The Truth About Cars » rebuild The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 20:01:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » rebuild Piston Slap: Double A (Beep! Beep!) Em, Cee, Oh… (Part II) Mon, 30 Jun 2014 12:06:29 +0000 TTAC commentator M0L0TOV has an update for us:

Hey Sajeev,

I figured I’d send you an update so people would know what happened to my situation. Well, I went ahead and tried to contact AAMCO. First I tried contacting them via their website but almost a week had passed and no response. So I contact them via their Facebook page, the next day I got a response with a phone number, name, and e-mail address of somebody at corporate to contact. I sent them an e-mail, I got a call from the owner of the Aamco where I had originally taken my car within ten minutes.

He stated he was notified by the customer service department and we had a disagreement. He offered to not charge me for the labor and I would pay for the part. I was perfectly fine with paying for the part, I wasn’t looking for a free ride. I thought their offer was fair because it would have been replaced when the work was originally being done. I picked up my car today and paid $214.00 and I get a 90 day warranty. So yes, the system works. I appreciate everybody’s advice on this matter and I was able to force their hand.

Thanks for all your help Sajeev and the rest of the TTAC readers!

Sajeev answers:

Behold the power of social media.


Between what you experienced, my firsthand experiences (disclosure: social media is my full time gig) and “little” things like the Arab Spring or whatever makes people love Justin Bieber, there’s no doubt social media is a powerful tool for customer service.  Or a service for powerful tools…but I digress.

The system works, with pleases me immensely.  So kudos to AAMCO for doing the right thing, once they heard about it.  And doing it rather quickly: it’s rare ’round these Piston Slap bloggy parts when a company interacts with one of us and does the right thing. So let’s relish this moment of (seemingly) good karma.

Happy Monday to you, Dear Reader.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.


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Piston Slap: Double A (Beep! Beep!) Em, Cee, Oh… Mon, 09 Jun 2014 12:37:53 +0000

TTAC commentator M0L0TOV writes:

Greetings All-Knowing Sajeev,

I am looking for some insight on an ongoing issue with my workhorse. I have a 2003 Ford Focus ZX-5 with 160,000 miles. A little bit over a year ago, I had Aamco rebuild the automatic transmission on my car for the tune of $2500. Apparently, my car seems to have an appetite for transmissions, I’m on #4 now (original, warranty, junkyard, Aamco).

Lately, I noticed my car was leaving large puddles of fluid on the driveway, I checked underneath it, and saw fluid was accumulating around the transmission pan. I took my vehicle to my mechanic and he showed me what had happened. It looks like whoever worked on the transmission last (Aamco) had attempted to seal a crack in the transmission housing with silicone. From my understanding, silicone will not stand up very well to the heat and corrosive properties of ATF.

I passed by Aamco and they inspected my car, they acknowledged they had attempted a repair during the install. The owner of this Aamco franchise advised me that I would need a new transmission case and with parts and installation would cost me over $800.00. I’m a bit pissed because if they knew it was cracked, while the transmission was out, this part could have been replaced, now I have to go through a similar procedure to get this done again.

I really don’t feel like spending $800.00+ to get this done considering the age and wear on the vehicle. Should I:

  1. Try one of those additives that claims to fix leaks.
  2. Drain the transmission, clean the area, add JB Weld, and hope for the best.
  3. Have the crack welded.
  4. Try to find somebody else to do the job cheaper.
  5. Listened to my father and avoided Aamco.

I’m mechanically inclined but my skills are not advanced nor do I have the space and room to do this job myself. Besides the transmission issues, the car hasn’t given me any issues, the engine runs strong. I do have a little bit of sentimental value for the car since it was my first “new” car I ever got. I do I.T. work which requires a lot of driving and the car gets decent mileage.

P.S. Driving my Dodge Magnum R/T is not an option since it would eat me out of house and home gas wise.

Sajeev Answers:

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of problems with an AAMCO transmission franchise.  Or, heck, any franchised service shop.  Even worse, this is the second time I heard about a rebuilder cracking a transmission case.

What is the right move? Franchise owner eats the bill and hopes you remain a happy customer. If this only happens via running it up the AAMCO channel, so be it.  Hit up their Twitter or Facebook accounts and ask the store owner for his regional manager.   If it’s not too late, go do that.

If AAMCO doesn’t care, well, you are SOL.   There are plenty of reputable rebuilders that dropship refreshed unit to a recommended installer, complete with a good warranty. I’ve heard good things about Jasper and the B&B previously agreed.  Or get one from the junkyard and hope for the best, again. I’ve personally had a great Ford AOD rebuilt from a franchise shop, but I interviewed them, inspected their shop and asked them detailed questions about their AOD-skills. They passed the test and that made me happy.

Since you do like the car, I suggest getting a quality rebuild.  And if there’s a local shop with a good reputation and extensive knowledge of Ford specific transmission issues, give it another shot. Because the aftermarket usually fixes all the weak spots in transmissions, combine that with an aftermarket ATF cooler and you’ll be set for many years to come.

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: Escort Wagon Spelunking? Tue, 04 Mar 2014 12:46:02 +0000

TTAC Commentator Modestholdings writes:

Best from the West, young man,

The Boss has a pretty nice ’94 Escort LX wagon sourced by yours truly, and it happens to have found the sweet spot betwixt my picking it and her loving it. A grand for this one-owner handshaker and she’s managed to put about 23K on it in the last year — points of interest are far and few between here in Wyoming.

At 140,000 I figured it would be good prophylaxis to go ahead and do that timing belt (1.9 four-potter) after what was eventually determined to be the tensioner began yapping.

New clutch at buy, pretty new shoes and a windshield are our investments beyond regular upkeep. (When it rains, it hails.) Some forum s̶k̶u̶l̶d̶u̶g̶g̶e̶r̶y̶ ̶ spelunking has turned up the possibility of new valve seats as the next major preventative maintenance. My question for you, the B&B, et al, is whether that makes sense, or drive it until it pops (er, drops) and then plop a junkyard mill in? The current motivator is pretty tight for being good to vote and everything, and I’d like to keep the Green Machine rolling at least until she’s old enough to buy me beer.

Sajeev answers:

Yes, new valve seats could be in your future.  Or her future.  Or the Escort’s future.  Whatever…

The questions presented here are when and how to replace it: wait until it drops and sell the Escort?  Wait and replace with a junkyard motor?  Replace the valve seats now, either by yourself (if you are that awesome) or with a rebuilt head swap?

As I get earn more gray hair on my dome and less flexibility in my joints in cold weather, my answer goes to the path of least resistance:  the somewhat stress free and kinda cheap path.  So don’t wait for the entire motor to grenade, as that (probably) ruins both the cylinder head and the block.  Junkyard motors are 3-4 times more than a rebuilt head, and do you believe the valve “fix” was applied to whatever you buy? Or will it fail again, probably after the junkyard warranty expires?

Ignorance isn’t bliss, nor is an in-n-out motor swap.  Time to find the answer in the shades of gray.

The smarter move is a few hundred spent at a place like this, or something similar on eBay. In the 1.9L Escort’s case, a rebuilt cylinder head fixes the bad component and a fresh set of gaskets/fluids with someone smart enough to swap it all around is needed.  And if you must pay for the labor, it’s still a smarter long-term position than replacing the entire motor.

A possible final question: is it stupid to want to fix the problem before it actually is a problem?

When the problem can hurt the entire engine and replacement engines may be no better, the answer is absolutely yes.

Off to you, Best and Brightest.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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New or Used? : I Loves My Truck Fri, 28 Feb 2014 13:00:14 +0000 f150

Thanks for your recent article about buying auto parts.

I recently bought a well used ’95 F-150 with the venerable 302 and Mazda five-speed.
When I say well used, I mean the engine has about 253,000 on the clock and sounds like it is on its last legs. I’m pretty sure I can hear the jugs rattling in the cylinders when I first fire it up, the idle hunts all over the place and it has about as much power as the Ukrainian president.
I’d like to put a new mill in it. The previous owner spent a lot of time and money doing everything but engine work. Where’s a good place to start looking for a used motor, or should I spill the coin to have this tired old unit rebuilt?

Steve Says:

I wouldn’t be sold on replacing the engine just yet.

For some reason, old Fords tend to have more idling issues than any other manufacturer I see at the auctions. They can be a pain to track down, but that that doesn’t necessarily mean that the engine is on it’s last legs.  It just means that you or your mechanic is going to have fun tracking down vacuum hoses and a long, long line of other diagnostic possibilities. If you want to do this yourself I would strongly recommend buying up the Alldata information for your F150.

As for the start-up noise, that can be a variety of things. However if the timing chain and guides haven’t been replaced at this point, that may very well be your noise at start-up. I see a lot of Explorers, Rangers and F150s with this issue, and it can require the removal of the engine in order to properly replace the chain and guides.

Let’s assume for now that you have a truck that now drinks, smokes and hangs out with the bad boys. If your engine is as wore out as an old mop then you definitely need to take a tour through the automotive scenery of the nearby auto recycling centers.

First go to Since the 5.0 Liter V8 was only offered for two years on the F150, you will only have about 1000 of them to choose from. The going price will be around $500. However, I would strongly advise that you buy a new water pump, a chain and guide replacement set, and take the time to replace any hoses that may be in need of attention. Especially in those areas where hoses can be near impossible to reach.

This engine is easy to install but time consuming. Would I rebuild it? Not unless you have the time and some serious achievements when it comes to DIY work. You can get a nice rebuild done that would give you more power. But you are looking at north of $1500 for it to be done right.

I prefer durability upgrades (a.k.a. relying on enthusiast forums for guidance and getting a transmission cooler) and stock engines instead of mods when it comes to older trucks. There also may be an opportunity to get the VIN number for the engine that interests you online and find out if it was regularly serviced at the dealership through a Carfax history. Ones that have been serviced at the dealerships will at least be given a quality oil filter and the recommended oil weight. Although with an older vehicle this information gets to be a bit scanty.



Good luck!



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Piston Slap: You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’? Mon, 07 Oct 2013 12:00:20 +0000

TTAC commentator mnm4ever writes:


I have 2 slightly older cars in my stable and both are having similar issues. We have a 2001 MR2 Spyder with 72k miles, and a 2002 Honda CRV with 230k miles. The CRV recently got new shocks and springs, new lower front control arms and front compliance bushings, and new front ball joints. While it now rides a little bit better, it still crashes over bumps and just feels like an old worn suspension even with all the new components.

When shifting between drive and reverse, there is a “clunk” in the front end somewhere, this clunk was there before all the parts were replaced, and was supposedly caused by the worn out compliance bushings, which is why I replaced all those parts as well. Unfortunately it didn’t fix the noise. My mechanic has been over the car a couple of times and doesn’t know where the noises are coming from, he says it’s just old. He is an otherwise excellent mechanic, so I am surprised at his lack of ideas, but he knows I am probably too cheap to pay him to really tear it apart anyway so that could affect his answers.

The MR2 has significantly less mileage and is in excellent shape overall. But the suspension has the same worn out feeling, it doesn’t feel “tight” anymore. Driving fast over bumpy pavement, or over speed bumps it feels and sounds pretty much the same as the CRV, almost like something in the suspension is loose or worn out. Cowl shake on an old convertible amplifies the issue. The MR2 also exhibits an odd “looseness” when I turn the wheel at low speed tight turns, like pulling in or out of a driveway or parking space, it feels like the power steering over-boosts the last little bit of steering angle, but its unnerving when you are rolling forward or backward and the car suddenly turns in more than you expected. During normal driving the steering feels properly assisted and tight, so that could just be a trait of that car. The same mechanic says the MR2 is fine and I am just spoiled by the newer GTI. We want to keep this car and I want to do a proper overhaul on the suspension, I just put brand new tires on it, and I have a shelf full of chassis bracing components and new struts ready to install, but I do not want to do the labor twice. So I am trying to figure out the right way to fix it and the right components to change so I take care of all of the weak spots at once.

My guess is that new bushings may help the problem on both cars. Forums are not as helpful as you would think… I have read pages and pages of information but the CRV drivers do not spend a lot of time working on their own suspension and the MR2 drivers are way more concerned with performance mods rather than restoring the original ride quality. So my question is: Is there any way to restore the ride quality on older cars back to something close to new car feel? Or is the CRV just too old, and the MR2 just too much of a convertible to make it as good as new?

Thanks for any advice!

Sajeev answers:

Replacing so many parts, pouring such amounts of money into a heavily depreciated, high mileage vehicle (CRV more than the MR2) is a pretty bad idea.  Stop and ponder: why do I care to make an old machine run exactly like new?  Is it really worth it?

If yes, you must be the nutty automotive restoration type.  That is, you see money and cars differently than most: as what’s poured into a 230,000 mile CRV will never, EVER come back.

Personal aside: back in ’99, I had a suspension overhaul performed in my 1988 Mercury Cougar XR-7 with 130k and 10+ years of abuse from the brutal roads of Houston’s Third Ward.  New (non-saggy) springs, shocks, bushings, end links, ball joints, etc. The only parts remaining untouched were the spindles, sway bars and the control arms’ metal skeletons. I took one fast sweeper and was sold on the $2000 spent: the Cougar felt “new” on any road, in any dynamic test.

Years later, adding 75 lbs of chassis stiffeners, Koni shocks and a ’98 Cobra rear sway bar turned a respectable machine into something pretty bad ass on the street. Which proves a point:

I justify the cost to an extinct animal (get it? Fox Cougar?) with some unique 1980s Muscle Car curb appeal, but your need for a perfect old Honda CUV is flawed.  Perhaps you need to replace every last bushing, but you’ve spent enough: make sure the tires have plenty of non-dry rotted tread on them and let it be. If it still drives you nuts, time to upgrade to a CUV with far less mileage and sell this one to someone who doesn’t really care.

The MR2 Spyder is like my Cougar: a fun toy that’s damn near impossible to replicate.  But don’t be afraid to attack the problem in stages: add the chassis bracing, install the new struts and consider putting a new (not reman) steering rack to kill any possible steering slop. Perhaps the ball joints are just a touch too loose and the bushings are past it (i.e. from abuse on bad roads), but I think you’ll be thrilled with the perfection gained from extra braces and new shocks.

Sure, you can get a Miata and I can get a new Mustang GT..but screw that. That’s loser talk!  We are in it to win it…son! 

Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: The Truth about “Throwaway” Motors (Part II) Wed, 24 Jul 2013 12:43:28 +0000

Bob M. writes:

Sajeev, I’m a bottom feeder with cars. All I’ve ever owned are used domestic cars with pushrod engines. I overhauled a Pontiac 2.5L once just to get the experience. My idea of engine maintenance is valves at 100k and an overhaul at 150k. 

I’ve heard that many imports aren’t rebuildable because the cylinder walls of the block are too thin. Can you enlighten me about what people do these days when their engines are wearing? Are valve jobs common? Are some brands more repairable than others? What lifespans do people expect to get from modern engines?

Keep on Truckin’

Sajeev answers:

My how times have changed!  While plenty of older cars (even the Iron Duke GM engines) don’t absolutely demand your 100k/150k regiment, you are committed to the best performance from these ancient, antiquated designs. Sadly, your thinking is far out of line with modern engine design.

Fancy, modern aluminum castings have completely changed the game…for the better.  Expensive to replace torque-to-yield bolts? Not so much.  Fact is, newer engines last longer and give max performance for longer intervals, but they are throw away motors.  That’s the general consensus, but let’s answer your questions individually:

  • Can you enlighten me about what people do these days when their engines are wearing? Back to the term “throw away motor”, as people normally get another motor from LKQ (or similar computer-intensive junkyard) and swap them out.  Rebuilding a modern motor isn’t a very bright idea, unless the car is super valuable with the original block or you want extra power from a big-bore re-sleeve, like this Lingenfelter job for LSX-FTW engines.
  • Are valve jobs common? Heck, I can’t find anything to prove that valve jobs even happen (in significant quantities) these days, much less being a common practice.  Again, throw away motors mean you can find a better one elsewhere.  But more importantly, engines don’t wear out like they used to.  Reduced performance from worn out valve train isn’t a big deal anymore.
  • Are some brands more repairable than others? If you live in the US, the most repairable brands will be from Detroit. Parts are plentiful, cheaper and more local machine shops will do the work without needing further research.  Sadly (or not?), the art of repairing an engine is more of a niche service these days.  At least for mainstream vehicles, like those once powered by GM’s 2.5L Iron Duke.  I suspect Japanese brands are a close second, everything else shall be challenging and/or cost prohibitive.  Not that people aren’t tweaking AMG and BMW motors regularly in the USA…but the best motor to get your (pushrod-loving) hands dirty these days is a Chevy (Truck) LS motor with an iron block.
  • What lifespans do people expect from modern engines? With the use of synthetic oil, regular fluid changes and tune ups, I think most folks expect over 150,000 miles from their engines.  And that’s being modest: 200+k is likely. Provided most 1-owner cars aren’t traded in well before this time, of course. Our society of consumption makes this personal expectation question most difficult to answer!

Some engines have proven otherwise (sludgy VWs and Toyotas, piston-slapping Chevys, head gasket eating Subies, etc) but one fact remains: advances in 1) metallurgy 2) technology 3) production means that the old ways of your pushrod motors (and my Windsor V8s, FWIW) are a thing of the past.

And we are far better off this way.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

]]> 129 Piston Slap: Crystal Ballin’ The Mighty Dak’s Tranny Wed, 29 May 2013 11:03:36 +0000

TTAC Commentator PartsUnknown writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I have a transmission issue, but to mix it up a little, it’s not attached to a Honda.  This is my dad’s 1999 Dodge Dakota with the 3.9 liter V6 boat anchor.  When shifted into drive, it will move forward but will not shift itself out of first gear.  Moving the column shifter does nothing.  Reverse gear works fine. The level and condition of the trans fluid is good.  The truck isn’t worth much as it’s a 2WD regular cab (worthy of a scarlet A in New England), but here’s the thing: it only has 74,000 miles and is in otherwise good shape. 

My dad needs to decide whether to fix it or sell it as-is.  Is he looking at a new tranny, or something simple (and relatively cheap) like a solenoid or a control module?

As always, thanks for the advice.

Sajeev answers:

The “Magic Box” known as any automatic transmission is impossible to diagnose from an armchair position. If no warning light appears or an error code on a diagnostic tester, odds are the transmission must be somewhat disassembled and repaired.  Which means it’s time for a full rebuild, because once you crack that bitch open (at this age, even at this low mileage) you might as well do the damn thing.

As much as I’d like to stay fair and balanced with such modest information, I’ve seen/heard too many horrible Chrysler transmission nightmares from the past 20+ years to not jump to one conclusion:  replace the transmission with one that works (and has a warranty) from the junkyard and sell it immediately.

If it quacked like a duck but now smells like pâté…it is probably a grenaded Chrysler transmission.  Such is the life of an old Chrysler product.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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Piston Slap: Fix my Bro-Ham, Sanjeev! Tue, 30 Apr 2013 13:48:15 +0000

Mark writes:

Hello Sanjeev,

I have a problem and hope you can help me. My Cadillac Brougham with the 307 V8 smells like gas under the hood. This is intermittent and the last time it was in the shop the mechanic found no leaks under the car or around the carb.

I did some internet searching and have heard all kinds of things including I probably used the wrong kind of gas. Apparently cars like mine can’t burn premium fuel completely and there might be residual gas left in the engine. My other cars use premium so I could have pumped 91 octane by mistake. Could that be it?

If it was a leak why wouldn’t it smell all the time?

I’m frustrated to the point where chancing it is an option so let me ask you this if you can’t fix it… if it is a small leak what’s the worst that can happen? I mean doesn’t modern reformulated gasoline have such a high flash point that I needn’t worry, except for the smell? Gas smell doesn’t really bother me.

If I took a fire extinguisher around with me could I “catch” a small fire under the hood in time to avoid damaging my paint? Are there warning signs, like smoke, before flames start to actually melt things? Does fire extinguisher residue clean up pretty easily?

Many thanks,

SANJEEV answers:

Mark: I’m searching for a clever–yet benign–way to spell your name wrong, but I got nothing.  Plus, you got a machine that’s right up my Super Classy Alley, so I’ll proudly bestow my Sajeev Magic** on that sweet, sweet ‘Lac.

Old cars do stupid things because they are…wait for it…old. And you are freaking out with eleventy billion superfluous questions because of it: Fire extinguisher residue concerns?  Really???

Stay calm: it’s all good, son! Leaks happen anywhere with old rubber and gaskets, especially with today’s ethanol-blend fuel added to the mix. (Literally.) If your carb’s never been rebuilt from the ground up, now’s the time.  I betcha an internal seal is leaking, pouring fuel down the motor’s throat when it isn’t required.  Perhaps it’s when the motor is cooling down (adding space between the seal’s gaps) and when the bowl is at a certain fill level.  Or not.  But whatever the internal fail, it’s only gonna get worse from here.

I had the same problem on an older EFI car, the fuel injectors were leaking internally and the smell was horrid. You can’t see an internal leak, but you sure-as-shit can smell it. So let’s address everything. Are there any rubber fuel lines under the hood?  Replace them now, they are cheap too.  Did ya install a fancy external glass fuel filter with a removable cartridge? Throw it away and get a conventional sealed filter. Don’t know a good carburetor tech in your area?  Look harder, because now is the time.

About your Premium fuel problem, yes you are wrong for using it, but only your checking account is pissed at you. Premium fuel won’t damage an engine or leave unburned deposits above and significantly beyond a normal used motor. If you’re really concerned, you can run Seafoam in the intake and fuel system followed by an Italian Tune Up to really clean things out. After you have someone blow apart the carb and rebuild it.


**Patent pending. Or not.


Send your queries to Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Piston Slap: Automatic Decisions, Manual Trannies Tue, 12 Mar 2013 17:16:09 +0000 TTAC commentator hidrotule2001 writes:

Hey Sajeev,

A few months back you helped me sort out a plan of action for my Ford Fiesta transmission problems, and I have another stick-shift quandary I thought you might have some insight on.

My second vehicle is a 2003 Ram 1500 (bare bones work-truck, standard cab, manual everything), which I’ve recently been doing a lot of maintenance on (new plugs, pads, rotors, u-joints, carrier bearing, and a few other things). One issue I haven’t been able to sort out is an odd grinding/squealing I get when the car is in gear at high rpms (3000+) with the clutch peddle fully depressed (on the floor), something akin to what you hear if you come off the clutch with the shifter only part-way into gear.

Everything I can find on forums seems to indicate this is a worn throw-out bearing, but there seem to be a few things that suggest otherwise:
1) it only happens above a certain RPM (3000+), and makes 0 noise if the clutch is put in at lower revs
2) it only happens when in 1st gear, and occasionally in 2nd or 3rd (but much quieter in these cases)

I’ve had two local shops take a look at it, and neither was able to say more than it might be the throw-out bearing, or possibly some other bearing in the transmission, and they wouldn’t be able to say for sure unless they pulled the transmission out. I figure if it’s to the point that the transmission needs to be pulled, I should look at replacing the clutch (since it’s still on it’s first one, with 120k miles), and possibly some other transmission components, but that’s going to set me back a pretty penny (and it seems like throwing parts at a transmission problem is a good way to lighten you wallet quickly). I’ve also noticed that first and second gear are “clingy” and that when I shift back to neutral and/or have the clutch engaged, it takes substantially longer for the RPMs to return to idle than it does in higher gears, on the order of 2 full seconds(I’ve never noticed this in other M/T vehicles I’ve had, or if there was a difference it wasn’t noticeable). I’ve got a video where you can see the difference in time it takes to return to idle, as well as hear the grinding noise, here.  I’ve also found that the problem is worst when the engine is cold, for the first 10-15 minutes of driving after starting.

At the advice of some DodgeForum members I recently took the truck into my local independent shop to have the clutch, throw-out bearing, transmission fluid, and pilot bearing replaced, but my mechanic called back to say he was pretty sure those weren’t the cause of the issue. He’s convinced the issue is coming from something within the trans, possibly the counter shaft bearing, and was hesitant to replace components he didn’t think were causing the issue. His quote for a rebuilt transmission was 1700, with shipping and labor and a new clutch, that would end up around 2700, which is right about what the truck’s worth.

So now the question is, do I…

-Wait things out and see if they get any worse?
-Have the clutch components replaced anyway and see if that improves things?
-Have them pull the trans and hope it’s something easy to replace/fix?
-Look for a used trans and have that installed instead of a rebuilt one?
-Bite the bullet and have a rebuilt trans installed?
-Try my hand at a tranny-pull and see what trouble I can get into?

Thoughts/suggestion/voodoo-cures welcome. Thanks!

Sajeev answers:

You covered all the bases, short of learning how to rebuild gearboxes yourself.  Which is usually the big problem here: nobody knows what the hell is failing until a rebuilder takes it apart and assesses the situation. I consider transmissions (of all types) to be magic boxes of horror that you must never tear apart unless you are ready for a complete rebuild.  Obviously that doesn’t include accessible fail points like the clutch, torque converter, etc that aren’t encased within the gearbox itself.

Maybe you need a new clutch/throwout bearing/pressure plate/pilot bearing, but if your mechanic says no, I revert to my “magic box of horror” tranny theory.

Don’t worry about RPM hanging between gears, that’s part of the engine computer’s tuning. Not sure why it would hang more gears than others, but make sure you are driving the same way (intensity of throttle input, RPM speed before going into neutral, etc) in all gears to see if there actually is a problem. The hang in my Ranger was super annoying in all situations, so an SCT tune cured it…among other things. But I digress.

Back to your mechanic’s recommendation: let the transmission die, don’t change it immediately.  Just make sure you buy a good replacement from a trusted rebuilder.  If your local searches fail, get one from Jasper or a similar national distributor with a good reputation.


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

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Piston Slap: A Power Ram Split Decision? Mon, 04 Mar 2013 12:19:27 +0000 Douglas writes:


Here’s some fodder for Piston Slap. Situation: I have a 1993 Dodge Power Ram 250, 103k miles, base model, so about the only thing it has in the way of amenities is AC.

It’s got a 5.2l Magnum (318), mated to a NV4500 with a NP241 transfer case. It came from Arizona where it saw light duty on a ranch of some sort. Overall, it is a excellent shape. All mechanicals work, body is in great shape, no rust, a small ding or two on the tailgate and by the bumper. I’ve replaced the shocks, new radiator, new AC condenser, installed new AC compressor, converted to R134, new tie rod ends in one year ownership. Still need to tear out the old headliner backing, and fix the 4WD light (bad switch on the transfer case top). Maybe a coat of paint, too.

It took me a long time to find this truck – manual, stripper, 4×4 in great shape. I use to make dump runs, tinker around, and help out friends.

Here’s the dilemma. It will need new tires soon, and since I want to replace the spare, I’m looking at around $700 for new tires. At some point, I’ll need new brakes, and I’ve been thinking about getting a donor engine to rebuild and replace the one I’ve got in there now. (Small rear main seal leak, plus twenty years of use on the existing motor.) I like to tinker and wrench, and this truck provides me that opportunity. But I wonder if I’m a fool for thinking about new rubber and a rebuilt engine in a twenty year old truck. On the other hand, I think I’m a fool for wanting to move onto to something newer when I’ve got such a great setup in my driveway now.


From a Fellow Texan,

Sajeev answers:

Now you could be considered foolish on either side of the split decision presented here. But combine the relevant and necessary parts you’ve already replaced (nice job on the shocks, that gets neglected far too often) with the need for new rubber on any vehicle, and keeping the truck is far from foolish.  It’s the right move.

Do you need a spare motor to rebuild? Probably not.  But that shouldn’t stop you from tinkering and having fun in your spare time, while preparing for a future mechanical failure.  If you want to rebuild a spare motor in your “spare” time (sorry), go right ahead and do it.

Old trucks never die, they just get better. Even Dodge trucks, which are rarely loved like their GM and Ford counterparts. Keep it and get new tires, for sure.


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


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Rebuild, Part Out, Export, or Race Out: 2002 Toyota Camry Sun, 21 Oct 2012 18:34:36 +0000

Every once in a very blue moon, I’ll go to a mini-warehouse auction.

The realities of this low-down clearance process is completely unlike the miracles and glories that come with episodes of Storage Wars.  You want junky third world quality furniture? Or memoirs of the 1980′s and 1990′s left behind by your neighbors from their very last estate sale before they finally moved to a condominium? The local storage auctions are the place to go. 80% to 90% pure junk.

This is where I recently found this wrecked 2002 Toyota Solara SE with 140k miles. For $375, it was all mine.

Should I…

Rebuild: The rebuilding business is a huge enterprise in this country. Thousands of vehicles in this country are purchased with the sole goal of rebuilding the body and putting it back on the road.

This particular Solara has three very strong pluses going for it:

1) The engine and transmission are still in good shape.

2) The title was not changed to salvage or rebuilt since the owner only had liability insurance at the time of the accident. Instead of reporting it to the insurance company, she simply had it towed to a storage facility. Probably right after she got cited for having a junk car on her driveway.

3) Toyotas are pretty much the gold standard of automobiles in most of the developing world. If you take our used car market for Toyotas in the United States, which already carry a strong premium and multiply it by anywhere between 2 to 3, that’s the price of a high-content used Toyota overseas.

This route is a non-starter for me since I don’t own a body shop.

However if you have friends or family members that wreck a late model vehicle and have inadequate insurance, they may likely get more money from a body man than they will from a junkyard. A nearby one offered me $1500 instead of the $1000 from the low-ball subsisting salvage yard.

But there is a better avenue…

Part Out: In order to do this right you need three things.

1) Space

2) Patience

3) Time to post online

A surprising number of vehicles can be picked to a vulture like level of skeletal remains thanks to a long list of factors. The popularity of the model in the used car market. Uniqueness of body parts. The price dealers/manufacturers charge for the same part. Interchangeability. The wear out factor of certain used parts. Not to mention the demand from those who export.

I would expect this vehicle to provide a return somewhere in the $3500 range if I had it picked clean. But that would take a few years.

Is it worth the wait?

Export: Forget about going to the guys down the street who have a used tire store and a treasure trove of old junkers behind their building. If you want to get the best immediate return for your vehicle, take it to a salvage auction.

The competition is fierce. In-state buyers compete with out-of-state buyers, who compete with buyers from outside the United States. Mexico, Central America, Bolivia, Colombia, the UAE, Nigeria, Ghana, Malaysia… the help centers for the two largest salvage auctions offer over a dozen languages for conversation and even go so far as to advertise their services on local radio stations, online publications, and wherever else they can get an audience.

I happen to have one nearby that offers a special low rate for towing and selling a wreck. I have to wait for a court order title. But once that goes through, I can bring it there and have a feeding frenzy of bidding from all the folks mentioned above.

One thing you do have to be careful of is making sure that the vehicle is listed accurately online. Make sure the buyers know that the vehicle runs and that the requisite six to ten pictures actually belong to your vehicle. I have pulled and relisted vehicles due to these errors.

The return for the 2002 Solara would likely be right around the low $2000 range. A clean title and a powertrain that runs fine will certainly help build a wider audience for this model than usual. But the fact that I’m selling as a dealer instead of an insurance company will hurt it a bit. Since dealers wind up getting numbers at the waning moments of the auction and the competition is sometimes not as strong.

If worse comes to worse, I can always say no to the final bid price.

So what should I do?

Find someone to rebuild the vehicle? Part it out and become ever more familiar with Solaras? Bring it it to a salvage auction and watch it begin a new life outside our borders? Or maybe use it for the 24 hours of LeMons?  Who knows? Maybe I can call it Eiji’s Ennui?

What says you?



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Piston Slap: Peace of Mind or Shameless Shill? Mon, 12 Dec 2011 14:46:01 +0000

Eric writes:

I have a 2000 Maxima with about 155k on the clock.  I purchased this car in Los Angeles and since 2005, it’s lived in Ohio and Pennsylvania.  The main issue is that I can tell the transmission is starting to get a bit soft on the 1-2 upshift, specifically once it starts getting cold out.  I presume the primary reason for this is the abuse it’s suffered at my hands.  As it was a California car, it has no traction control and though I love it nine months of the year, it is utterly helpless in the snow—snow tires didn’t seem to help tremendously.  I’ve had to rock myself out a number of times and I presume the trans has gotten overheated at least once.  I’ve been good about changing the fluid (drain and fill 3x, filter too) about once a year but I think I’m near the end on this trans.

So the question is should I seek out a used AT and have it swapped, send out for a quality rebuild or just replace the Max outright?  It’s been quite good to me with only minor repairs such as a cat, MAF and coils.  I can happily say that it’s a car that I’ve enjoyed quite a lot and wouldn’t mind keeping—the 3.0 VQ is still strong despite the miles.  The main complicating factor is that my wife’s car is not yet paid off and I don’t think I’ll be able to take on a 2nd auto loan; we still have about 3 years left on the current loan.

I’ve toyed with the notion of adding an older Miata to the stable for summer fun and occasional project; though affordable enough to buy outright and I wouldn’t mind it as a daily driver, I’m sure that it wouldn’t be much fun in the winter.  If I dump the Maxima, what would you think might be a suitable replacement?

Sajeev Answers:

Keep it, because you can’t afford a second loan. And why would you? This is far from a death sentence to your automotive needs, its just giving an old friend a helping hand when they need it the most.

You mentioned regular fluid changes. Good for you!  There’s a slim chance that adding a transmission additive (some recommend Lucas, I will not go that far) will fix the problem and this will be the end of the story for months…or maybe longer.  If so…perfection!

But if not, buying a remanufactured transmission is your best bet.  The moment someone cracks open your autobox for a visual inspection is the time when your hard earned dollars are wasted, misused. At this age and mileage, and transmission should be rebuilt/replaced, not somewhat disassembled, inspected, and a couple of parts fixed.

Who rebuilds a Nissan transaxle decently?  Not entirely sure. I’ve been bitten by local shops that never knew the specifics of a certain manufacturer’s design, so I tend to err on the cautious side: either get one from Nissan with a factory warranty or ring up the folks at Jasper.  As their website says, the 3 year warranty and quality control procedures gives “Peace of Mind” that isn’t available by a local shop.  And they usually drop ship to your trusty mechanic, for a quick install.  I am usually hesitant to outright recommend a particular vendor, but Jasper seems to give people on many forums just what their website promises, no matter the make and model.

Best and Brightest: approve or disapprove of this particular shameless shill?


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

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Piston Slap: 4.9L Pride at What Cost? Fri, 02 Dec 2011 21:33:55 +0000


TTAC Commentator Cameron Evans writes:

Dear Sajeev,

I am the proud owner of a 1992 F-150, 4×2, regular cab, long box, with power nothing and the Big Six. I love everything about the truck, except for the one concession to my wife, the E4OD gearbox.

Now that the tranny is shot (slip city, followed by violent shifts), I need your advice. The Ford has a lot of new, high quality parts (Michelin’s, o2 sensor, egr valve, coil, water pump, alternator, exhaust, etc), but it’s also rusty as hell from 19 Minnesota winters and the body is beat up from being a municipal truck.

Simple question, drop the cash on a rebuilt tranny or cut my losses?

Thanks in advance!

Sajeev Answers:

Unless the floors are rusting out, I’d keep it. Even then, sheetmetal stock and talented welders are cheap and easy find almost everywhere. A truck is a truck, my friend. There’s a reason why songs are sung, jobs get done, and America is America: the work truck beat to all hell is a symbol of our national pride.

Ok, let’s try to give a technical reason why.  Look at all those new parts!  The exhaust is a big plus. Great choice in tires too.  And if the EEC-IV controlled, 4.9L Big Six was a reasonably attractive woman, I’d marry her on the spot. You know I’m right, son.

Now to the tranny: finding a Ford savvy rebuilder is sometimes a bit tough.  So you’ll have to call around to find one, lest you wind up with an inferior product.  But when you do, and when you drop a decent shift enhancer on it, the E4OD is a great unit. Much like the rest of your parts, spending a good $1000-1500 (not including installation) for a proper rebuild by a proper Ford man is totally worth it.

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



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Piston Slap: A DHS, A Darn Hard Situation Wed, 27 Jul 2011 16:36:42 +0000


Chuck writes:

My son enjoys being able to spread out when driving and also appreciates the convenience of hauling several of his buds around. He drives a 2001 Cadillac DHS. He has just moved to Massachusetts and registered the car there. It failed inspection with OBD codes P1860 and P0741.  He has 60 days to resolve the problem. A little internet searching informs that these codes are related to the torque converter clutch circuit and the solenoid valve.

The codes may indicate anything from a bad electrical connection to a failed plastic solenoid (I hate plastic) to a worn TC clutch. Other than the not so likely electrical connection fix, labor is at least 12 hours, even for the solenoid. I don’t see this as an emissions or safety issue, but then I’m not the state of Massachusetts.

I see his options as: a) rebuild the transmission for from 1/3rd to 2/3rds (dealer platinum level rip-off) the value of the car , OR b) get an economic hardship waiver for a year and figure out what to do – an alternative is selling the car in a state that isn’t as awful as MA c) clear the codes and drive veeery slowly to the inspection station (mixed forum opinions on whether this could work). On the ethics of selling a car with a possibly dodgy transmission – he’ll disclose it and furthermore the transmission could stop working tomorrow or could last much longer, according to the Caddy forums.

I’ve taken that gamble in the past and won more often than I’ve lost. In this instance, many comments in the forums suggest the impact is likely just a 1 MPG penalty from not having lockup – BFD. You get that penalty from moderately underinflated tires.

Any other suggestions, beyond drive the thing into Back Bay? Moving is not an option, certainly not in 60 days.

Sajeev answers:

First off, you can’t clear the codes and pass inspection: the shop will notice the lack of data and ask you to come back after driving the car a coupla days.  That’s the beauty of OBD-II electrics, you bow down before them, as you are at their mercy! Well, sometimes…

But that’s not the point. The economic hardship paperwork is your son’s best choice until he can find someone to dig into the transaxle for a reasonable price.  If this was a 2001 Lincoln Continental with it’s less-well-known transaxle, I’d just give up and find a different car.  That’s because your average transmission shop, for one reason or another, usually knows how to rebuild a GM transmission blindfolded. And other oddball trannies are, well, out of luck. You experience may vary, maybe I’ve just been that unlucky.

For sure, have someone examine the plastic connector(s), because that’s cheap and easy.  Many transmission shops do free diagnosis, and a free quote to do the work afterwards.  But no matter what, I always recommend a full rebuild if you’re going in there. Its just a waste of labor if you do not replace all the wear items when they dig in there.

My advice?  Sell that ‘Lac to someone in the American South who could use a decent foundation for a Swanga. Just kidding.  But only a little bit.

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

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