Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Car Dis-Repair Shop?

I took my '89 Taurus to the shop for an oil change, and when I drove away, the transmission died! What should I do?


I own a 1989 Ford Taurus. This morning I drove it to my regular mechanic in Arcata, California, for an oil-change and lube. (I also asked them to check out the parking brake which had not been working.)

After paying for the oil change and adjustments to the parking brake, I backed my car out of “N.” Automotive. While I did so, the engine did its usual thing of suddenly going into high revs, so I quickly shifted into neutral. It settled right down, so I shifted back into reverse, and finished my backing maneuver. As I put it into drive, I noticed that it felt like it was in neutral: it gradually and tentatively engaged, and I was able to drive it. Once I was moving, the transmission felt more or less normal; but after each stop, it would again feel like the Taurus was almost in neutral at first. I drove to Hensels Hardware, parked, and did my shopping there and at the Co-op. As I drove away afterward, the symptoms persisted, so I turned around and headed back to N?s. When I parked at N?s I had driven either 11 or 15 blocks total since leaving the shop.

After I described the problem to the manager Scott, he drove us 2 blocks north on J Street and then back down I Street to the shop. With many exclamations of ?holy moley!? or the like, he would accelerate from each stop along the way, pushing the motor to high revs (unlike my gentler technique on the way to Hensel?s and back) By the time we got back to the shop, there was no engagement at all in the transmission?except in reverse, which was still normal. He checked the transmission fluid level and showed me that it was normal. He assured me that N?s hadn?t caused the tranny failure, since they had merely changed the oil and adjusted the brakes.

He quoted me about $2400 to replace the tranny?or perhaps $1800 if I swapped in a used one. (This was in addition to his quote of $2200-$2500, when I had picked up the car, to fix coolant leaks from the water pump and the head gasket.) He recommended I replace rather than repair the car.

What should I do? Scott seems perfectly sincere, and I have been going to N’s for a couple of years. But am I being bamboozled here? It’s not the first time, at N’s or other shops, that I have driven away from the shop and found new problems that weren’t there when I took it in.

Sounds like Scott is giving you very good advice (replace the car). If it needs a water pump, head gaskets, and now a transmission, that’s what I’d do if I had an '89 Taurus.

Before you go blaming the shop, I think this part of your post is very important:

“While I did so, the engine did its usual thing of suddenly going into high revs, so I quickly shifted into neutral. It settled right down, so I shifted back into reverse, and finished my backing maneuver.”

So, this isn’t something that “just happened” and isn’t a new problem. I think from that sentence it’s safe to say your transmission has been on its way out for a long time now.

That’s my take, someone here who knows a lot more than I do can confirm or deny what I’ve stated here.

From your description, it sounds like your transmission has been going for awhile. If you have a 3.8 engine, they are notorious for head gasket problems. If your mechanic was out to bamboozle you, he wouldn’t have recommended that you buy another car.

Some of the earlier Taurus/Sable transmissions were prone to failure and this could occur at any time and suddenly. This is especially true if the transmission has not been given regular (30k miles) fluid/filter changes.

Since you mention head gasket and water pump I would point out that an overheating engine or a leaking transmission fluid cooler in the radiator can also knock out the transmission.

This has nothing to do with anything the shop did and a lot to do with a 20 year old car suffering major problems. It’s lived a useful long life and I agree with the shop that it’s time to send the car to the retirement home.

Sounds like it’s time for the Taurus to go to car heaven. Don’t blame the shop, it sounds like this faithful servant has been limping for some time.

You’re kidding about what to do. If not, it’s time to get rid of the old bomb. It isn’t worth doing repairs on a $200 car.


Jad has expressed this very well. Clearly, this vehicle has had a number of problems that were never attended to, and now the chickens are coming home to roost, so to speak.

To ignore high revving while the car is in gear is foolish, and to now attribute transmission failure to the repair shop is also foolish, as that high revving was a symptom of transmission failure. This is tantamount to someone who ignores chest pain for several weeks and is then amazed to find that he has suffered serious damage to his heart.

Problems with cars rarely resolve themselves, and when repairs are deferred, they frequently lead to higher costs than if they were attended to promptly. Since this car is now approaching 20 years of age, it is not worth sinking any more money into it.

I suggest that you look for a late model replacement that comes with maintenance records, that you have your mechanic inspect it prior to purchase, and that you maintain it properly thereafter, including prompt attention to obvious mechanical problems.

Good luck!

Thank you all for the feedback. I am already feeling better about the situation. I have a question though: How can a faulty transmission cause the engine to go into high revs? (I can see how the high revs would stress out the transmission and cause it to fail?but not vise-versa.) Btw, the high revs made the car want to dart forward?that seems to show that the tranny was not letting go and causing/allowing the engine to spin faster. Also, the high revs appeared the day I drove away after getting new struts in January.

Yes the car has been under-maintained. I thought I had been clawing my way back out of that hole in the last year or so?guess not!

A slipping transmission can cause an engine to go into high revs. From your description, there may have been some other problem like a faulty IAC valve causing this increase in revs, but certainly the shifting in and out of drive while at high revs would have not been good for the transmission.

Someone better versed in the internals of transmissions would be able to explain the reasoning behind all this.

The first words I notice are 1989, anything and everything can happen on a vehicle well past its design life.

I think everyone here is right.

If it makes you feel any better, scrap metal prices are really good right now. If you’re feeling ambitious, call you local scrap yard, ask what prep they need before brining in a vehicle, and you can get a decent chunk of change out of the old girl.

Or donate it NPR - they claim to take anything as long as its complete.