Small thinkers fretted about Y2K. The masses dreamed of the next-generation M5. Every Starbucks was atitter with who was getting how many stock options. Remember those?
Meanwhile, the engineers in Tokyo and Nagoya were quietly working away. Because they see engineering in eternal, geologic time. And this flagship of flagships they’ve produced is a monument to that.
Best year of the best generation of the best model of the best brand. The 2000 Lexus LS400. A car for the ages, a car whose reliability is measured in decades and hundreds of thousands of miles.
Until 2017, I’d had exactly one problem, ever, with my 18-year-old (built in 1999) LS400: the tachometer needle had stopped moving. It’s a common problem. You can either whack it with your palm the way a Chinese tourist quiets their crying child, or you can send it out to get rebuilt. It’s not too bad either way.
Then something strange started happening. It was intermittent, like the worst problems in cars, life, and relationships, and I could never predict its comings and goings. But sometimes, just sometimes, I’d be driving along, and the climate control blower fan would come down to the lowest setting. All on its own. And the stereo would cut out. Also on its own.
Chemtrails, fluoridation, morgellons, and the deep state. I checked them all. “Blower fan resistor,” my mechanic said. What the fuck does he know anyway?
The problem was becoming more frequent. I was still enjoying my car, but less so. And I was coming to a near-phobia every time a song I really liked was playing: was it about to be taken away from me? The A/C cutouts also happened at the worst-sweatiest times.
For those of you playing along at home: there were no error codes of any kind, good battery voltage, and nothing found on any of the diagnostic modules on my Autel DS708.
Googling the problems piecewise hadn’t gotten me anywhere. I’d only found the standard replies about the Nakamichi amp going bad (when Googling for the sound fadeout bit) and the blower motor going bad (when Googling for the climate part). But why did God, or the universe, give us Boolean operators if she hadn’t wanted us to use them? And what better way to isolate any problem than its whole constellation of symptoms? Triangulation, diagnosis in three dimensions.
Still in bed, I Googled combinations, syntheses, mashups of the symptoms I was seeing. And on some forum somewhere I found the solution.
The LS400 had a built-in car phone. Do you see where this is going? And it had a control box, in the trunk, that turned down the blower fan and muted the radio during active calls. And given decades of human history and gallons of rainwater, all the old rules would be thrown out the window, and like Kurtz, the control box could go rogue, grow a beard, and start making its own rules.
I ventured into my trunk, past running shoes, sandy sandals, forgotten bills, and oil-change receipts, pulled up the side cover, and there was my prize: the phone control box. Jacques Cousteau could have waved a friendly Gallic hello with all the water the control box was sitting in. I got rid of the water. Somehow. With towels, I think.
The control box had cables in and out of it. The forum post had even instructed on the bypass method. You yank something out of the control box and connect it somewhere else and Ichiro Suzuki’s your uncle. I did it. It worked.
Everything was good. I was living in geologic time again, coasting along seeing the car-world in 100Ks of miles rolling by.
Then one day the remote key stopped working. The key still opened what it should open, and the immobilizer transponder still worked. But just that piddly little remote control no longer remote-controlled. New battery, new remote control, open-door-lock-door dance, all to no avail. There was no remote controlling to be done.
Then the interval wipers stopped working. I read on some forum that the chip that controls interval wiping is actually inside the wiper motor assembly under the cowl. I had the entire wiper motor replaced. My wipers ran a lot faster and smoother, but they still lay dead in the water when given the interval switch. “Switch is bad,” mechanic suggested. Car electronics life’s never that easy though.
When I was having that wiper motor installed, the battery was disconnected. And after the battery was reconnected and the car restarted, I saw this:
Hell yeah America, and this was definitely not normal. The temperatures had gone metric. At least my instrument panel was still in miles per hour and not in kilometers per joule-liter, or I might have ended up nose-first in a ditch.
It was a constellation of symptoms again. I started Googling. And found the culprit: the MPX. Multiplexing body computer. Failure of which usually manifests as metric temperature, check, remote failure, check, interval wiper failure, check. And the moonroof no longer opening with just one confident pulse of my finger. That part I didn’t know, but I performed an immediate experiment, and yes.
My suspicions were only confirmed when, while eating dinner the very same day, I convinced an ex-mechanic who now works as a restaurant cook, to go poking upward looking for that MPX to get me a part# off of it — he came back from his under-dash spelunking with a photo of a part that was rustier than a TransAm parked at a payday lender in Syracuse. He went back to his restaurant kitchen to cook me a good dinner.
So contrary to what someone might tell you, the MPX is, at least for this generation, not VIN-locked, and has nothing to do with the immobilizer. If you swap the MPX you’ll lose some personalized settings, and you’ll definitely have to relearn your remotes, but you’ll still be able to heat your seats and warm your souls as you hurtle through geologic time. Look, you can just get a used MPX on Ebay. It’s around a hundred bucks. You also have to make sure you get the main MPX, not one of the door outstations.
And when you replace it, just after your temperature readings return to the Saturday-morning familiarity of Fahrenheit but just before you’ve managed to re-re-program your remotes, all will be right with the world, and you and your Lexus will once again be living on a different plane, separate from mortals: geologic time. Lexus time. As close as we fallible humans can ever get to peering at the infinite.