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I bought a used 2001 Lexus ES 320 with 195K miles on it. It drives well, but I feel its pickup is not as good as I would expect from a 3.0L V6 engine. By pickup I mean the time it takes for the car to get from 0 to 25 miles per hour or so. So my question is - does a car lose its pickup with age?

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This is a little hard to answer without more information about the history of the car. My first instinct tells me, though, that you're just looking at a situation where a vehicle deserves some freshening maintenance.

Here are some fundamentals worth checking:

  1. How is the air path through the engine? Remember, the engine is basically a big air pump: there are basic maintenance items that can be checked all the way from the intake through to the exhaust. Some obvious examples: air filter and muffler.

  2. Is the car in proper tune? When were the spark plugs last changed? Transmission oil? Belts and hoses? Fuel filter?

  3. How about the non-intuitive things like the suspension components: when were the shocks replaced? I find that a sloppy suspension makes me feel like the car is slow (partly because I become progressively more afraid to drive it with any vim).

Barring any further information, I suspect that you're just looking at a clogged air filter. If I'm right, you're in luck: it's a super easy fix to replace a panel filter.

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It should not. There can be minor engine wear resulting in a very slight loss of compression, but that's usually offset by some parts being "looser" and having slightly less friction. Modern cars are designed to go 100k miles without even having detectable wear at all!

Anything other than that is abnormal and is a symptom of some problem. Weak ignition coil perhaps, maybe a flaky O2 sensor (while the computer is supposed to detect those, the computers really aren't good at it, you can have one that's basically dead and STILL not get a MIL (Malfunction Indicator Light) for it). Could even be a slipping transmission. Whatever it is, it can be fixed (although the price could be anywhere from a few dollars up to thousands, depending on what the root cause is).

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Almost any car with close to 200K miles on it is going to have lost some performance. Engine deposits, mechanical wear, leaky seals, faulty/failing sensors -- all these things accumulate over time. As you say, they can all be fixed, but there will be performance loss. Old engines used to require a rebuild at 100K miles, new ones probably just need a new set of injectors, new sensors, new coil (or coil packs)/plugs/wires and a good MAF cleaning. Catalytic converters get plugged too, but they're kind of expensive so I don't know if I'd replace one unless it was known bad. –  TMN Mar 29 '12 at 15:04
    
Catalytic converters only get plugged if something else fails. I've got one car with 255,000 miles on the original converter. The other car has 120,000 and is on its third converter. First one died due to fuel pressure regulator failure excessively richening the mixture. Second failed due to ignition power transistor failure, which let raw gas go through the exhaust while I was trying to restart it while coasting to stop. Oh, still made good power, put 267whp down with the clogged converter, with chunks of catalyst shooting out the exhaust (that's how we found it was clogged). –  Brian Knoblauch Mar 29 '12 at 15:09
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The NYtimes recently published this article basically stating that the longevity of modern cars (2001 seems to fit into that) far exceeds that of the previous generation. It quotes a Ford person saying that a test F150 was stripped down after 250K miles and showed no engine wear.

This would tend to indicate to mean that your car should not lose its pickup unless there is a mechanical problem; age is not an issue.

As for that problem may be, I cannot help.

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