Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

98 Civic Automatic Transmission Problem

I am dealing with an automatic transmission that needs repair or replacement. When cold, the transmission works as normal, however when warm the transmission “slips” when in “D4” and accelerating from a dead stop. To remedy this situation, I will use “2” to start when warm and manually shift to “D3” and “D4” if I’m going on the highway when warm. However, after using “2” and then shifting to “D4” on the highway, the transmission won’t shift into the “overdrive” or whatever one would call the highway gear. Therefore I’m in th 3500-4000 rpm and using more fuel. I know the transmission isn’t working properly and the estimate to replace it is @$2,700. Is there a less costly alternative to replacing the entire transmission in this situation?

Tell us exactly what you mean by “Slips.” I’m not sure it’s actually slipping, because putting it in d2 should actually make it slip more, since that’s a taller gear than 1st gear, which it would start out in if you have the lever in d4.

Have you checked the level and color or your automatic transmission fluid? If it is low, adding fluid might help. How many miles are on the odometer?

The automatic transmission on this particular vehicle is known for having problems. If your original transmission lasted this long (12 years), you must have done something right.

Thanks for the help. When I say slip I’m referring to the fact that when I step on the gas pedal the engine revs, but the wheels don’t move for a few seconds until the gears finally grab and get the car moving. This doesn’t happen in “2” so when I press the gas pedal from a full stop, I get quick response and the car moves. Again, this hesitation happens after the engine is warm.

You don’t mention the mileage on the Civic. If the transmission can shift up to 3rd without slipping, you might consider just not using overdrive. Your gas mileage will suffer but probably not as bad as you think.

As Whitey replied, check the level of the transmission fluid. Also sniff the dipstick to see if the fluid smells burnt and acrid. Also compare the color of the fluid to new fluid to see if they match. If the fluid smells burnt and has a darker color, you might have a fluid change. You might be able to limp along in the lower gears if you don’t heat up the transmission and burn the fluid trying to drive in 4th.

Hope this helps.

I have 110,000 miles on the car now.

hey guys.yes i know.old post.sorry about that.please forgive me.the reason i created an account here was because the original poster described my exact trans symptoms and i wanted to see if anyone else had anymore ideas.
when cold- all works can put it to the floor and take off like a raped ape.
once it warms up,1st gear slips so bad you need to crawl slow and easy (too slow to take off in traffic)
then as stated,you can take off in 2nd and it will just go (though slower than a good working 1st of course) but 9 times out of 10 it wont go into OD when i limp it from 2nd.
so i scoot out into traffic using 2nd but then i need to pull over on a straight away.wait for traffic.take off super easy when nothing is coming in the D4 position and then it will always go into OD again.
so what’s going on here?

maybe i bought robo’s old car? lol.

oh and yes.the car is my screen name. 1998 honda civic ex.

It probably needs to be rebuilt or replaced. Automatic transmissions have clutches just like manuals, only more of them. And they’ll eventually wear out and slipping just as you describe is the symptom. at first the slipping only happens in certain gears and or certain temperature, but soon you won’t be able to get it to move at all, so suggest to get this addressed w/due speed.

Before doing a rebuild or replacement it probably makes sense to have an experienced tranny expert take a look, maybe do a proper service on the unit, drop the pan, replace the filter, refill with new fluid. Might work. But I expect you’re looking at a rebuild. When my Ford truck had that symptoms, it was in the shop for a rebuild within a couple weeks. The rebuild brought it back to like new.

It’s important to chose a good shop for tranny diagnostics and repair. Don’t use social media or the yellow pages. Rely on trusted sources, somebody you know who has used the shop and recommends them. I asked my auto mechanic to recommend a good tranny shop. There’s usually only one or two tranny shops in a metro area that the pro mechanics trust when their own cars misbehave.

See if your car has a cable that goes from he throttle body to the bell crank on the side of the transmission ear the fill tube. If this cable is loose, then the transmission will not put as much pressure on the clutches and they can slip. The cable must be just taunt, no play. Also change the ATF tto the Honda ATF. The wrong ATF can cause slipping. FYI, there is no pan ad no accessible filter in the transmission. Just drain and refill. Do it a couple of times with some riving in between each change. The transmission holds 6 qts of ATF, but only 2.5 qts can be changed at a time.

So u start in 2nd gear and it shifts to 3rd but no OD? So it’s a 2 speed? U stop, and shift to D or u shift to park and than D and it will shift into OD eventually?

it’s been acting this way for over a year and 15k plus miles.since it works fine when cold,i just hate to give up on it.

the trans fluid has been changed.was the first thing i tried.
if a shift cable was the problem,then why would 1st gear ever work flawless when cold,every day along with a flawless upshift of every gear when cold only?

when cold,i start in D4.i can floor it and can’t make it slip in first.
when cold and placed in D4,the trans will upshift through all the gears normally and flawlessly.

when warm (after approx 15 mins of driving) if i try taking off in D4,first slips really,really,really bad.
at this point i can do one of 2 things.

1.take off super slow and easy in the D4 position until it shifts into 2nd and then continue to take off under hard acceleration if i want (just not so hard it it downshifts back into 1st where id assume it would slip again) and the trans will upshift through all the gears normally.

2.if i can’t take off super slow and easy,then i need to start out in the manual 2nd doesn’t take off as powerful as a normal (or in my trans; cold) but it will get me going good enough in traffic (or when starting on a steep incline) where i can then shift into D4 position.
however just like as noted by the original poster; when you take off in manual 2 the trans will only upshift into wont go into 4th (OD).

i feel as if a solenoid is getting hot/failing and it’s resistance is “ok” enough to work when cold but not good enough/out of spec once it get’s hot.
why do i think this is the case rather than 1st’s clutch material shot? well,because after all this time i can still floor it with a cold trans and have a super strong,no slipping first gear.if it were mechanical,then why hasn’t the clutch material worn off so much where even a cold trans slips?

i dunno what happened to my reply.i guess i hit a wrong it is again.

when i have a cold trans.everything works as can floor it in the D4 position and i can’t force it to will also,always upshift through all the gears,into 4th/OD.

when hot.if i manually start in 2nd,then shift into D4,the trans will only shift into 3rd.acting like a 2 speed, wont enter 4th/OD…well every once in a great while it will but very rare.
if i want OD again,iv got to stop and take off super easy in D4 with a hot trans,in order to get it to upshift through all the gears…it always will though.

i feel as if rather than something mechanical being wrong,it’s like a shift solenoid is going out of spec/proper resistance value or whatnot.
if it were a mechanical issue,then why after so long now,can i floor it when cold and can’t force either issue.i can’t force a cold trans to slip in 1st and can’t simulate a no go into OD issue…hmm.well i dunno if i take off in manual 2nd with a cold trans,then shift into d4,if it will go into OD or not.never tried it because d4 always works without slipping.

though i hit the reply button beside your guys posts,for some reason it’s not replying with your quotes.
odd.i have to highlight your post to get the reply tab to show up.oh well.least i know how now.odd setup.

Is your D4 light blinking? If so, get your codes read. A blinking D4 is like a check engine light for the transmission. The basic codes (P0700-P0799) can be read by any code reader.

BTW, when you hit the reply button to someone else’s post, your reply will be at the bottom of the page, much like a new post to the thread.

i scanned for codes a while back.i didn’t get anything helpful.there is no blinking D4 light.just an always on check engine light.i forget the exact codes now but it was just one code letting me know i had at least 1 trans code and the trans code itself was just letting me know the trans was slipping.something about different engine to trans nothing i didn’t already know.

does anyone know which trans solenoid might be the issue,where it’s located and how to test it?

oh and i did the D2 and manual shift to D4 when suspected,i couldn’t simulate any issues of the trans going all the way into od with a cold trans 1st slipping and manually skipping 1st when hot,then lack of od both do in fact only happen when the car is up to operating temp and neither issue can be simulated when cold,no matter how hard you try.

a shift solenoid is suspected.if anyone has info about their locations and test procedures,please provide details.

Is your speedometer/odometer working properly? Does the speedometer needle ever bounce around a little? The VSS (vehicle speed sensor) located on top of the transmission close to the engine and firewall could be the cause.

But I am suspecting that you have the wrong transmission fluid in there. You have to use only Honda ATF. The additives that claim to make universal ATF or Dexron III compatible with Honda’s doesn’t work.


the speedometer works as it should.i would suspect if the VSS was the issue,that the trans would act the same despite when cold or warmed up though.same for trans fluid type.Either the fluid would work or it would cause slipping,cold or warm.
The issue didn’t start during a trans fluid change.I’m using the same stuff as the original poster too.However it does state to meet honda specs.I could try flushing with honda fluid but only if you promise to send me the check for the fluid costs when it acts the same way when the trans warms up.:smiley: