had a garage replace the starter in my 1992 escort. car returned with “check engine” light and unable to shift into second or higher gears. mechanic said the light referred to excess air? i’ve never had a problem with the auto trans before, and have no idea why or if the problems are related. any ideas?

If the transmission shift points are controlled by a vacuum monitor, then the vacuum hose may have been accidentally pulled off when the starter was changed. I don’t know if this is the set-up on the Ford Escort. I had a friend with the same problem on a Ford Pinto. He came to work complaining that the car wouldn’t shift out of first and that the engine was idling too fast. During a break, I repaired the vacuum hose and all was well. I didn’t charge much for this repair–it is a one beer job.

Find another mechanic. This one is BSing you! There is no such thing as “excess air” regarding any part of a modern automobile. Go back and demand that they fix what they messed up!

I think your car uses a vacuum operated modulator valve on the transmission.
My guess is that someone knocked the vacuum hose loose when changing the starter.

This will cause the CEL to come on, possibly a rough running engine, and will also cause the transmission to fail to shift properly.

This should be a very simple fix. Make them look at it, for free of course.