The Truth About Cars » transmission The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Jul 2014 04:01:57 +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 » transmission 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: Crystal Ballin’ With Yo Tranny! (Part II) Wed, 09 Apr 2014 12:24:30 +0000 Anything is Possible... (photo courtesy:

Aaron writes:

Hey Sajeev,

Huge fan of TTAC and the piston slap articles. My problem is that I noticed my car(2007 honda civic)would shudder, under light throttle and low rpms especially when going up a slight slope. This usually happens at 30km/hr or 40km/hr. I took it to the honda dealer(4 months ago) and he said the torque converter(tc) needs to be replaced(300 for tc plus 900 for labour and stuff).

My university got a bit busy and I took some time to think about it. The problem might be slightly worse now so I recently went back to the dealer to get more details about the cost and now they are saying the price of the tc has increased to 800 plus another 800 for labour. The guy suggested maybe just changing the transmission fluid(because it is starting to get dark) and driving the car until it fails and getting a new transmission for $3000 because the transmission will probably go out soon anyway.

I’m not sure what to do now. I’m considering going to a transmission shop and see if they can change the tc, but I’m worried about going to a random mechanic. I know a small time mechanic whom I go to for small stuff but I’m not sure if his shop is capable of swapping the tc(is it that complicated?). I have also looked online and found other people saying that if the torque converter is failing, the transmission is probably going to go soon. Some other people have said that if the torque converter fails, it could take out the rest of the transmission which might have been working fine otherwise. I then found another group of people saying that I should just drive the car without changing the transmission fluid because even changing the fluid could cause the transmission to fail sooner.

I just want to know which of these are actually true and what should my next course of action be. If the torque converter can be changed for a reasonable price and my transmission keeps working, I would like to do that. Or maybe I should see if I can get the entire transmission rebuilt or replaced.

Thank you,

P.S: Not sure if this matters, but the car once overheated severely (about 3 years ago) and about half the engine had to be replaced under warranty. The engine has been running smoothly since then and the only other problem is that recently(2 months ago) my engine starter and battery had to be replaced. The battery connectors also look pretty bad so I’m going to replace that soon. Hmmm maybe I should just sell my car.

Sajeev answers:

Oh great, another mystery box transaxle/crystal ballin’ yo tranny problem: one day the B&B will string me up for these blind guesses.

That said, on a more serious note, how many miles are on the Civic?

Aaron responds:

Hey Sajeev,

Thanks for the quick reply. It has 156,000 km(96,000 miles). Admittedly, the car has been driven pretty hard. I just did a quick stall speed test(mashing the brake and hitting the throttle) and the revs went up to 2,500rpm in both drive and reverse. That seems pretty normal. I drove around trying to recreate the problem(Light throttle and flat roads or slight inclines).

It happens at:

  • 15 or 20km/h (9 or 12mph)
  • 30ish km/h (18mph)
  • 40ish km/h (25mph)
  • And at 55ish km/h (34.18mph), the shuddering is only minor at this speed

There is also a sound when this happens, it sounds like metal spinning against metal in a liquid. However, this sound can only be heard if the shuddering is not too violent. If it is violent, it just sounds like the car kind of wants to stall. I checked the transmission fluid and it looks pretty brown and has a slight burning smell. If the car is accelerating faster( atleast above 2000rpm), it feels like there is no problem. Also no problem when slowing down.
Thank you,

Sajeev concludes:

Great assessment!  At this age (under 100k miles) odds are new and correct fluid will solve it: flush the old fluid out of the converter and also drop the pan to change the filter. Which might be asking a lot for many shops, but I’d want all the old ATF out of the system. So will this cure the problem?  Will thoroughly removing varnished ATF cause even more problems than a shudder?

Maybe on both counts.  Or maybe one and not the other.  See how much fun this is for me?

My best guess: do as the dealer said, change the fluid. If it fails, get a rebuilt transaxle from a Honda savvy shop.  Because opening up a transaxle for anything and not doing a rebuild is likely a waste of time, labor and money.

It’s usually best to prolong that moment with anything…including a fluid change. Even if the fluid change actually shortens the tranny’s lifespan. So much fun!

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: If Only We Knew Ye, Trooper! Wed, 19 Mar 2014 11:58:05 +0000 Well that looks cool... (photo courtesy:

TTAC Commentator Dave M writes:

Hey Sajeev!

A question for you and B/B. Especially during cold weather my Trooper gets a ’clunk’ shifting from 1-2 (it’s a 4 speed automatic) and then back down. This coincides with a CEL. It doesn’t happen all the time. There are other times (even during cold) where the truck runs normally – no clunk, no CEL. Checking the CEL code and it indicates all four oxygen sensors (replaced last year); when no CEL no code to read.

My first thoughts were it might be time for ANOTHER transmission. But my brother says no, it has to be electrical since it’s intermittent. Any ideas where to start?

Sajeev answers:

Welllllllll…for starters you could write us with more info: stuff like the year/mileage/service history/CEL code totally wouldn’t hurt.

Perhaps it is time for “another” transmission, if we knew why you said it like that.  Like maybe knowing the condition (look and smell) and age of the transmission fluid. Or perhaps the CEL isn’t fixed because Oxygen Sensors aren’t usually the problem: they are the messenger of a problem upstream. Maybe $10 in new vacuum line fixes the CEL, eliminate a leak that’s messing up both the engine and transmission’s parameters.

Or maybe you need a whole new transmission.

It’s kinda impossible to tell.

Come on son, us armchair analysts can’t judge a problem this complex with such half-baked  info! That said, have at it, 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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ZF’s 9-Speed 9HP Transmission Puts Dog Clutches On The Leash Sun, 09 Feb 2014 03:34:39 +0000 ZF 9HP Transmission, Picture Courtesy of Land RoverIn a week we will post our first full review of the all-new and all-controversial 2014 Jeep Cherokee. The new Jeep isn’t just raising eyebrows for the love-it or hate-it styling. Or the resurrection of the Cherokee badge. Or the constant delays in production. Or the transverse mounted engine. Or the lack of solid axles. None of that laundry list seems to cause as much discussion around the automotive water cooler than ZF’s 9HP 9-speed transmission. Click past the jump for a deep dive into the tranny with more speeds than my bicycle. If you don’t want to explore transmissions in detail, don’t click. You have been warned.

When Derek drove the Cherokee at a launch event he complained about the transmission. When I drove a pre-production model for a very brief hour and a half I was more perplexed than anything. I chalked it up to pre-production programming issues and the fact that the transmission has 50% more speeds than a 6-speed, so I expected 50% more shifting. A month later I was able to sample a different Cherokee with newer software and some of my shifting complaints had been solved but something still felt “wrong.” Now three months later a full production Cherokee landed in my hands and while the shift logic (when and why the transmission would shift up or down) was finally where I thought it should be, the shifts themselves felt different from what I am used to. The reason is all down to clutches, but let’s start at the beginning.

In general terms an engine is most efficient in a somewhat narrow band of RPMs. That exact band varies from engine to engine based on what the designers intended at the time. The longer you can keep the engine in this range of RPMs, the more efficient the car will be. Secondary to this is a desire for improved off-the-line performance, this necessitates ever-lower first gear ratios. The distance between the lowest and the tallest gear in a transmission is called the ratio spread. (You get it by dividing the lowest ratio by the tallest and that gives you a number that represents the delta between first and last.) GM’s venerable 4-speed 4L80 has a spread of 3.3 while their new 6-speed 6L80 has a spread of 6. The deeper first gear and taller 6th allow the 6L80 to deliver better performance and better fuel economy. The reason ZF’s 8-speed 8HP doesn’t have the same delta in performance over the average 6-speed as the 6-speed had over the 4-speed, is easy to explain. The 8HP’s ratio spread is 7, just 1 higher than a 6 speed while the 6-speeds had a 3 point advantage over the 4-speeds. Aisin’s new 8-speed transaxle in Volvo and Lexus models goes a small step further with a 7.59 spread. These can all be seen as progressive improvements. The 9HP is different. With a 4.7:1 first gear and a 0.48:1 ninth gear the overall spread is a whopping 9.8.


On closer inspection you’ll notice something interesting about the 9HP’s ratios. Fifth is the 1:1 ratio where the output shaft of the transmission is spinning at the same rate as the engine meaning there four overdrive ratios. In contrast both ZF and Aisin’s 8-speed transmissions have just two overdrive ratios with 6th gear being the direct-drive (1:1) ratio. As a result the 9HP’s lower gears are farther apart, especially first and second gear. When you look deeper at the numbers you’ll also notice that the 9HP is geared much taller at the top end with 7th gear being approximately equal to 8th in the Aisin or ZF 8-speed units. Many reviewers of the Cherokee noted they never experienced 9th gear during their test drive and I now know why. At 0.48:1 with the 3.2L V6 (3.251 final drive) you have to be going faster than 80 MPH to engage 9th because at 80 your engine loafs around at 1,460 RPM. (The 2.4L four-cylinder in the Cherokee Trailhawk would be going about 1,810 RPM at 80.) According to ZF this results in an impressive 12-16% improvement in fuel economy versus the same final drive ratio and their own 6-speed automatic and 11-15% when compared to their 8-speed.

OK, so the 9HP has plenty of gears, but why does it shift the way that it does? It’s all down to the clutches. While a traditional automatic uses friction clutches in the form of either band clutches or multi-plate friction clutches, the 9HP blends friction clutches and dog clutches in the same transmission case. Dog clutches are “interference” clutches more commonly found in manual transmissions and transfer cases. Friction clutches work by pressing two plates together. The friction between them allows the transfer of energy and it allows one plate to spin faster than the other or “slip.” Think of slipping the clutch in a manual car, it is the same action. Automatic transmissions use this clutch type to their advantage because changing gear doesn’t always require engine power to drop, the transmission simply disconnects one clutch as it engages another, they slip and engage and you’re in another gear. Dog clutches however are different. If you look at the illustration below you can see a dog clutch on the right. Power is transmitted by the tooth of one side pressing on the tooth of the other. This type of clutch cannot slip so it is either engaged or disengaged. This is the type of clutch used inside manual transmissions. When you move the shifter to a different gear, you are physically disengaging and engaging dog clutches. This style of clutch is used because it suffers little parasitic loss and it is simple and compact. The use of a dog clutch in an “automatic” transmission isn’t new, dual clutch robotized manuals use this style of clutch internally as well, but it is the key to understanding why the 9HP shifts the way it does.


Because dog clutches can’t slip, their engagement must be controlled and precise. Going back to the manual transmission example, this is why modern manual transmissions have “synchros” or synchromesh. A Synchro is a mechanism that aligns the dog teeth prior to engagement. Without them you get that distinct gear grinding noise. Synchros work well in a manual transmission because when you are changing gear you are disconnecting the engine with the clutch (a friction clutch), then engaging a dog clutch for your gear selection. Because one end of the transmission is “free” the synchro synchronizes the two sides and then allows the toothed gear to engage. There is a “pause” in power when a shift occurs. If you look at an acceleration chart of a car with a good manual driver and an automatic you will see pauses in acceleration in the manual while most autos just have “reductions” in acceleration. That’s down to the pause required to engage a dog clutch vs a friction clutch that slips and engages without much reduction in power.

Let’s digress for a moment and talk about the DSG. The reason dual clutch gearboxes exist is because of the dog clutch. As I said engaging a dog clutch takes time and precision. This is part of the reason single-clutch robotic manuals like the one in the Smart ForTwo and the RAM ProMaster (and other Euro sedans) have such exaggerated shifts. Double clutch gearboxes get around this by having two gears engaged at all times. DSG style gearboxes are really two manual transmissions in the same case. 1st gear is engaged via the first transmission and 2nd is engaged but not active on the second. Changing gears simply involves swapping (via a friction clutch) from transmission A to transmission B. Once that is accomplished, the transmission A disengages and engages the dog clutches to select the next gear. Going from 2nd to 3rd involves swapping back from transmission B to the already shifted transmission A.

Let’s put it all together now. To save space and increase efficiency, the 9HP uses two multi-plate clutch elements, two friction brakes and two electronically synchronized dog clutches. (The 8HP uses two brakes and three multi-plate clutches.) The way the gearsets are arranged inside the case, shifts from 1-2, 2-3, and 3-4 involve only the traditional friction brake and clutch elements. As you would expect, aside from 1st being fairly low and somewhat distant from 2nd, these shifts feel perfectly “normal.” Under hard acceleration there is a momentary reduction in engine torque (courtesy of the computer to reduce clutch wear) and the shift occurs quickly and smoothly. The shift from 4-5 however is different. The transmission has to disengage dog clutch “A” in addition to engaging a friction clutch. This shift takes slightly longer than the 3-4 shift and the car’s computer makes a drastic reduction in torque to prevent wear of the dog teeth. Shifts 5-6 and 6-7 again happen with the only the friction elements at which point we need to disconnect the final dog clutch for gears 8 and 9 so we get the same kind of torque reduction in those shifts. The result is a transmission that has two distinct “feels” to its shifts, one that has only a slight torque reduction (1-2, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6, 6-7, 8-9) and one that has a more “manual transmission” feel where torque is cut severely (4-5 and 7-8).

2014 Jeep Cherokee Instrument Cluster

Because of the positioning of the two dog clutches in the shift pattern, the torque reduction isn’t objectionable in upshifts. Hard acceleration from a stop didn’t involve 5th gear even in the 1/4 mile. However, once you let off the gas the transmission will shift upwards rapidly for fuel economy settling in 6th or 7th in the 60-65 MPH range and 8th in the 70-75 MPH range.

Downshifts are where the 9HP truly feels different. Because of the design, if you’re in 8th gear and want to pass, the transmission will often need to drop 4 or 5 gears to get to a suitable ratio. (Remember that 4th gear is the first ratio going back down the scale that is lower than 1:1.) To do this the transmission has to accomplish the harder task of engaging two dog clutches. To do this the transmission doesn’t use cone synchros like a manual (too bulky) it uses software. Engaging dog clutches requires a longer and yet more severe reduction in torque than the disengagement because the transmission has to align the clutch and then engage it. In most automatics when you floor the car you get an instant feeling of acceleration that improves as the transmission downshifts. Although there would be moments of power reduction (depending on the programming) during this time, the engine is always providing some force forward. The 9HP’s software on the other hand responds by cutting power initially, then diving as far down the gear-ladder as it can, engaging the dog clutches and then reinstating your throttle command. The result is a somewhat odd delay between the pedal on the floor and the car taking off like a bat out of hell. According to Volvo’s powertrain guys, this shift behavior is one of the main reasons they chose the Aisin 8-speed (shared with the Lexus RX F-Sport) over the ZF 9-speed used by Land Rover and Chrysler.

All of a sudden the “odd” shift feel made perfect sense. In the march toward ever-improving fuel economy the automotive public will continually be introduced to cars that feel different from the “good old days.” Electric power steering numbs the wheel-feel but steer-by-wire promises to artificiality resurrect it. Dual clutch robotized manuals have a particular feel that was accepted by performance enthusiasts but has been a source of complaint for Focus and Fiesta shoppers. For me, understanding why the transmission is doing what it is doing is key to my like or dislike of a car’s road manners. Once I understood what the Cherokee’s automatic was up to, I was able to focus on the rest of the car. What about you? Are you willing to “sacrifice” shift quality at the altar of fuel economy? Be sure to let me know.

Have an automotive technology question? Want to see a deep-dive on another powertrain component?

Let us know by using the contact form at the top of the page!

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Piston Slap: Bennie Bucks on the Winter Beater? Wed, 27 Nov 2013 13:16:41 +0000

TTAC Commentator 28-Cars-Later writes:


I’ve got a small conundrum for Piston Slap.  Winter is fast approaching and for those of us in the mid-Atlantic states this is a serious affair. My winter beater has been my trusty (but not rusty) ’98 Saturn SL/auto/164K, which in the spring started showing its age and developed transmission issues after seven years (and roughly 80K) of ownership. I’ve let her sit most of the summer save starting her up and driving her around the parking lot every 7-12 days but I’ve been trying to put off the inevitable investment of Bennie bucks. This evening I was offered an ’00 Subaru Outback/auto/186K to replace it for $2500 inc four new cheap tires and inspection.

The prospects of an actual [built in Japan] Japanese wagon are intriguing, the Subaru is 7/10 in terms of condition with some dings and several rust spots, it had no issue starting up and is throwing no codes. The catch is I have zero documentation on the car (was a recent trade) and personally I am leery of all AWD systems regardless of make and model, especially without documentation/receipts. Panning over the engine bay I noticed a newer alternator and a battery stickered 3/12 (with old acid all over the cradle) so somebody (sort of) attempted to take care of the car. Oil was a down 1/4 a quart, coolant was dirty but not caked on or anything, but the kicker was the trans fluid is getting to be brown. I figure whomever recently owned this attempted to take care of it to some degree, but neglected all of the fluid changes, which leads to me to suspect none of the Subie specific maint (diff fluid, sensors, etc) has been done either by this owner (and who knows about the head gaskets). I have two days to make up my mind on the Subie before he sends it to auction.

(NOTE: because of my time delay in publishing, this car is already bought or auctioned off – SM)

So I figure my choices are as such:

  1. Spend $1200-1400 to install a used transmission in my Saturn and risk more expensive stuff breaking down the line.
  2. Spend $2500 and buy the Subaru, which for my purposes will probably get me through at least this winter without fireworks, but risk later expensive Subie specific repairs, or total loss if something big breaks.
  3. Not spend any money, junk my Saturn, and just drive one of my other two cars in the winter that I currently baby to some degree.

Sajeev answers:

Well…I guess it kinda depends on your other two vehicles.

#2 is not a sure thing: with zero service history and tired fluids, expecting this Subaru to work all winter is a rather huge leap of faith.  Perhaps if it was something more robust (truck) with less unique parts that are painfully hard to reach, perhaps if it wasn’t a vehicle known for its fragility (bad head gaskets) especially when neglected/abused…

Install a junkyard transmission in the Saturn, coming from a yard that offers a warranty.  Or research to see if a local shop rebuilds these units with quality parts and labor (not always easy to find) for a fair price.  Why?  Because it’s almost always easier to keep the problems you know, not the gigantic rolling question mark that could be even more of a horrid money pit.


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: Travel Well, Work Well? Wed, 16 Oct 2013 11:54:03 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

TTAC commentator wstarvingteacher writes:

I have been lurking on this site for at least three years. Comment some but mostly subscribe without commenting. I have been spending some time thinking about what I’m going to buy for my “jack of all trades” second car. Life changes so your needs change also.

I live on five acres just north of Houston. I have had a standard cab pickup that I like a lot more than I ever thought I would. The problem is that we have a need to send my Granddaughter off to school in another state. She said she wanted to buy my truck and with some trepidation I agreed. Now I have to replace it. I think I needed to anyway. Have grown tired of stolen spare tires and tools so I need something with inside storage. I figured a king cab truck would work as would many SUVs. Thought about a minivan but it seems they all have fragile transmissions. I tend to keep cars a long time.

Just to complicate things my wife has a car with a CVT transmission and a trailer hitch voids her warranty. Because of that we need to take longer trips in mine if we need to take anything (canoe etc) along. We will be taking an increasing number of trips. Therefore, mine needs to get over 20mpg on the highway and be able to tow 2000 lbs, (bare bones minimum) locally or highway. I am getting to the age where my eyes dictate I pay others for most of the work I do on vehicles. Therefore, dependability is very important.

I owned Lincoln Town Cars in the past (5.0 models) and they did all that I asked very well. I will have about $6k to spend on this second vehicle. Having a huge trunk while getting over 20mpg and being able to tow over two tons is a strong combination. I know that the Panthers run a long time and there are lots of parts. I also know that the CV(PI or no) and MGM frequently show up for low dollars. My truck will disappear next month and I can get hay or whatever, delivered for the short term. I guess my question(s) is/are:

  • What years panthers should I avoid for known problems such as spitting plugs and plastic intake manifolds?
  • Am I just looking at the panther because it worked for me in the past? Am I missing a good working, long lasting, cheap to fix, long trip vehicle that can work?

Seems like some vehicles travel well and some work well. I can’t think of anything that does both as well as a Panther. I think it is probably the last second car I will buy. Has to last for about 5 years when we will buy another first car.Hope the B & B will see this as fit to chew on for a while!

Sajeev answers:

So you want something that’s durable, gets over 20+ MPG highway, and can tow at least 2000lbs on a somewhat-regular basis. I can hear the Panther Haters among the B&B cringing already. If they even bothered to click on this article…but I digress.

There’s a chance that a minivan (if maintained right) or similar unit-body CUV with a V6 could fit the bill for both towing and efficiency, but they are a bit risky for a long-term owner. You could bite the bullet and buy a real body-on-frame truck or SUV, but they are rather expensive/valuable here in Texas. And their fuel economy stinks, even the compacts/mid size models with the necessary V6 power for your requirements.

Which begs the question, how could you NOT get a Panther? Set the cruise control to 65 mph and you can break 25 MPG, my best is 27 MPG with the A/C off on a 2006 Townie with an aftermarket computer tune. Add a big transmission cooler + trailer brake controller and it’ll safely tow just about any load implied by your letter.

I recommend getting a 2003+ model (doable with your budget), as they come with non-explody intake manifolds, better steering/suspension, hydroformed chassis bits and most will be new enough to avoid excessive wear and years of neglect.  The big brakes came in 1998, so you are set there. I don’t believe the 2003+ models ever spit spark plugs, that was a problem with congested Ford truck engine bays, sloppy tune up work (i.e. not a problem when carefully installed) and a different cylinder head design.

Go ahead and find the Panther with the most service records you can find.  It’ll travel better than anything else, and it can work hard when needed. Man, I miss not seeing this platform in new car showrooms/rental car lots: it really did it all, even with complete and unrelenting neglect from its maker.


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: Sealed for an Infinite Life? Mon, 14 Oct 2013 12:11:58 +0000 Jerry writes:


Thank you and the rest of the TTAC staff for providing the community with an entertaining and genuinely informative automotive website. I’m a long-time reader, and hope you can answer some questions I had about my wife’s 2009 G37 S 7AT.

We purchased the car new in 2009 and love it. It’s paid off and we see no reason to replace it anytime in the foreseeable future. It’s a keeper.

We carpool and thus only have accumulated 29,xxx miles in the years we’ve owned it. I try to be diligent with my vehicle servicing, and prefer to do my own maintenance. When preparing for the upcoming 30,000 mile service, I noticed something peculiar in the maintenance schedule provided by Infiniti:

‘Replace automatic transmission fluid(except 7 speed automatic transmission).’

Even more curious, the 7 speed automatic is not recommended for servicing at any point in the published maintenance schedule (which terminates at 120,000 miles). I’ve always thought 30,000-40,000 mile transmission services were optimal. There is no dip-stick, which I know is becoming more typical of luxury cars, so I can’t visually assess the condition of the fluid. Visiting some Infiniti forums reveals the transmission is effectively sealed to shade tree mechanics, and requires a visit to the dealership if you’re inclined to have it serviced.

I’d love your insight. I know there is no such thing as transmission fluid that never needs changed. I know any dealership I call will disagree with the literature and recommend it needs changed as frequently as I can afford it(~$350 for a flush and fill at the local dealership). What I don’t know is: When does this fluid really need changed, and why is Infiniti keeping it a secret?

Sajeev answers:

The 7-speed Infiniti angle adds a new twist to one of the quandaries that’s been around since the early days of the Piston Slap series.  My first recollection of these “sealed for life” automatic transmissions was the 1997 Chevy Malibu, and the universal truth hasn’t really changed: change the ATF at regular intervals (being vague for a reason) and make sure to use the correct fluid.

Why be vague? Because while most folks wouldn’t go past 100k-150k on transmission fluid if they knew the benefits–and if they kept a car that long–the actual life of transmission fluid varies by owner. If you carry/tow heavy loads in a minivan that idles in traffic to and from school/work in brutally hot weather, consider a more aggressive ATF replacement schedule.  But if you are one person traveling mostly rural highways in cooler parts of the country, you may never need to change the fluid at all.  (slight exaggeration)

So what’s the right move for you?

The path of least resistance is to visit the dealer and have them do the deed, perhaps every 75k or 100k.  Which isn’t a bad idea, and considering your low mileage…when will you reach 100,000 miles? So don’t sweat it!

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: A High Mileage Tale to TL Wed, 11 Sep 2013 11:15:41 +0000 Capture

Dan writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I enjoy your columns and thought I would get your input regarding what I should do with my current vehicle, a 2002 Acura TL 3.2. I purchased the vehicle new almost 12 years ago. The Acura has about 200,000 miles on it and is still on its third-transmission. As we all know, the transmission used on this vehicle was problematic but seems to be running okay. The car is very clean inside.

I recently priced out a new headlamp ballast and was surprised at the expense. I probably also need a new temperature sensor for the cooling fan, which seems to run in temperate weather when it shouldn’t. Timing belt change coming up and probably the brakes will also need to be changed soon.

A used car dealer I know, who I thought could sell the car for me instead suggested that I could get $5,000 or $6,000 at auction. I was surprised that the car could get such a high dollar amount, but he insisted that a lot of foreigners attend the auction and purchase vehicles such as mine to be sent overseas. He speculates that the mileage gets rolled back when they arrive in their overseas destination.

Sounds like it’s time for a new car and there are a lot of interesting vehicles these days, but at the end of the day, Honda/Acura has treated me right over the years and I don’t dare rock the boat. Besides, I’m from the Columbus area so I’m doing my part to help the local economy.

Ideally, I would like to wait for the new Acura TLX to purchase as a replacement. According to a local Acura dealer, it should start coming out about March, 2014. Would you 1) keep the TL around until the new TLX comes out, knowing that there might be expensive repairs coming up; 2) dump it now and get an Accord (with leather) or a CRV; or 3) just keep it until it dies?

Sajeev answers:

I’m surprised to hear a price range that high at auction, no matter who rolls back the odometer! Me thinks $3500-4500 is the high side with a very clean leather interior and shiny paint. Just for giggles, I logged into Manheim Auctions (thanks Steven Lang!) and verified that I was–once again–correct about the market for 2002-2003 Acura TLs. Why do I even bother with modesty anymore? 

Oh right: the Best and Brightest…but I digress…

Your man on the used car scene knows the local market: who participates, what they like, what they’d pay, etc. And I bet you want a new Acura TL, no matter what.  How difficult is that?

If a new TL is too damn hideous (could be worse, it was somewhat de-fugly’d in 2012) for your tastes, limp yours along until the next version arrives. And why not? You stomached those transaxle swaps and still love Honda/Acuras, so you can handle anything.

Buy a new TL or wait for the next one.  Either way, you can’t lose. 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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Piston Slap: Not Totally Enamored with E39 Upkeep? Mon, 12 Aug 2013 11:54:01 +0000 Will writes:


I was recently greeted with the warm, orange glow of a check engine light on my 2002 BMW 530iA with 93,000 miles. I took the car to AutoZone and had the code read. It’s a P0741, which indicates a failing torque converter. This is apparently a common issue on E39s with the ZF 5 speed automatic, as the seals in the torque converters tend to deteriorate.

Although it could also indicate other problems, I think this code probably means I have a transmission problem, as I’ve been experiencing some strange lock up behavior, especially on the interstate where the car will lurch and the revs will jump when I accelerate in fifth gear. I have an appointment at a local independent mechanic in a few days, but I’m not looking forward to hearing the diagnosis. Here’s the question: should I bite the bullet and spend $1200-$1800+ for a new/rebuilt torque converter to be installed, or do I sell the car and spend ten grand or so on a mid 2000s Honda with 80,000-100,000 miles?

I do like the Bimmer quite a bit, but it’s an expensive car to maintain, and I’m not totally enamored with the idea of spending so much time at the mechanic in the future. I’d be perfectly happy with a less luxurious Honda, but I would take a hit on the money I’ve put into this car already (new cooling system, some new suspension components, new MAF sensor, etc.)

Sajeev answers:

Can it really indicate other problems?  I always thought P0741 is about ye olde torque converter…or a bad circuit between the lock up solenoid and engine computer. Plus, your “strange lock up behavior” on the highway proves my point.

Odds are you need a new converter, maybe the solenoid plus miscellaneous bits your mechanic will spot when the E39 is on the lift. And since you aren’t especially thrilled with owning a fantastic car with Germanic levels of wallet molesting…well…

Enjoy your new Honda. You’ll be far better off, even if us car peeps wish you’d keep the E39.


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: Scope Creep! Mon, 22 Jul 2013 11:00:55 +0000

TTAC Commentator jco writes:


I have a quick but also possibly interesting question: in new VWs with DSG, the LCD info on the dash will tell you exactly what gear number you are in. Obviously with this particular transmission it’s necessary to do this. but why can’t other cars with conventional transmissions, either automatic or manual, have this small but useful feature? have other cars featured this?

Given the sudden multiplication of available gears in upcoming transmissions which have been a hot topic on TTAC recently, maybe it should be mandatory in a future sedan with an 8 speed transmission.

Also, FYI, my phone autocorrected your name to Sanjeev.

Sajeev answers:

ZOMG SON: could the people behind the smart phone be out to get me?  They want TTAC to fire me so they can hire Sanjeev instead???  Oh, the humanity!

My petulant insecurities aside, let’s go old school TTAC on this answer.  Our friend Mr. Bob Elton wrote a fantastic piece about deleting unnecessary crap from a vehicle. What he wrote almost eight years ago is still true today. Probably even more so, considering technology’s scope creep into the dashboards of vehicles increasingly cheaper than a BMW 7-series.

I don’t see a need for your request…even if one of my childhood design musings was this exact feature added to my 1983 Continental Valentino: a Roman Numeral display for the gear changes of the four-speed automatic. I thought it would look pretty sweet next to the digital speedometer on that black plexiglass Star Wars dash, especially since you could make the speedo jump by 6MPH increments thanks to its malaise-grade American V8 torque curve.

But perhaps I’ve grown up a little.  Or I’ve gleaned enough from my MBA coursework to believe that no R&D money should be spent making this indicator.  That said, it wouldn’t be that damn hard: the information is already collected by the computer, which is already wired to screen(s) on the dashboard.  It’ll take a little more GUI programming to display this information, and little else.

How much would that cost?  And is it worth it compared to…anything else? Think about what else you’d want on your next ride instead of this.


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: A New (Wave Plate) Sensation? Mon, 03 Jun 2013 11:00:16 +0000

Keith writes:

Mr. Mehta,

My apologies if this has been covered, but I’m looking for advice on my soon-to-be out of warranty 2008 GMC Acadia. I’m at 64K and 4.8 years, so bumper to bumper is gone but power train is still good for a few months.

Two fellow Acadia owners I know have reported tranny problems at roughly 60k and the forums seem to indicate numerous others with similar issues. Most often its an issue with the wave plate, particularly with the 07-09 models. Within the last few weeks I’m also starting to get an intermittent stabilitrak warning light promoting me to get the brakes serviced.

My question for you is should I 1) hope the tranny drops in the next two months 2) shell out $3k for a 4/48 extended service contract or 3) trade it in on something similar.

I love the car(truck) and was hoping to get 8-10 years out of it, so maybe #2. Or I could take the $3k and couple that with what I think is still pretty good resale value and get a new ride.

I’m generally pretty cynical about extended service contracts/warranties, but I have no experience on those for automotive.

Any thoughts, advice or general musings would be greatly appreciated. TTAC is wonderful resource. Keep up the good work!

Sajeev answers:

Now’s a good time to remind my dear readers that I am not a mechanic by trade, I’ve just been in “your shoes” in the past. Perhaps an oversimplification, but let’s do this thang and dig into your tranny.

This is the first I’ve heard of this problem, ditto the “wave plate.”  I suspect most of you are in my shoes, so a little research: this thread points to the wave plate vs. conventional clutch plate of the 3rd gear drum (i.e. direct drive, 1:1 ratio) of an older GM 4-speed.  Which I then recalled while hunting for a good rebuilt-upgrade for my Ford AOD. I learned about an upgrade to 3rd gear, choosing an aftermarket Blue Plate Special (yes, really) clutch pack for mine. With that in mind, reading one of the comments in the LS1 Tech link said it all:

“The waved steel keeps the splines from taking a hard hit by pre-loading it. In other words, the waved steel takes up the slack before the clutches are completely applied.”

So if the waved steel clutches aren’t the right “wave dimensions”, there could be a problem shifting into that gear. The problem might look like this. Note how the speedometer never slows down as the rpms fluctuate: indicating that the transmission is slipping that frickin’ hard on the upshift:

Click here to view the embedded video.

FINALLY: a transmission almost as horrible as the one in the Smart Car, without the need for Smart Car ownership! (childish giggling)

Unfortunately we don’t know if this video is indicative of your problem. Or if this thread on the Saturn forums also applies. Or if you have a problem yet…is nothing ever easy in this world???

My advice?  If/when the wave plates start ruining your ride, see if your homework (including the stuff I posted) can get you a little credit with GM service: pleasant, level-headed customers can easily get their out-of-warranty work covered under the blanket term of “goodwill.” Because nobody wants to lose a good customer, if possible.  If not, get a reman transmission that specifically addresses this problem. I suspect both GM and big name rebuilders (like Jasper) will have you covered. Even if it’s gonna happen after the warranty expires.

Perhaps you should just give up and get a Crown Vic Best of luck, as always.


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: 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. 

]]> 6
Hey Duke, Ever Worked On One-a-Dese Choiman Transmissions Before? Thu, 16 May 2013 15:00:38 +0000 TransmissionManOutIt wasn’t that many decades ago that imported cars— any imported cars— were considered fairly exotic. I’ve dredged up memories of some very funny 1980 Aamco ads that deal with that subject, and the internet has obliged by providing those very ads for us!

The bumbling rubes working in the transmission shop in this ad show some brilliant casting by the producers: “I watched a guy fix a Japanese trans-mish-ion!”

Speaking of bumbling rubes, the guy with the hose in this one deserved an Academy Award… but don’t let that brilliant performance eclipse the perfect stonefaced expression of the customer who doesn’t need his car fixed… that bad.

]]> 25
GM, Ford Prepare To Downshift To 8th Gear Wed, 17 Apr 2013 11:30:11 +0000

GM and Ford will be working together to bring 9 and 10 speed transmissions to market. Reuters reports that the two companies will jointly develop the gearboxes for both front and rear-drive applications, and expect to use them in cars, trucks and SUVs.

Automotive News reports that GM will take responsibility for a transverse 9-speed gearbox, while Ford will handle the longitudinal 10-speed unit. Production is expected to begin in 2016, and that volumes for each transmission could exceed one million units annually by 2018.

TTAC’s own Alex Dykes outlined the way that OEMs share gearboxes from various parts suppliers. GM and Ford already source many transmissions from third party suppliers. Their new 9-speed design will face competition from ZF’s upcoming 9-speed unit (above), which is expected to be used in Honda products as well as Chrysler’s full line of transverse vehicles.

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Read between the lines: Volvo’s 8-speed automatic Wed, 10 Apr 2013 19:40:20 +0000

What do the Volvo XC60 and Lexus RX F-Sport have in common? Not much. Yet. Today’s vehicles aren’t just built on “modular” platforms, sharing parts with other vehicles from the same manufacturer, they are also “parts bin creations.” You’ll find the same power mirror switch in a Chevy, Jeep, Peugeot, Citroën, Lancia, Lincon and many more. That’s because car parts are like Lego pieces, made by a handful of car parts companies and designed to be everything for everyone. It’s cheaper for everyone to design one switch, one control module, one key fob and just alter some of the plastics and a connector to suit your new car design.

Parts sharing isn’t new of course, it’s been going on ever since “badge engineering” was invented in 1917, but this is different. Instead of one company buying parts from another, or GM tossing a new logo on an Oldsmobile to create a Buick, these parts are made by a third party, available for sale to anyone with the cash. Ever wonder how Fiskar and Tesla can create a unique vehicle so quickly? The universal parts bin is how.

Most car companies dive into the same interior parts bins time after time, rarely seeking new foraging grounds. This is why the Big Three seem to frequently share things like those window switches, seat controls, etc. Meanwhile the Europeans and Japanese tend to have their own circle of parts suppliers. It’s also why the Coda sedan looks so odd to Americans; Coda raided a Chinese market parts bin. When it comes to powertrains, geographic divisions drop because engines and transmissions are expensive to develop resulting in a smaller global pond to fish from.

The big boys in passenger car automatic transmission design are: ZF, GM, Aisin, Mercedes, Jatco and Hyundai. Why am I not including Chrysler and Honda? Chrysler is easy: they have chosen to license/tweak transmissions from ZF rather than developing their own. Ford can’t make up their mind co-developing a 6-speed transaxle with GM, then licensing ZF’s 6-speed RWD swapper. All indications seem to point to Ford licensing the 8-speed RWD box from ZF while splitting development costs with GM on new xx-speed transaxles for smaller cars. Honda doesn’t tend to sell its in-house transmissions to other companies and if the rumor mill is correct, Honda will be buying ZF’s 9-speed transaxle while they shift R&D dollars to CVT development.

What does that mean to you as a consumer? And why are we talking Volvo and Lexus? Because companies tend to stick with a transmission maker for the long haul. BMW has a history of buying GM and ZF. Luxury car companies (and now Ford and Chrysler) typically use ZF cog-swappers. Ford Europe and Renault are in bed with Jatco. Chrysler likes Hyundai’s FWD transaxles. Toyota, Lexus, Volvo, MINI, VW, Mitsubishi and Porsche order from Aisin’s transmission catalog. Consequently when a new Euro sedan comes out with ZF’s latest widget, you know that sooner-or-later every ZF customer have it. (There is usually a delay because companies will pay extra to have a period of exclusive access to new technology.)

When the 2013 Lexus RX 350 F-Sport dropped quietly last year at a Lexus event, I was excited and intrigued. Not by the refreshed RX, but by what;s under the hood: the first production 8-speed automatic transaxle. Since the RX is a Lexus, we know that the transmission was made by Aisin (Toyota doesn’t use anyone else). Logically it was only a matter of time until this tranny landed on the Aisin general catalog and today appears to be that day. As a footnote in Volvo’s press release about their new four-cylinder engine family is buried one line “Volvo will also introduce a new 8-speed automatic gearbox that contributes to a refined drive and excellent fuel economy.” I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts the new slushbox is the same 8-speed unit that’s in the RX F-Sport I’m driving this week. Next stop: 8-speed Mazda 6, VW Jetta, MINI Cooper.

If you’ve ever wondered why it took so long for the four speed automatic to be developed, while 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 speed units have happened so rapidly, part of the answer is in this shift to communal parts-bin technology. While this means technology can develop more rapidly with more resources being applied to the same development project, it also means cars lack the uniqueness they once had. No longer can we sit around the card table drinking beer and arguing the eternal question: TorqueFlite vs Cruise-O-Matic vs Hydra-Matic.


]]> 96
Denver Alley Scavengers Scrap-Maddened By Torqueflite Visible In Yard, Camouflage Only Option Thu, 21 Mar 2013 13:00:35 +0000 These days, with scrappers paying $240/ton (the going rate in Denver; I hear it’s similar elsewhere) for cars and steel car parts, we’ve seen an explosion in the numbers of guys cruising around in hooptied-out minivans, pickups and the occasional bicycle with trailer, looking for metal. The older parts of the Denver urban core, where I live, have alleys between streets, and so the scavengers (I call them Jawas) spend their days patrolling these alleys in search of stuff they can turn into cash at the scrapper. It turns out that these guys can smell a transmission as they pass by, even one that’s behind a gate and barely visible.
My ’66 Dodge A100 van has proven to be a useful car-parts-and-lumber hauler, though I still haven’t made much progress on my 70s-style customization project. It has only one major mechanical headache, and that’s a transmission that leaks from every possible location; the van sat for 15 years before I got it, and all the seals and gaskets are bad. Replacing the pan gasket solved about 50% of the problem, but that’s really not enough. Normally, I’d just go to the junkyard and pick up another Torqueflite 727 from one of any number of easy-to-find dead Chryslers, but the A100 used a funky van-and-RV-only top-of-the-tailshaft rear mount. My plan is to rebuild the leaky 727, but I don’t want to immobilize the van while I’m learning the black art of slushbox rejuvenation.
Then my friend Andy, owner of a big yard full of interesting vehicles picked up a rusted-to-hell A100 with a good transmission.
I traded him these catalytic converters (hacked from a Lexus SC400 that served as the suspension donor for my 1941 Plymouth project) for his A100′s transmission, and now I just need to get around to doing the swap.
In the meantime, I stashed the transmission next to my garage. Whoops, forgot to bend the cooling lines up high enough, so there’s a bit of a melted-snow-and-transmission-fluid stain beneath it now.
But then the Jawas started catching sight of the Torqueflite through the (locked) gate. It’s not worth busting a padlock to get $12 worth of scrap, so my doorbell started ringing. “I’ll help you dispose of that unwanted transmission!” Then the notes appeared in my mailbox.
An old sheet will keep the transmission invisible until I put it in the van.
You can tell something is there, but it doesn’t look quite so metallic. What happens, though, when scrap steel gets to $1000/ton?

01 - Alley Scavengers Want My Torqueflite - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - Alley Scavengers Want My Torqueflite - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - Alley Scavengers Want My Torqueflite - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - Alley Scavengers Want My Torqueflite - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - Alley Scavengers Want My Torqueflite - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - Alley Scavengers Want My Torqueflite - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - Alley Scavengers Want My Torqueflite - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - Alley Scavengers Want My Torqueflite - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]> 61
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: Honey, If You Do This For Me… Wed, 06 Feb 2013 12:40:39 +0000

TTAC commentator sastexan writes:

Sajeev -

One of my best friends is shopping to replace his Mazdaspeed6 for something a little more utilitarian that can hold his bicycle and gear in the back (frequent triathlete). Here’s the issue – he wants to get another manual shift car, but his wife is pressing for an automatic because she has never learned to drive stick.

And he is worried that he will get tired of this new car and want to donate to her and get rid of her CX-7 (he is seriously anti-SUV), but feels that if he goes automatic, that day will come very quickly. I suggested he find a good driving school and send her (and maybe a friend) to learn how to properly handle a stick shift and have some fun doing it. That could get her excited about the potential and won’t create marital strife of him trying to teach her to drive manual.

First, does the Best and Brightest think this is a good plan, and second, any suggestions for driving schools?

Sajeev answers:

Luckily for your friend’s marriage, he cannot pawn his wife off to a driving school: most teach the basics of car control, not how to drive a stick. You gotta accelerate/steer/stop before you attend, so it’s time to take matters into his own hands. Because everyone has their “must haves” in anything, especially in a life partner. And if there’s marital strife from this…well, perhaps he’s selling the wrong bill of goods.

Like friction modifier to the limited slip axle that is a marriage, your friend must show his wifey the value in driving a manual transmission.  It’s more interesting to drive, for starters. But more importantly, it makes her exponentially cooler than every other woman around him. Am I lying?

What man doesn’t want a woman that’s fun, exciting and maybe a bit more competitive and challenging?

How could you, a gearhead of a man, not go out of your way to excite a woman like that in return?

When sold on this promise, how can she resist? She becomes exciting to her man! She’s an object of desire!  She’s hooked, so he can teach without fear of her losing interest.  Or patience. This is how love should work. If you don’t believe me, ask my special lady friend.

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: Lifespan of the Suburban Tranny? Wed, 28 Nov 2012 12:55:15 +0000 Duncan writes:

Hi Sajeev,
I have a question about a 4L60-E transmission in a 2001 Chevy Suburban K1500. The truck has 159k miles. The previous owner purchased the truck 7 years ago with 90k miles and hasn’t changed any fluids in that time other than oil – I don’t know anything about the truck’s early history.

The transmission feels fine, but the fluid is dark and doesn’t smell great. The pan looks like a deep (vs shallow) pan and has a drain plug – my internet research leads me to believe these trucks came without a drain plug, but it’s a recommended upgrade – does this mean the transmission has been serviced at least once in its lifetime and the pan swapped with an aftermarket one, or did Chevy deliver some trucks with and some trucks without plugs?

Onto the meat of the question – I’d like the transmission to last forever – what can I do to ensure that? Can I change the transmission filter and replace the Dexron III that I drain out of the pan with Dexron VI? Should I do another drain and fill soon after to increase the ratio of fresh fluid to old fluid? Will I do damage by drain, filter, Dexron VI? Are $50 electronic shift kits that program the transmission to be a little more aggressive worth anything for longevity/fuel economy on a transmission that already has so many miles?

I won’t be driving the vehicle much, so I don’t want to go overboard on maintenance/upgrades, but it’s really a nice truck and I don’t want its life to be cut short by neglect.

Thanks for the advice,

Sajeev answers:

Not being an expert in Mr. Goodwrench related products, I poked around to see what tranny pans are available for this rig.  Sure enough, the cheapo part has no drain plug, but there are several alternatives that are deeper with a drain plug.  Gotta love the aftermarket. YOU LOVE IT RIGHT NOW!!! (shakes fist)

I say this as I put on my flame suit: this ‘burb either has a factory towing package that mandates a better oil pan (possible) or its been serviced once before. And serviced quite well, considering it takes forethought to feel the need for an upgraded pan.

Your question: what can you do to make a transmission last forever?  Answer: Nothing. It will normally be the weakest link in a powertrain. I suspect more older vehicles wind up in the junkyard from a bad tranny (i.e. a $2000 repair on a $1000 car) than any other automotive malady.

So what’s my advice to improve the life of the tranny?  If you can electronically speed up the shifts for $50, do it.  Slow shifting is the worst enemy to a transmission’s lifespan, and its never too late to fix that. Now about the fluid: go to Dextron VI if you believe GM’s recommendation. I believe in a fully synthetic fluid from any big name manufacturer that’s reverse compatable with Dextron III. Read the bottle’s label thoroughly and buy the brand you want…

And finally, the $64,000 Question: change the fluid at this mileage or not?  Who knows if the fluid’s been changed on a regular basis, but from your assessment, I suspect its been changed at least once.  If so, another fluid service will extend the life of the tranny, not shorten it. Should you trust my suspicions?  That’s a very expensive question that only YOU can answer.

Good luck with that.

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


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ZF CEO: 9 Speeds Is Enough Wed, 07 Nov 2012 16:32:46 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

Wondering when the automatic gearbox arms race will end? 8 speeds? 9 speeds? Even 10 speed gearboxes have been thrown out as grist for the automotive rumor mill, but one exec apparently has the answer.

The CEO of ZF transmissions said that 9 speed gearboxes will be the zenith of transmissions – anything more will be too complex and heavy to produce any efficiency gains.

Stefan Sommer, ZF’s grand fromage told Automotive News Europe that 9 speeds is the “natural limit” for gearboxes, and anything beyond that invokes the law of diminishing returns. Chrysler is expected to be the first to adopt a 9-speed automatic, but don’t look for anything beyond that, says AN

Earlier this year, Julio Caspari, president of ZF’s North American operations, hinted that a “Can-you-top-this?” race to add gears may be driven by marketing considerations rather than fuel economy.

That’s because there is only an 11 percent gap between the most-efficient transmissions today and a theoretically perfect gearbox


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Piston Slap: Crystal Ballin’ With Yo Tranny! Mon, 22 Oct 2012 11:26:50 +0000

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.


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




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Piston Slap: Demand Satisfaction…via YouTube? Fri, 01 Jun 2012 10:11:54 +0000


TTAC commentator hidrotule2001 writes,


I’ve got an intermittent, befuddling problem with the manual transmission in my 2011 Ford Fiesta:  The shifter will periodically refuse to move into 4th gear.

This usually happens 10-15 minutes after the car is started, and mostly during warm weather (but I’ve never been able to consistently reproduce the behavior).  When i say it refuses to move into 4th gear, I mean with the clutch fully engaged (peddle to the floor) attempting to move the shifter into 4th position feels like trying to shift into 1st gear when going 60 miles an hour; like there is some sort of synchro problem.

Moving the shifter back to the neutral position and trying again doesn’t change the behavior (the shifter never gets far out of the neutral position to begin with).  Down-shifting to 3rd, and then trying to shift again does get rid of the problem (at least so far), which is why I haven’t been able to demonstrate it to the dealer.

The car is 100% stock, and only has 10.5k miles on it.  I’ve done some searching on various forums and the closest I’ve found is a couple of posts on Mustang forums with similar issues where the transmission fluid was low, but I’ve had that checked and everything is within spec.

Any ideas on what might be causing this?  The problem is an annoyance right now, but I wonder if it might indicate an underlying issue that could get worse as time goes on…

Sajeev answers:

Befuddling is a good word: Google search fail FTL.  So I think the hydraulic clutch could be out of alignment (master or slave cylinder not grabbing/releasing as they should), or maybe the fluid level is low (already been checked, I know) , or maybe the 4th gear synchro is munched and you need a new transaxle.

Since this Ford still has a warranty, ask the dealer if they once again…deep breath…checked the fluid level, bled and inspected the hydraulic clutch assembly, inspected the shifter linkage and ask how they can determine if the 4th gear synchro is bad. Starting a dialogue on these items is important.


Get your camera phone ready, go driving and record the problem when it happens.  Edit, say some clever (not douchey) things before and after the raw footage and post on YouTube.

Email/show to dealership, take off your glove and demand satisfaction like a proper Southern Gentleman (kidding), then post it everywhere the Ford customer service/social media peeps exist. I suspect that after videotaping the problem you’ll have a new gearbox in a matter of weeks. If you’re really lucky, they’ll spring for a rental and it’ll be a Crown Vic…son!

Not that I have any foundation for my beliefs, nor does Piston Slap own a time machine to witness the future or find a case study from the past. No, the Panther Chassis doesn’t count. But do yourself a solid, get your phone ready and make it Lights/Camera/Action when you can’t grab 4th.  If some musician dude brought United Airlines to their knees with a corny, yet catchy song…well,  YouTube beckons.



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Piston Slap: LeMons racer seeks Minivan Normalcy Fri, 09 Mar 2012 12:04:57 +0000


Brian writes:


Heeding the call for silly, not-really-that-good letters…plus I wrote you a while back about my Freestyle.  Since then, my wife actually sat in a minivan, and that’s the direction we are heading.  We are looking at replacing it quickly so that she can take the three kiddos to Grandma’s house while I enter Lemons South this March. 

Her peace of mind at Grandma’s house is well worth my ‘not-having-the-phone-ring-contantly’ while at the race, so I agree with her timeline (she doesn’t trust the Freestyle enough to make the trip – she had good ears and hears something bad in the transmission already at 10k on the latest reman unit).  So here is the thing: in 2011, Dodge went to the Pentastar in the minivan.  I am of two minds regarding my decision of a 2008, 2010 or a 2011 (Karesh will love the fact that Truedelta eliminated 2009′s for me – gotta love actual data!).

Pentastar: New, efficient, clean, powerful, 6 speed auto

3.8/3.3: Well known, service proven, 4 speed auto

At first I was reluctant to get a Pentastar, but since it’s going to be the only V6 Chrysler makes, chances are the flaws will be fairly well worked out, and since they started putting it in cars in 2007, it has been along for a while.  The older engine has been around FOREVER, which is pretty nice, although the fuel economy and performance will suffer.  Sounds like the 6 speed transmission is mostly based on the four speed, so I guess I should not be worried about that, but feel free to chime in here as well.

What say you?

Sajeev answers:

Wait, you are a LeMons racer? No wonder you actually considered the CVT to 6-speed swap on your old Freestyle! You are nuts!!!

Wait, that’s being real mean: I meant to say that people like you aren’t normal.  I should know, as I listen to your collective bullshit on a regular basis as a LeMons judge in Texas. That said, it’s nice to see that you and your wife have agreed on something far better for your situation.  Minivans rock.

Except they are all under-transmissioned for the loads carried in them. And while Chrysler’s transaxles are legendary for their LeMons-like durability in pure street circumstances, we might not have enough data to verify the new 6-speed’s worthiness in modern Mopar Minivans.  Cue Michael Karesh!

I would buy the new model simply on performance alone.  Modern close ratio 6-speed gearboxes are absolutely wonderful for launching oversized beasts while retaining decent highway cruising. If anything, the new technology will be more durable simply because they move a van more effortlessly, less stressfully.

My advice is always the same for all Minivans, as they all have the same Achilles’ heel: flush the transmission fluid every 1-3 years (depending on mileage and the weight of your cargo) and install the biggest damn transmission cooler you can find.  Run it in series with the factory radiator/coolant system, if applicable.

Do it and you’ll never feel like you’re Freestylin’ ever again.


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

]]> 9 New or Used: An Old-Modern European, in America… Tue, 10 Jan 2012 13:18:13 +0000

Steven writes:

Sajeev and Steve,

Ok guys need some advice, I am the owner of an 2001 Volvo XC wagon with 166,000 on it, I have owned it about 2 years and drive about 40k a year all over the North East for work. It is paid off but in the last 6 months I have put about 4 K in it, new tires, new brakes all around water pump, T belt, new moon roof (do not ask), the previous owner replaced the tranny at 110k and put a new cat convertor at 100k.

I get about 23 MPG on the highway and the car has great seats, all work done at my indie, my questions, based on how much I drive do I keep it and drive it into the ground or get out now and put my dollars into something else. If so what? This is what i would like, safe, better on gas, four doors decent backseat, no SUV, no CUV, must be at least FWD, nothing from the big three excites me at all, would prefer auto and relaible. I have thought about a VW TDI but have heard horror stories about VW. I like Saabs and would get another if the deal was great, prefer used,depreciation is my friend. I prefer a auto that I want to drive to one that gives no joy to drive. I also take some clients out from time to time so it needs to look good as well. In the past I have had Saabs, Infinity, Accords, Audis, Budget is 20 k max. Thanks for the help!

Sajeev Answers:

You didn’t say you liked/disliked your ride, which is a problem.  Maybe you love it, and want our approval for keeping it until the body rusts away to nothingness.  Or maybe you have passive aggressive hatred, as you are a SAAB fan and actually loathe every moment in a Volvo.

Hard to tell, as the smart money is usually in keeping the rolling set of problems you currently own, even if old-modern Volvo problems are far more terrifying than old-modern Honda problems . Then again, you mentioned wanting an automatic car that gives no joy to drive. Put your money where your mouth is: dump the Swede and move to a nicely depreciated Lexus, Infiniti, Cadillac, Lincoln, etc.  The depreciation/value king of the bunch is probably the Lincoln MKZ/Zephyr, and their Fusion based parts are stupid cheap to keep running till the end of the world. A Lexus ES or IS would give you much more style, snob appeal, etc…but you don’t seem like that kinda guy.

Here’s the big problem: you already spent a ton on this hooptie! Dumping it now isn’t exactly the brightest idea, unless the right buyer willing to pay top dollar shows up.  Odds are they shall not, so you need to keep it for 6-12 months to get some bang for the buck.  Hope you don’t need too many other wear items replaced, or that no more surprises creep up in the meantime. It is, after all, a modern car from Europe…in America!

Steve Answers:

Volvo XC70′s have a lot of issues. The transmissions usually conk out between 90k and 120k due in great part to Volvo’s marketing of their transmission fluid as a ‘lifetime fluid’. The Camry and Altima from this time period were also given similar fluids and transmissions. Those manufacturers recommend replacement every 70k for a unit that usually hauled about 700 fewer pounds than the XC’s.

As a result, Volvo XC70 transmissions are hideously expensive at the junkyards. This ‘prestige pricing’ also goes for any software upgrades to the electronic throttle module which is now just outside of it’s extended warranty period for your car (10 years or 200k). The upgrades usually cost over a thousand dollars and can only be done at the dealer.

Add into this money sucking mix a bad record of glitch ridden electronics. Mediocre gas consumption. Expensive AWD systems. Expensive parts in general. Anything good for these XC’s? Well, a small plus are the seats and with 166k, it may just bring around 4k to 5k due to the uniqueness and all wheel drive.

I would sell it right now and move on to better things.

Since you do a lot of driving, I would opt for a car that has plenty of space and excellent seats. Does a newer Saab 9-5 work for you? Would an older Infiniti be a better bet? I wouldn’t rule out a Lexus GS. But then again I don’t have your tastes or your posterior.

So just find what you like and leave it at that. The B&B will offer plenty of input on the ‘buy’ side. Good luck!

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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