3 transmissions in 55,000 miles?!



I have a 2004 Ford Focus with 55,000 miles and an automatic transmission that I purchased slightly used from the dealership in 2004. When I bought it, it was already on its second transmission. In 2006, the transmission went out again and was replaced. In 2008, the transmission started acting up again, but the mechanic told me that it was just a bolt that had started coming loose, and tightening it fixed the problem. This month, the transmission started acting up again. At highway speeds (40+mph), the car hesitates as it accelerates or down shifts, almost as if it gets stuck between gears. One mechanic told me it was the torque converter slipping and that we just had to replace it. Another mechanic told me that when a torque converter goes out, the transmission is also on its way out, and it will only be a short time before we have to replace the whole thing (he recommended waiting for the transmission to fail completely before replacing it, so I don’t think he was just interested in making more money).

So, I have two questions:

1) Can a torque converter go out without it indicating that the whole transmission is going bad?

2) Is replacing the transmission essentially just putting a really expensive band-aid on a lemon? With the recurring history of transmission failure, and the fact that it seems that something in the car must be causing the transmission to keep going out, should I sell while the car still has a half decent trade-in value?


Just for fun, try locking out the overdrive until you are at a steady speed above 45. How does it act then?


Thanks for your reply! So I tried a couple experiments, and the overdrive makes a difference.
To describe the problem more in detail, when the overdrive is on (normal), the car is fine at lower speeds, but as the car raises to higher RPMs at higher speeds (above 40), it is more likely to shudder instead of shifting up. The way to trigger a guaranteed shudder: at 60 MPH, accelerate steadily until RPM is between 4 and 5 and then let the foot slightly off the gas, so the car is only maintaining the speed, but not accelerating. Then there’s a pretty big shudder (it doesn’t seem as violent at lower speeds).
I tried the exact same experiment with the overdrive button clicked in (so the “overdrive off” light was turned on, and no shudder. It generally was a smoother ride even at a steady speed above 45.
Any idea what that means?


That still could be the overdrive and not the converter. What concerns me though is why 3 transmissions in 55k? What I would look at closely is the cooler output. Its entirely possible that the first transmission failure caused trash to circulate into the cooler reducing the output. This would cause the transmission to run hot and eventually fail.



Yes, a torque converter can be bad without the entire transmission being bad.
There’s not near enough information to make even a wild guess as to what is going on with this car but I don’t think the problem is the car so much as the procedures in the past about what really was or was not done.

Was warranty involved in the previous tranmission replacement episodes? You might consider asking the Ford dealer for a printout of the warranty/service history behind this car and find out for sure if the transmission was really replaced as a unit or whether something was just repaired on the existing transmission, etc.

A 6 year old Focus with a transmission problem is not worth that much so you might consider having an independent transmission shop (not AAMCO, etc.) to scan the car for any transmission codes that may exist and go from there.


Thanks for your suggestions. I like the idea of checking the cooler output and finding out what’s causing the problem. I’ll try mentioning that to the next person we take it to.

I’ll also get a printout of the service history–a warranty was involved in the other episodes, and all the work was done at Ford (except for the third fix of tightening the bolt, which I’m pretty sure was done by an independent mechanic). They told me that the transmission was replaced in the first two cases, I supposed they could have been dumbing it down for me. I’m taking the car to it’s third independent transmission specialist on Monday for another opinion, and I’ll see what codes he gets and what kind of fix he suggests. It’s been tough finding someone who is both honest and knows transmissions…


The torque converter can go bad without the rest of the transmission being bad. But as it fails, it’s likely putting particles of metal and debris into the transmission fluid, which is then circulating through the whole system and causing more damage.

If you get another transmission, I’d cut the lines to the existing transmission cooler and install an aftermarket one in front of the radiator—it will work better and there will be less of a chance of any leftover debris ruining your new transmission.


My point here is to make sure that the transmission (as a complete unit) was replaced rather than a singular repair followed by a generic statement that the “transmission was replaced”. That can be a common malady sometimes.

What I’m having trouble with is buying into the notion that Ford would repeatedly replace the transmission as a unit under warranty. FOMOCO, just like other car makers, does not simply give carte blanche when it comes to warranty repairs.


I spoke on the phone with one of the dealerships that “replaced” the first transmission, and according to the service center’s computer, you’re right ok4450: they just replaced the valve body. This is interesting, since I remember the mechanic using the phrase “full transmission overhaul” (I checked with my dad, and he remembers being told that they were putting in a rebuilt Ford transmission). I’m planning on talking to the guy who did the work when he comes in on Monday to find out more details, along with tracking down the first “transmission replacement” that happened before we got the car, which was done at a different dealership.


Well, it turns out that I don’t have a lemon, just a slightly finicky Ford. First, the mechanic who put in my last transmission, who my father and I both remember telling us replaced the transmission as a whole, actually only replaced the valve body. I tried tracking down the information from the first transmission replacement from before I owned the car to see if that is a similar misunderstanding, and I don’t think I will have any luck unless I visit the dealership that did the work in person. Either way, it changes things a lot to know that my car isn’t on its 3rd new transmission.

Best news of all: after having one transmission specialist quote me $1200 to replace the torque converter, and a second transmission specialist tell me the whole transmission was shot, I took it for a third opinion to a little shop that specializes in amateur race cars (a friend recommended it). The mechanic wasn’t able to get a code read on the transmission, but he took the car for a drive and said he’d had the same problem with a Ford Mustang, and it was typical of Fords. He put some Kendall Slip Additive into the car, and I’ve driven it for two days and haven’t been able to get the transmission to shudder again. Total bill: $6.42.