First signs of a dying transmission!

My VW Jetta 96 which is already rated fare condition (needs a decent amount of bodywork and a paint job, O2 sensor needs replaced, coolant leak) just started stalling in drive even though it is an automatic transmission. Reverse works perfectly, and from what I’ve minimally tested so do gears 1,2,3. Since a replacement transmission is at least $2k, is it worth trying to save this car or should I donate it and wipe my hands clean? Also, would changing the ATS fluid (been done once in the $125k life) be a financial risk worth taking?

Howdy, how many miles now? have you checked the fluid level in trans? Could be needeing a tune up to correct the stalling. Last time air filter and plugs changed? Collant leak any idea whats leaking? O2 sensor does not cost much… tell us more.

Not had a chance to check fluid level on trans yet. Newish spark plugs and air filter. O2 sensor quoted around a $250 inc labour, sound okay?
I should describe trans issue better (as i just did to my mechanic earlier). Not same kind of stalling as tune up would fix I think but i could be wrong. When at a stop in Drive, literally have to pump the accelerator and change into park and then back to drive to get going and then it is very slow at first and wants to rev high before changing up to second. I’m leaning towards doing a transmission flush to maybe get another year out of it. $125k miles.

If stalling is your main complaint, the problem is probably with the engine unless the torque converter is staying locked at stop. If this is occuring, the engine will act like you forgot to release the clutch on a stick shift car, i.e. it will shake and buck as you come to a stop to die just as the car comes completely to a stop. If the engine continues to run, just barely while stopped, and then stalls you have a drivability problem that is engine related.

Automatic transmissions usually indicate failure by slipping in one of the gears; overheating; setting transmission related computer codes; or failing to engage in one of the gears.

Let us know which of these problems you have. Be as specific as you can about when, where, and under what conditions the problem occurs.

First sign was when accelarating onto a main road from the highway exit it revved high for a few seconds at which time I let off the gas pedal. Didn’t not notice any jerking when upshifting, but then after it happened I was on a downwards slope and did not need to accelarate any further. I came to a complete stop at a traffic light. When it turned green I hit the gas pedal with normal force and nothing happened. car did not move or make any noise but engine was still running. I pumped the gas pedal a couple of times and then switched to park and then back to drive. I hit the pedal harder and it started moving alebit slowly at first. Diid not pick up acceleration fast, but was moving. Came to another traffic light stop and this time when I started to go again I just pressed the pedal hard and fast which got it going. I then pulled into parking lot, and haven’t had a chance to get back out there. Don’t know if it will get back up to speed. Maybe ‘stall’ was not a correct description now that I look back, hopefully you can a better idea from this.

Sorry for the poor description earlier. Thanks for help folks!

Hi, as mentioned, you need to check your transmission fluid ASAP. Look in your owners manual and follow the procedure listed there.

Yes it sounds like you could be low of transmission fluid. If the transmission still keeps slipping like this get it looked at or towed before driving it further. Slipping like you describe is the sign of a dying transmission. The slipping wears and overheats the friction components; overheats the oil; and sheds debris into the transmission sump. You still might be able to salvage this transmission if you get it looked at soon. A transmission tech may have to do some diagnostic testing to assess the damage and determine if it needs to be serviced, overhauled, or replaced.

Hope that helps.

Thanks for all the help. It was about a quart low and dirty but the mechanic says it’s now only a matter of time as first and second gear are having issues. No codes were thrown up, possible rebuild scenario to save it at a cost of $1500. I’m just wondering now if it’s worth it to try and rebuild. Would like ton save it!

I’d change fluid and filter and ad bottle of ATP synthetic transmission modifier to the fluid . Drive it and keep the fluid checked / do a waite an see… No fliud leak noticed where ya park it?

Here is the update: I drove it to work on Sunday since I couldn’t get a ride. Well, it started revving high even while driving at 70mph. I parked it at work, but when I went to leave the reverse is now not even engaging. It just makes a ‘whirring’ noise and won’t move backwards. Which means I will likely have to be towed or pushed out from that spot! Talked with a mechanic that I used to go to who was recommended through cartalk, and who is generally more expensive but backs everything with a good warranty and refuses to use cheaper parts to save the customer money, etc. His view is that a flush will no longer save the transmission. I could try to rebuild the transmission I have, but that could end up being a costly process and ultimately unsuccessful in the long run.
His quote for a rebuilt transmission from the dealer (he is not a transmission specialist) is $3100, plus another grand for install etc.
I think that number is too high, and obviously with the car being less than $3k value it is hard to justify.
I am going to call people today who actually work on transmissions for other numbers. But these units are very costly, so feel free to comment on this as I am not a mechanic only a cheap Scotsman with not enough car knowledge!

So my options are a) have my own transmission rebuilt (price unknown yet) b) get a rebuilt or new transmission installed for at least $3k
or c) call it a day on the car.

I am prepared to pay a couple of grand to save the car but probably no more than that. I am not too sad because I got the car at a good price
for low mileage and put 40k miles on it. The Jetta’s are so reliable and the other Jetta in our Two Jetta Family is a lovely 95 GL w/sunroof we found for $2k three years ago, now has 165k miles and still going strong!

What are my ‘resale’ options anyway? Without a transmission, is the next stop really salvage? Would love to hear suggestions. Thanks.

Check with several tranny shops—independents if you can. Some shops might just have an already-rebuilt tranny just waiting to be installed. Check their prices. These shops typically take in a tranny, rebuild or at least thoroughly check out an “auto recycling center’s” (read junk yard) tranny, put that into your car, then rebuild your tranny and put it ‘on the shelf’. And I know that a few independent tranny shops in my area are more friendly than they are foes. If the place that you take it to doesn’t have a rebuilt ‘on the shelf’, they’ll call around to find a place that does have a fresh rebuild for your car. They’ll make some kind of a deal between them and you’ll get a rebuilt tranny. Then your’s will be rebuilt and passed around for installation in someone else’s vehicle. But you gotta do your homework. $4,100 for a transmission? No way, Jose’. You should be able to get a rebuilt tranny, incl. R&R (removal and reinstallation) for much less. I’m only guessing here, but $2K-$2,600 would be more reasonable. If that’s too steep for your budget, advertise the vehicle for parts. You could also check with a couple of independent 1-man or 2-men shops who do general repairs and see if they’ll get you a junk yard tranny, check it out thoroughly, and do a filter and fluid change. That f&f change is a mandatory must-do item.