2000 Toyota Sienna transmission crisis - what to do?

Bad start to the year. One car already in the shop (another discusson topic for another day). Other car, the Sienna, died on the hill yesterday; shop says it needs a new transmission. They’ll put in a tranny with 139K miles on it for $2200 total. We can get a rebuilt one for $3K. Here’s the thing: we just bought this van in September, it has 114K miles on it, and the tranny was rebuilt in it at 85K miles. That happened about 18-20 months ago. I don’t think we can go back to the original shop (we’re 3 hours away) … but I’m wondering whether I should even bother since this van appears to be a money pit.

Describe exactly what “died” means. What - precisely - did the van actually do?

What kind of shop did you take it to? Transmission diagnosis & work is a highly specialized kind of thing. Not just any shop will do. It is also best to avoid the national chain-type of transmission shops. So in addition to what the van did, fill folks in on the kind of shop, and exactly what the diagnosis is. Include error codes from the van’s computer if the shop has scanned it.

(No matter what, you’d be nuts to drop a transmission with 139K on it into anything - especially a minivan).

He was coming up a very steep hairpin hill (we have to drive up it every day) - and the check engine light came on. Car seemed to lose power. Stalled. It kicked right over, strong revs, but when he put it in gear, nothing happened. Wouldn’t go forward (drive, second or low) and wouldn’t reverse either. Shop is generic auto repair. We don’t know if the shop scanned it – would a scan give a precise transmission diagnosis? If this shop doesn’t have the computer/scan to do this, would it be worthwhile towing it somewhere that does, even knowing nothing about that shop either? We live in the Poconos and after 11 years still haven’t found any mechanic we trust, which is why we called the national chains for this issue - don’t know any place we trust.

I also need to mention that the short block on this van was replaced at 40K miles because of the well-documented sludge problem in Siennas of that era. So, with a new engine and a rebuilt transmission already part of this van’s history, I’m wondering whether to start pouring my own money into it.

The van is nearly worthless as is, so you almost have to do something to get it running.

I would not use a transmission with 139K miles on it, especially since it’s not that much cheaper than a rebuilt unit.

A good quality rebuilt transmission should come with a warranty.

Stay away from the national chain shops. Disaster lurks there.

Yeah, we’re not gonna do the used transmission route - you’ve convinced us of that. Cottman has a 3 year/36K warranty, however, and I’ve checked online and can’t find any bad reviews for our particular location. Lots of national bad reviews, but since they’re all franchised, I can’t really say it’s relevant. We can’t find any reviews - good or bad - specific to tranny work in our area, so we’re kind of stuck with throwing a dart at the board.

OK, thanks for your input and guidance. Wish us luck.

It is true that they are franchised so the general rule about avoiding chains is just the general rule. Some specific locations might be just fine. If you use the Cottman just make sure to understand exactly what the warranty covers and what it requires (e.g. in terms of transmission service).

That said, your description of what happened does not say “dead transmission” to me. Ask the shop if they pulled the codes from the computer (the check engine light tells you that there are codes there). Get the codes (format “P1234”) and post them. When a transmission suddenly loses it, it doesn’t come out as a stalled engine. It can stall the engine if it has a torque converter lockup problem - so one possibility is that this is what happened, turned on the engine light, and the transmission was just shut down by the computer to save it from damage. I would be wanting an actual transmission tech with the appropriate scanning equipment to look at it.

Just FYI - there are people in the world that would buy such a disabled van - not for very much but you could always give it a shot if you wanted to.

Once I had a specific diagnosis of the transmission I wouldn’t hesitate to call the shop that rebuilt it to see what they have to say about it.