Tranny problems (no, the other kind)
November 8, 2008 7:57 AM   Subscribe

Should I replace the transmission or replace the car?

My 1997 Hyunday Sonata's transmission gave up the ghost. It no longer has reverse, and it only kind of shifts into second gear very hard. I took it to a local shop and to the dealer. The local shop thinks I should rebuild the transmission at $2,400. The dealer wants to put in a remanufactured transmission at about $2,700. Both of those options are insane and off the table because the car is worth less than $1,500.

Back in reality land, there are three options that I am aware of:

1) Junkyard transmission

If you think this is the way to go, how can I avoid getting ripped off? I saw this writeup when searching online, but it's almost entirely Greek to me in spite of being very clear and presumably helpful. If there is any geographically specific advice, I am in Northern Virginia, but theoretically could drive to Maryland or elsewhere in VA to pick up a part.

I don't like this because the shop will charge $450 or so to install it, and it's a gamble anyway. How can I make it less of a gamble?

2) Replace the valve body assembly

Apparently, one thing that is *for sure* wrong is that the solenoids are gone. A new valve body assembly (with new solenoids), available only from the dealer, costs about $650 and two hours of labor to swap out. Then I'm left with the same transmission I started with, which has 165,000 miles on it.

There aren't any flecks of metal in the transmission fluid. There is some sludge that the mechanic said is generally expected to build up with age, but also is not a good thing at all. Everyone says there is no way to tell how much life the transmission has left in it without taking it apart and inspecting it, at which point the labor charge becomes prohibitive.

3) Getting rid of the car

How would I do this? How much can I get for it?

Please help me figure out what to do. I hate the idea of gambling close to $1,000 on the car without a reasonable expectation of success (options 1 and 2), but I also hate the idea of selling the car for a lousy few hundred dollars because of this problem when it is otherwise functioning just fine.
posted by Nonce to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
 
I would advise you to junk the car and save the money you were going to pay for a new transmission for a new car. Even if you choose to replace the transmission, your Sonata is not going to last forever (I would predict that something else is going to fail soon following the transmission) and you will need to buy a new car anyway.

But spending $2700 on a 1997 Hyundai is not a wise investment.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:12 AM on November 8, 2008


Also, if you can sell the car for a few hundred dollars, well, kudos to you. When we got rid of our old Dodge Neon (I know something about wasting money on old cars) I felt lucky to get someone to come and take it away *for free*.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:14 AM on November 8, 2008


Response by poster: But spending $2700 on a 1997 Hyundai is not a wise investment.

Just to be clear, I more than agree, and that's not something I'm considering.
posted by Nonce at 8:28 AM on November 8, 2008


This is anecdotal: I spent $1500 replacing a transmission in my beloved '90 Toyota Camry, hoping to get another few years out of it, less than six months later the engine failed and I ended up buying another car anyway.
posted by eleyna at 8:40 AM on November 8, 2008


you gave no indication as to how many miles you have on it but it's a 1997, so I'd be kind of surprised if it were any less than 100k, which means it's a matter of time before other issues start creeping up that will demand equal or more financial investments than the current issue. it's time to get rid off the car.

I just did a quick search on cars.com for newer sonatas and they listed several cars (in LA but I'm sure near you as well) that had quite reasonable prices: a 2005 sonata GL with 79k miles was $6,000, a 2003 GL with 83k miles was $5,000. I'd be surprised if you got more than $1,000 for your car given that these newer (and working!) models aren't expensive but if you're going to invest 2-3,000 bucks in a repair anyway you might as well bite the bullet and get a new ride.
posted by krautland at 10:11 AM on November 8, 2008


Unless you've owned this car it's whole life, faithfully done the oil changes and know for certain that every other part of it is in excellent condition, this car is done. Move on, and know you'll be lucky to get much of anything for the old one. An 11-year-old car with 165K miles on it and no transmission is not an especially coveted chunk of hardware.
posted by jon1270 at 10:36 AM on November 8, 2008


I dunno. Can you get something better for $2,700? Really? Something that doesn't already have 150k+ miles on it? Something that's in good shape and perhaps even Japanese or Korean? For $2,700? I kinda' doubt it.

So, you can either fix up your current car or you can spend more to sell your car and get another car that's, at best, exactly the same. Or you could spend more and get a newer car. But then you're talking a lot more--like, $6,000. For that much money, you could rebuild your transmission and throw in a new motor. Unless you have massive body damage, it will almost always be cheaper to fix than to replace.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:55 PM on November 8, 2008


In your place (with a Toyota Camry, same year) I chose option (2), knowing that the solenoids might not fix the problem. A little over 600 bucks later I still had a busted transmission, although I was able to squeak by (unsafely and jerkily) for another year. Unfortunately I had no other options.

In your place I would highly recommend not making that gamble, if you have the choice.
posted by tejolote at 10:08 PM on November 9, 2008


A follow-up question for everyone....how long does a transmission typically last? I have a car in a similar situation and am wondering how common it is for a car with less than 100K to be faced with this situation?
posted by zingleheimerschmidt at 7:29 AM on November 25, 2008


Response by poster: zingleheimerschmidt, I'm not very knowledgeable, but from what I understand, transmissions and motors should both last over 100,000 miles in most any modern car that's been maintained properly. I would hazard a guess that either the transmission had a defect in it from the factory, or the car was driven very aggressively by one of its owners.

But it would only be a guess.
posted by Nonce at 11:57 AM on November 28, 2008


Response by poster: For future reference:

I eventually sold the car for several hundred dollars to someone who thought they could get it running again, and then I purchased a used car (12 years old now; not exactly a spring chicken) that appears to be (knock on wood) in sound mechanical shape for exactly half of the lowest estimate to repair the automatic transmission in my old car.
posted by Nonce at 9:16 AM on March 14, 2009


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