For those looking for luxury on a budget you really can’t go wrong with the Lexus LS 430 (known as the Toyota Celsior in Japan). It has become one of the most popular luxury used cars from its period due to its great feature set and exceptional build quality.
In this guide, we have put together everything you need to know about buying a Lexus LS 430 or Toyota Celsior XF30. While these cars are overall very reliable, a poorly maintained one can land you with some expensive bills.
How To Use This Lexus LS 430 Buyer’s Guide
This guide covers a lot of information, so use the table of contents below to skip to the section you want to read. To begin with we will look at the history and specifications of the Lexus LS 430 and then we will dive into the buyer’s guide portion of the article. Following the main buying guide, we have more general car purchasing advice and we will follow up with some information on how to import a Lexus LS 430/Toyota Celsior from Japan.
The History of the Lexus LS 430
Development of the LS series of Toyota’s flagship sedans began in 1983 under the “F1 project”. At the time Toyota’s existing flagship models, the Crown and Century, were intended for the Japanese market and there was little global appeal for them.
Toyota wanted to take what was great about these two models and turn them into a car that would be well received in export markets. After a lengthy five-year development process and at significant expense to the Japanese manufacturer, the first of Toyota’s new range of luxury vehicles was ready.
The new sedan would be the first car to be marketed under Toyota’s new luxury division, Lexus. It was badged as the LS (Luxury Sedan) and the first generation was given the designation XF10.
While the car was intended for export markets with the primary focus being on the United States, Toyota still wanted to sell the car in Japan. Additionally, a growing number of local dealers were requesting the new luxury sedan.
Shortly after the LS 400 made its debut in the United States, Toyota introduced a version for the Japanese domestic market. The Japanese spec car was largely identical to the export model and was simply branded as a Toyota as the Lexus name was not used in the country. Additionally, Toyota also renamed it to the Celsior, which stands for “supreme” in Latin.
Over the coming years Toyota would expand the LS model range and a second-generation (XF20) car would be introduced in 1994. Production of the second-gen Lexus LS would continue until 2000, when the third generation (XF30) was introduced.
The Lexus LS 430 (Third Generation XF30)
Lexus and Toyota launched the third-generation version of the LS at the North American Auto Show in January 2000 after four years of development. It was badged as a 2001 model with the name LS 430, and it introduced a completely new body design with a whole host of new interior and technological features.
Exterior & Interior Design
Chief engineer, Yasushi Tanaka and his team of designers believed that the previous version of the LS was too restrained in its approach. The final design by Akihiro Nagaya was selected from 16 different concepts and it saw an overall increase in dimensions in terms of wheelbase and height.
Wind tunnel testing was conducted via the use of facilities usually reserved for the Shinkansen bullet trains. This resulted in a much more aerodynamic, smoother lined body.
Some of the biggest visual changes apart from the new aerodynamic body was the larger, rounder grille at the front, the quarter windows on the rear doors, and the rounded trapezoidal headlights.
The design team took inspiration for the interior from the guest rooms of luxury hotels such as “The Ritz-Carlton” and the “Imperial Hotel”. Additionally, design cues for the seats were taken from those fitted to the first-class cabins on airlines such as British Airways and Japan Airlines.
Engineers also completely redesigned the navigation system with a touchscreen LCD panel serving as the interface for the system. Another new feature of the new navigation system was voice activated control, a first for an LS series car. To round off the standard interior changes, Lexus fitted the LS 430 with a Mark Levinson premium sound system.
Depending on the specifications selected at purchase, the LS 430 could also come with Lexus Link telematics, heated and cooled front seats, power reclining massage rear seats with audio control, power door and boot/trunk closers, power sunshade, a cooler box and an air purifier.
Under the Hood & Bodywork
Lexus equipped the luxury sedan with a new 4.3-litre 3UZ-FE V8 engine that produced as much as 290 hp (216 kW) and 434 Nm (320 ft lb) of torque. This new engine would allow the LS 430 to be the first petrol/gasoline powered V8 car to be certified as an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV).
The smooth V8 engine was combined with a new torque-activated electronic control unit that made throttle adjustments based on the vehicle’s speed, engine revolutions per minute and pedal positions. While it wasn’t meant to be a sports car, the LS 430 could hit 100 km/h (62 mph) in anywhere from around 6.3 to 6.7 seconds (depending on who did the testing).
Along with a new power unit, Lexus/Toyota also completely redesigned the suspension system, with a double-wishbone setup on all four corners. Additionally, tuned suspension was offered for the first time on an LS series vehicle.
Another new feature on the LS 430 was its adaptive cruise control system (named Dynamic Laser Cruise Control). Unlike the laser-based ACC system introduced on the Celsior in 1997, the LS 430’s cruise control employed a lidar sensor and it was also able to activate the brakes for deceleration. However, due to the technological limitations at the time, the system would deactivate in poor weather conditions.
The LS 430 Hits the Market
When sales began in the latter part of 2000, the Lexus LS 430 instantly proved to be a popular choice for luxury car buyers. Prices in the United States started at US$55,000 for the base model and went up to $70,000 for top spec versions, making the car extremely competitive with vehicles from other luxury brands. This led to an increase in sales over the previous generation with production exceeding 140,000 units by the end of the car’s lifecycle.
2003 Update (2004 Model)
While Lexus had created an incredible luxury sedan, they didn’t stand still. In early 2002 they began to work on an updated version of the third-generation LS 430 that would eventually launch in September 2003 as a 2004 model.
The first major change was that made to the cruise control system. Now named Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, the system could now work in all weather conditions thanks to the use of a radar sensor that replaced the old lidar one.
The radar technology also allowed Lexus to enable the first Pre-Collision System (PCS) on a Lexus sedan, however, partial autonomous braking was only fitted to the Japanese market Celsior. In 2004, the system was further updated with a “low-speed tracking mode” that would warn the driver if the vehicle ahead stopped. The system could then provide braking and once stopped it would deactivate.
A slight restyle of the LS 430 was also done for the 2003 updates and new high-density discharge headlights were fitted for the first time to a Lexus. AFS adaptive curve headlights that swivelled the headlamps in the direction that the car was turning was another major update.
The main visual differences on the outside were restyled front and rear fascias, LED taillights, and different wheels. Under the hood the V8 power unit remained the same as in the earlier version of the LS 430.
On the inside, the updated 430 received knee airbags, new trim options such as bird’s eye maple wood, and lighted rear-seat vanity mirrors. Other new options included an updated navigation system, Bluetooth and a backup camera. A touch to open electronic key was also available.
The End of the LS 430
After six years of production it was time for a new version of the LS. The 430 had performed well and it had garnered Lexus a new level of respect amongst car enthusiasts and luxury car buyers alike. This was not only due to its excellent feature set, but also its reliability. In every year of production, the LS 430 was named the most reliable luxury sedan in the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Survey and it also became the highest ever recorded scorer in the Vehicle Dependability Survey.
Lexus LS 430 & Toyota Celsior Specifications
|Model||LS 430 (Celsior)|
|Year of production||2001 – 2006|
|Layout||Front-engined, rear-wheel drive|
|Engine/Engines||4.3-litre 3UZ-FE V8|
|Power||290 hp (216 kW)|
|Torque||434 Nm (320 ft lb)|
|Gearbox||5-speed A650E automatic|
6-speed A761E automatic
|Brakes||4-wheel, power assisted, ventilated disc brakes|
|Weight||1,810–1,812 kg (3,990–3,995 lb)|
|Top speed||210 km/h (130 mph) limited|
Possibly 250 km/h (155 mph) unlimited
|0 – 100 km/h (62 mph)||6.3 – 6.7 seconds|
Lexus LS 430 & Toyota Celsior Buyer’s Guide
Now that we have covered the history and specifications of the Lexus LS 430, let’s take a look at what you need to know about buying one.
As we mentioned earlier in the history section, the LS 430 was voted as the most reliable luxury sedan in the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Survey for every year of its production. Additionally, if you go on any Lexus forums, plenty of LS 430 owners will tell you just how reliable their car is.
However, while the LS 430 is probably as bombproof as you can get for a luxury sedan, a poorly maintained one can still be trouble (as with any car for that matter). You need to take your time when inspecting any LS 430 and don’t rush into a purchase.
Setting Up an Inspection of a Lexus LS 430
Arranging an inspection correctly is an important step in the car buying process. When setting up an inspection of a Lexus LS 430 or Toyota Celsior you should consider the following:
- Try to meet at the seller’s house or place of business (dealer, etc.) – This will let you get a rough idea of how the vehicle is stored and what sort of area it lives in (for example, rough roads may lead to increased suspension wear).
- Try to meet in the morning – While the time that you meet will largely depend on you and the seller’s schedule, it is a good idea to try and arrange an inspection for a time in the morning. This is because the seller probably won’t have warmed up the LS 430 prior to your arrival (unless they have driven somewhere or moved the car). Preheating a car is a great way to hide several engine issues, so keep this in mind.
- Take somebody with you – Having somebody who can help you inspect the car is always a good idea, and you can also get their feedback on the vehicle. While it is better if they are more mechanically inclined, it is not always necessary.
- Avoid going to look at a Lexus LS 430 or Toyota Celsior in the rain – Water on the bodywork can hide numerous issues with the paint and other exterior parts/panels.
- Be cautious of a LS 430 or Celsior that has been freshly washed, especially if it still has water on the bodywork – this is largely for the same reason as above, but some owners will also wash the underside/engine bay to hide a nasty looking leak.
How Much is a Lexus LS 430 Worth?
This is always one of those “how long is a piece of string” type of questions as it largely depends on how the vehicle has been maintained, what sort of specs it has, where it is being sold, and its mileage/current condition. For example, a late model LS 430 with very low mileage is going to be worth more than an earlier model that has been to the moon and back.
With the above in mind, we recommend that you jump on your local auction/classifieds websites or dealer websites to get a rough idea of what you need to pay for a Lexus LS 430. You can use the prices from these websites to get an idea of what you need to spend for a specific condition level or model variant.
Is the Lexus LS 430 Expensive to Maintain?
Overall, the LS 430 is a surprisingly inexpensive vehicle to own largely thanks to its reliability. 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.
Lexus LS 430 Inspection Guide
In the following section you will learn about how to inspect an LS 430 and all the common faults and issues to watch out for.
Checking the Vehicle Identification 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.
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.
Where Can I Find the VN on a Lexus LS 430
The VIN can actually be found on most of the panels of an LS 430. Under the hood/bonnet there should be one on each side of the fenders, one on the engine and transmission, and a few others on places such as the hood. Additionally, the one on the driver’s side door jam is also easily accessible, along with the one below the windshield.
Try to find as many VINs as possible during your search and make sure that they all match. If they don’t it may indicate that the car has been in an accident or had some other sort of problem. Scratched off VINs usually indicate that the vehicle has been stolen.
Checking the Engine in an LS 430
The 4.3-litre 3UZ-FE V8 engine in the LS 430 is a fairly bulletproof piece of machinery, especially if they are well maintained. Unfortunately, while this engine is about as reliable as you can get in a luxury sedan, poor maintenance can lead to issues (just like with any other car or engine).
Additionally, as these cars are famed for their reliability, some people buy them and think they don’t have to do maintenance, which is a major issue. Keep this in mind when conducting an inspection, as if you get an inkling that the owner/seller doesn’t maintain the vehicle properly you may want to move onto another LS 430.
When you first open the bonnet/hood (make sure that the struts hold the bonnet) of a Lexus LS 430, check for the following:
- Broken or damaged components – This is typically a big sign of trouble, especially if the broken or damaged parts are vital to the correct function of the engine. If the owner doesn’t mention anything about it or tries to brush of an obviously serious issue as minor you should be very cautious. Broken or damaged components are also a sign of poor maintenance,
- Cleanliness – Is the engine bay nicely cleaned or is it dirty?
- Modifications – Are there any modifications you can see? While mods are perfectly fine if they are installed correctly and are suitable for an LS 430, poorly installed ones or those of bad quality can cause issues.
If the engine bay looks completely spotless it is probably a sign of a good owner. However, it may also be a sign of somebody who is trying to cover something up, such as an oil leak. If you notice that the underside and engine bay of the LS 430 you are inspecting is still wet, it may be a sign that the vehicle has been washed to hide an issue.
Inspecting the Fluids
Once you have conducted a quick check-over of the engine bay, move onto inspecting the fluids. It is important that the fluid levels are at the correct height as if they are not it is a sign that the LS 430 has been poorly maintained. Additionally, incorrect fluid levels can lead to engine or component damage and possibly even complete failure.
Make sure you inspect the different fluid levels (engine oil, etc.) both before and after a test drive to make sure they are roughly the same height (a slight change is to be expected).
When Should the Engine Oil & Oil Filter Be Changed on a Lexus LS 430?
It is a good idea to ask the owner about their service schedule for their Lexus LS 430 (and also check the service history as well). If you discover that the oil and oil filter have not been changed at a regular interval it is a major warning sign. Overtime, oil in a car’s engine can become contaminated and diluted, leading to poor engine performance and possibly even engine damage.
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.
What Is the Best Engine Oil for a Lexus LS 430?
This largely comes down to personal preference and the environment that the car will be driven in. However, Lexus does recommend a good quality 5W-30 engine oil such as this one from Mobil 1 for most driving conditions. For hotter environments you may want to go with something like a 5W-40 and for lower temperatures a 0W-30 may be beneficial.
Oil Filter for a Lexus LS 430
There is a wide range of oil filters available for the LS 430, but the most recommended ones tend to be the OEM variants. The most recommended filter is Toyota’s 90915-20004, however it is quite difficult to find. Another OEM option is the 90915-YZZD3 oil filter, but this one is seen as lower quality than the 90915-20004 (it is more readily available however). It is recommended that you replace the oil filter with every oil change.
Don’t Forget to Check the Oil Condition
When you are checking the oil level, don’t forget to take a good look at the oil itself. Metallic particles or grit on the dipstick are almost always a sign of trouble and incoming expense.
Additionally, make sure you check for any foam or froth on the dipstick as it may be a sign that the LS 430 you are looking at has overheated or has suffered from a blown head gasket (this seems to be a very rare occurrence on these cars, so shouldn’t be a problem).
Does the LS 430 Burn/Consume a Lot of Oil?
No, these cars are not known for oil consumption/burning, however, you should ask the owner about it as if their car does burn through a bit of oil it may be a sign that it has issues. Sometimes a slighter thicker oil can help reduce oil consumption, but if you suspect the car is using a lot you should move onto another LS 430.
What About Oil Leaks?
Again, oil leaks shouldn’t really be a problem on a Lexus LS 430 or Toyota Celsior. If the car you are looking at is leaking oil, try to get an idea of how big the issue is and where the leak is coming from. Leaks can stem from many places from a loose valve cover, to a clogged PCV valve, an incorrectly fitted or incorrect oil filter, and more.
The valve cover gasket is a common failure point that can cause leaks. It may become loose or it may require a completely new replacement. With the age of these cars, expect that a replacement has been carried out at least once, if not more (if it hasn’t been done you will probably have to get it replaced in the near future yourself).
If you notice that there is a puddle of oil underneath the car or quite a bit of oil dripping, we recommend that you move onto another LS 430 or Celsior as the one you are looking at is probably not worth your time. Small leaks may be fine, but they can also be much more serious and difficult to fix than they first appear.
Timing Belt/Cambelt Replacement
Unfortunately, unlike many of Toyota’s engines from the period, the V8 engine in the LS 430 is an interference engine. This means that if the timing belt snaps the valves can hit the pistons, which will essentially destroy the top half of the engine.
Naturally, getting the engine rebuilt will be seriously expensive, so you want to make sure the belt is changed at its recommended service interval of 145,000 km (90,000 miles) or every 9 years. The belt can probably go a bit longer than this, but it is best not to risk it.
If the owner hasn’t had the timing belt changed and the vehicle is well passed the service interval be very cautious. Not only could the belt break just after you purchase the vehicle, but it is also a sign of poor maintenance and you should be asking yourself what other areas of the car have not been maintained properly.
If are interested in buying an LS 430 that is getting close to needing the belt replaced or is past the service interval, try to use that to get a hefty discount. Alternatively, get the owner to replace the belt for you prior to purchase. When the timing belt is replaced it is a good idea to replace the water pump, belt tensioner and idlers as well.
Check out this guide on clublexus.com for more information on how to replace the timing belt. If the owner has replaced the timing belt themselves, try to get a rough idea of their competency. Look at the guide we just linked and ask them about the process. While there are plenty of good home mechanics, there are far more who shouldn’t be let loose with a spanner.
While you probably won’t get the chance to look at the spark plugs on the LS 430 you are inspecting you should definitely do so if the opportunity arises (even if it is just one). The condition of an engine’s spark plugs can tell you quite a bit about how it is running. We recommend that you check out this guide for more information on spark plug analysis.
When Should the Spark Plugs be Replaced on an LS 430?
It is recommended that you replace the spark plugs in a Lexus LS 430 every 200,000 km (120,000 miles). However, more than a few owners have left the replacement longer and don’t seem to have a problem with their cars. If the LS 430 you are looking at has never had a plug change it is a cause for concern, especially if it is a really high mileage example.
While many owners don’t seem to have a problem leaving the same spark plugs in their car, there a quite a few reports of improved responsiveness with an early change. You can read about some owners’ experiences here.
What are the Correct Spark Plugs?
Inspecting the Cooling System
While the Lexus LS 430 is not known for overheating problems like some other vehicles, it is important to check as much of the cooling system as possible. Failure of the cooling system can lead to total engine failure and a very expensive repair or replacement bill. Below we have listed the main components that make up the cooling system on a Lexus LS 430:
- Radiator – removes heat from the water/coolant
- Thermostat – sends water/coolant that is hotter than the target temperature to the radiator to be cooled
- Water Pump – belt that is driven from a pulley. Pushes water/coolant through the engine (should be replaced with the timing belt).
- Overflow or Expansion bottle – removes air from the system and provides a filling point
- Coolant Lines – hoses that allow water/coolant to remain contained as it moves through the engine/cooling system
Make sure you inspect the cooling system both before and after a test drive to make sure it is working correctly and that there are no leaks. If the coolant height changes drastically there is a problem that needs to be investigated (a small change is to be expected however).
Check that the coolant is pink or red in colour. Lexus used Toyota Pink from factory, but Red will work as well (its just much shorter life). You can read more about the differences between the coolants here.
What are the Signs of Overheating or a Head Gasket Failure?
Overheating & head gasket failures are very rare issues on an LS 430, so if one you are inspecting is showing any signs of the below you should move onto another car.
- Bubbles in the radiator or coolant overflow tank
- Oil that is white and milky
- Fouled spark plugs (if you can get to see them)
- Low cooling system integrity
- Engine oil that smells of coolant
- Sweet exhaust smell
- Coolant leaking externally from below the exhaust manifold
- White smoke from the exhaust pipe (especially if you see lots of it)
Don’t forget to check the temperature gauge. Obviously if it is on the higher end it indicates that there is an issue, however, overheating and head gasket failure can cause the gauge to behave erratically (reading high then dropping back to normal levels, etc.). If the gauge is on the low side it may be a sign that the thermostat is not functioning correctly.
Take a Look at the Exhaust System
There are no real common issues with the exhaust system on an LS 430 or Toyota Celsior, but it is a good idea to check as much of the system as possible. These cars are getting on a bit and as they age more exhaust related issues such as the ones will start to pop up.
- Black sooty stains – This is a sign of a leak and depending on the severity of the problem a simple reweld may fix the issue or if the issue is bigger a replacement may be necessary.
- Corrosion – Rust/corrosion can be an issue and oftentimes it is hard to tell as the problem occur from the inside out due to moisture/condensation carried by the exhaust gases. If you live in a country with salted roads rust is more likely to occur on the exhaust and other parts of an LS 430 as well.
- Cracks or accident damage – dents, cracks and other damage to the exhaust system may be a result of careless driving. Damage may lead to leaks, corrosion or other issues that need to be dealt with as soon as possible.
- Bad repairs – There is nothing wrong with a repaired exhaust, but if the work was done on the cheap it is an issue.
- Aftermarket systems – Replacing the exhaust with a non-original one is quite common as sourcing an OEM one is very expensive. If the exhaust is from a good quality brand or specialist this isn’t a problem as it is probably better than the original. Watch out for poor quality exhaust systems however.
Starting Up a Lexus LS 430 or Toyota Celsior for the First Time
It is a good idea to get the owner/seller of the LS 430 or Celsior to start the vehicle for you for the first time (make sure you try and start the car yourself at a later point). We recommend that you get the owner to start the vehicle for the following reasons:
- So, you can see what comes out the back (smoke, vapour, etc.)
- To see if the owner revs the car hard when it is still cold (if they do that pass on the Lexus or Toyota)
A car that struggles to start or won’t start at all may be suffering from several different issues from something like a bad battery or poor spark plugs to something much more serious.
What Should the Idle Speed Be on an LS 430?
When the car is warmed up it should idle at around the 600 – 800 rpm mark. Make sure you turn on all the electronics, air-conditioning, etc. and check the idle speed. A slight increase is expected, but if the car suddenly struggles or stalls there may be a problem.
Poor idle could be caused by anything from a dirty throttle body, to spark plug issues and even something as simple as a dirty air filter. It will be hard to tell exactly what is causing the bad idle during a short inspection, so assume the worst and hope for the best (or just move onto another LS 430 as if it was a simple fix the seller probably would have got it done).
During a Test Drive
Make sure you listen out for any strange noises from the engine and check that there is no hesitation. The power should come on smooth and should be more than enough for typical road use. Remember to watch the temperature gauge and if you see any spikes or strange behaviour it could be a sign that the vehicle is overheating.
Bad Motor Mounts
The motor mounts will eventually need to be replaced (usually around 160,000 km or 100,000 miles but may be more or less). Bad motor mounts may lead to rattles, clunks, etc. and will make the engine less smooth. In some cases the engine may even move if the mounts are really worn or broken (see the video below).
Smoke from a Lexus LS 430
Large amounts of smoke and vapour from an LS 430 (or any car for that matter) is almost always a sign of big trouble and expense. If the car you are looking at has a smoking problem, move onto another LS 430 or Celsior.
While large amounts of vapour coming from the exhaust of an LS 430 signals an issue, a little bit on engine start-up is perfectly normal on a cold day and is usually caused by condensation in the exhaust. If the vapour doesn’t disappear after a short time it signals an issue. Below we have put together some information on what the different colours of smoke indicate:
White smoke – This is usually caused by water in the cylinders and could indicate a blown head gasket. If the smoke smells sweet, it is probably coolant.
Blue/Grey smoke – Can be caused by wear to the pistons, piston rings, and/or worn valve seals. Oil leaking into the cylinders will burn, leading to a blueish smoke (can occur on startup). To check for blue smoke, ask a friend to follow you while drive the vehicle and take it through the rev range. Alternatively, get the owner to drive the car for a bit and watch out the back.
Blue or grey smoke on start-up and overrun could be a sign that the vehicle has been thrashed. Alternatively, if you see a bit of smoke on engine start-up it may be a sign of an oil burning issue, so we suggest you ask the seller about the car’s oil consumption.
Black smoke – Usually occurs when the engine is running too rich (burning too much fuel). The first things you should check is the air-filter and other intake components.
Buying an LS 430 With a Rebuilt Engine
The 3UZ-FE engine in the LS 430 is known to go on for a long time, but nothing lasts forever, and a rebuild or replacement will eventually be necessary. An LS 430 with a rebuilt engine is perfectly fine, however, the work should be carried out by a competent Lexus specialist or mechanic. Rebuilds can often be done on the cheap for a quick sale, so be cautious.
Check for any receipts for parts or labour and then look up reviews of where the work was carried out. If they look bad, avoid the car. Additionally, be cautious of any home rebuild jobs. While there are plenty of competent home mechanics out there, there are far more who shouldn’t be let loose on an LS 430.
We suggest that you avoid any LS 430 or Celsior that has just had a freshly rebuilt engine as they are a bit of an unknown. A rebuilt engine with 5,000 – 10,000 km on it is a much safer bet.
The most likely scenario when it comes to engine swaps is swapping an old, worn out or failed 3UZ-FE for one that is in much better operating condition. If you have to swap the engine yourself it is probably not worth it as sourcing a good 3UZ-FE is quite expensive.
Swaps with non-stock engines are extremely uncommon in an LS 430, however, if your do come across one and you are interested in buying it you should be very cautious. Oftentimes you will be left with somebody else’s unfinished project that simply may have been too hard or expensive to finish.
Like with cars with rebuilt engines, you should probably avoid anything that only has a few miles on an engine swap. A freshly swapped engine is a complete unknown and could cause you a lot of issues, especially if it is a non-stock one.
Compression Testing an LS 430
While a compression test is not completely necessary when buying an LS 430 or Celsior, it is a handy tool to work out the health of the engine. However, it is important to remember that a compression test will only really tell you that an issue exists and not what that issue is.
Compression readings should be between around 142 to 178 psi. The most important thing is not necessarily that the readings are between these numbers, but that they are within around 14 psi of each other. If one or more cylinders gives a reading that is vastly different to the other cylinders there is a problem.
Below we have listed the steps for a compression test:
- Warm up and stop engine
- Remove V-bank cover and engine room side covers
- Remove ignition coils
- Remove spark plugs
- Disconnect injector connectors
- Inspect cylinder compression pressure
- Reinstall the above
Lexus fitted the LS 430 with either a 5-speed A650E or 6-speed A761E automatic transmission (2004 onwards). Like the engine, the two transmission options for the LS 430 are robust and reliable, however, they are getting old so more and more problems are starting to occur on them.
During a test drive make sure that the shifts are smooth at both low and high engine speeds. Additionally, listen out for any grinding, whirring or whining noises. If the gearbox produces a noticeable thud when shifting, there may be an expensive bill on the horizon.
Another thing to do is to do is to make sure that the transmission goes into the different positions and that they all work. Look for any warning lights on the dashboard and if you have an OBD2 scanner on hand use that to work out what the issue may be (read about our most recommended OBD2 scanners here).
Intermittent changes or slipping out of gear are major red flags and we would probably avoid any LS 430 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.
2001 – 2003 LS 430 models have a non-sealed transmission with an Automatic Transmission Fluid dipstick. Models produced from 2004 onwards have a sealed transmission and do not have a dipstick. Toyota claims that the transmission fluid is good for up to 160,000 km (100,000 miles), but many owners like to change it much earlier at around 100,000 km (62,000 miles). Fluid changes should be carried out with Toyota/Lexus WS Automatic Transmission Fluid.
Suspension & Steering
Clapped out suspension and steering components are going to be one of your biggest areas of concern on these cars. Suspension componentry will probably need to be repaired or replaced at around the 100,000 – 160,000 km (62,000 – 100,000 mile) mark, but this may be more or less depending on how and where the car is driven.
The air suspension fitted to the LS 430 is arguably one of its weakest points in terms of reliability, so check that the car is level on all four corners. If you need to replace the air suspension it will be very expensive to do so with OEM componentry. Many owners replace the OEM suspension with aftermarket components and lots of owners have reported good things when switching to coils and shocks.
You also need to make sure that the different settings for the air suspension work as intended. Switch between the different modes to see if the air suspension adjusts accordingly. If it doesn’t it may be an expensive fix.
Below we have listed some things to watch out for that indicate worn suspension and steering componentry:
- Dipping and swerving when the brakes are applied
- Excessive Rear-end squat during acceleration
- Tipping during cornering
- High speed instability
- Excessive vibration coming through the steering wheel (could indicate alignment issues or failed 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
- Knocking, clunking or creaking sounds during a test drive
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).
Brake components will need to be replaced periodically with how long they last largely depending on how and where the car is driven. Unfortunately, if the brakes need a serious overhaul (new rotors, pads, etc.) it will be quite expensive. If you are interested in an LS 430 but the brakes need some attention, make sure you get a hefty discount.
When you take a look at the brakes, check for the following:
- Condition of the pads (OEM ones are quite expensive)
- Pitted, scored or grooved discs
- Any leaks in the brake lines (get a helper to press on the brake pedal while you inspect the lines)
- Fluid level in the brake fluid reservoir
- Brake fluid changes every 12 – 24 months (check the service history and with the owner for this)
While on a Test Drive
The Lexus LS 430 and Toyota Celsior are known to have excellent brakes, with many people claiming that the braking system on these cars is the best of any import sedan from the period. As this is the case, if you notice that the brakes feel weak or spongy there is a problem.
Make sure you test the brakes under both light and hard braking conditions to make sure they work correctly and stop the car. Erratic braking such as pulling to one side is usually caused by a sticking/seized caliper. This usually happens if the car has been left unused for a long period of time. Another sign of this problem is a loud thud when you pull away for the first time.
Watch out for shaking or juddering through the steering wheel of the Lexus LS 430 you are test driving as this suggests that the discs are warped (when the brakes are in use). This issue usually becomes first apparent under high-speed braking.
Other than the above, keep an ear out for any loud bangs, knocks, grinding or other strange sounds when the brakes are applied. A squealing sound could indicate that the pads are near the end of their life.
Wheel & Tyres
When you are checking the suspension and brake componentry on an LS 430, make sure you take a good look at the wheels and tyres as well. Watch out for any damage on the wheels as it is a sign of a careless owner and can be expensive to fix depending on the rims fitted.
Some people like to fit aftermarket wheels to their LS 430s or Celsiors, but the originals aren’t bad. If the LS 430 you are looking at has aftermarket wheels, ask the owner if they still have the originals as they will only add value to the car (you can use this to get a discount as well).
While you are inspecting the rims take a good look at the tyres and check for the following:
- Amount of tread
- Uneven wear (Can be a sign of alignment or suspension issues)
- Brand (they should be from a good or well-reviewed brand)
- 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
Checking the Wheel Alignment
Find yourself a nice flat, straight section of road to check the wheel alignment. If you find that the Lexus or Toyota you are test driving doesn’t run straight with minimal or no driver inputs then the wheel alignment is probably out. You should also check the tyres for uneven wear as that is indicative of bad wheel alignment or some sort of other suspension/steering issue.
Bodywork & Exterior
This is another area you should take your time with. Getting bodywork issues repaired can be very expensive and in some cases damage may be irreparable.
Crash damage is always a big thing to watch out for. If the accident was big enough permanent damage may have been done to the car’s structure. Accident damage is often much more serious than it first appears and many owners/sellers will lie about the severity or even claim that the car was never in a damage when it obviously was. Always assume the worst and hope for the best!
Below we have listed some signs that indicate that the Lexus LS 430 or Toyota Celsior you are looking at may have been in an accident:
- Bent or broken parts underneath the car – Check to see if everything is straight underneath the vehicle and watch out for any replaced parts. Take a good look at all the suspension, steering and exhaust components for damage.
- Rust in strange locations – May be a sign that the LS 430 you are inspecting has been in a crash or has some other sort of problem.
- Paint runs or overspray – This is very unlikely to be a factory issue due to Lexus’s exceptional quality control, so it probably indicates that the car was resprayed by a body shop/panel beater.
- Missing badges or trim – Could be due to repair work (body shop couldn’t find replacements) or a number of other things (stolen, etc.).
- Misaligned panels or large panel gaps – Check that the bonnet lines up correctly and fits as it should. Additionally, check the bonnet catches as if they look new the car has probably been in an accident. You should also check the doors, engine cover, and the lights for any damage or signs of past damage. If the panels are uneven it could suggest an accident has occurred as the panel alignment was excellent from the Lexus factory.
- Doors that drop or don’t close properly – If the doors drop or don’t open/close properly the Lexus LS 430 you are inspecting may have been in a crash.
- 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.
- If the bonnet/hood looks like it is popped when it is not – This may indicate that the LS 430 you are inspecting at has been crashed into something (even a light knock can cause this problem).
Accident damage shouldn’t be an instant dismissal, unless the crash was obviously very serious and/or the damage has not been repaired correctly. Light damage that has been repaired correctly by a competent panel beater/bodyshop is perfectly fine, but it will reduce the car’s value. If the car’s structure has been damaged you should move onto another LS 430.
If the owner/seller tries to cover up or lie about the accident it suggests that the problem is worse than first appears. Alternatively, if the owner can’t tell you much about the accident/damage it may have happened when a previous person owner the vehicle.
The Lexus LS 430 is not known to rust unlike some other cars, however, it is important to check for the problem. Make sure you give the entire underside of the vehicle a good once over and check the wheel arches and inside the wheel wells. Inspect the sills and also take a look around the windows and lights. The boot area and around the doors are other areas to watch out for.
If you do happen to come across rust during your inspection try to get a gauge on how bad the issue is. While corroded body panels & parts can be fixed, the problem is usually much more serious than it first appears on the surface. If the Lexus LS 430 you are inspecting is suffering from significant amounts of rust you should move onto another car.
Things That Can Make Rust More Likely to Occur
- Vehicle has spent time in countries or areas with salted roads (United Kingdom for example)
- The vehicle has been driven in wet conditions a lot
- 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
- If the LS 430 has always been kept outside (never garaged)
- Accident damage (stone chips or more significant damage)
We suggest that you check out this thread on lexusownersclub.co.uk for a good example of rust on an LS 430.
Looking for Rust Repairs
It is not only important to look for present rust, but you should also keep an eye out for signs of past rust repair. 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 or a coating gauge thickness tool such as this one to find any areas that may have been repaired.
Cloudy Rear Quarter Panel Glass
Take a look at the rear quarter panel glass and check that it is not cloudy. If it is, it is a sign that the glazing has failed, a common issue on pre-facelift models.
The interior is fairly hardy on these cars, but expect the odd bit of wear and tear, especially on high mileage models. Make sure the seats have not collapsed and that the material is in good condition. While replacement trim is available, it is expensive to source.
Make sure that the seats are nice and secure as if they move under braking or acceleration it is a major safety problem and will be a WOF/MOT failure.
Excessive amounts of wear on the seats, steering wheel, carpets, shifter and pedals for the mileage may be an indication that the odometer has been wound back (or it may simply be that the car has had a hard life). Remember to check all of the other interior trim pieces for wear as while they can be replaced if necessary, costs can add up quickly.
Remember to check the carpets and floor for dampness. Additionally, lift up the floor mats and check for water residue as it could be a sign that the Lexus or Toyota has had a leak in the past or may have even been flooded. These cars are not known for leaking issues, but it is worth checking.
Another thing to check for is to see if the original toolkit is present and it has all of the tools in it (will be located on the left side of the trunk/boot, behind the wheel well). Also check that the cabin filter has been replaced as this is often overlooked (see the video below).
Make sure you check headlining above the driver’s seat as if it is a different colour to the rest of the headlining it indicates that the LS 430 was owned by a smoker at some point. A smell test will also help you determine whether this was the case as well.
Lexus packed the LS 430 with a whole ton of electronic gizmos and features, and if they go wrong they can be very expensive to fix. Blown speakers are one of the most common issues on an LS 430, so make sure the speakers and subwoofer (this one especially) work correctly. Replacing and/or repairing the sound system is extremely expense, so make sure it is in good condition. The Mark Levenson sound system is extremely high quality and well regarded, which makes it worth repairing (having the system in good working order will also add value to any LS 430).
Quite a few owners have also reported that the sat nav system has failed on them, which once again is an expensive fix. Apart from that, make sure that all of the other electronics work as intended. Turn on the lights, check for any warning lights on the dash, etc.
Make sure that the car comes with 2 master keys. Replacement master keys are expensive and if both have been lost than the ECM will need to be reprogrammed before a replacement can be made.
If the air conditioning/climate control doesn’t work don’t let the owner convince you it just needs a re-gas. While a re-gas may simple be what is needed, it may also be a much more serious issue such as a compressor failure.
Check Engine Light (CEL), Warning Lights & Error Codes
It is important to check for any warning lights on the dash both during start-up and while the car is running. If you don’t notice any warning lights during start-up they may have been disconnected to hide an issue.
We also recommended that you take the LS 430 or Celsior to a good independent Lexus or Toyota dealer/specialist to have the codes read. Ask the technician to verify when the codes were last cleared as a dishonest seller may clear error codes just before you arrive.
General Car Buying Advice for a Lexus LS 430 or Toyota Celsior
How to Get the Best Deal on One an LS 430 or Celsior
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.
- Research heavily – Prior to starting your search for an LS 430, figure out what specs and condition you are happy with. Do you want a low mileage example or are you happy with a car that has travelled far? Are modifications okay or do you want a stock model.
- Shop around – It is always best to shop around a bit before you make a purchase. There are loads of different LS 430 and Toyota Celsiors out there in different levels of condition and spec, so don’t limit yourself to one seller, dealer, area or auction platform.
- Go look at and test drive multiple LS 430s– 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 430.
- 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 430 or Celsior and only go for promising looking cars.
- 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.
- 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.
- Go between sellers/dealers – If you are looking at multiple cars, let the owner/seller know. This way they will know that you have other options and they may try to undercut the price.
- 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.
Mileage will never decrease with age, so go out and drive your car!
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 or Toyota specialist or mechanic (especially for major repair work).
The service history will give you a good idea of how the LS 430 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?
- When was the timing belt last replaced?
- How much oil does it use?
- What oil do you use in the car?
- What parts have been 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?
- Has the air suspension been replaced
- 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 an LS 430 or Celsior
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
- Money owing on the car
- 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 a major issue as these cars are not known for their track capabilities)
- 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 Lexus or Toyota (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 LS 430 or Celsior 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 LS 430 or Celsior.
Importing a Toyota Celsior/Lexus LS 430 from Japan
The Lexus brand was not used in Japan until around 2006, so if you are looking to import one of these cars from Japan you will probably be looking at the Toyota Celsior version. However, some LS 430s seem to have made their way to Japan, but availability is extremely limited. Below we have outlined everything you need to know about importing a Celsior/LS 430 from Japan.
How to Import a Celsior/LS 430 from Japan
While importing a 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” or “import Lexus LS 430”. 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 the Ceslior/LS 430 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.