By on March 25, 2015

2003 Acura TL Type S. Image: Acura

Mark writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I have a 2003 Acura TL-S with 106K miles. I bought the car in 2013 with 84K and it was/is in excellent shape. I checked and made sure the car had the transmission recalls performed (I know there were a lot of issues with Honda/Acura 5 speed autos) Back in July I noticed on a hot and humid day it was difficult to move the gear selector from P to Drive. It seemed stiff but there were no other indicators of transmission issues. 

I went to every Acura forum I could find and most issues were related to actual transmission problems and failures. There were some suggestions that the brake light switch might be failing. I replaced that (even though the brake lights work fine) no luck. It then started giving me fits about coming out of Park. I would have to use the key to move it into Drive or Neutral. Then it stopped doing that for a few months. Now it occasionally will not go into Reverse from Drive unless I shift down to then back up. The action is still very stiff but it will go into gear. Once you are going the Transmission is fine, it shifts perfectly, there is no missed shifts, clunking or any of the usual signs of an imminent transmission failure.

I live in Germany where Acura does not exist. The local Honda dealers are clueless since they have very little experience with Automatic Transmissions. Local mechanics are the same, very little experience working on automatic transmissions. I can’t find any useful information online or any examples of this issue. Perhaps you can help?

Stuttgart, Germany

Sajeev answers:

Stuttgart is pretty far away from Ingolstat, and yet your German Acura’s infected with Audi 5000 syndrome?

Such an intermittent problem suggests a mechanical bind inside the shift mechanism, or perhaps electronic fault (just not the brake light).  There’s also ammunition against Honda’s neutral safety switch, or Transmission Range Switch.  The TRS can indeed interfere with the “interlock” system.

Unless you regularly spill large amounts of milky, sweet/sticky flavored coffee on your console to really screw it up, I suspect the TRS (or its wiring harness?) is at fault. To wit, this YouTube video:

What say you, Best and Brightest?

[Image: Acura]

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14 Comments on “Piston Slap: The German TL’s Audi 5000 Syndrome?...”

  • avatar

    Sounds like a binding shift cable or linkage. Sometimes those things seize up. Disconnect the cable from both ends on the shifter and transmission and see how freely it moves through it’s range of motion, if it feels sticky, you probably need a new one. You might try lubricating it, but this solution has mixed success.

  • avatar

    How did you get the TL-S into Germany? Acura doesn’t exist outside of North America, right?

    A place where none of the mechanics know automatic transmissions? I want to go there!

    • 0 avatar

      He actually got German mechanics to admit they didn’t know something!? And he went to the trouble to get an Acura over there!

      This man has special powers!

  • avatar

    I think Sajeev is on the right track here. I’ve dealt with something similar on my (admittedly completely different) 1997 Mark VIII. It has a similar plastic “MLPS” sensor to the one shown in the video, and exhibited similar symptoms. (a very stiff shifter action)

    The solution was not so much the sensor itself, but that the shaft that the sensor attaches to had build up a small amount of rust which had increased the diameter of the shaft enough to interfere with the operation.

    The old sensor had to be broken off, and the shaft cleaned up with a wire wheel, before a new sensor was installed. This made all the difference in the world, for me.

    If you are able to disconnect the shifter linkage as Danio indicates above, it should be fairly simple to isolate the problem to the sensor, or the cable.

    Good luck!

  • avatar

    I had a 2003 TL-S and had a similar problem shifting it out of park. Transmission was fine but there was a problem with one of the linkages. I don’t have the car anymore (it was going 150k and strong on the replaced transmission) so I’m sorry I can’t give you more info on the service performed.

  • avatar

    If all else fails, maybe you could have the AT removed and a proper manual transmission installed!

  • avatar

    Off topic, but I never could get with when Acura used fakey dark purple or even green(!) fake wood on the TL and RL models. Just ruined the look for me.

    • 0 avatar

      To this day, does Acura use genuine wood trim in anything? Not to my knowledge, not even on a loaded RLX or MDX.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes and no, sort of a trick question. The answer is actually yes. There was real wood in the recently-deceased RL. There is also real wood today in the Canadian market MDX (just not in the US one).

  • avatar

    In 07 I bought a 2003 TL (not type S) for my first post-college car. Loved that thing. Somewhere around 2010 it started doing exactly as described above, where the shifter would refuse to shift out of park when I turned the car on.

    I never got it repaired, I popped the little key override off the shift tree and when this happened, I would pop my key in and start the car in neutral. That particular headache was worth the hassle rather than fix.

    However, I did do some research into what would fix it, and barring a failure of my memory, here’s what I recall:
    On the TL’s there’s a sensor (physical) that is somewhere in the pedal box by the brake pedal. There’s another sensor on the pedal arm somewhere, and when you depress the brake to shift out of park the two sensors touch, a circuit completes and you can shift out of park. On this gen TL, it’s not entirely uncommon for that sensor to break and need replacing.

    I’d look into that if i were you.

  • avatar


    That you tube video was right on the money. Ironically I just returned home from picking up my newly fixed TL. It was indeed the Neutral/Gear position indicator switch. I found one forum that mentioned it (the D light started blinking)I found a mechanic with a Polish Auto Transmission specialist. I dropped it off and a few days later he called me, I went in and he held up the switch and told me “order this” two days later FedEx showed up with the part and now the car shifts like new.

    I work on a US Army base(civilian) and there are actual quite a few Acuras in parts of Germany with US bases. I brought from a contractor who originally imported it into the county. The Honda dealers will look at them but not much else. Fortunately, with the exception of the transmission most local mechanics can work on it with no issues, since its just a tarted up Accord.

    Thanks again for the help.

    Stuttgart, Germany

  • avatar

    I had this exact same issue in a 2004 TL. The dealer replaced a solenoid in the gear selector mechanism. Apparently, damage cause by mountain dew spilling into the gear selector is not covered by warranty.

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