1988 Toyota 4Runner V6 Transmission Trouble
May 21, 2012 1:28 PM   Subscribe

How much will my transmission cost to fix? Left to its own devices, how much longer will it last? Any advice for a mechanical laywoman?

I've owned this truck about 7 months and I have an irrational love for it even though I may not be able to keep it going much longer. Thanks to the friendly advice of folks here, I've been able to master careful monitoring of my radiator fluid level and rule out a head gasket problem. Not one overheat since I posted my last question!

Now this: for about the past month, I've noticed that the engine seems to take a while to "warm up" and kick into the right gear when driving at any speed. I have an automatic transmission with an overdrive feature. While the truck is warming up, which takes about 10-15 minutes of driving, the RPMs range between 2,000-3,500 with moderate acceleration and the sound of the engine is similar to when the overdrive is engaged, even though it is off. Once this time has passed, the engine quiets down and ranges between 1,500-2,500 RPMs.

Occasionally, with slightly increasing frequency, after this period has passed and I've driven a significant amount of time (at least 45 min - 1 hour) the RPMs will start to wig out and the engine roar for a few seconds as if I was depressing the gas pedal in neutral. If I let off the gas and coast for a few seconds, the engine quiets down and the RPMs go back to a normal range.

The engine also occasionally will die immediately after startup if it's allowed to idle. If I start it up and give it some decent gas for a minute or two, it will hold its own again. This is also a new development.

I know that there is a limit to how much help I can receive here, that my truck is old (odometer was stuck at 250k when I bought it and I've put on maybe another 10k since then) and my pockets are shallow, and eventually I'll have to give in and get something more reliable. I'm just hoping to prolong the inevitable if I can.
posted by dissolvedgirl22 to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total)
The cost to fix your transmission depends on any # of factors, and can easily go into the multiple-K range. When the transmission went out on my elderly Accord, I didn't even bother--it was easily going to cost more than the car's original price. Even taking your affection for the truck into account, it may not make financial sense. But you'll need to ask your mechanic.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:48 PM on May 21, 2012

First: Check the level of your transmission fluid, per the owners manual instructions. If it is low, add ONLY enough transmission fluid to bring it up to where it should be (don't overfill). If you add fluid, ONLY use the exact fluid listed in the owners manual; don't bother with universal fluids.
posted by Doohickie at 2:21 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agree with Doohickie. The symptoms you describe are consistent with low fluid.

That is a cheap fix. Remember when checking the trans fluid to check it with the engine warm and idling - the engine must be running to validly check the trans fluid.

The symptoms, are sadly, also consistent with a variety of expensive other failures.

Can't hurt to try the fluid first. If it helps - that's your problem - you have a fluid leak which should be easy to check. If it doesn't help - I'd look at a remanufactured trans with some sort of warranty.

Good luck!

Oh, and driving it in its current state (Assuming the fluid doesn't fix it) is not likely to cause it to "seize up" or anything. More likely you'll get to a point where the torque converter longer couples the trans to the engine and it's like you are in neutral all the time.

Also, if the fluid doesn't fix it - take it to a shop first. There's a chance (not a great, chance but a chance) that this is caused by an alignment problem with the shifter mechanism that will be easy and cheap to adjust.
posted by BrooksCooper at 2:34 PM on May 21, 2012

The cost will also be determined by if you buy a new transmission or a refurbished one. Refurbished one will of course be cheaper. You might also be asked if you want an extended warranty which will add to the cost.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 5:16 PM on May 21, 2012

Pull out the transmission dipstick and wipe the fluid off onto a clean rag. It should be red to purple in color; now smell it. It should smell like oil. If it smells burnt or has a burnt color your transmission is slipping.

Top it up with whatever the manual says it should take. Transmission fluid is cheaper than a transmission. There is no real way to tell how long it will last, but properly topped up might help it last a little longer.
posted by alfanut at 7:29 PM on May 21, 2012

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