Help me figure out if I need to replace my car transmission!
March 8, 2011 8:54 AM   Subscribe

How do I know replacing my 2002 Mitsubishi Lancer transmission is the only option?

For the past few months, my 2002 Mitsubishi Lancer has been jerking whenever it shifts gears. At its 87,000 mile tune-up, I was told that there was nothing wrong with the car, and the mechanic couldn't figure out why it was jerking. I brought it back this morning for the 90,000 mile inspection, and just got a call saying the problem lies in the transmission itself, which should be replaced. Needless to say, a new transmission carries a hefty price, and a used one still comes with a huge price tag, but with much less of a guarantee it will not break down.

For those car savvy individuals, can you tell me other potential causes of the problem I could have the mechanic explore before replacing the transmission? Any other related advice? I want to be absolutely sure getting the transmission replaced is my only option. Thanks!
posted by msk1985 to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
(IMNAM, IANYM) A second opinion is always a good idea before a major repair. I would bring the car to a new shop and see what they have to say, and start calling around and getting quotes.

There are a million reasons that a car could jerk, none of them can be diagnosed over the internet. Your mechanic knows these reasons and has looked for them. If you are not sure, ask another mechanic to have a look.
posted by Felex at 9:06 AM on March 8, 2011

There's really not much you can do if the transmission is actually the problem, but one thing my mechanic said is that when your transmission goes, it's either a "hot" problem or a "cold" problem. Does the jerking happen from the get-go, or does it only happen if you've been driving a while? If it only happens when you've been driving a while, it's a "hot" problem and maybe not quite as urgent. Honestly, though, if it jerks when it shifts gears, it's going to cost a ton just to take the transmission out and properly diagnose the problem. We just went through this, and made the painful decision that it was financially smarter to just trade it in and get a new car.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:16 AM on March 8, 2011

Replacing the transmission is a reasonable solution, depending. However, it is not possible to know if it is your case based on what you've related. If the engine is operating fully throughout its range, then any jerkiness must be caused by the driveline. Assuming that the differential and CV joints are OK, that leaves the transmission.

Automatic transmissions are fairly complicated devices. I would recommend taking the to car to either a dealer or a transmission specialist for a second opinion. On most cars, replacing the transmission isn't too labor intensive, but certain makes and models are much easier than others.

You might save money having someone rebuild your current transmission, but that usually takes much longer than just replacing it outright.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:17 AM on March 8, 2011

I'd consider taking it for a second opinion. Transmission problems can be related to wear on the gears, or to the clutch. From your description, I can't tell which, or even whether you have an automatic transmission (which I'm assuming). I had a devil of a time trying to find anyone reputable who could guarantee the quality of a rebuild for a late 90's GM car, and could have bought a new one with warranty for about $2k. I ended up selling the car because the total cost was more than half what I paid for it in the first place.

Looking at a possible valuation of your car, I'd get a second opinion if you can do so for less than $100, and then decide whether you should replace.
posted by Hylas at 10:31 AM on March 8, 2011

Definitely second opinion time.
It could easily be that the tranny simply needs to have the fluid changed and a new filter.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:37 AM on March 8, 2011

I'm taking it in for a second opinion tomorrow. It's an automatic transmission, and the jerking starts immediately when driving. The lower the amount of gas in the tank, the more pronounced the jerking. Don't know if that's a pertinent piece of information.
posted by msk1985 at 11:56 AM on March 8, 2011

The jerking, also known as a "hard shift", could be automatic compensation
for slippage in the transmission (because of reduced pressure from the transmission
pump, say). A computer is controlling it, and because of that, you can have a
conversation with it and ask it what is wrong.

One way for you to have this conversation is with an ODB II scanner that you can
buy at almost any car parts retail outlet. You hook it up to the standard interface
on your car (under the hood. it'll be in the instructions). It'll tell you if the transmission
is compensating for excess slippage with that hard shift.

You can also clear the error condition, and then if it is the system compensating for
excessive slippage, it will shift normally for a while, until it detects the slippage again,
at which time the hard shifting will reoccur.

This means that you yourself can independently verify the accuracy of the diagnosis
of "transmission problem".

On the question of a dealer versus transmission shop, the only real difference we
found was that the dealer had a much longer minimum warranty than the transmission
shop (and price that was proportional to the length of the warranty). An ATRA affiliated
transmission shop (Automatic Transmission Rebuilders Association) will provide a
warranty for 2 years or 24000 miles, and your warranty work can be done anywhere at
an ATRA affiliated shop (and there are a lot of them).
posted by the Real Dan at 12:28 PM on March 8, 2011

because of reduced pressure from the transmission pump

Looks like this was the problem, and my old transmission is completely usable after all. Thanks for the suggestions!
posted by msk1985 at 6:36 PM on March 10, 2011

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