“There’s only one expensive thing that breaks on these,” I had said a dozen times, proud as I was of my unkillable 190,000-mile Lexus Land Cruiser. The hydraulic suspension, also known as Active Height Control (AHC), is a complex and pricey system that occasionally fails in rusty, old examples like mine. Surely it would hold up for a bit longer, I thought, right up until the moment I came home to find my truck riding on its bump stops.
The truck was already for sale. The specialty Toyota shop had told me directly that this wasn’t a rig worth building up for my overlanding dreams. The mechanic told me to cut my losses, sell it to someone who would use it for civilian duty, and find a new rig out here in rust-free California. I listed it the next day, with a price that I’d describe as ambitious. A week and a half later, it hadn’t sold. I wasn’t in a rush.
Until I got a text from a friend. He was finally ready to part with a car that I’d wanted to buy from him for over a year. He offered me first right of refusal, at a friend-and-family price we’d agreed on a year ago, before the used-car market went haywire. If I offloaded my decrepit E30 and rusty Lexus, I’d have just enough cash to make the deal without a sweat. I lowered the price of the Lexus, listed the E30, and started fielding offers for both. I had three weeks.
The Lexus, it seemed, would be an easy sell. Messages were coming in and, anxious as always, I had stopped driving the it to avoid tempting fate. I had a Ram 1500 on loan for an adventure story that week anyway, so things looked good. What I didn’t account for is that my Lexus’ most expensive system could fail sitting still.
The stream of hydraulic fluid running down my street clued me in. The plumbing to the truck’s left rear AHC shock had rusted through, vomiting its high-pressure fluid all over my nice suburban block. The rear end sagged to the wheels, the front mostly normal. When I fired up the car, it vented even more hydraulic fluid before I could lock out the system.
In my head, I keep a mental list of the key failure points of my cars, along with assigned values for how much they cost to fix. This, I knew without conscious thought, was a four-figure problem.
The shop mostly agreed. As I suspected, when the system is unsalvageable—as it often is when it starts to fail—the best option is to replace the messy hydraulics with the simple coil-spring suspension from the period Land Cruiser. If it was salvageable, the mechanic was willing to try to replace a hose or two and hope for the best. He just had to inspect it. So I waited, hoping that this was a $200 problem and not a $2000 one. As per usual, I hyperfixated on the worst-case scenario.
A useless exercise, it turns out, because what I thought was the worst case scenario looks pretty nice in hindsight. In reality, San Diego Trux—an A+ shop if there ever was one—told me that they couldn’t fix the problem in a safe way without replacing the system. And because the truck was so rusty, and the parts they wanted to use were OEM, the realistic bill would be over $5000. Frankly, the mechanic told me, I was better off finding a worse shop that would do it, because once he touched this truck he’d have to stand behind it. No shortcuts. Or, he said, I could sell it broken.
The unspoken truth was that I could patch the system myself and hope, hope, hope it holds long enough to get the truck off my hands. But I couldn’t live with that, nor could I afford the three plus weeks it would take to find a shop that could do this, get the parts delivered, get everything done, and sell the truck. The seller of my next car was already patiently waiting for me. The truck had to go.
hey potentially dumb question but does anyone want an LX470 that needs its suspension replaced? unfortunately not asking for a friend!
— mack (@MacklinHogan) June 28, 2022
I listed it broken. I put a price that made me wince on the ad, put out a call on Twitter, and hoped for the best. I was now selling a car that needed four figures of repairs and got 15 mpg at a time when gas in California cost $6.25 a gallon. Never have I felt so foolish.
In the end, the truck sold for nearly $6000 less than what it was going to before the collapse. Factoring in how much I paid for the M5 I traded for it, the LX represents the biggest bath I’ve ever taken on an asset. Unlike the M5, though, I don’t regret it. The truck got me from New York back home to Ohio, then back to New York, then across the country with everything I owned. It had seven or so national park entrances under its belt, including four unforgettable weekend trips to Joshua Tree. It carried seven people to a concert and four surfboards to the beach, survived two and a half hours of grueling off-roading in 100-degree heat, and plowed through snowstorms in the Rockies without complaint.
Even when its CV axle spewed grease an hour from the end of that rock-crawling trail, even when I had to drive it 40 minutes to the shop on a failed suspension, and even when I had to drive it 40 minutes back with even less pressure in its shocks, the LX delivered on the core promise of the Land Cruiser. It is the promise that, as someone who lives for adventure but drowns in his own anxiety, elevates the nameplate above everything else. The Land Cruiser always gets you home.
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