This almost feels like a futile effort; surely I could never categorize, much less uncover, everything wrong with a car that I got on Craigslist for free. But dammit, I’m going to try!
At this point, I’ve only driven the car once, and turned it over thrice. That’s to say that this is more observational than mechanical, and includes a lot of anecdotal evidence. Let’s start with the outside and work our way in.
Okay, this is way outside, but you get my directional point.
I don’t have the title.
When I saw the opportunity for a free, running and driving car, I jumped (literally) off the couch and scrambled to East Austin to pick it up. I was warned on the phone that there were… hiccups… with the titling process.
The first and most obvious hiccup was this: even if the title was in hand, the named owner would not be able to sign the title over to me, on account of him being deceased.
And even if he were able to sign for it, I learned that he threw it out a few years ago by mistake.
Fortunately, that’s where Lisa comes in. Lisa is Aaron (of AK300)’s mother, who has been extremely helpful throughout this process. She has exchanged countless emails with the Minnesota DMV trying to get a replacement title printed in her name, because the SC300 wasn’t subject to probate.
So this part is both complex, and out of my hands. Before the expectation of receiving a title at all, I had already planned on documenting the process of getting a State of Texas Bonded Title, something constantly alluded to by people on Craigslist selling cars without the title. I was fascinated by that process and wanted to know if it was a real thing. Should this not work out, I may still have the chance, but more on that later.
A lot of this became immediately apparent as soon as I walked up to the Lexus for the first time, but some of its most questionable quirks presented themselves after a little inspection.
The paint is gross, inconsistent and bad… but not bad enough to repaint
Hiding under the thick coat of dust was a really, really worn factory paint job. You could evaluate this in photos just as well as I did in person. After giving it a quick wash, and testing some wax, I found what I’m fairly certain is a salvageable coat of paint.
To remedy this – I’m excited to learn all about paint restoration. I got a great Craigslist deal (very much my aesthetic) on a whole paint kit – buffing, detailing wax, compound, oscillating sanders, and some clay bars. I’m going to throw these indiscriminately at my paint in trial-and-error fashion until it starts to look marginally better.
There isn’t really a better section for this, but the headlights are also cloudy, yellow, and nasty. I think I’m going to try my hand at pulling and restoring them before starting on any paint endeavors.
Rust… rut-roh raggy
I haven’t put the car onto a stand yet, so I have no idea what the undercarriage might hold, but it has one spot of visible surface rust, prominently displayed by the Lexus SC300 logo on the decklid. Damn. I’ve never dealt with rust, and frankly, would not like to. I think the easiest path to success here is going to be to replace the decklid. The taillights are integrated into the bumper, so I think this will be a pretty easy task. Additionally, it’s missing most of its (gold, duh) badging, so finding a trunk with the badging on it would be a pleasant bonus.
Outside of those primary points of concern, its exterior presentation could be a lot worse. It doesn’t have major dents or dings to worry me, but the front bumper is worse for wear (weird paint inconsistencies), and one of the inner headlights has been smashed in. I can’t decide whether I should replace the whole front bumper, or start trying to work the paint magic I don’t yet possess. I’m thinking a replacement will be easier and a better use of time.
Good god, the interior
I say that, but it really isn’t that bad. The front seats are absurdly damaged. Beyond repair. Like, how does that even happen kind of damage. But seats are a plug-and-play wearable, so it’ll be easy to rectify once I find some suitable replacements. This must have not been the work of a family, because the rear seats are fine, almost immaculate.
The leather center armrest has met a similar fate, and the steering wheel (really, all the high touch places) is significantly worse for wear.
On top of that, when I first climbed into the cabin, there was cigarette ash everywhere. I mean everywhere. On the seats, on the dashboard, all over the center console, on the floor, and in the air vents. It did not smell great.
I want to preface all this by saying: my free Lexus SC300 runs. This is a functional, running car that I got for free, and I feel like I personally need to keep that in mind before I start listing everything wrong with it.
Oh, boy does it make some sounds. Some feel harmless, like a light clacking on startup. Some are odd, like cat wailing when I turn the wheel at parking-lot speeds. Some are frightening, like the loud thunk from the rear when I go over speed bumps.
But all are totally safe as long as I’m not driving the car. I imagine this is going to be the most difficult part to troubleshoot, so I’m going to fix everything else that I possibly can on this car before hoping that the strange noises organically follow suit.
All things considered, it actually drives pretty well… at least for the nine total miles in which I’ve driven it.
On startup, its idle is dangerously low. Concern for stalling low, somewhere around 600RPM. That usually creeps up after some driving, but odd regardless. It has very little power (although admittedly, I’ve been wary of pushing it), and I’m assuming that could be attributed to the need for a very generic tuneup.
It works its way through its four-speed transmission with pleasant authority, no bizarre sounds or sensations to report there. It is home to some unpleasant vibration, but it’s wholly possible that the tires and/or suspension are effectively rotted. It wouldn’t surprise me if all engine and transmission mounts looked like old socks as well. So vibration is another thing that I expect to dive deeper into after routine maintenance has been accounted for.
Despite all this, no warning lights of any kind have come on throughout my nine driven miles, so I think everything is going to be okay.
Uh. Good question. I’m officially not allowed to spend any money on the car until my upcoming wedding in May, but I may have made a $50 purchase on Craigslist that I’ll be documenting shortly.