Cutlass problem going into gear

Hello, I’m driving an 87 v6 auto cutlass 130 000 km on it.

Recently changed alternator and battery at mechanic.

After start up i put the car into gear but it wont shift into gear unless I give it a lot of gas and even when I do so it seems to have trouble keeping momentum /staying in gear. The shifts are rough. However after driving for a few minutes there are no issues at all.

It’s been quite cold lately and I’ve noticed that if I let the car run for about 10-15 minutes before driving it’s fine, no problems (although this seems a bit excessive).

Could this simply be an old car/cold weather issue or is there something else to consider?

Check the level and the color of the transmission fluid.

If the transmission fluid has a dark brown/black color to it, the transmission is on it’s way out.


Thanks I’ll have a look

It seems like a yellow/golden colour

The fluid should be a pinkish-red color.
Is it possible that somebody added the wrong type of fluid?
What is the level of the fluid?

When was the last time the fluid and filter were changed? Changing them may help. Yellow/golden is kind of intermediate between fresh and burnt fluid. Sounds like you’re due. Deteriorated fluid can thicken up in cold weather.

Ok thanks folks I’ll look into that and I appreciate the feedbaxk

Yellow/golden is kind of intermediate between fresh and burnt fluid. /blockquote>

huh? Yellow/golden maybe for oil which the OP is probably mistakenly checking. If he/she is getting yellow/golden from the trans some one put the wrong stuff in it. GM/Dexron trans fluid gets progressively darker red to to brown to just plain black as it deteriorates.

Naturally, I agree with you, PvtPublic regarding the strange color of the trans fluid (I was the one who initially raised that point), but I have to wonder whether the OP was indeed checking the wrong dipstick. What is the likelihood that a 27 year old engine is carrying pristine-looking yellow/golden oil in its crankcase?

Unless the oil was changed–perhaps–only a week previously, the oil would likely be a murky brown in this aged engine. Of course, if the car was serviced very recently, that does raise my other issue of whether somebody might have put the wrong fluid into the transmission.

True, I’ve never seen “yellow/golden’” fluid but I have seen a tannish color. If the fluid hasn’t been changed in 27 years, who knows? Sometimes you can’t take descriptions too literally.

Are you sure he didn’t check the power steering fluid? On a GM car it is golden in color. @Nicforte, check the red-handled dipstick while the car is running and warm. Is the level right and does it smell burnt? ATF smells a bit funky anyway but it shouldn’t be dark red or black or smell burnt.

Yellow…would or could mean that this mystery fluid could be mixed with WATER. Or be the wrong fluid alltogether…such as Engine oil. I dont put the existence of the wrong fluids showing up anywhere past many people…Ive seen brake fluid in the power steering pump…engine oil in the tranny…etc… Its ludicrous but true.

I would DRAIN that mystery fluid…run a bit of kerosene and ATF thru the tranny…Drain again, change the filter, refill with the proper ATF and see what you get.

When auto trannys start to go…I just swap them out… Trannys are the one and only thing on cars that I do NOT take apart and try to repair… Why? Because I have PLENTY on my mechanical plate to stay busy for a lifetime. I have no issue with leaving the tranny probs to the trans specialists. Tho one day I will crack into a few and see what I can see…cant be that difficult.

See what you get after my steps above…that is IF you want to get this thing running again…It only has about 65K MILES on it…so its still a baby if you ask me. The wrong type of fluid…esp motor oil will produce results like you are seeing.


@Honda Blackbird I would think twice about putting kerosene in an automatic transmission, mainly because you can only get about half of it out when changing it. There would be a significant amount left in there which could be disasterous.

Hmmm…Yes you are right about that… I failed to mention that it would take a lot of flushing out to get all that Kero out of there. I’ve done it but followed by a lot of flushing and future ATF changes over time. I only added about a quart to the last one i did…and then I flushed it out just once. SO I am sure SOME of that kero was left behind, but it didnt seem to matter as the tranny was operating flawlessly. I figured It would get out of there during subsequent fluid changes in time. But yes you are correct…some would be left behind.


What I checked was labelled transmission, I recently had the car at the shop and asked for fluid topped, from the amount of people suggesting that it might be the wrong fluid I’m wondering if they did pour the wrong fluid in there.

If a simple transmission fluid flush and filter change could fix it I’d be happy to do it. On the other hand if it’s the transmission it would probably not be worth fixing.

Today it’s been the coldest day of the year and it started fine but when put it in gear I got nothing happening at all.

Previously it wouldn’t go into gear but with a lot of gas it would struggle to get in gear. After a few minutes it would drive as though nothing was wrong. After that if I parked and started again it would be fine as long as it didn’t sit for hours.

If it were my car I would take the gamble of changing the fluid and filter. It seems that the transmission fluid (or whatever is in there) is thickening up way too much when it gets cold. The fact that the transmission functions normally after it warms up is a good sign.

Of course, as I say, it’s a gamble but not a very expensive one compared to replacing the car. This assumes the car is otherwise in good shape.

It is, and I love it, it’d be a shame to let it go

I had an '87 Cutlass Ciera V6 too. I also loved it. It went almost 300,000 miles before rust finished it off. It still ran great.

Did you ever have to do a full transmission fix on It?

No. Those were very reliable transmissions.