1990 Toyota Corolla Wagon - HELP pls! blown transmission? but the car now drives

While driving our 1990 toyota corolla (3-speed automatic transmission) on the freeway recently, the car gave a slight jerk, at which point my husband looked at the gas gauge and noticed it was well below “E”… Oops. fortunately, there was an exit right there with a gas station. Filled up and we were off toward the next on-ramp. Got to about 35-40 mph, and all of a sudden the car literally just stopped moving forward after violently jerking back and forth several times. We then tried to put in neutral and push it to the side, but it wouldn’t even do that. Everything was locked up, seized solid. Somehow we managed to get it to the side. The flatbed tow truck took us home, and all we could do by that point was move a foot or two in reverse after it dropped us off… fast forward… After several days/weeks of it sitting around we can now actually drive it forward! reverse! but we haven’t taken it out of the driveway to go more than 5 mph… We had seen some fluid leaking prior to this incident, but could NOT figure out where it was coming from despite checking obvious fluids meticulously every couple of days. A friend said it might have been the diff fluid?? Any ideas out there what this is? We’d like to fix the car, but to repair a tranny on this old car (although it only has 67K miles!!!) is too expensive. My husband wants to make it a weekend project. Uh Oh…

So the transmission gear selector didn’t allow for any movement when you said it shook back and forth?

It sounds like an internal bearing locked up. I had the same thing happen to my Sister-in-law’s car. It was an internal bearing that went bad and she also determined a transmission replacement was not an option. This car has a front transaxle, and the transmission fluid also serves to lubricate the differential. There is not a separate differential fluid, and the differential is in the same housing as the transmission. Getting to it means taking the transmission apart.

But, it could also be a bad wheel bearing or bad CV joint. Maybe a replacement transmission is not required. What ever the problem is, a good mechanic can track it down and give you a good opinion.

Just slap a new trans in it…the job IS in the realm of the Shade Tree Mechanic…hell thats where I did my first one…under the tree in my backyard… No BIG deal really…DONT fix the old one…unless you price out rebuilds on your current one and they close to a used trans…then rebuild…


thanks for the info. RencoW - the gear selector always moved into the gear, like neutral, but the car wouldn’t move. Now it drives in any gear.

Low on transmission fluid, and overheated, perhaps? Now, it’s cooled, and everything has relaxed enough to allow it some movement. Although, getting it back up to any speed would almost certainly lock it up again.

Check replacement (used/rebuilt) transmission costs. In future, include this vehicle in the “severe” column when it comes to maintenance. Use the time tables listed, instead of the mileage tables.

Was that fluid on the ground red, perchance? Probably brown, actually. Was the transmission fluid ever changed, or checked? You said you checked “obvious fluids”, but not specifically which those were.

Best of luck,