By on October 22, 2012

TTAC Commentator itsgotvtakyo writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I recently purchased a 1999 Honda Accord LX for my sister. It has 115,000 on the ULEV 4cyl and an automatic transmission. The car is very straight and clean on the inside and out for the year and miles. The seller was a middle aged gentleman who bought the car four years ago for his daughter. The vehicle has obviously been maintained but there’s one glaring issue I have my fingers crossed on… the transmission.

It’s not terrible, but there’s something there. The car upshifts perfectly fine without any slipping or seeking and it also downshifts appropriately when called upon. The only issues occur when shifting the car out of park and when coming to a complete stop. There’s a noticeable (to me) pause and a thunk before the car settles. I noticed this on my test drive and, because the car is so strong in nearly every other aspect, made it the focal point of my negotiation. After pointing it out to the owner he agreed that I was not imagining things and something was out of the ordinary. I’m very well aware of Honda’s transmission issues and, by negotiating a purchase price that’s around $1,800 less than what a comparable 100% no issue car might go for, I’m relatively well protected. An absolute worst case scenario will cost us in inconvenience and time, not dollars. My question is how much life does this tranny realistically have? The current fluid is dirty but not burnt and it will be drained, filled, driven 4X with Honda ATF, along with a couple other piece of mind maintenance items before my sister starts driving it. How much time might that buy me? Is it possible the situation could be resolved completely?

I broke plenty of Hondas before I figured out there’s no way to make big, reliable, forced induction power without spending money, but obviously none of those cars were automatics. In fact, I think a manual transmission is one of the only things that I haven’t broken at some point or another. The Honda forums I used to frequent have been overrun with young kids and idiots for the most part, and the older guys that do know what they’re talking have the same lack of experience with automatic Hondas as I do. The car will get a re-manufactured transmission if it has to but that’s something I’d obviously like to avoid if at all possible. Thanks to you and the commenters for any insight.

Sajeev answers:

Oh boy, another automatic tranny problem. I don’t have a problem repeating myself, but perhaps my best comments on this matter are behind me.

So now I wonder how stupid I sound when Armchair Quarterbacking this play. Because people say some pretty stupid things when analyzing/complaining about a sports team during a big game. Our opinions neither help nor hurt: how many passes have we thrown with a large man barreling down towards us, ready to “profit” from our faceplant?  How do we know what’s going on inside the Accord’s gearbox without tearing it apart? It is the same thing.

Kinda.

BACK ON TOPIC (finally): what would I recommend?  Change the fluid, make sure your sister comes to a complete stop between Reverse/Drive engagement, and hope for the best.  If not, it sounds like you got the Accord for a good price, so find a transmission rebuilder with a good reputation before you need one. That last sentence will save thousands and hours/days of headaches, but adding a coupla cups of sawdust to a failing gearbox isn’t a bad idea too.**

 **Except it is a bad idea. Unless you really, really love sawdust. Which you do not.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

 

 

 

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20 Comments on “Piston Slap: Crystal Ballin’ With Yo Tranny!...”


  • avatar
    Spartan

    So you paid about $4k give or take, and now you’re about to be out of another $1k.

    I drove on a bad Honda transmission for about a year in a 88 Honda Prelude before it finally died. Take that for what it’s worth. Take Sajeev’s advice and get yourself some sawdust.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    Are you guys serious? I had not heard of this. Are you actually recommending putting sawdust in the transmission?

    ————

    • 0 avatar
      CoastieLenn

      There’s an Editor’s note at the bottom citing that the sawdust comment was a bad idea… “unless you really really love sawdust”.

      That said, I have heard of old-timers putting sawdust into thier old Chevy/Ford transmissions to keep them going for a little longer… but that was stories from “back in my day”. Well before I was alive (1983).

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        Thanks, CoastieLenn…

        In my astonishment over the sawdust thing, I had completely glanced over Sajeev’s footnote.

        ——–

      • 0 avatar
        Dynasty

        At least back to the 1950s.

        I saw an episode of the Andy Griffith show in Mayberry, when I was a kid, and someone got swindled on a used car purchase. Because the sellers of the car(an evil woman and her wimp husband) put sawdust in the transmission.

        Apparently, if you got a manual transmission that is going bad, add some sawdust to the oil and it will run silky smooth for a few days… Just long enough to trade it in to the dealer.

        I think it would have to be closer to a wood flour rather than your run of the mill saw dust.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        I think that Mayberry episode was putting the sawdust in the rear end, IIRC…

      • 0 avatar
        Strippo

        Barney’s bunco special had sawdust in both the transmission and differential.

    • 0 avatar

      Hmm, either my new way of making a highly-technical discussion less boring is working perfectly, or it’s about to backfire in my face.

      Time will tell.**

      **Except when it does not.

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      Sawdust in the transmission is an old used car salesmans trick. Makes a bad transmission shift smoothly for a few hundred miles until it starts to turn into sludge. My brother actually had this done to him on a used car that he bought back in the 80s.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Probably a tranny problem, but check the axle shaft cv joints and various suspension mounting points as well.

  • avatar
    Strippo

    Beware little old ladies from Pasadena.

    http://mayberry.wikia.com/wiki/Barney%27s_First_Car

  • avatar
    mkirk

    I’d check the motor and transaxle mounts. I’ve had some cars that would clunk in the manner you describe due to bad mounts.

  • avatar
    stottpie

    your torque converter is going out on that accord transmission. these were known to do it. replacements are available, and it’s really the only weak point from that generation accord.

    i’d get it replaced and keep it forever.

  • avatar
    jhefner

    Torque converter sounds right to me too; but yes, check the motor mounts first.

    I have been told to put nothing but transmission fluid in an automatic transmission. All those magic additives have the same effect as sawdust; it makes it run great for a little while, but then you end up with a transmission that requires a total rebuild. The additives in particular that have “stop leak” in them will swell up not just the leaking seal, but ALL of them, eventually sending the transmission to an early death. And, if it is the torque converter brass bushing that is leaking; it still won’t help.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    Check the forums on this one. Sometimes, it’s just a bad solenoid valve (such as is used for the torque converter lockup circuit). The solenoids are exterior to the transmission so they can be replaced relatively easily.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Advice:
    1. change transmission fluid
    2. drive car. stop worrying. seriously
    3. If/when transmission ever truly fails, have it fixed by reputable shop.


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