Buy a used car with a tranny leak?

subaru
legacy

#1

We visited a 1990 Subaru Loyale yesterday, priced at $1800. The owner showed us the pan the car had been sitting on for 3-4 days, and it had a spot of transmission fluid about the size of an oreo? He thinks we could just keep adding tranny fluid (at the rate of 1/2 quart a month) or get a seal replaced. We’re thinking that since we don’t know where the leak is coming from, it could be a bigger deal and we should pass on it. What do you say? (Otherwise, it is in beautiful condition.)


#2

If you interested in the car have a mechanic do a pre-purchase inspection for you. Ask for an assessment of the transmission leak as well as a report on the condition of the car. Based on that info you can make a decision.


#3

ANY used car with an automatic transmission is a crap shoot, depending on mileage and maintenance. MANY cars require a “Transmission Job” between 120K and 160K miles. That’s just the way it is. People tend to pay way too much for high-mileage used cars because of this. Today, on FWD/AWD cars, a “transmission job” can run $3000-$4000…

Many cars go through the shredder in “otherwise beautiful condition”…


#4

Put the car up on a ramp and take a look for yourself. Trace the leak. I think Subarus tend to make a decent car and for $1800, you should probably be able to get a decent life out of it. Think about what the payments would be on any other car. If this car lasts just 3 years, you’re only paying about $600/yr for it. What is the mileage?

-Techniker


#5

Has the current owner serviced the transmission regularly?

If not, a leak will be the least of your problems.


#6

Techniker, we are like-minded. My husband and I only have to drive on weekends, and this subaru’s current mileage is 122,000, low for a 20 year old car.

I think I’ll take it to get a pre-purchase inspection so the guys can help us trace the leak. IF we can reasonably assume the leak is from a seal we can get to/fix easily, this seems like a good buy for us. Any car payment on a new or leased car will be higher than buying this one, even if it poops out in a year or two. Thanks for your comments everyone.


#7

Yes, the guy has showed good proof of doing regular maintenance. The fluid that leaked out was a good clear pink, so that is a good sign of a working transmission, right? And on our test drive, she purred, no weird knocks or anything.


#8

I would be concerned that since it has a leak, it may have run too low on transmission fluid a few times. Some internal damage could have resulted from that.


#9

Get an estimate to have the leak repaired and go from there. It’s 20 years old so bargain hard.


#10

You must have an interest in Subaru? The Legacy which started production in 1990 is LIGHT years ahead in every aspect of a car including safety, handling, decent power, noise, comfort, AWD and everything else.

Run from this car it is way overpriced especially with an issue.


#11

Are there no other cars for $1800 in perfect condition?


#12

I think the pre-purchase inspection is a great idea. Someone here made a good point that with the leak, the ATF could have run low, but still, I personally would be willing to take that risk. Especially since there are no sounds associated with the transmission and the fluid is pink. What is the rate of the drip? Is it just a drop or two on the ground from sitting there a week? If so, I say don’t worry about it. It sounds like a mere external (front or rear) seal issue to me. If that’s the case, and it’s not a heavy loss of ATF, I say just keep an eye on the amount of ATF loss and don’t even fool with replacing the seal.

-Techniker


#13

A good rule of thumb.

Never buy a vehicle that has a leaky transmission. Unless you can fix it yourself, and you get it on the cheap.

Tester


#14

I’m in agreement with Tester. If this trans has been run low on fluid and suffered slipping for even seconds it’s damaged goods.

Most transmission leaks are fairly simple to fix and one wonders why the seller has not done this. Based on the 1/2 quart a month this sounds to me like it’s been an ongoing thing for quite a while. Not good.
The most expensive leaks on a Subaru are the front pump seal (requires pulling the transmission) or internal leaks where hypoid oil from the final drive leaks internally and overfills the transmission compartment. (That requires not only pulling the transmission but a partial teardown to repair)

It’s a 20 year old Subaru with a known and potentially serious problem and it’s overpriced under that scenario.


#15

Well, the seller was honest in telling you about the transmission leak. The car is 20 years old and old cars, like old people such as myself, do have problems. I don’t know about the price, but you don’t get a defect free car in the under $2000 price range. I don’t know whether a transmission sealer medicine would work on the car. (I keep going by taking my Geritol).

What kind of driving will you be doing with the car? If this car is to be used for local transportation, it might be fine. I bought a 1947 Pontiac back in 1962 for $75. The interior and was in great shape, and with a little elbow grease, the exterior looked like it came from the showroom–absolutely no rust. The cluster gear in the transmission was worn and made quite a noise in low gear. I talked the dealer down from his asking price of $100. I lived with the problem by shifting to second gear as quickly as possible. I got a year’s use from the vehicle until I could purchase something newer. Two years later that Pontiac was still on the street.


#16

Wow, I really appreciate the helpful comments from everyone. I was convinced that this car might have transmission damage, so I’m not buying it. Guess I’ll wait it out til I find another beauty under 2000.

Thanks all!