Ford Taurus Transmission

I am trying to buy a used car. After going over the CR buyers guide I put Ford Taurus’ down for the years with decent reliability ratings (it also helps that they are low cost). However, my mechanic says that transmission on the Taurus is notorious for failing around 100,000 miles.

Is this correct for all Taurus’ or for just for certain model years? If I did buy one and the transmission went out, how much would it cost to fix?

100,000 miles is about it if the car owner does not perform transmission service and fluid changes every 30,000 miles. If the transmission is properly serviced every 30,000 miles they can last 200,000 miles.

This holds true for most automatic transmissions

We had a 1988 Ford Taurus that went well beyond 100,000 miles before it was totaled. We didn’t have any transmission problems. We also had a 1989 Mercury Sable (same drive train as the Taurus) that I sold at 120,000 miles to a colleague and it had never had transmission problems. The car was wrecked at 130,000 miles, but the transmission was still going strong.
I did have a colleague that had a 1987 Ford Taurus and he had 2 transmission failures. He meticulously maintains his cars. However, this Taurus was a 4 cylinder and had a 3 speed automatic which was, I think, similar to the Tempo transmission. Ford dropped the 4 cylinder Taurus early in the ball game, so I doubt that you will find one of these.

The very early ones had some transmission faults (forward clutch drum if I remember correctly). The one in my old '87 failed at about 130k miles but it was also a used car purchase (80k on the clock when bought) so it cannot be determined just how hard it was driven or how regularly the fluid was changed.

The trans was replaced with a 40k miles transmission out of an '89 and the car had well over 400k miles when I sold it a few years back. At the time of sale it was shifting fine and needed nothing but 30k miles fluid changes during my ownership.

So in a nutshell the '89 transmission had about 330k miles on it with not a hiccup at any time.
Failure to change the fluid regularly is the biggest killer of automatic transmissions so the transmission is not something I would really worry about if you change the fluid often. (true of any automatic, not just a Taurus)

The GM 4L60E also has one of those “reputations” but the one in my oldest son’s 96 Camaro hit over 250k miles a while back and still shifts like the day it was new. Again, credit the longevity to regular fluid change intervals.

The biggest problem with used cars is that you will be subjected to problems caused by infrequent maintenance (or no maintenance) on the part of the previous owner(s). As was said, transmission failure by 90k-120k is pretty much of a sure thing on any car if the trans fluid has not been changed religiously every 3 yrs/30k miles. Since very few people seem to actually do this, the chance of buying a used car with a non-maintained transmission is very high.

You are correct to do research on the comparative reliability of various makes and models of cars, but if you want to do yourself a really big favor you will try to focus on used cars whose maintenance records you can examine. This will severely limit your choices, but it will also allow you to eliminate cars that have not been maintained properly. You will probably have to concentrate on private sales, rather than sales by dealerships, but being able to actually see the maintenance records is about as important as it gets.

The info you’ve received is excellent so far…

Besides proper maintenance (necessary on ALL cars), here are things to consider:

The old Taurus transmission had two faults - the forward clutch piston, as ok4450 noted, and inadequate cooling… Ford fixed all those problems by the middle of the 1995 model year. For 1996+, your primary concern should be simply that it received proper maintenance, as the transmissions were solidly average in reliability.

However, there were still two transmissions that were available on the 1996-2007 models, the AX4S and the AX4N. Of those, the AX4N is more reliable. If you look at a 1996-2007 and look at the VIN tag on the drivers door, there is a code marked “TR”. If its a 1996-2005, and that code starts with an X, or if its a 2006-2007 and that code is N, the car has an AX4N. If it’s a 1996+ and it starts with an L, then that car has an AX4S. Odds are with a 2003+, it will have an AX4N.

Those cars should be fine with proper maintenance. By contrast, the Accord was having much higher rates of transmission failure in the late 90s/early 00s.

As for what your mechanic says, question it carefully. My mechanic highly recommends Toyotas and Hondas to people, but he has driven Tauruses for years - he swears that, properly maintained, they are just as reliable and a heck of a lot cheaper to run. But he knows that most people don’t maintain their cars properly…