By on November 23, 2009


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 [email protected])

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

29 Comments on “Piston Slap: Another Honda, Another Busted Autobox...”

  • avatar

    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.
    Well said, sir. It’s a shame what they did to the lineup.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    If there’s no time limit on that 100k extended warranty, I’d say run the car on up to that 100k for however many transmissions and free loaners it takes to get there, then dump it the next day.

  • avatar

    The guys I know at work with Odysses have all had to get their transmissions fixed. These are expensive vehicles with plummeting resale values. So much for Honda value, eh?

  • avatar

    This guy has a 100k mile warranty.  I say run it to 95k miles.  Then sell it, and focus on the fact that the new buyer still has 5k miles of warranty left in case there are any problems. 

    This guy could get a manual trans TL as his next car. 

  • avatar

    +8 for the Town Car suggestion. He’d have a car that he could conceivably drive for the rest of his existence with nothing more to do that scheduled maintenance.  Of course he’d be driving a Town Car which, while I think would be an excellent choice, most people would not think was a very good choice at all.
    (Cue Panther hate in 5,4,3…)

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, get ready for people to tell you things you already knew.

    • 0 avatar

      Of course the Panthers are nature’s most nearly perfect automobile, and they’re completely well-suited to doing everything anyone could possibly need.  That’s why they sell so plentifully in the retail channel, and at such a high-margin, too.   While we’re at it, SPAM is a versatile foodstuff that lasts for years in your cupboard, provides useful protein and tastes ok.
      I don’t know where people get this idea that Panthers don’t require anything more than scheduled maintenance.  Recall the TCO comment above: they’re good cars if you’re a) mechanically inclined but not set up with all the tools you’d need for a more modern car and/or b) you already own a hundred Panthers and enough parts to assemble ten more, and have a garage full of people who know how to fix them.
      Neither of those describe the average car owner.

    • 0 avatar

      Yup, already knew that too.  :)

      Too easy.

  • avatar

    Assuming they (the dealer) does the work right and that the replacement transmission is a good one, he’s probably ok to keep the rest of the car, as long as it’s mechanically sound.  I know a few Saab people who took similar tacks with their B205/235 -equipped 9-3s or 9-5s and essentially got a whole new engine on what was otherwise a decent, well-cared for car anyway.  And those were Saabs: if this TL is otherwise a good car, why not just keep a real close eye on the transmission and keep it, especially toward the end of the warranty period?
    You could probably, with a little arm-twisting, get Honda/Acura to write you a specific warranty extension on the powertrain or just the transmission itself.  This isn’t necessarily going to be easy to do, but even if you shoulder part of the cost, it’s cheaper than buying something new and/or eating a chunk of depreciation on the existing TL.
    Do watch the dealer, though.  Work like this can be a big revenue-generator for the service department, and some service managers will cut corners as a result.

  • avatar

    We had a 2005 Saturn Vue Red Line with a Honda V6 and automatic gearbox.  Thought it should last a long time – Honda powertrain, galvanized steel chassis, plastic body.  The Honda transmission crapped out TWICE in four years.    Wondered about keeping it at lease end, but talked to a Honda tech who said “it can’t be fixed to a certainty”, so we turned it in. Have since spoken with numerous others who had the same experience.    (The Toronto Star did a used car report on the Honda Accord V6, noted similar transmission problems.)

    Assuming everything else is OK, get rid of it right near the end of the extended warranty.  

  • avatar

    Take it to a different dealer.  The service mgr at this one might be milking the warranty.

  • avatar

    I wouldn’t rush to dump it. Transmission failures are much less common with the five-speed than with the earlier four-speed.

    As an additional safeguard, I would be sure to have all service performed at the same Acura dealer. Manufacturers put a lot of weight on this when deciding whether to provide out-of-warranty assistance.

    Repair histories for Acura TLs can be viewed here:

    • 0 avatar


       Honda transmission failure comes up again.  I have had 2 failures of Honda AT’s made in this century.  Serviced by the book also.  Not good. 

      Honda commercials have made a big deal out of “somebody you know loves a Honda” or something like that.  I know my own experience.  I do not  love Honda.  Why should I.   My old cars never broke a transmission.  Kept most for more than 10 yrs.  

      Hyundai and Ford have good reliability.  I have good reason check out those other brands.  Honda?  Not so much. 

      By the way, some more recent Honda transmission failures are torque converter related.  Before they were bearings and clutches, especially 2nd  gear clutch on 4 speed and 3rd gear clutch on 5 speed AT.   Honda has fallen into a new failure mode.

  • avatar

    Been driving for nearly forty years , done a lot of miles during that time but only ever replaced 2 transmissions.
    Both cars were automatics, all of my manual cars have survived my every transgression. I have never been stranded by a manual transmission, in fact when it snows it has helped me not get stuck.
    It seems that +100,ooo mile automatics transmissions are still not the rule. Toyota and GM seem to do best. Honda and Ford are abysmal .
    Marketing people please don’t kill the manual transmission.

    • 0 avatar

      My next car will be a manual transmission as long as the manufacturers keep making them (heaven forbid I’ll need a minivan or SUV within the next 10 years).

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, seems like nobody can make a reliable auto tranny these days.  I was shocked to see in another TTAC article that only 6 percent of cars sold in the US last year had manuals.  Maybe I should open a tranny shop, sounds like a growing market.

  • avatar

    I would install a auxillary transmission cooler, and get it flushed every 30K with Honda fluid.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s actually a really good idea.  A transmission cooler on a relatively high-powered and/or heavy car with a transaxle is never, ever a bad investment.
      Flushing the fluid, well, that’s perennially up for debate.  I’d say drain it, for sure, and top it up with Honda’s specified ATF, but flushing is iffy.  Does the TL have a magnetic trap to catch filings and such?  Or a filter?   If it does, and you’re sure you’re going to flush it, change those first.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree, which raises the question, why doesn’t every automatic transmission car come with a cooler, standard?  The value of a cooler is not new information.  The cost is minimal.   BTW, I had an ’89 Cadillac Fleetwood (FWD) which did have a trans cooler standard.  And of course they used to come with the “trailer towing package” that was available back when we were allowed to have station wagons.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Honda/Acura uses rebuilt components for most warranty repairs. There must be something seriously wrong with their rebuilding facility. My air conditioner compressor went out at 27,000 miles. The rebuilt unit lasted less than 1,000 miles and one month. The second replacement unit is starting to make ominous noises at less than 5,000 miles and 10  months. And, Acura customer care is not what it should be.
    Never thought I would say this, but GM quality and customer care is looking better and GM parts are much less costly.

  • avatar
    George B

    I agree with the suggestion of highrpm, keep it to 95k miles and then sell it.  I’d also drain and replace transmission fluid frequently like every 20k miles.
    I had good luck calling American Honda and getting reduced price out-of-warrantee service on an Accord.  The dealership and manufacturer were pretty good at fixing problems under warrantee and after a decade of ownership I’d buy another Honda/Acura if they fix their styling.

  • avatar

    So Honda is still making crap transmissions? I have heard (anecdotally of course) that Honda transmissions, both manual and auto tend to have problems. My old auto Integra always made weird noises that gave me reason to believe it would not be long for this world. I have never heard of a transmission overflow tube, was he referring to the coolant overflow? If there was a leak from any overflow, it is not indicative of a problem, just too much fluid in the system (which the overflow tube is there to relieve). I’m thinking shenanigans…

  • avatar

    “…get it flushed every 30K with Honda fluid.”
    Vital Honda fluids

  • avatar

    I’ve got an 03 Ody with the 5-speed autobox.  It’s got 105K miles on it – zero issues so far.  Holding my breath.

  • avatar

    I also agree with dumping it at the end of the CPO warranty. Get a G37 and enjoy.

  • avatar

    Dump it now and get back in a manual. There isn’t an upside to keeping a problematic AT, it will only continue to provide issues and getting a new transmission is expensive enough that a down payment isn’t necessarily the foolish alternative. Let some other sucker think that any company’s reliability rep. is proof against the inherent failings of AT transmission technology.

  • avatar

    I love a manual transmission as much as the next guy… but I’m a bit weary of advocates claiming that they’re so much cheaper to own than an automatic…. Most (excluding Honda, obvious) automatics run 100K miles with only an fluid and filter changes… Very few manuals go that far without a new clutch.

    What’s a clutch install cost nowadays?

    Of course, the response I’ll get is that MY (whoever’s) clutch has lasted 150K miles but I could find more people who have automatics that have gone that far without maintenance than I ever will find manuals with 150K clutches.

    By the way, dump the Acura.  This isn’t a single component within the transmission that has been updated and fixed; it’s a deeper design flaw.  Design flaws never go away. The problem will be back, and the hassle of getting it fixed will increase as the car ages.

    (Owner of a series of 4 Acuras, and current owner of a manual transmission).

  • avatar

     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.

  • avatar


    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. 

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • mcs: @Garak: It would also be good for search and rescue. In a search, with a gas model, the noise could drown out...
  • Garak: I could see quite a few places where you’d might want an electric model. Countries with expensive gas,...
  • DungBeetle62: Don’t know whose apple my Dad polished but in the early 80s after a parade of awful Cutlasses...
  • JD-Shifty: lowest gas prices were under Clinton. But that’s none of my business. We’ve seen wild price...
  • Buickman: anyone notice AutoNews has eliminated their comment section?

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber