Your worst nightmare. A pleasant drive along a yawning rural two-laner is met by a sudden ‘jolt!’ You quickly take your foot off the accelerator. Was it a transmission shudder? A miss in the engine? Some gravitational push from a UFO? After a couple of mini-jolts it looks like problem number one. You do what you can to not stress the tranny. But it gets worse and worse until ‘jolt!’ ‘JOLT!’ ‘Veeeee!!!!’ The engine spins over to the high rpm’s with nothing left to propel it. The tranny is toast… and now the fun begins.
I saw this one coming. I had changed the tranny fluid on the Honda Insight the prior August and had seen the unmistakable sign. Little bits of metal microns that had accumulated on a magnetic drain bolt. It was about the size of a dime and only slightly thicker than one. Some trannies can take that bit of wear without a hitch (V8 RWD domestics in particular). But not the CVT on a 1st generation Honda Insight. Not a chance. Once I saw the bit sized metal gloop, I knew it was time to start shopping around.
For the next few months I frequented…
4) IAA (large salvage auction)
5) Copart (an even larger salvage auction)
6) Insight Central (enthusiast site)
The first two are known by everyones mother. Numbers three through six are more ‘enthusiast’ focused.
Car–part is an enormous database that links to thousands of junkyards throughout the country. I refer folks to this site all the time. Most car owners who have mainstream vehicles and simply want a part, instead of a whole car, will find ‘the deal’ there. If you just need a common part and don’t want to go through the parts store or dealership, look no further.
IAA (Insurance Auto Auctions) is an auto auction that goes through over 1.2 million vehicles a year. They serve the public as well. In fact you can see multiple pictures of the inventory online and visit their locations if you need more information about a specific vehicle. I find them especially useful since the VIN number combined with a Carfax report will let me see the dealer maintenance history on most vehicles at their sales. This is perfect when you need to replace the tranny on a rare car… like yours truly.
Copart is also a salvage auction. However they only serve dealers. If you can’t find what you need in the first four places, you may find a friend at a junkyard or a mechanic’s shop. A number of transmission and engine repair facilities will actually buy the whole car. Take the part they need. Run a little small parts business on Craigslist. Then send it to the crusher or a nearby junkyard when they get tired of looking at it. If you ever wonder why a tranny shop may have a long wooden fence along the back of their lot, it’s because of all the parts cars.
Finally you have the enthusiast site. Ones that specialize in older or classic vehicles are treasure troves. You may find the part along with a lot of useful tips about what to look for when purchasing it. The late model enthusiast sites? It depends. The more enthusiasts. The greater the chance for a good find.
As for that Honda Insight? I found a spare one on Craigslist. Less than 40k on a dealership tranny along with a perfectly drivable vehicle attached to it. Salvage title. Asking $2500 with several months of reposts.. After a bit of friendly haggling we settled at $1800. I drove it for about an hour to make sure everything was up to snuff. The seller hauled it back to my place and 10k miles later my Insight is still shifting like brand new.
As for the rest of the car? That’s part two. High voltage. The Bonneville salt flats. Racing shells. Engine storage. You know… the good stuff!