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2001 Lexus RX 300 Transmission problem


I have a Lexus RX 300 (2001). I bought it new in 2002 and has around 97000 miles. I have faithfully done all the maintenance at a dealership at the recommended schedule. Three weeks ago, my wife couldn’t get the car out of the garage because the reverse gear did not engage. I also tried, with same result. Then just to try, I put the gear in Drive and then in Reverse and it engaged. Later, I took the car to a Lexus dealership and had them check it out. They said, the transmission fluid is good, hasn’t jelled, has no unwanted odor and level is correct. They also said, the repair will cost $4800 to rebuild the transmission because in their opinion the transmission was about to fail.

I checked if there was a recall issued by Lexus on this problem but could not find any. However, on internet forums I have found a very substantial complaints by other Lexus RX300 users complaining about this same issue. Who issues recalls? Can any federal agency nudge the car manufacturer to issue recall?

What are my options? Can any other reputable repair shop do this rebuilding job? Needless to say, I have lost faith in Lexus and Toyota in general. My next car WILL NOT be a Toyota or Lexus.


Here is where the difference between the mfr’s maintenance schedule and a proper maintenance schedule may differ.

No matter what extended intervals might be listed in a maintenance schedule, the reality is that trans fluid needs to be changed every 3 yrs/30k miles (whichever comes first) if you want to avoid premature trans failure. When the trans is not serviced on that type of schedule, trans failure can take place any time after ~90k miles, and is pretty much of a sure thing after…let’s say…120k miles.

Ideally, the trans fluid (and filter) should have been changed 3 times already.
Has that been done?

The problem is that many manufacturers, in an effort to make their vehicles look relatively maintenance-free, have dropped this important service from their maintenance schedule. So, if you did not service the trans as described above and this service was not listed in the Lexus maintenance schedule, you are not the one to blame.

On the other hand, if that service procedure is listed in the maintenance schedule and you tried to economize by skipping it, then you should look in the mirror in order to view the culprit.

This is not unique to Toyota/Lexus, so most car owners who follow a mfr’s maintenance schedule that fails to list trans service every 3 yrs/30k miles will have a similar experience at some point.

All of that being said, I suggest that you take the car to an independent transmission shop for evaluation.
DO NOT go to AAMCO, Lee Myles, Cottman, Mr. Transmission, or any other chain unless you want to be told that you need a new transmission (whether you really do or not). Additionally, those chain outfits are frequently known for poor workmanship and for failure to stand behind their warranties when their overhauled transmission fails. You will be more likely to get an honest diagnosis, good workmanship, and a fair price from an indy trans shop.

I have taken the car to the dealer for all routine scheduled maintenance and not skimped on anything. The dealer looked at the service record and said the same thing.

Agreed on where not to go for another opinion. I have done all my maintenance including oil and filter change at one dealer and this time took it to another dealer for a change. So, its two dealers opinion so far.

Has the transmission fluid been changed, and when?

The 2001 Lexus RX300 maintenance schedule only lists transmission fluid change at 60,000 mile with a foot note; “Only if vehicle is operated primarily while towing a
trailer or using a camper or car-top carrier.” So your ATF may have never been changed.

VDC Driver is spot-on about the manipulation of maintenance schedules to make vehicles look maintenance-free. Of course it gets worse with newer Toyotas - they don’t even recommend transmission fluid changes on many (if not all) of their vehicles anymore - they simply put in an entry in the schedule to “inspect” the fluid. That way, when Edmunds has its true-cost-to-own, transmission fluid changes don’t add a cent to the overall cost listed in that shopping guide. A serious cop-out, when the fluid changes can be relatively pricey… and you’d better believe that the dealer will tell you that a fluid change is needed all the time, and if you don’t do it when the dealer says it needs done, they’ll void your warranty.

And many manufacturers do this exact same junk.

Interestingly, though, I found the maintenance schedule for my Mazda6 almost overly aggressive. Brake fluid changes every 2 years? That’s the most aggressive I’ve ever seen (Toyota doesn’t recommend any changes, by comparison).

And what does this all mean? Here are the 5 year maintenance costs according to Edmunds’ True Cost To Own measure, for 3 midsize sedans, two of which are very similar:

2011 Toyota Camry : $2848
2011 Ford Fusion: $3078
2011 Mazda6: $3848

If you ask me, all those costs are high, but there is no way that there should be that big of a spread - it tells me that if you stick by the recommendations, you’re likely neglecting the Camry and Fusion some…

“Has the transmission fluid been changed, and when?”

Well, apparently either the OP did not read my response fully, or he does not want to answer that very pertinent question.

Sorry, I was in meetings all day. Last time the transmission fluids were changed at 89016. I’ll check on the exact mileage of previous changes later. As I stated in my previous reply, all Lexus recommended scheduled maintenance were done and by that I mean including oil/filter, transmission fluids etc etc, (the whole dance and song as recommended by Lexus) were done. Nothing skimped.

Wow, I See What You Mean About The High Volume Of Transmission Failure Complaints In 2001 RX300 Models !

I was going to tell you that “recalls” are only for safety related problems and didn’t apply to your car, but many (most ?) of the complaints were problems that turned into traffic related occurences (some at cruise speed).
Most were right around the 100,000 mile mark and most were recommended for complete transmission replacements.

My next car WILL NOT be a Toyota or Lexus.

One shocking thing is that my 2011 Consumer Reports Buying Guide lists the 2001 RX300 as both an “Above Average” used car and a “Best of The Best” used car !
Yikes ! I see they had great reliability ratings, too. Where’d that come from ?
I guess it fell through the cracks.


Arun, Have You Registered A Complaint With NHTSA ? You Can Go To Their Site And File One. There’s Also A Means To View Complaints Specific To This Model-Year, Make And Model.

It’s important for folks to do this. A recall effort needs some impetus in the form of actual customer experiences. This government site is one place to do that. Unless owners speak up, the folks there have no idea that a problem exists.


A couple of points. One is that the transmission fluid should be changed every 30k miles just in case this was not done and the first fluid change was at 89k miles.

Two is just how was this fluid change done? The proper way is to change the filter, clean the pan, and then flush it. Some (maybe many is a better word) flush only and do not do the pan drop and filter change. This means you could be driving around with a partially clogged filter (which does affect shifting) and/or possible a low fluid level. The latter can also cause a transmission to go stupid.

With tongue firmly implanted in cheek, I would think from the reputation that a Toyota transmission would easily go half a million miles with no fluid in it at all. :wink:

After my last posting I called the dealership where I get my Lexus service done and asked them to print out the service done. Just referring to the Transmission fluid changes, one was done at 59443 miles and next at 89016. The records they gave me only go back to 40261 miles, so I am not sure at this moment that Transmission fluids were changed at 30,000 mile checkup.

As for how the transmission fluids were changed, I have no clue, because I am not allowed inside the bay area of where the work is done. Safety rules comes to mind. Since all this maintenance was done at one and only one Lexus dealership, I would safely assume they must have followed standard Lexus procedures.

Later tonight I’ll post some messages I that I have seen elsewhere with specific complaints to Lexus RX300 Transmission. There are many.

Now to lodging a complaint to NHTSA, yes, I’ll do that. Meanwhile, I have talked to Lexus headquarters and they offered to credit $1000 towards fixing Transmission at a Lexus Dealership.


Let me add some serious points here. The records show that the transmission fluid has been changed enough that this should not be an issue.
Now whether there was a pan drop and filter change or not is still debateable but records should show a pan gasket and filter charged out if this were done.
It SHOULD have been done if it wasn’t.

I looked through ALLDATA and while almost every vehicle always has a number of automatic trans related TSBs (Tech. Serv. Bulletins) this model vehicle is amazingly free of that particular problem.

I would also advise that because a complaint, or even multiple complaints, exist that it means there is a legitimate problem with the vehicle or component in question.
Complaints are made about every car ever built and often when the figurative smoke clears there is more to the story. I note that on the NHTSA site many of those complaints are lodged against 6 to 11 year old cars. Did the owners abuse those transmissions or not maintain them? Who knows. Those parts of the complaints are never revealed.

Granted, some transmissions will fail prematurely and through no fault of the car owner but that’s to be expected on any assembly line item. Given the lack of trans related TSBs it’s difficult for me to see this trans being trouble-prone.

I Have Looked Up Enough TSBs On Different Model-Years, Makes, And Models To Notice A Pattern Of Sorts.

I’m not naming any particular manufacturer, but many times I find no TSBs pertaining to a particular problem, but that particular problem eventually turns into a campaign or full-blown recall. Coincidence ? Maybe.

Not all problems require TSBs. Some are just handled in a routine fashion. If a problem is particularly difficult and time consuming to diagnose, not able to be fixed by routine procedures, or a problem with parts mix-ups, mid-year production changes, requires revised parts that are made available, special warranty instructions, etcetera, a TSB can alert service and parts personnel.

I don’t know how many 01 RX300s w/automatics are on the road (I’ve never heard of one until now) compared with an 01 Ford Taurus or an 01 Chevrolet Impala, for instance, but the lexus has more transmission complaints than the Ford or Chevy. That’s not very scientific, but given the Toyota / Lexus reliabilty legend (myth) and the stellar recommendations from CR comapred with the Ford or GM, its kind of surprising.


The car is 10 years old. It is way beyond the manufacturer’s 3yr/36mo warranty.
What would the grounds be for any kind of NHTSA complaint?

JoeMario, Sometimes Recalls Aren’t Ordered Until Years After A Particular Year/Make/Model/Defect First Surfaces.

NHTSA doesn’t operate within the constraints of car manufacturers’ warranty coverage.

That’s what I’m trying to figure out also, JoeMario!

Complaints to NHTSA are supposed to be safety-related in nature.
I think that to allege that a malfunctioning transmission on a 10 year old car is a safety issue for which the manufacturer is liable is…just a bit of a stretch.

If a headlight burns out after the warranty expires, can I allege that this is a safety defect because I now have less night vision?

VDCd, Have You Looked At Those Specific (To That Year/Make/Model) Transmission Complaints ?

I looked and many of the problems certainly sound safety related. Whether or not the transmissions have a defective design or components may be worth investigaing. The safety aspect is important because I’m sure many of these cars are out on the road today.

Sometimes there does not exist a proper remedy and it needs to be formulated.

Consider this. Sometimes if a particular problem on a particluar car is “fixed” at customer expense (after warranty expiration) and doesn’t fix the problem for long because something needs to be revised (parts or repair procedures), should a customer keep paying ? What if it creates a dangerous situation for the car’s occupants or people in other vehicles ?

Chevrolet is reimbursing law enforcement agencies right now for vehicles that are several years old (many - most ? out of warranty). A design flaw caused repetative premature tire wear which was a safety issue. Some owners say the reimburement should apply to similar problems on regular passenger car models.

Isn’t Jeep going through something along these lines right now involving gas tanks on vehicles that can be older than ten years ? I don’t know if there’s a recall, but some are working on one.


Need Another Example ? Read “The Prius Geyser” Discussion. Older Cars (Out Of Warranty ? Safety Related ? Easy Fix ? Should Customers Pay ? Does It Need Addressing ?

I’m in agreement that problems can and do exist with no TSBs present. Such is the nature of the beast.

My point is that generally you see automatic transmission related TSBs even on vehicles that are rock solid as far as the transmission goes and these vehicles are very clean in that regard.

Lexus is under no obligation to do anything. This car was probably manufactured in the year 2000. This means it’s close to 11 years old and all of those rubber seals inside the transmission are also 11 years old. Rubber degrades over time and it all has an effect on the transmission fluid pressures.

As to whether this is just a case of an aged transmission or it was killed by the actions of someone in the past on one knows. Killed in the past means leaving the transmission fluid level a quart down or whatever.

While no one likes a major car expense failures are a fact of life sometimes you have to take the lumps and move on.
Word of advice. Having a Lexus or Toyota badge on the tail end of the car is by no means a guarantee of a trouble-free car. They break and break just as often as anything else.