2002 Honda Civic Transmission Trouble

My girlfriend and I live in Baltimore, MD and, since relegating my old Pontiac to the junkyard a couple of years ago, a decision that I have lived to regret on more than one occasion, we now rely entirely on her 2002 Honda Civic LX.

To make a long story short I will tell you only about the most recent trouble. Backing the car out of our parking pad this morning into the alley behind our house, I noticed, putting the car in reverse, that nothing happened. I’m not used to having to really give it any gas to get going, but its been very cold and has snowed recently so I reasoned that some moisture under the tires had froze over night and I needed a little more power to get over the initial friction. But as I pushed the pedal, the engine revved, RPM spiked, and nothing moved. Back to park. Back to reverse. And out we go. Now into drive. Same problem. Park. Drive. Off we go. I should have stopped at that point.

Then, after about 15 minutes of city driving I notice the transmission is slipping when shifting. It’s an automatic so I’m not sure if it was from 1-2 or 2-3. I think it was initially 2-3, but then happened during all shifts. Then it gets worse over about 2 city blocks, to the point that we start out in first, and are then coasting. Now the engine light comes on. Putting the car into neutral and back into drive solved the problem the first mile or so. Eventually we were blocking a travel lane during the morning rush.

I turned the car off. Turned it back on again. We were good for another few blocks and I was able to finally limp onto a legal parking space, as luck would have it, behind an auto parts store. I know when the light comes on, you should leave it sit unless you know what you are doing. I figured I’d rather ruin my transmission than get shot for blocking a morning rush lane. While the GF renewed her AAA membership, I said to myself, “Self, if this is anything you can fix here, when its snowy, slushy, and 9º F, its going to be fluid. Check the fluid level.” So I did. It looked low. I was very very happy it was low. I bought a quart of transmission fluid from the auto parts store and a very long funnel and, to my amazement, the transmission took the whole quart! I thought “Self, you figured it out. You’re a hero. Worry later on about why it suddenly needed a quart of transmission fluid. Right now GF will think you’re a genius.”

Sure enough, we started up. Reverse worked just fine. Drive worked just fine. I was emboldened. We were off. And then, suddenly, we were coasting to a stop in an intersection. I cajoled the transmission back into action and found another legal parking spot and we waited for a tow truck. For 3 hours. 3 hours I spent googling my problem, to no avail. In that parking spot, I could sometimes get it to engage. Sometimes not. The tow-truck guy had no trouble getting reverse to work at the service station. I’m sure that if I could have kept moving and stayed in first gear, I would have been golden all the way home. But shifting caused the transmission to disengage about 90% of the time.

Here’s some more pertinent info:
Its been in the single digits for a few days and nights. And that’s not normal for this car.
The car (and all moving parts) has 147,000 miles on it, mostly city miles, though. Automatic transmission.
When I put the car in gear, I never felt it catch, whether it would work or not. Usually I feel a tug. Not at all today, though.
Letting the car warm-up would sometimes help the transmission engage, but not always. Sometimes, turning the engine off and letting it go cold would help it engage. The only conclusion I can draw is if the cold is causing a problem, whatever is malfunctioning is not being warmed by the engine in such a way as to start functioning normally again.
I had no inkling that anything was going wrong until I tried backing out this morning.
Full disclosure: It’s probably about a thousand miles overdue for an oil change.

I’m still waiting for the mechanic to call. I’m hoping it’s something OUTSIDE the transmission casing, like the linkages. But I don’t know what would account for the intermittancy of the problem. Maybe a filter? Any ideas? And what are some good questions to ask the mechanic when he does call with the what I fear will be bad news?

It will probably be bad news if you have not been changing the ATF on a regular basis and using only Honda ATF. Hondas of that era did have a cold shifting problem so a few years ago, Honda reformulated the ATF. The new ATF is compatible with the older transmissions.

If you have been very good, the stars are aligned properly and God loves you, maybe a transmission service at a Honda dealer might save your transmission, but honestly, I think it may be too late. Good luck.

Also, was the D4 light blinking?

Maybe you’ll get lucky and the code will indicate a problem with the shift control solenoids.


And they are located outside the transmission.


The only light on was the engine light.

If there’s a problem with the solenoids engine light will come on.


When you hear from the mechanic, do request the specific error code(s) pulled from the computer. Their format is a P with 4 digits like “P1234.” Don’t just let him/her ONLY give you some diagnosis or interpretation of the code(s). Get the exact ones and post.

P0730. The man says the transmission is toast, the fluid was burnt inside. He’s quoting 3800 for a factory built transmission with a 3yr warranty or 1990 for in-house rebuild with 1 yr warranty. What would you guys do?

I’d try to find a used transmission and have that installed.


To me the question has everything to do with the “house” - What kind of shop is it that will rebuild it for $1990. It sounds on the low side for price. If it is a shop that specializes in transmissions and have a great reputation for quality and reliability I’d think about the in-house rebuild. Personally, I would not do a used Honda transmission from anywhere near the late 90’s to early '00s

Civics do have a quite healthy used resale market even for those with major issues like engines and transmissions. It’s a big car with aftermarket tuner/modder crowds.

I have a 2002 Civic LX that I had the same symptoms at 170K I had an in house rebuild at a local transmission shop that cost me $2500. That was 4 years ago and it now has 215K and that is the only major problem this car has had since I bought it new. The rebuilder said that these transmissions were weak and he would make it better than it came from the factory. So far I believe him.