2003 Pontiac Vibe yet another transmission

My Vibe (manual trans) started making a weird chattering/fluttering noise in 4th gear a couple of weeks ago, so I took it in (mileage around 160k). The noise was similar to the one it was making two years ago when the transmission tore itself to shreds and the shop did a full rebuild, so I was somewhat concerned about taking it in before I was stranded on the road somewhere. It took several days to find the problem, but apparently a balance shaft moved and chipped some teeth, and that somehow affected the trans in 3rd and 4th gears. Now when they were explaining this I was trying to calm a screaming baby, so I wasn’t really paying attention to the explanation, but I wanted to verify that this could happen and that I really do need yet another rebuild, this time with a new balance shaft. He’s cutting me a break (this rebuild is significantly cheaper than the last one).

All this said, I really do trust my mechanic, but am really considering letting go of this curse of a car. I’ve now paid for it’s value 1.5 times over the last two years. While the mechanic assures me this trans is bulletproof, two incidents in as many years makes me think otherwise. A quick google search doesn’t allay my fears either…

You are about to throw good money after bad! Sell it for parts and go on with life. Whatever happened to this car in the past should not have happened. It’s basically a Toyota Matrix which is a very reliable car.

…apparently a balance shaft moved and chipped some teeth…

What does a balance shaft do in a transmission?

As I understand it (and I very well may be wrong), it’s the transmission that drives the balance shaft; so it’s not so much a part of the transmission but something that relies on the transmission. Why that breaking would mess up the transmission, I’m not sure…hopefully someone else has a better idea.

Perhaps you are referring to the counter shaft or reverse idler shaft.

Yeah, the 5 speed has problems, some folks are opting for the much stronger 6 speed. Ask your mechanic about that option.


Just out of curiosity, did you come across some factory information regarding this problematic 5 speed transaxle . . . ?

Guys talking on the internet?

Installing a 6 speed sounds like a pricey way to go, IMO. You’d have to find a good used unit, for one thing. And who’s the one saying it’s good, in the first place . . . ?!

The problem I see is this . . . for rebuilt components, for example, you need a core. And AFAIK, you can’t use a 5 speed as a core for the 6 speed

Just as you can’t go to autozone and buy a remanned chevy water pump. But you hand them a ford water pump, as the core

Is the 6 speed a direct fit?

What is so much stronger about it?

There are a number of threads here about the Matrix 5 speed failures, here is one that mentions the 6 speed;

And another;


I don’t have specific info about the 2003 Vibe, but Toyota 5-speed manual transmissions are usually pretty robust units. My own Corolla’s is a 5 speed and never had any problem at all in 200K miles. I’ve heard reports here of 3rd speed synchro’s going out on that unit, but that’s about it. Unless the transmission fluid has gone low or not replaced per the maintenance intervals suggested. I expect there are driving habits that could damage an otherwise robust transmission too, like clutch-less or otherwise extreme shifting. I think the 5 speed in my Corolla was used basically unchanged by Toyota for about 10 model years. Possibly even more. But maybe they made some design changes to the 5 speed by 2003 for the Matrix which didn’t pan out. Don’t know.

If I were in your position, I’d either sell the car and buy a new one, or completely replace the transmission with a used unit from a recycler. There should be plenty available from wrecks. One thing you could do is ask a recycler if there’s been a lot of people wanting to purchase used transmission for the 2003 Matrix or Vibe. If so, that’s could be an indication there’s some kind of design problem, and time to move on. Consumer Reports might have some info on that too. I think they break their used car reliability problem ratings out to the transmission level.

Must be the same as a Corolla . There’s lots of them at the salvage yards but they’re not cheap .

Unfortunately, CR won’t be any help in this situation

They only list reliability for the past 10 years

The 2003-4 C59 transmissions in the Vibe/Matrix are problematic (I have a 2006 Matrix).
Some theorize the root of the problem is it’s the same transmission in the smaller, lighter Corolla and it’s under rated for the Vibe/Matrix.
It was improved in 2005+.
One option is to get a 6-speed which can fit with some modification.
One issue with the 6-speed is it has shorter gearing, so the engine revs a little higher on the highway.
One option is a new 6-speed that’s modified to go in place of the 5-speed and has taller gearing for $2,195:


This is what I’ll get if mine ever goes out.

Whatever you get change the trans oil every 30k miles and use Red Line MT-90 oil.

$2195 is a chunk of change. If anybody goes this route, they should plan on driving the car for several more years

dB4690 writes …

Unfortunately, CR won't be any help in this situation. They only list reliability for the past 10 years

I found and older issue of CR Reliability Guide, and sure enough amidst a sea of red dots – indicating “better than average” – for everything else, there’s a single big fat black dot – indicating “much worse than average reliability” – right on the 2003 Matrix’s Transmission-Major.

Given that, I’d be very hesitant to have this transmission repaired, or to replace it with a used unit from a 2003 model. I’d probably sell the car, or if that’s not possible, deliver it to a recycler. Chalk it up to bad luck.


Good work . . . !

You obviously found a physical copy of the CR reliability guide laying around the house. I don’t save those for too long

Another option is a used transmission from a 2005+ car.
Word is they’re in high demand and hard to find.

Which would mean they’ll be priced accordingly . . .

That’s why I’d upgrade to a new 6-speed.

Junk., pure junk,GM doesnt care about you.The Bildlebargers would approve.

There’s a lot of them in the salvage yards . Mostly out of Corollas . Prices seem to range mostly from 1,100 - 1,500 . Wonder what he’s paying for a rebuild on his ?