Piston Slap: Double A (Beep! Beep!) Em, Cee, Oh…

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
piston slap double a beep beep em cee oh 8230

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.

[Image: Shutterstock user luchunyu]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. 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.

Comments
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3 of 53 comments
  • Hemi Hemi on Jun 10, 2014

    Would you trust Aamco to touch it again? To be honest here's what you should do; Write to Aamco, hope they make it right and fix it. (I see you wrote to them). Once fixed, sell it or trade it in for a newer car or a older reliable car (read 03 and up Corolla). If they do nothing, clean it up, JB weld, sell it or trade it in for a newer car or a older reliable car (read 03 and up Corolla). It's a Focus that has no value, I understand you are in "love" with it. 4 transmissions in 10 years is a sign to dump it and run away. I hope youre not like this with women... I've had plenty of older cars and higher mileage vehicles (crown Vic with 250k) and all ran on the original trans. What is your driving style like? Also, let's be honest, did you do a lot of neutral drops or any other shenanigans? As to your Magnum, why can't you drive that to work? What's your commute like, how many MPGs does Focus get vs the Magnum? Perhaps sell both and buy something newer?

  • JonBoy470 JonBoy470 on Feb 17, 2016

    Wild. I had a 2000my focus zx3 with the 4F27e automatic. It went 121k miles in my hands with nothing more than regular fluid changes. Sometime after I traded it in, I checked up on it on CarFax and saw it went another 60k (181k total) without an indicated transmission failure.

    • 28-Cars-Later 28-Cars-Later on Feb 17, 2016

      My ex had a MY00 burnt red/orange ZX3 which needed a new motor at 161K which I had to source from a junkyard in Ligonier in 2010. She drove it for a bit more but I know the transaxle started to act up about a year later so I wouldn't be surprised if she junked it after we broke up. I used to refer to her Focus as "eurocar" after seeing identical looking RHD specimens in Ireland the previous year.

  • MRF 95 T-Bird I bet it has some electrical gremlins as well. Nonetheless it might make an interesting El Camino pickup truck conversation with one of those kits.
  • GrumpyOldMan "A manual transmission is offered, as is a single-clutch auto. "What is a single clutch auto?
  • ToolGuy It is raining super-hard outside right now.
  • Analoggrotto It's getting awful hard to tell these Mercedes apart from one another.
  • Analoggrotto Ah the Fisher Price car for the uncoolest of uncool dad-bods.
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