'94 Corolla Transmission? --or, tell me about the impending death of my car?

My husbands darling, rusty Corolla the Elder (the father, of course, of our '02 Corolla the Younger) has decided that it’s going to try dying a little faster than we would like. It’s been an in-town car only for about the past year, and it’s driven to my work, gym and the grocery store – and that’s about it. No speeds over about 55. It’s been a little loud and rumbley for awhile now, but Monday, it started revving very high (no gauge, so can’t give the RPM) but only doing a steady upwards progression until I hit 45 mph, where the RPM’s go to a normal level, and accelerates fairly normally for in-town driving.

I drove home today (about a 10 minute drive) and checked the transmission fluid. It was right about at the “cool” level on the gauge. Oil level is fine as well. Car is an automatic with about 158k on it. The last time we took it in, our awesome mechanic said “well, she isn’t pretty, but the engine is good”

Have you ever done a transmission fluid and filter service? If not start there and work your way up.

What you describe has nothing to do with the transmission (though if its never been serviced I’d suggest it).

What you describe normally just comes from too much air going into the engine. You never stated the year of this car - presuming that you’re not talking about the '02 - but it probably has an idle air control (IAC) valve which can stick open/open too far. Your throttle cable or throttle plate might be sticking open. You could just have a good old fashioned vacuum leak. My first suspect would be the sticky throttle. Your mechanic should not have much trouble with it.

Rumbly probably means exhaust leak, which can be dangerous (carbon monoxide) as well as interfere with the engine operation.

Fix that, make sure the Owner’s Manual maintenance is up to date, and go from there.

Any warning lights on the dashboard on?

Actually, it sounds like the transmission is holding first gear too long, letting the RPMs build way too high, then shifting to second and third normally. Like the first-to-second shift solenoid is sticking. I’d try a fluid change first and see if it clears up. Then maybe an additive to help dissolve any varnish that may be causing the valve to stick. After that with no success, drive until the transmission fails and say your goodbyes. It’s not worth the cost of tearing down the transmission to fix this properly.

BustedKnuckles may have corrected me as I wasn’t thinking along those lines - but it is perfectly possible. Please clarify - is it getting up to 45 with your foot pressing on the gas? Or will it do it on its own? If it does it all on its own then you’re looking at an air issue. If you’re pressing the gas to get it to 45 but its revving really high then he’s right that it isn’t shifting.

And as circuitsmith noted, the loud & rumbly is most likely exhaust.

I don’t think my husband has had a fluid/filter change on it, so that is probably the step we’re going to take first, since I don’t remember the previous owner (a good friend) ever getting it done either. No warning lights on the dash.

I’m pressing on the gas just about the same amount as usual, maybe a little bit more. Although something with air isn’t a bad thought either, esp if it is something that can build gradually.

I plan on taking it to the shop next week as my husband is a teacher and will be on break, and I can drive the Younger around. We’re planning on driving this car to it’s grave when we will have a lovely memorial for it, attended by the us and the previous owner.