By on July 12, 2010

TTAC Commentator Jenneil624 writes:

I lease a 2008 Mazda3 2.3L with an automatic transmission and 30K miles. I have had the car for two years and have been very satisfied. I am strongly considering buying the car at lease end. Here is the problem. After one year of ownership, I got stuck in some snow and needed to aggressively rock the car free. It took so long to free the car that the transmission temporarily failed.

I put it in reverse and just revs – no power to the wheels. Then I put it in drive – same result. I assumed that I overheated the transmission fluid and let it rest for two hours. I went back to the vehicle after it cooled down and it worked perfectly. It has worked perfectly since, with no noticeable damage. I recently brought the car to the dealer for an unrelated warranty repair and the service advisor recommended a transmission fluid change. He said the fluid looked dark and needed to be changed. He knew nothing of my snow escapade. My question is – Has the transmission been damaged badly enough that purchasing this car would be a mistake? Would a transmission fluid change be enough to mitigate the damage I caused? Do I buy the car at lease end or turn it in and run away?

Sajeev Answers:

I’m with you.  Because a transmission’s line (fluid) pressure greatly impacts operation, they tend to act funny when the fluid gets stupid hot. And I suspect that’s happened here.  Whether or not your romp in the snow actually damaged the soft/hard parts inside the Mazda’s transaxle is truly anybody’s guess.

But I’ll play devil’s advocate, saying the transaxle was driven a long time on toasted fluid. Assuming this is a three year lease (please tell me you didn’t lease a car for longer), my rough timeline says you’ve driven on burned fluid for well over a year.  If so, there could be permanent damage to items inside the unit. Maybe.

And, as discussed ad nauseam both here and any car forum, flushing old fluid can do more damage to a transmission’s soft parts (clutches, etc) than keeping the junky fluid around till death do us part.  While this isn’t terribly likely in your situation, it’s possible.

And now, the advice you won’t normally see on a car message board: If you’d like to keep this car for 10+ years, I’d let the lease expire. FWIW, there’s a good chance you can buy the same or better Mazda3 on the retail used car market for less money.  That’s the beauty of pre-recession leasing: residual values were so inflated that a car’s term value was far more than it’s actual market value.  And you don’t wanna play that game anyway.

Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com


Piston Slap: The Snow, the Lease and the Line Pressure

TTAC Commentator Jenneil624 writes:

I lease a 2008 Mazda3 2.3L with an automatic transmission and 30K miles. I have had the car for two years and have been very satisfied. I am strongly considering buying the car at lease end. Here is the problem. After one year of ownership, I got stuck in some snow and needed to aggressively rock the car free. It took so long to free the car that the transmission temporarily failed.

I put it in reverse and just revs – no power to the wheels. Then I put it in drive – same result. I assumed that I overheated the transmission fluid and let it rest for two hours. I went back to the vehicle after it cooled down and it worked perfectly. It has worked perfectly since, with no noticeable damage. I recently brought the car to the dealer for an unrelated warranty repair and the service advisor recommended a transmission fluid change. He said the fluid looked dark and needed to be changed. He knew nothing of my snow escapade. My question is – Has the transmission been damaged badly enough that purchasing this car would be a mistake? Would a transmission fluid change be enough to mitigate the damage I caused? Do I buy the car at lease end or turn it in and run away?

Sajeev Answers:

I’m with you. Because a transmission’s line (fluid) pressure greatly impacts operation, they tend to act funny when the fluid gets stupid hot. And I suspect that’s happened here. Whether or not your romp in the snow actually damaged the soft/hard parts inside the Mazda’s transaxle is truly anybody’s guess.

But I’ll play devil’s advocate, saying the transaxle was driven a long time on toasted fluid. Assuming this is a three year lease (please tell me you didn’t lease a car for longer), my rough timeline says you’ve driven on burned fluid for well over a year. If so, there could be permanent damage to items inside the unit. Maybe.

And, as discussed ad nauseam both here and any car forum, flushing old fluid can do more damage to a transmission’s soft parts (clutches, etc) than keeping the junky fluid around till death do us part. While this isn’t terribly likely in your situation, it’s possible.

And now, the advice you won’t normally see on a car message board: If you’d like to keep this car for 10+ years, I’d let the lease expire. FWIW, there’s a good chance you can buy the same or better Mazda3 on the retail used car market for less money. That’s the beauty of pre-recession leasing: residual values were so inflated that a car’s term value was far more than it’s actual market value. And you don’t wanna play that game anyway.

Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com

Snowjob. Picture courtesy automobilemag.com

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18 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Snow, The Lease And The Tranny...”


  • avatar
    jaje

    You can always buy it at lease end with an extended warranty that will cover the transmission.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    I’ve repeatedly seen online that by the time the fluid looks and smells bad, it’s too late for anything but a transmission rebuild, but it could be propaganda by the transmission shops. You could change the fluid now and see how it performs for the next year or so, or let the lease expire. Personally I’d let the lease expire and find a MazdaSpeed 3 with the manual. All the reviews I’ve read say those things are a blast and awesome little rockets.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    The “keep running worn out transmission fluid” meme which has been floating around for years is nonsense. Few people would fall for the idea of running motor oil forever, yet many argue for doing so with transmission fluid.

    Aggressively rocking the vehicle by slamming it between forward and reverse gears to get out of the snow is a primitive technique which puts horrible stresses on a vehicle. I think you should buy it when the lease is up, but mostly so that someone else doesn’t get stuck with the consequences of the vehicle’s abuse.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      “I think you should buy it when the lease is up, but mostly so that someone else doesn’t get stuck with the consequences of the vehicle’s abuse.”

      John, wouldn’t an off-lease car be a likely candidate for Mazda to go over with a fine tooth comb and give it a certified warranty? Then if anything happens to the transmission it won’t be the new owners financial problem.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      It’s not so much “keep running it”, it’s if your transmission is already hosed and you haven’t been changing the fluid, changing out the fluid can make the car undrivable.

      It’s akin to changing to synthetic (or using much thinner oil) on an engine that’s burning oil already.

      If you change it regularly, and/or your transmission is healthy, then by all means keep changing it.

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      You may be misunderstanding the “meme.” The gist of the wisdom as I understand it is to incrementally replace old fluid without flushing it. I’m a manual guy myself, but my immediate family’s fleet includes some Honda automatics, which are famously averse to flushing — and especially prone to failure when flushing or refilling with anything other than branded Honda(tm) fluid. You simply pull the drain plug and replace what comes out, about a third of the capacity. Repeat as necessary at regular intervals.

    • 0 avatar
      benders

      There is a big difference between the engine and transmission. Engine oil is exposed to higher heat and more contamination and will break down faster. If the transmission is not stressed, there is no reason to do more than the manufacturer’s recommendation.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    One very strong point Sajeev made was the buyout price at lease end versus the fair market value another similar car could be purchased for. Usually that is exactly the case, the buyout is several thousand higher than the fair market value. The flip side of that coin is that if you buy your leased vehicle in essence you’re just paying in total what the car would have cost to purchase new. In other words you are paying the total depreciation rather than having the original owner do so and you take advantage of the depreciated value (the current fair market value). The advantage to buying your own lease is you are completely familiar with the vehicle’s background but in your case you know there may be a trans problem. You will be able to buy an extended warranty if you purchase your leased car so to me the questions become 1) how long are you planning on keeping the car versus the length of the extended warranty and 2) are you willing to pay more than the fair market value?

    You also need to be certain the trans problem would be covered under an extended warranty as there is a possibility the claim would be denied because of abuse.

    One more important point, try offering the lease company less than the stated purchase price. Sometimes they are receptive because they know if you turn the car back to them it will go to auction and they will usually realize far less than the end of contract purchase option price. The way most leases work at termination is the lessee has the first option to purchase and the leasing dealer has the second. If neither exercise their options the car goes to auction. In my market (metro Detroit) dealers very rarely exercise their option to purchase because they know they can buy similar vehicles at auction for thousands less.

    • 0 avatar
      JeremyR

      The above is good advice. When your lease is about to expire, check out how your car’s model is doing on the used market. If your residual value is higher, the lessor might offer you a deal.

      The deal might appear a little strange, though. I leased an Audi TT some time ago, and when the lease was up I decided to buy the car if Audi Financial Services would take a fair price for it. Strangely, while they wouldn’t budge on the selling price, they offered that if I financed the purchase through them (which was at a reasonable rate), they would waive the first two (or was it three?) payments and give me a Visa “rewards” card with a $500 credit. I’m guessing that their accounting wouldn’t allow them to offer the car for less than the residual value, but apparently they had some separate budget for making lease buyouts more attractive.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Lease buyouts are inflated – give the car back at the end of the lease and hit Autotrader for another one.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Exactly. The whole point of leasing is that you can turn it it at the end, so do so!

      If the car were babied and trans & engine were both golden, then it’d be up for consideration.

      But with an iffy trans? Sign the papers and run away!

    • 0 avatar
      rocketrodeo

      They are now, perhaps. I’ve only leased one car, an ’87 Acura Integra. The purchase at the end of the lease was about $2500 less than the car’s retail value. Loved the car, and it was hardly broken in much less worn out, so I bought it. No regrets.

    • 0 avatar
      jastereo

      Yeah, not really a true blanket statement – like Rocketrodeo I bought a Honda product (CR-V) out of our lease. I bought it because it was at least a few thousand less than I could have gotten a similar used one for (besides the extra benefit of knowing it’s history). Gotta love/hate that high Honda re-sale value. Same thing happened to my mom – she ended up getting an awesome price break on a very slightly used Accord that my grandparents had leased (she had them buy it out of lease then sell it to her for same $$).

  • avatar
    blowfish

    I would drop the key when the last payment is done.
    Many yrs ago when the new car prices had advanced so much, it made absolute sense to exercise buy out and either sell her on market or till death apart.
    Even during the early 2000 that was still palatable.
    Nowadays probably so many used cars flooded the market, your options could be a few buck higher than what u can find on CList.

    Unlike equipment leases, we pay 10% of the monthly leasing fee and get to keep them after 36 or 60 mths. 60 was not a very deal, but I didnt have the wherewithall to handle the higher monthly rental fees.

    In Canada , for leases we have to pay taxes for the financing, if u borrow from the bank the interests were not taxed. Is only 12% is not a lot but u can add u and see how much u have paid.

    Many yrs ago option the buy out the cell phone was still much higher than I can buy them used.
    And many folks are happy than a piggy in the mud hole if u just take over his remaining contract. Without paying a cent for his cell phone.

  • avatar

    We interrupt this posting with a message from the Anti-Automatic Brigade:

    Turn it in and buy a car with a manual. Save money on both the lease buyout AND the inevitable transmission rebuild!

    • 0 avatar
      nrd515

      If I had to drive with a stick every day, I would start looking at bumming rides. I never saw the “fun” in a stick was when driving in urban traffic. Give me a decent auto, preferrably with a shift kit, and I’m happy. Last time I drove a friend’s stick car back and forth across town, all I could think was “Why would anyone torture themselves with this thing every day?”

  • avatar
    jaje

    In very few instances does your buy out price in leases actually provide a good deal. Unfortunately – and especially with the free fall in BOF SUVs and pickups due to gas prices and other factors – most buy out prices are much higher than FMV. To even further make it hard for lessees to buy their car out…the lessor is likely unwilling to negotiate the buy-out price even knowing that if they don’t sell it to the lessee it will sell at auction for substantially less. I never understood the lessors unwillingness to treat a buy out instead as a simple used car purchase at lease end.

  • avatar
    findude

    Disclaimer: I took Driver Ed in 1975.

    If the wheels are spinning you’re doing it wrong.

    Yes, shift from drive to reverse to get momentum as you rock the car; eventually you will (hopefully) get up enough motion to get the car moving to the point where your tires can gain traction and you can get on your way. At no point in this process will your engine likely turn at over 1200-1500 RPM. With a lot of automatic transmissions, you may not even need to hit the gas pedal–the amount of power that lets your car creep when you take your foot off the brake may be enough.

    Seriously, for those of you who don’t know how to drive in snow: If the wheels are spinning, you’re doing it wrong. If you have traction control it might bail you out if you’re not stuck too badly, but the modern corollary holds: if the traction control kicks in, you’re doing it wrong.


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