It's Okay, Vibey... Just Show Me Where the Bad Man Hurt You...
November 7, 2011 1:06 PM   Subscribe

I just had to replace my car's entire powertrain. What could've happened? How do I prevent it from happening AGAIN?

Late last year, I bought an AskMe-favorite Pontiac Vibe (2005, automatic, base model). Before I purchased it, I did the typical due diligence: I purchased a CarFax report and had an independent mechanic give it a thorough exam. However, within the past two months, I've had to replace its engine (bad valve seals) and have the transmission rebuilt (the torque converter as well as a bunch of other stuff blew after a sudden massive transmission fluid leak). These problems were totally legit (each one was confirmed by multiple mechanics). My questions for you, HiveMind:

- What in hell could the car's previous owner have done to the thing to make an entire Toyota-manufactured powertrain fail within a year? Or does this just occasionally HAPPEN?
- Is there anything I should be doing to prevent any similar problems in the future? Anything else a mechanic should check out? The entire situation seems so profoundly fishy that I'm wondering if something horrible happened to the car which just didn't happen to show up on the CarFax.

Possibly-relevant info: the car was a repo which somehow made its way into the hands of a local used car dealer. A friggin' AWFUL user car dealer, apparently...
posted by julthumbscrew to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total)
Off the cuff? I would go down to a Pontiac dealership and talk to them about this. Not like "Hey, give me a new car!" but, "hey, this stuff just this weird?" Talk to the dealership mechanics, people who have to deal with warranties, but Pontiac-official people. This is a lot to go wrong with a six or seven year old car, they'd probably be at least interested to hear your story. Beyond that, I got nothin'.
posted by rhizome at 1:20 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I seem to recall using Autocheck instead of carfax because people told me it picked up more. You could run one if you're really curious.
posted by selfnoise at 1:25 PM on November 7, 2011

Could be a combination of poor maintenance and abusive driving habits (by the previous owner). How many miles are on it?
posted by jon1270 at 1:37 PM on November 7, 2011

Also, do you know where the transmission fluid leaked from?
posted by jon1270 at 1:39 PM on November 7, 2011

There were about 35,000 on it when we bought it... the engine was replaced at approx. 40,000; the transmission went maybe 3,000 miles after that. The fact that Pontiac doesn't exist anymore makes this slightly problematic, too...
posted by julthumbscrew at 1:40 PM on November 7, 2011

I believe the fluid was leaking from the transmission fluid pump.
posted by julthumbscrew at 1:40 PM on November 7, 2011

I would vote for neglect on the part of the previous owner. Could even have been "intentional" neglect if they knew the repo was coming and were upset about it. Not the kind of thing that would show up on a CarFax. But I'd say that at this point there's not to much left in the powertrain that you haven't replaced, so hopefully you're in good shape for the future.
posted by doctord at 1:44 PM on November 7, 2011

"too" not "to"
posted by doctord at 1:45 PM on November 7, 2011

You can still call GM at least.
posted by rhizome at 1:49 PM on November 7, 2011

Even Toyota makes a lemon every once in a while.
posted by twblalock at 5:03 PM on November 7, 2011

Bad valve seals at 40K miles is not a normal situation. Could be neglect (no oil changes in those first 35K miles) on the part of the first owner. Can't really prevent that. You can however pull the dipstick and smell it; toasty oil will smell like, well, toasty oil. Also, open the oil fill cap and look at the underside of the cap and at the top of the engine. At 40K miles all those bits should still be shiny and newish looking. Any baked on crud could be a sign of infrequent oil changes.

Same goes for the transmission but you only have the dipstick as your guide.

Carfax will show accidents, inspections etc.. but I don't think it includes neglect of routine maintenance.
posted by alfanut at 7:04 PM on November 7, 2011

Bad valve seals are usually a high mileage symptom (or being left non running for quite a while). A bad automatic transmission is usually high mileage or overheating that causes them to fail. On a new, low mileage car with a good reputation my guess is a combination of hooning by the previous owner (driving the car like you stole it basically), probably high revving and lots of hard acceleration, and maybe the po (previous owner) used it to tow stuff around? that would also explain it. And maybe you just got unlucky, but unlikely since the two failures are explainable by abuse and/or neglected maintenance. Although even at 40K an automatic transmission shouldn't be going with dirty fluid alone, and usually dirty fluid does not result in a bad torque converter (more likely to be clogged valves or worn bands). A bad torque converter could definately be caused by revving to redline with the car in car while standing on the brake to induce a cool burnout or dropping into drive from neutral. So my guess is a teenager who really, really wanted a civic si from mommy and daddy.
posted by bartonlong at 7:40 PM on November 7, 2011

the car was a repo which somehow made its way into the hands of a local used car dealer

There's your problem. A person who is not making payments on a car, and knows it is likely to be repossessed, has no incentive to maintain the car or take care of it, not even oil changes.

The good news is that a new engine and transmission basically takes care of the abuse angle, so you can expect this to be the end of your serious woes. Wouldn't hurt to have the suspension pre-emptively looked at, though.
posted by davejay at 4:06 PM on November 8, 2011

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