Lexus LS 400 Buyer’s Guide & History (1990 – 2000)

Without a doubt the first and second generation versions of Lexus LS are some of the best classic luxury Japanese cars money can buy. The first LS turned the luxury car market on its head when it launched in 1989, bringing a lot of the same features of European and American luxury vehicles at a significantly lower price. The LS 400 would also be the first production Lexus model and it would help propel the brand to become Japan’s largest seller of premium cars. The second gen car would continue this trend and further solidify Lexus’s place in the luxury car market.

In this guide we have put together everything you need to know about buying a Lexus LS 400 and the Japanese spec Toyota equivalent, the Celsior (XF10 and XF20). We will cover the history and specifications of the LS 400 and the Celsior, along with purchasing advice and information on any common problems that can occur with these cars.

How to Use This Lexus LS 400 Buyer’s Guide

We have tried to make this buyer’s guide as comprehensive as possible, so it is a long article. Use the table of contents below to skip to the section you want to read. To begin with we will be looking at the history and specifications of the LS 400. Following that we will dive into the buyer’s guide section of the article. We then have more general car purchasing advice and to finish up we have included some information on importing a first or second generation Toyota Celsior from Japan.

History of the Lexus LS 400 and Toyota Celsior

Credit: Lexus

The story of the LS 400 really starts in 1983. Toyota’s chairman at the time, Eiji Toyoda, challenged his employees to build a car that would be better than the world’s best. This project would be labelled “Flagship One” or “F1” for short and it would lead to the formation of a new luxury brand under Toyota’s wing.

The team working on the project made a trip to the United States midway through 1985. They wanted to conduct market research to find out exactly what wealthier American consumers wanted. While they were doing this, other teams working on the project conducted prototype testing in various locations from the German autobahn to U.S. roads and Tokyo streets.

The market research group soon discovered that Toyota would need a separate brand and sales channel that was clearly distinguishable from the regular company. Plans were quickly made to develop a new network of dealerships across the United States to prepare for the arrival of a new series of luxury vehicles.

By late 1985, the new luxury car was starting to take shape. It featured a low-slung bonnet/hood and a narrow front profile that gave it a more sports-car like appearance. This design morphed into a more upright, boxy appearance with a more prominent grill and a two-tone body by 1986.

Extensive work was also carried out on the interior. Toyota’s designers and engineers evaluated 24 different kinds of wood and a number of different types of leather so they could offer the best interior combinations for the new luxury car.

While this was going on, work on developing the new high-end brand was progressing forward. Toyota teamed up with advertising agency Saatchi Saatchi and image consulting firm Lippincott & Margulies to create a list of prospective names. Vectre, Calibre, Chaparel, Verone, and Alexis were all top runners, with the latter of which quickly proving to be the most popular. However, concerns were raised that the Alexis name applied more to people rather than motor cars and as a result the name morphed into Lexus, the luxury brand that we know today.

With the brand name settled upon, the new luxury car would become known as the Lexus LS. Subsequent design revisions were carried out throughout the year and in February 1987 the final concept was approved. After some more tweaks, the final production design of the LS 400 was ready three months later.

The Lexus LS 400 Makes its Debut

While the production design was ready, the LS 400 would not make its official debut until the North American International Auto Show in January 1989. Production would start four months later, with all cars being branded as 1990 models. Sales in the United States would begin on September 1, 1989, and limited exports to other countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia would start the next year.

At the heart of the luxury Japanese car was Toyota’s new 4.0-litre 1UZ-FE 32-valve V8 engine that was rated at 250 hp (190 kW) and 353 Nm (260 lb-ft) of torque. This was linked to a new four-speed automatic transmission that was made to be as smooth as possible. While performance was never Lexus and Toyota’s goal with the car, it could hit 100 km/h (62 mph) in around 8.5 seconds and go on to a top speed of 250 km/h (155 mph).

An independent double-wishbone suspension system was implemented alongside twin tube shock absorbers. A passive air suspension system was also made available as an optional extra for those who wanted it.

Compared to its main two competitors, the BMW 735i (E32) and the Mercedes-Benz 420 SE (W126), the LS 400 had a quieter cabin at a cruising speed of 100 km/h, a higher top speed, lower curb weight, and a lower drag coefficient. It also managed to avoid the United States Guzzler Tax that was implemented for less efficient motor cars.

On the inside California walnut and leather trim pieces were included as standard. Power-adjustable seats and shoulder seat belts were added as well, along with an automatic tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with SRS airbag. Toyota’s engineers and designers also included a memory storage system that would remember the driver’s seat, steering wheel, seat belt and side mirror positions.

For buyers who wanted a bit more, the Lexus LS 400 could be optioned with a Nakamichi premium sound system that included hands-free cellular phone capabilities.

Toyota Introduces the Celsior for Japanese Buyers

During the development of the LS 400, a growing number of Toyota dealers in Japan wanted to get their hands on the vehicle. However, there was a problem. Toyota already had four domestic dealerships in the country and the Lexus brand was really created for the export market. It was decided that the LS 400 would be rebadged as a Toyota and the name would be changed to the “Celsior”.

All Celsiors at launch were only available through Toyota’s range of Toyopet stores and while the car was essentially the same as the LS 400, there were some slight differences.

A Sales Success

At the start of development, Toyota wanted the sale price of the Celsior to be US$25,000. However, by the time of launch the deprecation of the Yen versus the United States dollar meant that the price had to be increased to $35,000. This massive price increase was cause for concern for the Lexus management. While they believed they had a car that could compete with the ones from the likes of BMW or Mercedes-Benz, they were concerned that the Lexus brand did not have the heritage or reputation of its competitors.

However, when the LS 400 launched all their fears were quickly put to rest. The LS 400 quickly proved to be a hit and was universally praised for its exceptional quality at an excellent price. Additionally, sales were in part helped by the fantastic reputation that Toyota had already established in America.

By 1990, sales of the LS 400 had already surpassed those of competing BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar models.

1992 – The LS 400 Gets a Refresh

By September 1992 it was time for an updated version of the LS 400. The refreshed LS 400 was sold as a 1993 model, and it featured more than 50 changes that were a result of customer and dealer feedback.

Adjustments were made to the suspension and power steering systems to improve handling performance and the brake discs, tyres and wheels were bumped up in size.

Some slight styling alternations were also carried out for the revised model. The side mouldings were changed, as was the grille, and Lexus now offered a much greater range of colour options. On the inside there was now a front passenger airbag as standard and some other slight changes as well. The Celsior also received the world’s first GPS navigations system with voice instructions.

With continual shifts in foreign exchange rates and high demand for the LS 400, Lexus had to increase the price of the car a number of times during production. By 1994, the base price of the LS in the United States now exceeded $50,000, over double what Toyota had originally envisioned for the car. However, despite this sales continued to be strong and by the end of production over 165,000 cars had been produced.

Lexus Introduces the Second Generation

Credit: Lexus

The next version of the LS 400, the XF20, would be introduced at the end of 1994 as a 1995 model year. While the specifications of the second-generation LS 400 were roughly the same as the first gen model, the car did now feature a longer wheelbase by 36 mm (1.4 inches). This led to an overall more spacious interior and an increase in rear legroom of 66 mm (2.6 inches).

Despite featuring similar specs as the older model, over 90% of the car was new or redesigned. More strengthening and sound insulation was introduced, and Lexus/Toyota’s engineers updated the suspension and brakes. Lexus did retain the 1UZ-FE V8 engine, but power was bumped up to 260 hp (194 kW) and 366 Nm (270 lb-ft) of torque. While the car did gain a bit of weight during the development process, the 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) time was reduced by about a second.

The cabin was completely updated to be more luxurious and feature full. Dual-zone climate control was now standard, along with a newly patented seat cushion design that used lightweight internal coil springs and stabiliser bars to improve comfort. One of the first in-dash CD changers was also available as an optional extra.

Safety improvements were also a key focus for the design team. Enlarged crumple zones, a collapsible steering wheel and three-point seat belts were just some of the changes to second gen LS 400’s safety features.

More Changes in 1997

In August 1997, the XF20 Celsior became the first production Toyota to be equipped with laser adaptive cruise control. Unlike future systems, this early cruise control could only alter the speed through throttle control and downshifting the transmission. Additionally, the system could only be used in good weather due to limitations with the technology at the time.

Just like with the first generation LS 400, an updated version of the second gen car was introduced later in the production cycle. The new LS 400 was introduced in September 1997, and it now featured significantly more power at 290 hp (216 kW). Lexus mated the more powerful 1UZ engine to a new five-speed manual transmission and as a result acceleration and fuel economy performance was improved.

Some minor tweaks were also made to the suspension and steering to improve cornering and give the driver a better feel.

On the outside, the wheels, front-end, and side mirrors were updated, while the inside also received some attention as well.

Some more features such as a CD-ROM based GPS navigation system and low beam HID headlights were added later in the production cycle. In February 2000, a limited edition LS 400 known as the “Platinum Series” was introduced for American buyers. The car was developed in partnership with American Express and it featured all of the most luxurious options as standard.

While sales of the second generation LS 400 weren’t quite as high as the first gen model, the car still proved to be a hit. It further solidified Lexus’s place in the luxury car segment and introduced new features that would be further developed on future models.

First & Second Gen LS 400 Specifications

ModelLS 400 (Celsior) XF10LS 400 (Celsior) XF20
Year of production1989 – 19941994 – 2000
LayoutFront-engined, rear-wheel driveFront-engined, rear-wheel drive
Engine/Engines4.0-litre 1UZ-FE V84.0-litre 1UZ-FE V8
Power250 hp (190 kW)260 – 290 hp (194 – 216 kW)
Torque353 Nm (260 ft lb)366 – 307 Nm (270 – 300 ft lb)
Gearbox4-speed A341E automatic4-speed A341E automatic

5-speed A650E automatic

Suspension FrontDouble-WishboneDouble-Wishbone
Suspension RearDouble-WishboneDouble-Wishbone
Brakes4-wheel, power assisted, ventilated disc brakes4-wheel, power assisted, ventilated disc brakes
Weight1,705–1,750 kg (3,759–3,858 lb)1,764 kg (3,889 lb)
Top speed250 km/h (155 mph)250 km/h (155 mph)
0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)8.5 seconds8.5 seconds

 

Toyota LS 400 XF10 and XF20 Buyer’s Guide

Credit: Lexus

While both the first and second gen versions of the LS 400 are famed for their reliability, a poorly maintained one is going to be a ticking time bomb (just like with any used car really). What makes this worse is that parts for these cars can be quite expensive. Still, if you find one that has been looked after properly, it should provide plenty of miles of trouble free motoring (see this reddit thread for one that has done over 760,000 miles).

Setting Up an Inspection of an LS 400

Here are some tips when setting up an inspection of a first or second gen Lexus LS 400

  • Try to view the LS 400 in person or get a reliable friend or third party to do so for you – Buying any used car sight unseen will open you up to more risk, so it is best to physically inspect it first if possible. Some specialist auction/classifieds sites and services do check the cars they list prior to purchase, which does reduce the risk a bit, but once again we always recommend that you or a reliable friend or third party does the inspection if possible.
  • Take somebody with you to an inspection of a Lexus LS 400 – We recommend this because the friend or helper you bring along may be able to spot something you missed. They will also be able to give you their thoughts on the LS 400 you are inspecting and whether they think it is a good buy or not.
  • View the car at the seller’s house or place of business – This is often a good idea as it will give you a chance to see how and where the LS 400 is stored. If the car is always parked out on the road in the elements there is a higher chance of bodywork issues, paint fade, etc. than if it has always been garaged. Additionally, it is a good idea to check the condition of the roads where the LS 400 is regularly driven. If they are in bad condition with lots of potholes, etc., the suspension and steering components may have taken a bit more abuse.
  • If possible, look at the car in the morning rather than later in the day – This ultimately depends on you and the seller’s schedule, but we do recommend that you try and inspect an LS 400 earlier in the morning. This will give the seller less chance to clean up any potential issues.
  • Ask the seller not to drive the LS 400 or pre-heat the engine prior to your arrival if possible – A warm engine can hide a multitude of sins, so be cautious.
  • Turn up unannounced if the car is being sold at a dealer (if possible) – If a dealer knows you are coming to look at their LS 400, it gives them time to clean up any potential issues and prepare the vehicle.
  • Try not to inspect a used car in the rain – Water can cover up a number of different issues with the bodywork and paint. If it does happen to be raining when you inspect a Lexus LS 400, try to go back for a second viewing before making a purchase.
  • Be cautious if the seller has just washed the car – This is largely for the same reason as above, but some sellers will also wash the engine bay and underside of a vehicle to hide an issue (or anywhere a leak/issue may occur).
  • Get the seller to move their Lexus LS 400 outside if it is in a garage or showroom – Lighting in places such as garages and showrooms can cover up issues that direct sunlight may have revealed.

Buying a Lexus LS 400 With Problems

While we tend to recommend that you walk away from an LS 400 with problems, there is really no issue buying one with problems as long as you know what you are getting yourself into. Make sure you do find out exactly what is wrong with the car (engine issues, body, rust, etc.) and try to work out a rough estimate of what it will cost to fix before purchasing it. Alternatively, if you are happy driving around in an LS 400 with issues then there is nothing wrong with that as well (just don’t overpay for the vehicle).

Are the First or Second Gen LS 400s Expensive to Maintain and Run?

Overall, both the XF10 and the XF20 LS 400s are surprisingly inexpensive cars to own, especially for their class of vehicle. However, if something does go wrong on these cars expect a very large bill, especially if you go to a dealer to fix the issue or if you live in a country where not many (if any) were sold.

Where to Find a Lexus LS 400 for Sale?

While auction/classifieds websites are probably going to be your best bet for finding a suitable LS 400, we do recommend that you check to see if you have any LS 400 or Lexus owners’ clubs in your area. The owners in these sorts of clubs tend to be very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their vehicles, so they are often great places to find good ones for sale. Here are a few examples of some clubs.

Club LexusOne of the biggest Lexus clubs with a section dedicated entirely to the first and second generation versions of the LS 400. Members are primarily from North America

Lexus Owners Club UKUnited Kingdom based club dedicated to all things Lexus.

If you are looking for a really good example of an LS 400, specialist auction sites such as bringatrailer.com are good options as well. These sorts of sites or services usually vet the vehicles they list first, reducing the risk to the buyer.

For those based in a country where the LS 400 was not sold new, you may be better off searching for Toyota Celsiors for sale. Importing Celsiors is quite popular, and we will discuss it a bit more at the end of this article.

How Much Should I Spend on a Lexus LS 400?

This really depends on a number of factors from the condition to the specifications and more. For example, a later model LS 400 in excellent condition is going to be worth a lot more than a base model that has seen a lot of action.

According to data on bringatrailer.com, prices for LS 400s tend to range from around US$10,000 to around $25,000. However, the cars on this site tend to be low mileage, good condition examples, so expect to pay less for a higher mileage car (for example, a 2000 model year LS 400 with 43k-miles sold for US$19,000)

As prices can vary dramatically, we recommend that you jump on your local classifieds and dealer websites to check the prices of ones that are currently for sale. You can then use these prices to work out roughly what you need to spend to get a first or second gen LS 400 that you are happy with. Remember to add around 5 to 10% of the purchase price to your budget for any unexpected expenses.

VIN/Chassis Number

The VIN or Vehicle Identification Number is a series of characters and numbers that manufacturers such as Lexus assign to a vehicle at production. You can discover quite a bit of information about a car from the VIN, such as the model year, place of manufacturer and the vehicle’s engine size. The VIN can be found in a number of different locations:

  • Engine bay – on a plate
  • Each of the doors
  • Front fenders
  • Bonnet/hood
  • Driver’s side door jam

During your inspection, keep an eye out for the VIN in the different locations and make sure they match up. If they don’t it may be a sign that something has been replaced or possibly even that the LS 400 has been stolen.

In addition to the above, the VIN can also be entered into a VIN checkup/decoder website that may contain information such as whether or not the LS 430 you are inspecting has any money owing on it or if it has been written off at any point. Most of these VIN checkup websites/services are region limited, so keep that in mind.

Toyota Celsiors were given a frame number from the factory as they were only sold new in Japan. This number should look something like this – UCF21 – XXXXXXX (UCF21 can change depending on the options selected)s. A VIN may also be present if the country you are in requires one for the car to be registered.

Engine

As we have already mentioned, the 1UZ engine inside both the first and second generation versions of the LS 400 is incredibly well built and reliable. However, no matter how reliable an engine is if the owner has not looked after the car properly it can lead to a whole host of issues. This is only made worse by the fact that some owners hear that their car is reliable and because of this they think they do not have to maintain it properly.

To start your inspection of the engine, move to the front of the LS 400 and lift the bonnet/hood. Check that it opens smoothly and that the catch works as intended. If the bonnet catch and hinges look like they have been replaced it could be a sign that the vehicle has been in an accident at some point.

Once you have done that, give the engine bay an overall check over, watching out for any of the following:

  • Obvious problems – broken parts, worn components, leaks, etc.
  • Modifications – the LS 400 isn’t as popular with tuners as some cars, but there are still quite a few out there with the “aftermarket” treatment
  • Cleanliness

A really clean engine bay could be a sign of a good owner, or alternatively it may be a sign of somebody who is trying to cover something up like an oil leak. Another thing to keep in mind is that cleaning the engine bay with something that has a bit too much pressure can force water into places where it shouldn’t be. If the water makes its way past electrical seals and covers, it could cause all sorts of corrosion issues in the future. This problem will not be immediately noticeable after a clean and could take months or even longer to become apparent.

Checking the Fluids

It is always a good idea to check the condition and level of the engine oil and other fluids. Fluids that have not been replaced regularly and/or are not at the correct level can lead to increased component/engine wear and possibly even total failure. If there is a problem here it is probably a general sign that the LS 400 you are inspecting hasn’t been maintained properly.

Make sure you inspect the engine oil thoroughly, watching out for any metallic particles or grit. If it you notice quite a lot there could be a major problem with the car. A very, very small amount is probably okay, but it is worth getting the oil analysed if you do notice this issue (especially if you are looking at a higher priced LS 400).

Check for any froth or foam on the engine oil dipstick as well. While it could be caused by something relatively simple like condensation it could equally be caused by other issues such as a blown head gasket or an engine that has been overfilled with oil.

Ask the seller about how often the service their LS 400 and don’t forget to check the service history as well. If the seller can’t or won’t let you see the car’s service history it is probably a bad sign.

Lexus recommends replacing the engine oil every 8,000 km (5,000 miles). Many owners follow this rule, but with modern synthetics a service interval of around 12,000 km (7,500 miles) is perfectly fine as well (non-synthetic or dino oils should be replaced at the Lexus recommended service interval). For those that do not drive their car much, the oil should be replaced every 8 – 12 months.

Common Oil Leaks on a 1UZ LS 400

Here are some of the main places to watch out for when it comes to leaking oil from a 1UZ engine inside an LS 400:

  • Cam seals and crankshaft seals – The main thing to look for here is an oily mess at the front of the engine that looks like it originates from behind the timing cover. If the leak is really bad you will notice oil dripping onto the ground. These seals should have been replaced with the timing belt and water pump (much cheaper this way), so check in the service history and with the owner to make sure they were done. If they haven’t been replaced during the timing belt service, it is a sign that the car has not been maintained properly.
  • VVTi Gear Seal (1998 Onwards) – If you are looking at a later model LS 400, be mindful of a leak from around the VVTi gear. Once again, this seal should be replaced as part of the timing belt service.
  • Valve/timing cover gasket – If you notice a little bit of wetness around the timing cover it is almost certainly the timing cover gasket. These usually go around 100,000 to 130,000 km (62,000 to 81,000 miles) but can go at other times as well. If oil is dripping down towards the rear of the engine it indicates that the leak is quite bad. In really bad cases, oil can drip down onto the catalytic converter, which lead to a puff of white smoke.
  • Oily spark plugs – This is sort of combined with the leak above as the spark plug tube seals will usually fail at the same time as the timing cover gasket. You will only be able to tell if this is the case by removing one of the plugs (If you take the car to a mechanic make sure they check the plugs or remove one yourself if the owner is happy with you doing so).

A small amount of oil around the timing cover is perfectly fine and is almost expected with the age of these cars. However, it is probably best to walk away from an LS 400 that has a major leak. While the fix may be simple, you don’t know if the car has been run with insufficient amounts of oil at any point. If it has, more serious engine damage may have occurred. If you are happy with the risks and still want to purchase the LS 400, make sure you get a very good discount,

Make sure you check for oil leaks (and any other leak for that matter) both before and after a test drive, as that shiny, clean engine bay may not be so shiny after a trip around the block.

Does the LS 400 Have a Timing Belt or Chain

The 1UZ engine inside both generations of the LS 400 uses a timing belt and not a chain. Depending on the market, the timing belt on an LS 400 needs to be replaced every 160,000 km (100,000 miles) or every 100,000 km (62,000 miles), so make sure it has been done. There should be a sticker somewhere on the engine that indicates when and at what mileage the belt was last replaced.

First generation LS 400s produced until 1994 feature a non-interference version of the 1UZ engine, while later models from 1995 onwards are interference. This means that if the timing belt fails on later cars it can lead to the pistons hitting the valves and some seriously expensive repair bills. If the belt fails on the non-interference version of the 1UZ, the engine will simply die but no mechanical damage will occur.

With the above being the case, it is even more important to check that the belt has been replaced on 1995 onwards LS 400s. If the belt is well past the recommended service interval it is a sign that the LS 400 you are inspecting has not been maintained properly and you should be asking yourself what other corners have been cut with maintenance. Get a big discount on the vehicle if the timing belt has not been changed and you are still interested in purchasing the LS 400.

It can be a good idea to put your ear up to the timing belt area (front of the engine) and listen for any strange noises such as squeaking or rubbing noises that may indicate a worn belt or failing tensioner.

What Should Be Replaced with the Timing Belt on an LS 400?

The following components should have been replaced with the timing belt:

  • Idler pulleys
  • Tensioner pulleys
  • Hydraulic tensioner
  • Water pump (more on this below)
  • Cam seals and crankshaft seals
  • VVTi gear seal (1998 onwards)

Cooling System

If any of the cooling system components are in a bad way it could spell major trouble for the car, so take your time here. Watch out for the following main issues:

Water Pump Failure

The water pump shouldn’t cause any issues, especially if it has been replaced at the recommended service interval. However, they can fail so watch out for the following signs:

  • Whining noises (usually high-pitched)
  • Chuffing noises
  • Overheating issues
  • Coolant leaks

If the water pump is in need of replacement, you may as well replace the timing belt and other components we listed above. Point this out to the seller and use it to get a handsome discount on their LS 400.

Air Bubbles in the Coolant

Shouldn’t be a major problem on these cars, but it is always worth checking to see if the coolant does have bubbles in it. Have a look at the expansion/overflow tank. A very small amount of bubbles while the LS 400 is getting up to temperature is usually fine, however, there should be none once the car is properly warmed up. Bubbles in the coolant could be caused by a range of different issues from a bad radiator to thermostat problems that cause the engine to get too hot and boil the coolant.

The most serious cause of bubbles in the coolant is a head gasket failure, however, this problem doesn’t seem to be too common on these cars. If the LS 400 you are test driving continues to produce bubbles during the whole drive/inspection, be cautious of purchasing the car without finding out the exact cause of the issue.

Checking for Coolant Leaks

Make sure you have a good look for any coolant looks. Check the coolant lines, expansion tank and other cooling system components for any current leaks or crusted coolant which could indicate a past leak. While you are doing this make sure that the hoses are still soft. They can become hard and brittle with age, which can make them more likely to leak. Another thing to do is to check that the expansion tank has not cracked.

We recommend that you check for coolant leaks both before and after a test drive, along with the coolant level (check for any big changes). Following a test drive of a Lexus LS 400, turn the car off and wait for around 10 to 15 minutes. Once you have done this, recheck for any fresh puddle of coolant underneath the vehicle. Additionally, watch out for the sweet smell of coolant as this could indicate a leak (even if you can’t see it). Remember to make sure the coolant has been replaced at or before the recommended service interval.

Signs of Cooling System Failure

Here is a bit of a checklist to go through when making sure the cooling system is working properly. If you notice any or multiple of these it could be a sign of big trouble (and some expensive repair bills):

  • Temperature gauge on that is on the high side – gauge should sit just below the mid-point
  • Bubbles in the radiator or coolant expansion tank
  • White and milky oil
  • Spark plugs that are fouled (if you or probably a mechanic can get a look at them)
  • Low cooling system integrity
  • Smell of coolant from the oil
  • Sweet smelling exhaust
  • White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it) – usually a sign of head gasket failure
  • Steam from the front of the car

If you notice the problems above it could be a sign that the head gasket has failed (especially if you notice multiple of them). Head gasket failure isn’t usually too much of an issue on first and second gen LS 400s, so if you do suspect the gasket has failed it is best to walk away.

Vacuum Recovery Box (1998 Onwards)

Later model LS 400s have a plastic box along the intake tube that goes from the air filter to the throttle body. A number of vacuum lines attach here and the plastic nipples on them can become brittle and snap off. Unfortunately, quite a lot of owners do a quick fix on this and some even use tape to keep the lines attached. This is a big problem as an issue here can lead to a vacuum leak.

To fix the issue properly, many owners recommend that you replace the original fittings with brass ones from a hardware store. There is a bit of a process involved with this and it is important to make sure that you do not crack the plastic during the installation. Still, it is worth doing as it is a more permanent fix.

Checking the Exhaust on a Lexus LS 400

Make sure you have a good look at as much of the exhaust as possible as a problem here could be quite expensive to fix. The original exhaust system Lexus fitted to the LS 400 was part stainless steel, part mild steel, with the former being the pipework while the latter being the flanges. Unfortunately, while the stainless steel parts are usually fine, the mild steel parts can rust. Sourcing an original exhaust is pretty pricey, so many owners replace it with an aftermarket/custom one.

Apart from that check that there is not damage to the exhaust (dents, cracks, etc.) or any poor repairs that have been done to get the LS 400 up to a somewhat saleable condition.

If you hear any low rumbling, scraping or rattling noises it could be a sign of exhaust issues. Additionally, watch out for any ticking noises as these sorts of sounds are a sign of a leak.

Aftermarket Exhausts

As we mentioned above, a number of owners have replaced the original exhaust on their LS 400s with aftermarket or custom options. If the Lexus you are looking at does have an aftermarket exhaust, note down the manufacturer/builder and see if you can find any reviews. A good quality exhaust is only a plus in our minds (unless you are looking for complete originality). However, be cautious of any cheap mild steel exhausts as they can rust quickly and cause a whole load of issues.

Aftermarket exhausts are quite popular with Japanese owners, so expect to find quite a few Celsiors with non-stock systems.

Alternator Failure

If the LS 400 you are inspecting fails to start or struggles to start it could be a sign that the alternator has failed/is failing. The problem is often caused by power steering fluid that leaks onto the alternator from the pump or reservoir (we will talk a bit more about this issue in the suspension and steering section of this guide as it is one of the biggest issues with both versions of the LS 400).

Starter Motor Issues

As the starter motor is located under the alternator and it is not the strongest unit, some owners like to replace it if they need to replace the alternator at any point. Some owners also replace the steel exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) pipe at the same time as a precautionary measure as the pipe is known the crack.

Smoke from a Lexus LS 400

Smoke is never a good sign, especially if you see lots of it. To check for any smoke, we recommend that you get the seller to start the LS 400 for you for the first time. Position yourself at the rear of the vehicle and check to see what is coming out of the exhaust.

Don’t worry if you see a small amount of whitish vapour on start-up as this is perfectly normal (especially on cold days) and is usually caused by condensation in the exhaust. If the vapour doesn’t dissipate with time and/or it is very thick, it could be a sign of a major issue. Below we have listed what the different colours of smoke indicate:

White smoke – As we mentioned above, a few white puffs is usually caused by condensation in the exhaust. Lots of thick white/grey smoke from an LS 400’s tailpipes indicates that water/coolant has made its way into the cylinders due to a blown/leaking head gasket. Give the exhaust a good whiff and if it smells sweet, it is probably coolant. If the smoke is very thick and doesn’t dissipate quickly it could be sign that the block or cylinder head is cracked/broken.

Blue/Grey smoke – This colour smoke could be caused by a whole range of things including warn pistons rings, valve seals, and more. To test for this colour smoke during a drive, get somebody to follow you while you are driving the Lexus. Take the engine through its rev range and see what comes out the back. If you don’t have a helper, get the owner to drive for a bit while you look out the back (good chance to see how they drive as well).

Black smoke – This sort of smoke is usually a sign that the engine is running too rich and burning too much fuel. There are quite a few things that could be causing this issue from something like dirty intake components to incorrect spark timing, problems with the injectors, and more. If the exhaust smells of fuel, the engine is almost certainly running too rich.

Excessive Shaking

As per Lexus’s original ad, the LS 400 is meant to be able to run on a dyno with a pyramid of glasses on the bonnet/hood, so if you notice that the one you are inspecting shakes excessively, it indicates there is a problem.

Excessive vibrations are usually caused by bad engine or transmission mounts. Replacing the three engine mounts is a bit of a pain, so you will probably want to get a mechanic to do it for you. Expect to replace the mounts around the 160,000 km (100,000 mile) mark, however, they can go on much longer. In addition to excessive vibrations, watch out for the following things as well:

  • Engine movement – rev the car and see if the engine moves excessively
  • Clunking, banging, or other impact sounds that are a result of engine movement

Note: We will talk about the transmission mounts in the transmission section of the guide.

Idle Speed and Running

The LS 400 should start easily after just a few turns of the engine. If the accelerator needs to be used to help start the engine there is a problem. Make sure the engine runs smoothly and doesn’t skip/misfire.

The idle speed should sit around the 650 rpm mark (+ or – 50 rpm) once warmed up. Both versions of the LS 400 seem to suffer from low idle issues when warm, with the issue being a bit more common on first gen models. In some instances, owners have found that the idle speed drops to around 200 rpm and the car occasionally stalls. There are a range of different issues that can cause this from a clogged throttle body to an incorrectly adjusted throttle position sensor (TPS), ECU issues and more.

You are probably not going to be able to work out the exact cause of the idle issues during a short inspection, so assume the worst and hope for the best. If the idle issue was a simple fix, the owner of the Lexus LS 400 probably would have got it sorted before putting the car on the market. Alternatively, they may have simply not have noticed or believed that the low idle was correct for the LS 400.

Tips During an Inspection of an LS 400

As we mentioned earlier, get the seller to start the vehicle for you. We recommend this for two reasons.

  1. So you can see what comes out the back
  2. If the seller gives the LS 400 a whole load of throttle when it is cold you know to walk away

When you head out for a drive, remember to wait until the engine is properly warm before giving it a bit of throttle. Don’t be afraid to rev the car a bit as you need to make sure the engine, etc. is working well higher up the rev range. Remember to turn off and on the engine a number of times to make sure that the LS 400 starts correctly. Check to see if any warning lights come on each time and whether they stay on.

It is also a good idea to keep the windows down for a period of the test drive, so you can listen to the engine and any other issues that may be covered up by the cabin. Don’t let the seller distract you while driving the car.

Purchasing an LS 400 with a Rebuilt or Replaced Engine

While the 1UZ engine fitted to both the first and second gen Lexus LS 400 is about as tough as you can get, nothing lasts forever, and they will eventually need to be rebuilt or replaced. Don’t be put off an LS 400 with a rebuilt or replaced engine. As long as the work as carried out by a competent Lexus specialist or mechanic it should be okay. It can be a good idea to check the reviews of the place that carried out the work to make sure they have good feedback.

If the rebuild or replacement was a home job, we would probably be a bit more cautious. While there are plenty of very competent home mechanics out there, there are also a load with more ambition than skill. You don’t want to purchase somebody else’s unfinished project (unless you want to) or an LS 400 that has been poorly rebuilt for a quick sale.

It is usually best to avoid fresh rebuilds or engine swaps with only a few hundred miles on them. For example, a Lexus LS 400 with 10,000 km (6,200 miles) on a rebuild or replacement is going to be a much safer bet than one with only a tenth of the mileage.

Should I Get a Compression Test Done Before Purchase?

While not completely necessary when purchasing a used Lexus LS 400, a compression test is often a good thing to get done to help determine the health of the car’s engine.  If you are taking the LS 400 to a mechanic or specialist prior to purchase, we recommend that you get them to do a test.

Some owners will get a compression test done before sale and put the results in the advertisement. The most important thing with the results is to make sure that they are all roughly the same (within around 10% of each other).

Transmission

Credit: Lexus

Lexus mated the 1UZ engine in the first generation LS 400 to a 4-speed A341E automatic transmission, while the second gen car received a 5-speed A650E transmission alongside the 4-speed. Both transmissions tend to be very strong and shouldn’t really cause any issues, however, there are some bad eggs out there so watch out.

One of the main things to check here is maintenance. According to Lexus, the transmission fluid should be checked every 12 months and replaced every 24,000 km (15,000 miles) under “severe” service conditions (there is no replacement mileage under “Normal” conditions). Many owners find that this service interval is a bit excessive and opt to replace the fluid every 48,000 km (30,000 miles) or so. Some go even longer at around 100,000 km (62,000 miles), but we feel that the middle option is probably the best compromise. The main thing to check is that the transmission fluid has been changed at regularly intervals. If it hasn’t it is a sign that the LS 400 has not been maintained properly.

Apart from that, check for any general transmission issues. Take the gearbox through all the gears at both lower and higher engine speeds, checking to make sure that the shifts are smooth. Loud clunking, banging or whirring noises are a sign of an issue. When stationary, try out the different positions of the transmission. If the car jumps as you change position it could be a sign of a problem (some very slight movement/noise is to be expected).

You may notice that the LS 400 wants to hang in second gear up to around 2,600 rpm when you first head out on a test drive. This seems to occur on almost all LS 400s and is considered normal. The behaviour can be programmed out if desired, but there is really no need. Note: this issue should only happen on the first drive of the day and should only occur once.

Intermittent changes or slipping out of gear are major red flags and we would probably avoid any LS 400 with these problems. While a simple replacement of the transmission fluid may be all that is necessary to get the car back in proper functioning conditioning, it may be much worse so we wouldn’t risk it.

Transmission Mounts

As mentioned earlier in the engine section, the transmission mounts can go bad. The most common sign of this problem is a vibration/flutter around the 2,000 rpm mark. Another thing to watch out for is excessive vibrations through the shifter/gear selector, especially around 2,000 rpm. Knocking sounds or a shunt type of feeling during shifting could also indicate that the mounts are worn, but these sorts of symptoms could also be a sign of a much bigger transmission issue as well.  Replacing the transmission mounts isn’t too much trouble, but it is always worth asking for a discount if you suspect that they are in a bad way.

P0763 “Shift Solenoid C Electrical” Code

Like the GS 400, the LS 400 can throw out a P0763 “Shift Solenoid C Electrical” code intermittently. This seems to usually clear itself and is more of an issue on the GS. If the problem doesn’t go away, replacing the transmission fluid may fix the issue (also make sure the fluid is at the correct height). If that doesn’t work the solenoid will probably have to be replaced. You can find out a bit more about this issue in this thread.

Steering and Suspension

Credit: Lexus

If you notice a very loose feeling front end or some slight vibrations when going around 100 km/h (62 mph), it is probably the strut rod bushings. These are notorious for going around the 160,000 km (100,000 mile) mark, but failure can occur at lower or higher mileages as well. Another thing to watch out for is some slight vibrations through the steering wheel when braking from high speeds (similar feeling to warped brake discs but more in the steering wheel rather than the pedal).

Sway bar bushings another common failure point. These tend to create a creaking noise when going over bumps, so find yourself some speed bumps to try it out. Not a major issue, but something to be aware of.

The lower ball joints should also be replaced if they are around the 160,000 km (100,000 mile) mark. If you notice any grease leaking from around the boot they definitely need to be replaced. Another way to check if they need to be replaced is to jack the LS 400 up and shake the wheels. If you notice some play, new ball joints are needed. It is often recommended that you get this done with the strut rod bushings, so check when these parts were last replaced.

Below we have put together a bit of a checklist to watch out for when checking the steering and suspension components:

  • Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
  • Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration
  • Tipping/looseness when cornering – probably the strut rod bushings
  • High speed instability
  • Excessive vibration coming through the steering wheel – could be the strut rod bushings, bad alignment or maybe even bad ball joints
  • Delayed or longer stopping distances
  • Uneven tyre wear
  • Excessive bounce after hitting a bump or when pushing down on the suspension
  • Leaking fluid on the exterior of the shock/strut
  • Sagging or uneven suspension – common issue when the air suspension goes on these cars (on LS 400s with it fitted)
  • Knocking, clunking or creaking sounds during a test drive
  • Clicking sounds (especially at full lock) – CV joint, bad wheel bearing, etc.

Remember to visually inspect as much of the suspension and steering componentry as possible. Use a torch/flashlight and a mirror to get a good view of hard to see areas. Watch out for any rust or damage as well (could indicate that the vehicle has been in an accident).

Power Steering Issues

As we mentioned in the engine section of this LS 400 guide, the power steering pump is notorious for leaking fluid. The fluid leaks onto the alternator, leading to failure and no power. First generation Lexus LS 400s are even worse for this problem as the power steering reservoirs can leak onto the alternator as well (moved for the 1998 model).

Apart from checking for leaks around the power steering pump/reservoir and alternator area, make sure you keep an eye out for a puff of white smoke on startup. This is a common problem on first gen LS 400s and indicates that there is a power steering fluid leak in the Idle Control Valve. The valve is located on the pump and when the engine is started the leaking fluid burns as it is sucked into the intake manifold.

The proper way to fix this issue is to replace the valve, which requires around 3 – 4 hours of labour as getting to the pump requires a bit of work. Plugging the valve with something works as well, but is more of a temporary fix. If the valve has been replaced at some point, the problem is less likely to occur, but it can happen again.

Whining Noises from the Front of the LS 400

If you notice some whining noises from the front during cornering it is probably due to the fact that the power steering fluid is a bit low. The low fluid level is likely due to a leak, so remember to check under the bonnet/hood and if it is really bad you may see some on the ground underneath the LS 400. If you can’t see a leak at all it is probably a sign of the Idle Control Valve leak that we mentioned above (fluid is sucked into the intake manifold and burned), so keep an eye out for a puff of white smoke on engine startup (first gen LS 400s).

For more on power steering issues check out this guide on Club Lexus.

Remember to Check the Wheel Alignment

Find yourself a nice flat and straight section of tarmac to check the wheel alignment. Make sure the Lexus LS 400 runs straight with minimal wheel corrections.  If the wheel alignment is bad it can lead to excessive/uneven tyre wear (costing you more money) and can even lead to a less safe and enjoyable driving experience. Additionally, really bad wheel alignment could be a sign of a careless owner as they should have got it sorted before putting their LS 400 on the market.

Most of the time a simple realignment is all that is needed, however, in some cases bad wheel alignment can be a sign of serious suspension/steering issues or even accident damage.

Wheels and Tyres

Have a good look at the wheels and tyres as they can often give you a bit of an idea of how the LS 400 you are looking at has been maintained and looked after. A small amount of curb damage is to be expected, unless the car has been garaged and hardly driven its entire life. If you see lots of curb damage it is a sign that the LS 400 has been owned by somebody a bit careless.

Lacquer peel is a fairly common issue on the standard wheels, so have a look for that. Not a major problem to fix, but something to be aware of.

Some owners like to fit aftermarket wheels to their cars. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this but we recommend that you check to see if they have the originals (make sure you are happy with the aftermarket wheels as well). Owning the original wheels will only add value to the LS 400 if you decide to sell it in the future. If they don’t have them, try to use that to get a discount.

When it comes to the tyres check for the following:

  • Amount of tread – If there is minimal tread left try to get a discount as you will need to get the tyres replaced in the near future.
  • Uneven wear – Wear should be even between the right and left tyres on the Lexus LS 400. Additionally, make sure wear is even across the tyre itself.
  • Brand – They should be from a good or well-reviewed brand – if they are from a poorly reviewed brand it suggests that the owner has cheaped out on maintenance.
  • Same tyre – in terms of tyre make, type and tread pattern on each axle (preferably on all four wheels) – mismatched tyres can lead to poor handling performance and may even be dangerous.

Brakes

Credit: Lexus

There really isn’t much to worry about here. They should be more than adequate for road use, however, quite a few owners upgrade their first gen LS 400 brakes with the stronger ones from the second gen model (wheel size needs to be increased as will to accommodate the larger discs and calipers).

Apart from that, just do a general check over of the braking system. Visually inspect the LS 400s discs calipers, etc. for wear, damage, modifications and corrosion. A small amount of surface corrosion on the discs is perfectly normal and should go away with a bit of use.  If the pads and/or discs need to be replaced make sure you get a discount (especially if the discs need replacing). Make sure the brake fluid has been replaced every two years or so on the LS 400 you are inspecting.

When it comes to the test drive, remember to check the brakes under both light and hard braking conditions. Do some repeated high to low-speed runs, and listen out for any rumbling, squealing or clunking sounds when the brakes are in use.

If you feel shuddering or shaking through the steering wheel when the brakes are in use it is probably a sign that one or more of the discs are warped. This usually becomes first apparent under high-speed braking.

Make sure the handbrake works as intended and see how it performs on a steep incline (if you can find one). Additionally, make sure the ABS light illuminates with ignition and that it goes off once the engine is running.

Seized calipers don’t seem to be too much of an issue on first and second generation Lexus LS 400s, but it can happen, so watch out for the following:

  • LS 400 pulls to one side (may even happen when the brakes are not in use)
  • Car feels low on power as if the parking/handbrake is on (could also be a sign of diff issues)
  • Brakes get extremely hot and produce a distinctive acrid smell and in some cases smoke
  • You find that the Lexus LS 400 doesn’t want to move at all
  • Loud thud-like noise when pulling away for the first time

Bodywork and Exterior

Credit: Lexus

Lexus was and still is famed for their incredible body and paintwork, so if something doesn’t quite match or look right, a repair has probably been carried out. Bodywork issues can be very expensive to fix, so take your time looking for the following problems.

Accident Damage

Arguably going to be one of your biggest concerns when it comes to inspecting a Lexus LS 400. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Inspect around the bonnet/hood and make sure everything lines up correctly. Check the door, bumper and boot/trunk panel gaps. If the panel gaps on one side look quite different to the other side, it could be a sign that the LS 400 has been in an accident. Lexus’s quality control and panel gaps were the best in the business at the time, so if you do notice a problem it is almost certainly due to some sort of repair work/accident.
  • Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Subaru you are looking at may have been in an accident or there may be some other sort of other issue with the door hinges.
  • Inconsistencies such as waving, rippling or different coloured panels – Indicates a respray which may have been conducted as a result of accident damage or rust. Again, Lexus’s paintwork is exceptional, so a problem here is almost certainly due to a respray.
  • If the bonnet/hood looks like it is popped when it is not – This may indicate that the LS 400 you are inspecting at has been crashed into something (even a light knock can cause this problem).
  • Damage to the mounting supports for the headlights or surrounds of the taillights – This can be very difficult to fix on any car and is a good place to check for any accident damage.
  • Bent or broken parts underneath the car – While inspecting the underside, check to make sure everything is straight. Look at the suspension and steering components as well. If the parts are different on one side compared to the other or much newer, it may be a sign that the Lexus has been in an accident.
  • Rust in strange locations – Can be a sign of accident damage, especially as these cars aren’t known to have rust issues (can still happen though).
  • Paint runs or overspray – Very unlikely to be a factory issue, so likely a result of a respray job.
  • Missing badges or trim – Could be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).

A lot of sellers will try and cover up the fact that their car has been in an accident or try to downplay the severity of the incident. In some cases, you may come across somebody who claims their car hasn’t been in an accident when it clearly has.

While crash damage and repairs are a very serious issue, we wouldn’t necessary walk away from a first or a second gen LS 400 that has been in an accident. Light to moderate damage that was repaired by a skilled panel beater/body shop is often okay and can usually be used to get a nice discount.

If the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owned the vehicle.

Rust

Unlike many other cars from its era, the LS 400 is fairly well rust proofed. However, despite this rust can still sometimes occur. While the problem can happen pretty much anywhere on the steel sections of the car, here are some of the main areas to watch out for.

  • Wheel arches and wheel wells
  • Bottom/edges of the doors
  • Sills – make sure you look under them and check with the doors open
  • Underbody
  • Around the windows

Factors That Can Make Rust More Likely on a Lexus LS 400

  • Vehicle has spent time in countries or areas with salted roads (UK, Parts of North America, etc.)
  • Car has spent time in countries or areas with very harsh winters
  • Vehicle is often parked/stored by the sea for significant periods of time
  • Always kept outside (never garaged)
  • Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)
  • Old or no underseal – check to see if underseal was put on if the car was an import and that is has been reapplied on a regular basis

Looking for Rust Repairs on an LS 400

It is not only important to look for present rust, but you should also keep an eye out for signs of past rust repair (mismatched paint, paint overspray etc.). Watch out for any areas that may have been resprayed or cut out and replaced. You should also check the service history and with the owner (however, don’t trust what the owner says completely as they may be trying to hide something from you).

Use a magnet on steel sections of the car (cover it with a cloth so you don’t damage the paintwork) or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.

Interior

Credit: Lexus

Quite a few of these cars now suffer from tatty interiors, so make sure you are happy with the condition of the cabin. Check the seats for any wear, rips or stains. If the LS 400 is fitted with leather seats, check to see if there are any cracks in the material. This is a very common issue and unless the cracks are not very deep, replacing the leather material is really the only true fix.

Make sure that they are nice and firm and that all of the adjustments work as intended. If the seats move during acceleration or braking it is incredibly dangerous and will be an MOT/WOF failure.

Check around the dashboard for any cracks. This isn’t as much of a problem on these cars as it is on early to mid-2000s Lexus models, but it is still important to check as it is a nightmare to fix. Alternatively, you can just simply hide the cracks with a dashboard cover if you are happy with that solution.

Another very important thing to do is to thoroughly check the entire cabin and boot/trunk area for any leaks or dampness. Water can play havoc with the electronics of an LS 400 (or any car for that matter) and can lead to a nasty smell. Feel the carpets in both the front and back and turn over the floor mats. If you notice water residue on the bottom it could be a sign of a past or present leak. Leaks from strange locations could be a sign of an accident.

Make sure you have a look at the headlining above the driver’s seat. If it is a slightly different colour it may be a sign that the Lexus LS 400 you are inspecting has been owned by a smoker. A smell test will also help you determine whether or not this is the case as well.

Electronics, Air Con and the Rest

The instrument cluster can fail in a couple of ways. The first is that the speedometer and/or tachometer needle can get stuck at zero. The second failure is that the LEDs on the needles can go, making them hard to see. These two failures aren’t too expensive to fix, so we wouldn’t let them put you off an LS 400.

Another electrical issue you may come across is failure of the digital display on the climate control panel. This problem can be fixed at home if you can find a replacement screen and know your way around a soldering iron. Alternatively, a good Lexus or electrical specialist should be able to sort this issue for you.

The ECU capacitors on 90 – 97 LS 400s can leak, resulting in all sorts of weird behaviour from rough running, hard starts, shifting issues and more. A new ECU will sort the issue, but these can cost thousands from Lexus dealers, so an alternative is to replace the capacitors yourself (only should be done by somebody fairly experienced with soldering and fixing electrical issues). If you aren’t too keen on this a Lexus specialist should be able to help you. Be cautious of replacing the ECU with a scrapyard one, as the new one could quite as easily have the same problem. You can read more about the issue here.

The negative battery post clamp is another area of concern as corrosion can creep its way in between the negative battery terminal and the mating cable clamp. Once this has occurred it can prevent the car from starting. This seems to be more of an issue on second generation LS 400s and you can read a complete guide on how to fix the issue on Club Lexus.

Check that all of the locks, including the doors, boot and glove box work. Make sure the keyless entry system works as if it doesn’t it can be extremely expensive to fix. On 1998 onwards LS 400s, check to make sure the master key with three buttons is present. If it is not, they can be quite expensive to replace. On all models, there should be a total of two master keys.

If no warning lights appear during start-up it may be a sign of an issue or that they have been disconnected. Alternatively, if they stay on you need to investigate the issue further and possibly take the car to a Lexus specialist to find out what is causing the warning light before purchase.

Don’t forget to check that the air conditioning/climate control works as intended and that plenty of cold air comes out of the system. If it doesn’t, don’t let the seller convince you it just needs a re-gas as it may be something like the compressor (expensive fix).

General Car Buying Advice for a Lexus LS 400

Credit: Lexus

How to Get the Best Deal on an LS 400

This information applies to both dealers and private sealers. Knowledge is power and it can save you a lot of money when purchasing a vehicle.

  1. Research heavily –  Prior to starting your search for a first gen or second gen Lexus LS 400, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage late model LS 400 or do you not mind an earlier LS 400 that has travelled a bit further.
  2. Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. Lexus sold a lot of these cars, so there are plenty out there in different levels of condition and mileage, so don’t limit yourself to one seller, dealer, area or auction platform.
  3. Go look at and test drive multiple LS 400s if possible – It is a good idea to test drive a many cars as possible, so you know what makes a good and what makes a bad Lexus LS 400.
  4. Adjust your attitude – Never rush into a purchase. If you are desperate to buy a car you are more likely to get ripped off. Take your time when looking for an LS 400 for sale and only go for promising looking cars (unless you are looking for a project vehicle).
  5. Use any issues with the car to your advantage –  Take a mental note of any issues you find with the vehicle. When it comes to discussing the price, use these problems to try and drive down the price. For example, if the car needs new tyres or brake pads make a point of it and try to get the seller to reduce the price.
  6. Don’t trust the owner –  While some owners/sellers are honest about their cars, many will lie to get a quick sale. Take in what the owner has to say but back it up with a thorough inspection.
  7. Go between sellers/dealers –  If you are looking at multiple LS 400s, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
  8. Be prepared to walk away –  If you are not happy with the deal, simply walk away. You may miss out on the car or the seller may get back to you with a better offer.

Mileage vs Condition 

Mileage vs condition is always a hot topic for debate, but we feel that it is always better to buy on condition and then on mileage. Lots of owners make the mistake of believing that they are preserving their car by not driving it. In reality, this is completely false and not driving a vehicle can actually do more damage than good.

Short distance trips do not allow the engine to warm up properly, which can lead to increased component wear and reduced engine life.

Rubber seals and plastic parts will fail regardless of mileage and can even deteriorate quicker on cars that don’t get used often. Letting a car sit will not prevent rust or stop the electronics from failing.

Service History and Other Documentation

It is incredibly important to check any vehicle’s service history and any additional paperwork that goes along with it. While the servicing doesn’t need to be done at a dealer, it should be carried out by a competent Lexus specialist or mechanic (especially for major repair work). Home mechanic work is okay, but it is much harder to gauge the competence of a home mechanic than checking reviews for established businesses.

The service history will give you a good idea of how the LS 400 you are inspecting has been maintained. In addition to this, receipts and paperwork for modifications (if the car has any) can help you determine whether they have been done by an experienced tuner or a bad one.

If the owner can’t or won’t let you see the service history, you should probably pass on the vehicle. A complete service history will only add value to any vehicle your purchase and will make it easier to sell the car in the future.

Additionally, you can check websites such as CarFax (USA) and CarJam (NZ) for more information about the car you are thinking of purchasing. These sort of websites can be incredibly useful, but there is usually a cost associated with them.

Questions That You Should Ask the Seller/Owner 

  • How often do you drive the car?
  • When was the last service and who was it serviced by?
  • How much oil does it use?
  • What oil do you use in the car?
  • What parts have been replaced?
  • When was the timing belt and water pump last replaced?
  • When were the coils, spark plugs, leads changed?
  • What’s the compression like?
  • What modifications have been made to the vehicle?
  • Has the vehicle overheated at any point or has the head gasket failed?
  • Has the car been in any major or minor accidents? Is so, what repairs were made?
  • Is there any money owing on the car?
  • Have you got any information on the previous owners and how they treated the vehicle?
  • How are the speakers
  • Is there any rust?
  • Has rust been removed at any point?
  • When were the brake pads replaced and have the calipers seized at any point in time?
  • Where do you store/park the car usually?

There are loads more questions you can ask the seller, but we feel these are some of the most important.

Things That Would Make Us Walk Away from a Lexus LS 400

Here are some things that would make as walk away from one of these cars. While you may be happy with a vehicle with these problems, we are not.

  • Overheating problems or blown head gasket
  • Significant Crash Damage or poorly repaired roof
  • Money owing on the car
  • Stanced
  • Modifications with no paperwork or carried out by a poorly reviewed tuner
  • Excessive amounts of power
  • Bad compression
  • Bad resprays
  • Significant rust problems
  • Engine swaps with non-standard engines
  • Significant track use (probably not likely on these cars)
  • Major engine or transmission issues
  • Owner who is not forthcoming with information (could be trying to hide something)

Notes on the Owner 

The owner is one of the most important things to think about when viewing any vehicle. You need to ask them plenty of questions when inspecting their LS 400 (however, don’t trust their answers completely). Remember, it is your problem if you wind up buying an absolute lemon. Here are some things to watch out for.

  • How long have they owned the vehicle? If it is less than 6 months it tends to suggest that the car needs major work done to it that they can’t afford. It also could be a sign that they deal cars as well.
  • Do they thrash the car when it is cold or continually launch the vehicle? If so, you are better to walk away.
  • Why are they selling the vehicle? Could be a genuine reason or they may be trying to offload their problem onto an unsuspecting buyer.
  • What sort of area do they live in? Is it a good area or a complete dump?
  • How do they respond when you ask them simple questions?
  • Do they know anything about the first or second gen LS 400 and the model they are selling
  • What can they tell you about previous owners?
  • Do they have lots of cars on their drive? If they do it may mean they are a dealer.
  • What is their reaction when you ask them about money owing on the car? Tell them you are going to do a check and see how they respond.
  • What is their reaction to you asking for details for HPi check?
  • How do they react if you ask to do a compression test on the vehicle?
  • How do they respond when you ask them to show you the service history and paperwork for the car?

If you get a bad feeling about the owner, you are better off moving onto another Lexus LS 400.

Importing a Toyota Celsior from Japan

Credit: Toyota

The LS 400 was sold was the Toyota Celsior in Japan, so if you are looking to important one search under that name.

How to Import a Celsior from Japan

While importing a first or second gen Toyota Celsior from Japan may seem a bit daunting, it is actually quite easy. The first thing we recommend you do is to Google search something like “import Toyota Celsior”. You will be greeted with loads of different websites to choose from. These websites will let you search for one of these cars based on their age, generation, condition, price and more.

Most of the websites/companies you encounter should be based in Japan, but you may find some other ones that are located in different parts of the world.

Make sure you check reviews/feedback of any website or auction house you want to use. While you are unlikely to get completely scammed, many of these websites will be economical with the truth about a vehicle. We have listed a few examples of Japanese importers/exporters below:

JDM Expo – Is an independent subsidiary of Nikko Auto Co., which is recognized as on the most reliable exporters of Japanese cars in the country.

Car From Japan – is another large portal for connecting overseas buyers with Japanese second hand cars.

Japan Partner – Is one of the fastest growing exporters of used Japanese vehicles.

Note: many of these sorts of websites do not provide a grade or auction check sheet. The grade, auction check sheet, and car map are vital to picking a good car. Buyer beware!

Use a Private Importer

While the websites above are a handy way to give you a general idea of what to expect when importing a Toyota Celsior, we recommend that you go with a private importer. A trusted private importer will be able to find a good Ceslior for you and import it, saving you the hassle. While it may cost you a bit more (sometimes it is cheaper) you are more likely to get a better vehicle.

You can get a full explanation of why we recommend using a private importer here.

How Does the Japanese Car Grading System Work? 

The auction houses and car exporters in Japan all get their vehicles in roughly the same way. The difference between them is how much support they are willing to provide, how honest they are, and how they grade their vehicles

They will provide what is known as an ‘auction check sheet’ – a document that contains most of what you need to know about the vehicle. As you can’t see the vehicle personally, you will have to rely on the check sheet and other information on the listing to make a decision. If the seller/website is not willing to provide you with an auction check sheet or additional information on the car, don’t proceed any further.

Before you make a purchase you need to learn how to read an auction check sheet. The sheet contains information on the make, model, condition, specifications and any other notes. There will be a grade on the sheet that denotes the overall grade of the vehicle.

While the grade on a check sheet is important, you should not rely on it to make a final decision. Different companies have different methods for grading their vehicles, so a grade 4 for one company may be a grade 3.5 for another.

Some websites may use a different grading system and if you can’t view the auction check sheet, you should contact the seller/exporter.

Use the grade to reduce the number of Celsiors you are looking at and then use the check sheet and additionally information to make a decision. We also recommend you pay a third party to check out the car for you if possible (hence the recommendation for a private importer).

The Auction Check Sheet 

Below you can see an example of an auction check sheet. The grade is located in the top right corner of the check sheet. You will notice that there is both a letter and a number grade. The number indicates the overall condition of the vehicle, while the letter shows you the interior grade. At the bottom right of the check sheet is the ‘car map’. The car map tells you information about the exterior of a Celsior and where any problems are located.

Additionally, the sheet contains information about the specs of the vehicle and any modifications (major or minor). The inspector may also write some additional notes about the car.

What Does the Number Grade Mean? 
  • Grade 7 to 9 or S– New car with delivery miles.
  • Grade 6– Same as above but with a few more miles.
  • Grade 5– Vehicle is in excellent condition with low miles.
  • Grade 4.5– Overall condition is great, but may have up to 100,000 miles on the clock.
  • Grade 4– Overall condition is good, but can have low or high miles.
  • Grade 3.5– Similar to grade 4, but some work may be needed and they usually have more miles.
  • Grade 3– Can be the same condition as grade 3.5, but with more miles. Alternatively, the car may have lower miles but require more work.
  • Grade 2– Very poor condition car and may have significant mechanical or exterior issues. Not necessarily a right off, but you would have to be a brave buyer to purchase one of these.
  • Grade 1– Is modified in some way (can be extensive or something simple).
  • Grade 0, A, R, RA– Some repair history that can be major or minor.
The Letter Grade

As we wrote earlier, the number grade is usually accompanied by a letter that indicates the interior grade. An ‘A’ indicates that the interior is in exceptional or good condition. A ‘B’ indicates that the car is in average condition, while a ‘C’ displays that it is in poor condition. Grades below C show that the car’s interior is in very poor condition.

The Car Map 

The check sheet will also contain what is called a “car map”, which tells you all the information you need to know about the exterior condition of the car. It will show the location of any problems or damage to the vehicle. Any problems are indicated by a letter and a number. The letter tells you what the issue is and the number indicates the severity. You can read more about the car map in our “How to Import a Car from Japan” guide.

Our Guidelines for Importing a Toyota Celsior from Japan

  • Always demand to see and have the auction check sheet before making a purchase
  • If you can’t read Japanese or the company won’t provide a translated check sheet, get help from somebody who speaks/reads Japanese.
  • Try to go through a private importer
  • Check that the chassis number on the check sheet matches the one on the frame
  • Cross reference the check sheet with other websites
  • Don’t rely on the grade (always check the auction sheet thoroughly)
  • Investigate each website/service thoroughly (reviews, feedback, etc.)
  • Be careful of heavily modified vehicles
  • Get someone to inspect the car for you if possible. Ask for photos and get a good run down of the condition.
  • Avoid cars with unknown mileages
  • Stay away from bargains that seem to be too good to be true
  • Stay away from grade 0, A, RA, R vehicles that have been involved in accidents

Know Your Country’s Importation Laws 

Always make sure you check your country’s importation laws as you may find you can’t bring the vehicle you want in. For example, some countries have certain restrictions on importing cars under a certain age.

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