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August 23, 2007 9:29 PM   Subscribe

Help me diagnose my car's weird lurching problem. This is mostly for curiosity's sake, as I do plan on taking it to the mechanic tomorrow or Saturday. But I sort of want to know what I'm in for.

It's a 1999 Ford Taurus with low mileage (around 60k) for its age. Just today, it's started "lurching" while driving -- all of a sudden it feels like you lose power and then it sort of kicks in again. Sometimes the car feels as if it slipped into Neutral. The check engine light just went on today as well (as if I didn't already know that something needed checking!). I am assuming this is some sort of transmission problem, but could it also be an issue with a fuel injector or filter?

If you haven't noticed yet, I know nothing about cars. As I mentioned, I'm planning on taking it in, but I'm sort of trying to get a feel for what kinds of things might need fixing or replacing, as well as a ballpark estimate of what it will cost.

Any guesses?
posted by rossination to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total)
Response by poster: Also -- if anyone has any good recommendations for mechanics in the North Seattle/University District area, send them my way.
posted by rossination at 9:29 PM on August 23, 2007

I used to get that when going up hills, turned out to be a spark plug issue, I think? Sorry I can't really remember, but I do know it wasn't serious.

Though, my sister had the same issue, though not just when going uphill, and it was her transmission, so YMMV.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 9:34 PM on August 23, 2007

Pulled out of the air, fuel pump (possibly).
posted by iamabot at 9:41 PM on August 23, 2007

I had a similar issue with my Tercel around 60k. It ended up being an issue with the fuel line, about a $200 fix.
posted by lunalaguna at 10:02 PM on August 23, 2007

I had this problem with my car just this week. (A Holden VN Commodore). I thought is was originally the throttle body (or more specifically the air-bypass valve) being clogged up with gunk. It was pretty dirty, and I cleaned it with some carboretter cleaner. It improved, but still didnt fix completely.

I then reasoned it must have been the fuel system: probably the injectors. I got some injector cleaner to add to the fuel tank. It continued to sputter for about 5-10 mins - but seems now to be running just fine.

So yeah. I will say its your fuel injectors. Grab some injector cleaner (10 bucks) add it to the tank. Be prepared to put up with it for just a little while - time to give the cleaner to work and it will hopefully be all good.

Of course, there are more elaborate ways to clean your fuel system than the one i suggested - but your mechanic will be the guy for that. FWIW I dont think its a transmission problem.. which is good cos they can be expensive to fix!
posted by TheOtherGuy at 10:19 PM on August 23, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice so far; I'm glad to hear it's not a transmission issue. Should I still take it in ASAP, since the check engine light is on?
posted by rossination at 10:28 PM on August 23, 2007

yeah i would... i could be completely wrong :P
posted by TheOtherGuy at 10:57 PM on August 23, 2007

Take it in, we just provided you the internet equivalent diagnosis of a broken arm when the symptoms were burning pain when you pee and a tendency to crave chicken every 3rd wednesday.
posted by iamabot at 11:31 PM on August 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's a Taurus? It's a transmission issue. This has been the early grave of every Taurus I've known. Figure $800 minimum.
posted by Myself at 11:40 PM on August 23, 2007

Yeah, bucking is probably transmission, especially in a Taurus.
posted by arruns at 12:03 AM on August 24, 2007

During the times it feels like it's slipped into neutral, the engine sound increases without the car accelerating? If so, that's a dead on sign of the transmission slipping.
posted by IronLizard at 12:30 AM on August 24, 2007

Google "AXOD transmission" for the scoop.
posted by pjern at 1:43 AM on August 24, 2007

Another possibility - when my car had what sounds like the same problem it was fixed by replacing an ECU relay costing about £5 (Mk3 Golf TDi, manual transmission).
posted by boosh at 4:40 AM on August 24, 2007

I had the same problem once. It was simply a bad hose allowing the transmission fluid to leak out. It was a simple and relatively inexpensive repair.
posted by lpsguy at 5:57 AM on August 24, 2007

Mechanix Files from cartalk. Database of decent mechanics in your area.
posted by filmgeek at 6:28 AM on August 24, 2007

Yet another possibility: the "feels like it slips into neutral" can also be caused by a broken engine mount. That would be a fairly big repair bill, but nowhere near as bad as a new transmission.
posted by TedW at 7:10 AM on August 24, 2007

If you have an AutoZone or similar in the area, they have OBDII readers to check engine codes. It's a free service, but I usually make sure to ask nicely. Go in, tell them your check engine light came on and you'd like to have the code read. They'll be able to take the reader out to your car, plug it in, get the code, and then look the code up to tell you precisely what the problem is.

You can then take this code home, google "OBDII XYZ code" or similar and find results on the problem, as well as usually some sites listing repair info.
posted by sarahmelah at 8:36 AM on August 24, 2007

Best answer: The check engine light coming on for this type of problem actually suggests a relatively minor problem. I wouldn't get too worked up about it until you get your trouble codes read, as suggested above. It could very well be something as simple as replacing an intake hose or a sensor or cleaning your throttle body or your fuel injectors. Any of these types of problems are very cheap to fix and you can easily do them yourself.

You haven't put too many miles on it, so I doubt it's the transmission. If you want to rule out your transmission, start paying attention to how it drives in each gear. Transmission problems don't usually occur at all speeds. Also, check your transmission fluid. Is it low? Is it a weird color? If not, it's probably not your problem.
posted by tjvis at 9:07 AM on August 24, 2007

(I've heard that Salmon's on 65th St and 25th (24th? Anyway, 1/2 mile up from the Kidd Valley near U Village) is a good mechanic - I have not used them personally)
posted by tristeza at 9:54 AM on August 24, 2007

My money would be on a crapped out sensor messing up your fuel-air mixture, but it's really hard to say. The check engine light makes things easier since it'll spill its guts to anyone with a reader.

I would NOT assume transmission unless you're hearing unusual noises from the engine when you get this lurching, but that's not to say it couldn't be it.

As others have said, many auto parts stores will plug their scanner in for you. Others will sell you a scanner that you can return for full credit, whether that be in 10 minutes or 10 weeks.

Once you get them to scan here's a list of what the codes mean
posted by phearlez at 10:09 AM on August 24, 2007

When this happened to my '98 Civic, it was a dirty throttle body.
posted by prodevel at 1:29 AM on August 26, 2007

Best answer: So, for posterity's sake, here's the outcome:

It turned out to be the variable speed sensor, which (apparently) tells the transmission how fast you're going so it knows what gears to put you in. Total cost to fix this was around $200. I had some other work done (oil change, cleaning corroded battery terminals, and a couple of unrelated things) and my total came to just over $400. Overall, not as terrible as it could have been.
posted by rossination at 4:42 PM on September 1, 2007

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