrid components are also reliable

-and the battery pack?

Well, that is also usually ok, so it can easily withstand more than 200 000 mi. However it’s good to know that cars used regularly and for longer distances will have the battery pack in a better condition than cars used for very short distances or cars which were not used regularly. So before buying it’s good to have the battery pack checked by the dealer. But as I said, the battery pack failures are still not very common unless your car will suffer from one of the earlier mentioned water leaks and the water will reach the battery, then yes, in that case it can easily fail and you won’t be able to start the engine.

“the hybrid battery is not going to fail completely-unless the water reached it, so if it starts to act up because of the age or miles then just some of the individual cells in it are faulty which can be replaced separately”

It’s also good to know that there are 3 cooling fans on the battery pack. Now if you watched my video about the Toyota Prius then you maybe wondering if in this case it’s also required to occasionally clean them to prevent battery overheating. Well, in this case the fans are not famous for clogging and the air inlets are designed completely differently so there is no need to occasionally clean the fans. However in high mileage cars it’s obviously not a bad idea to at least check these fans for dirt.

So all in all, the hybrid version is not a bad choice at all, the advantages are: the power steering is electronic (no leaks), it has better fuel consumption than the regular petrol engine model, the brakes are going to last longer because of the regenerative braking, the car has enough power + it doesn’t have an alternator and a starter motor either so these parts will never fail. The disadvantages: if you are not going to use the car regularly or if you will use it only for very short distances then the lifetime of the battery pack is going to be shorter and you will most probably experience regular 12v battery draining issues too + since this version doesn’t have a regular mechanical 4wd system, it’s not gonna have the same characteristics, stability and good traction on slippery road conditions than the regular petrol engine versions with the regular 4WD system + on FULL ELECTRIC mode the range is very poor which translated to 4-6 km MAX EV range.

Other issues related to engines

The last 2 issues of all of these engines are not very special but it’s still worth to mention them:

occasionally there are issues with the faulty ignition coils – this will cause misfires

cracked and leaking radiators or leaking water pumps/excessive play in it are also not uncommon at all so check that damn coolant level regularly because you will overheat that engine with low coolant

How to Replace the Radiator Lexus RX 400h video

“Definitely check the coolant level when the engine is cold, if its low then most probably the radiator or the water pump is leaking”

And lastly, this is not an issue just an additional info: the spark plugs can withstand a loooot of time which is good, since replacing the 3 spark plugs on the back of the engine is not easy. This means that to replace the rear spark plugs you have to: remove the windscreen wipers, the wiper motor, the entire plenum chamber/cowl and also the intake manifold! And that’s why the spark plugs and mainly the last 3 of them are not changed very often in these cars, which means that there are also cars which are running on the original spark plugs sometimes even at 150 000 – 200 000 MI !!!  Although it should be possible to replace the rear 3 spark plugs without removing at least the intake manifold – with the proper tools of course.

how to replace spark plugs RX350 detailed post

The older V6 engines are equipped with a timing belt which should be replaced every 90 000 mi with the water pump (even though the original interval is 100 000 mi). how to replace the timing belt video

On the other side, the newer 3.5 l V6 has a timing chain which is maintenance free. And not like maintenance free in the service manual only, it really is like maintenance free in real life so it can withstand a long time.

Transmissions

All these cars are equipped with a regular 5 speed automatic gearbox and the hybrid models have a CVT automatic transmission. Both of these transmissions can easily withstand more than 200 000 mi even without an oil change. However it’s definitely good to replace that gearbox fluid since occasionally there are cases of a shudder while changing gears. So before buying definitely check if the gearbox is shifting smoothly and consider replacing the fluid, because in some cases the gearbox oil change can fix the occasional rough shifts.

To summarize things up:

-check the car carefully for traces of water

-if you are NOT using the car regularly or if you are using it only for short distances then it’s better to avoid the hybrid models

-if you are buying the RX350 then don’t forget the problematic oil cooler lines and the VVTi line

-avoid cars with the air suspension unless you have the money to fix it

+ It’s good to keep 2 000 € for the additional repairs or maintenance.

+ Check the coolant level REGULARLY

+ Check the power steering fluid level REGULARLY (NOT RX400h)

And as usual, if you have personal experience with this car or more information about it, then you can write it into comments!

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