Piston Slap: Another Honda, Another Busted Autobox

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

TTAC Commentator jpcavanaugh writes:

A friend has a 2005 Acura TL which he bought as a certified used car at about 2 yrs and 40K miles on it. He bought the extended warranty to 100K. I recall thinking “its an Acura, why waste the money on an extended warranty?” It turns out he was right: at about 60K, he noticed an occasional judder during transmission shifts. The dealer informs him that the transmission is shot, and that it will be replaced under his extended warranty. After a couple of days, he gets the car back (he did enjoy the RL he got as a loaner) and the car is fine. Until now.

He noticed some fluid on the floor of his garage this morning. His regular mechanic says that it appears to be coming from the overflow tube. Back to Acura dealer, who says they have been authorized to replace the transmission again.

The car has about 68K miles now. My friend is in his late 60s and is starting to get concerned. He has been planning to keep this car for a long time, and has no other complaints with it. He really doesn’t want to get another car, but is becoming leery that at some point, another transmission will fail and he will have to write a 4 figure check.

I have heard that Acuras of the early 2000s were cursed with transmission problems (like the Odysseys of the era) but had understood that the problem was largely solved by 2004. But evidently not with this car. My flippant answer was that he could swap for a late model Town Car for no net cost, but I don’t think he wants to do this. He has had a series of stick shift Acuras and enjoyed them (the last was a RSX Type S), but he bought this to have a grown-up car that is easier on his back. So, what am I to tell him? My knee jerk reaction is to dump the car. But if there is a known fix that will take care of his problems for the next 120K miles, then maybe keeping it is a good idea. I’m sure that you and the B&B will steer me in the right direction.

Sajeev replies:

How ironic: a friend’s 2000 Honda Accord recently needed my assistance out of harm’s way after the transaxle grenaded…for the second time. As you mentioned, if everyone put long-term cost of ownership “uber alles,” we’d drive a late-model Town Cars or Crown Vics. And that’ll make the whole country look like Manhattan Island. But nobody wants that.

I’ve been in your friend’s shoes: rebuilt transmissions can need minor adjustments (new O-ring at the speedometer sensor, re-torquing some external bits, etc) a month later to fix the problems that crept up outta nowhere. But my tweaks were on a hi-po Ford AOD (not exactly a complicated unit) rebuilt locally at a franchise transmission shop, not a dealership using Honda transaxles from a shipping crate. Big difference: so your “knee-jerk” reaction mirrors mine.

I’d dump it too. Late model transmissions are black holes for your wallet, especially if it requires multiple dealership visits. The leak from the overflow tube says less about Honda’s glass-jaw transaxles and more about the people installing them. If the Acura forums don’t have the details to explain your screwy scenario, I’d sell (or lemon law) this car. If your friend really loves the Acura brand, get a 2008 TL and hope for the best.

But no newer than a 2008. Because no matter how robust the 2009 TL’s powertrain might be, friends don’t let friends drive ugly cars.

(Send your queries to mehta@ttac.com)

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Mrog71 Mrog71 on Nov 24, 2009
    Very few manuals go that far without a new clutch. Seriously? If you can't get a clutch to last 100k, you can't drive a stick. I have never replaced a clutch. My stick shift vehicles have lasted 225K, 150K, 140K, and 135K until I sold them (Eclipse, CRX, Sentra, Maxima, respectively). The eclipse that went 225 even survived my wife driving it for the first 30K miles. (no offense to the ladies) I don't think there's any doubt manuals are cheaper to own.
  • Tedward Tedward on Nov 24, 2009

    Lokki I'm not going to go as far as mrog71 and claim that clutch's aren't really wear items, if you buy used cars, or run work trucks, you will end up replacing a few. And you're right, it does cost a few hundred bucks if you have it done. When driven properly though, MT's are far less likely to require repairs past one clutch replacement per vehicle lifetime. On the other hand, when an AT becomes problematic you are looking at a rebuild or replacement, period (are you a AT mechanic? I don't know a single one). What makes that really galling is the fact that you are likely to encounter the same problem with the replacement tranny. You seem to be saying that this is the case with the Acura AT issue (personal experience?) and I would add that this is something I've seen in many brands.

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