Hopeless pumpkin?

Hi, Guys -

Some time ago I wrote in, asking about the possible viability of a '96 Taurus wagon (LX), a.k.a. The White Pumpkin, which had been given to me by a diplomat-friend returning to Europe. The mechanic at the garage where I picked it up (in Rockville MD) looked funeral and said: “Transmission is very bad.” I didn’t know how far to trust him, since I hadn’t driven the car before (had only seen it) and he also suggested I buy a GPS system (which seemed a sales pitch; I can read a map).

I drove the White Pumpkin around for a week, and was pleased with its handling, and took it for Maryland inspection. Problems: loose heat shields, needs front end alignment and a new tire - no big deal. Needs new ball joint - bigger deal. But the inspection said nothing about the transmission.

I took the car to Jiffy Lube last weekend for an oil/filter change and anything else it might need immediately. Apparently the previous owners hadn’t maintained the car; the radiator had to be flushed out, and the fuel line cleaned also. The car pretty much flew home - happily unconstipated, at least in part.

I didn’t use it for two days. The third morning, when I started the motor, there was an ominous metallic rattling from the nether regions and more sluggish performance - but it got me to work, four miles away in start-&-stop traffic. But going home? It wouldn’t go home. Got out of the parking lot but as I was turning uphill onto the street…it just stopped. Someone helped me back it into a parking spot on that street, and I left it overnight. Next morning, the Jiffy Lube manager sent a tow, thinking perhaps the fuel system cleanout had caused a failure of old sparkplugs.

But it wasn’t the spark plugs - it was the transmission. Rebuild?

Is it worth doing? Would a transmission rebuild last long enough to make the investment worthwhile? If there’s a transmission problem (car has 146K miles) is there likely to be engine failure also? The brakes and other systems seem to work well, but what do I know?

The trouble is - I’ve quite fallen in love with The White Pumpkin (silly me, it’s supposed to be the Prince, not the Pumpkin, one falls in love with) and would like to fix it properly and use it for several years. But is this a romantic fantasy?

Any thoughts?



The mechanic you said you didn’t know how far to trust, turned out trustworthy after all.

His crack about a GPS was so you’d be able to find your way home after the tranny died.

Did he mention anything about the engine (like burning oil, etc.)?

You’re likely looking at another $1800+ for a rebuild, but like you, I am wondering what’s next?

The Ford Taurus (from what I’ve read on the forums) seems to be a decent reliable vehicle. Which years are the best, I don’t know.

I have no way of knowing what shape the rest of the vehicle is in so I can’t commit to a firm decision on whether to keep the vehicle and put in a rebuilt tranny and hope for the best or not.

My gut feeling says “no”.

If were me, I would get rid of it.

Whether or not you keep the White Pumpkin, stay away from any of the “quicky-lube” oil change places.

I hate to say this, but it’s possible nothing was wrong with the car until JL got hold of it. We read horror stories every day about cars damaged by the often-inexperienced and incompetent workers at oil change franchises. In most cases, they’re OIL CHANGERS, not mechanics.

Find a MECHANIC to help you maintain your car, whether it’s the Pumpkin or something else. How did the original mechanic arrive at his diagnosis of a bad transmission without driving or examining the car? I don’t understand that part.

If the transmission is, indeed, bad, I’d think about looking for another car. A new transmission is expensive, although it’s not as much as a car. Only you can decide, but make sure someone with knowledge of transmissions diagnoses the car. You need a transmission shop, not a lube shop.

JMHO, but there’s not enough info here for me to even guess at what the problem is.
Do NOT put much faith into what anyone from the Jiffy Lube tells you about your car. “Cleaning” the fuel system (probably unneeded to begin with) is not going to kill the spark plugs.

Has anyone checked the transmission fluid level at this point and if so, does the fluid appear to be clean or is it burned brown/black?
Exactly who is the latest one to diagnose the transmission problem?
Another more important question is this. The engine quit running rather than the transmission quit moving the car?

If the transmission is really bad then my feeling is that you may be better off finding a good used transmission and going that route since a new/rebuilt is somewhat pricy.
Some salvage yards will sell you a transmission, install it for a nominal fee, and guarantee it for 30 days, etc. If you take this route then verify with the salvage yard the mileage on the trans when it was pulled. Most are marked accordingly.

If “the previous owners hadn’t maintained the car” you could be in for big problems. The trans fluid might not have been changed leading to the failure. If the oil has not been changed regularly, you could be in for engine trouble. If the coolant has not been changed as it was supposed to be, you could be looking at an expensive heater core failure and, less problematic, radiator failure. I have never heard of fuel line flushing.

Get a trusted independent shop or ‘solo’ mechanic to drain the tranny fluid, install a new tranny filter and check out the bottom of the tranny pan for debris. That’ll tell him how bad the tranny might be (or that it seems o.k., i.e.: normal wear and tear.). If there is nothing major wrong, have him button up the pan, top off the tranny fluid of the proper type, and give the Pumpkin a test drive. Let the mechanic drive with you in the pass. seat. Down the road a piece, you drive. Whatcha think? New fluid and a new filter works quite often. If it doesn’t, then prepare for a wrecking yard or rebuilt tranny. Your mechanic should also be able to flush the cooling system, usually by both forward flushing and back flushing the cooling system. I would leave it up to the mechanic if he wants to use some radiator flush while doing this. He may also suggest a new cooling system thermostat. That’s always a good idea and also opens up the system for easier and more thorough flushing. You’ll be amazed at how much crud will be flushed out. A new thermostat requires a new t-stat gasket. Not much $$ for the gasket or the t-stat. Refill with new anti-freeze solution. When that’s done and after he has checked for leaks, both the cooling system and tranny, have him do a once over front to rear to check for leaks, possible loose bolts and anything else that might look funny or be out of whack. Have him check things like all exterior lights working, exhaust system check, condition and pressures of your tires, make sure that the brakes are all up to snuff, etc. Generally, a safety check of critical systems. I’ll bet that if your Pumpkin checks out, with proper preventative maintenance, that this car will last you quite a while. Stay away from the quick lube places. Get your hands on a good, reliable independent mechanic.

Thanks, OK4450. Seems sound advice. Problem is, the Jiffy Lube manager sent a towtruck - he thought maybe his guys did something wrong (he was off, the Sunday I had the lube job). He says the transmission is shot, and the car won’t go forward - just reverse. I haven’t been out all week to see him or the car - busy with pre-holiday work. I will go out in the next few days, but I suspect the car is not worth saving.

Transmission fluid was added just before the car was turned over to me in November. Not changed, though. From the condition of the coolant (which I saw at Jiffy Lube) and from the scanty maintance records I was given, it seems none of the previous owners did this (to me) basic an necessary fluid-replacement maintenance over time. The fact that the car drove as well as it did for the short time I had it, suggests that it’s a solid reliable car - and perhaps with a major overhaul (transmission, all fluids, anything else that can possibly be looked at like timer belt and spark plugs) it would run for years.

But I can’t afford everything that needs to be done IMMEDIATELY - including transmission - to get it running and pass its Maryland inspection (which I had done a few weeks ago: needs front lower ball joint, new battery - the new battery that was installed in September is the wrong one for the car - front end alignment, heat shields secured, new tires. I’m looking at $4-5K here for a “free” car (passed on by a well-meaning friend who only had it from March to November, while doing a fellowship at Princeton).

The romantic in me would like to restore the car to peak running condition and keep it for years - it’s a comfortable thing, drives well, always starts up etc. But I may not be around for years - may move to Europe in the next six months, myself - and don’t want to go into debt over this.

Still undecided, but have to do something soon. I can’t let it sit there at Jiffy Lube, and I’m not paying to have it towed from shop to shop, looking for a competent mechanic!

take your $2500 trans repair money and put it down on a newer car. this time get a warrenty.

Alas, Boxwrench, I am forced to agree with you. Not only the $2500 for tranny repair but everything else it needs - the state inspection said, lower left ball joint replacement, and I figure if one ball joint needs replaced, can the others be far behind? My guess, nobody ever did proper lube maintenance…or fluids…The wagon drove so nicely, such responsive steering and braking, and was so comfortable a ride, that I am very sorry about this outcome. But to rebuild all its systems - just not worth it!

Again, thanks to all for your advice!

I took the car to Jiffy Lube last weekend for an oil/filter change and anything else it might need immediately. Apparently the previous owners hadn’t maintained the car; the radiator had to be flushed out, and the fuel line cleaned also. The car pretty much flew home - happily unconstipated, at least in part.

Well you could pull about any car into any quick lube place and they would have told you the same thing. They all need flushes etc. If it was not broken before, don’t be surprised if it is when you leave.

Find a real mechanic to take a look at it and find out what condition it is really in and how much of the problem could have been due to that quick lube place.

…thinking perhaps the fuel system cleanout had caused a failure of old sparkplugs.

Now there is a good one. Fuel system cleaning is not going to cause sparkplug failure. It might screw up the injectors.

I want to emphasize what some others have recommended, GET A REAL MECHANIC to look at the vehicle. A real mechanic can do a lot better than working at a Jiffy-Lube or doing state inspections.

I’d guess the only thing wrong with the ball joint is the rubber boot has split. The ball joint itself could still be good, but I’d replace it anyway.

A transmission problem does not cause the engine to run rough or stall out. If the engine was running smoothly and at high RPM’s but the car wasn’t moving, then that would indicate a transmission or CV joint problem. The metallic sound makes me think CV joint if the engine was reving up, or the muffler rocking around if the engine was running roughly.

I think you problems could be solved for a lot less by a good mechanic. Check the Mechanics-x files at this web site for a recommended mechanic in your area, or check with trusted friends and co-workers for recommended mechanics.

Let’s look at what you said:
Inspection: loose heat shields – muffler shop fix, $100-200 max
front end alignment --$75
new tire - $50-100
new ball joint - $200 or so
But the inspection said nothing about the transmission (MD does safety inspections, so trans condition not checked and not an issue)

Transmission used or rebuilt=$2500

I don’t see $4K, but I do see about $3K in repairs. For a six month time window, that is too much to invest. A year or more use would be more realistic and might work out.

If your six month window is correct, get rid of the car and rely on public transportation for the duration. Longer than that, then maybe a repair investment is OK. On the other hand, a 96 is old enough to have other repairs required just about every year you have to renew your safety inspection.

Your choice.

Check Mechanics files here for some good mechanics in your area. There are some good independents in Newington, but I suspect that is too far away. I am not as familiar with MD area, so I don’t have any good recommendations there.

Thanks, again, for excellent advice. I’ve basically written the wagon off. Very likely the Jiffy Lube guys destroyed what had been a functioning car - though I had been warned when I picked it up at another service station (towed because it stopped running; they added but did not change transmission fluid) that the transmission was “very bad”. I am inclined to think this was true. I checked the notes I took when my friend turned the car over to me ’ “It hesitates, especially when you shift from first to second gear.” Only now do I realize he was probably driving this automatic as if it were a manual transmission! And again, years of the car not being properly serviced. My guess is, if it needed one ball joint, it would soon need the other three replaced - why don’t people have basic maintenance done? I would LOVE to repair and rebuild this car, system by system, and make it a “classic” to drive for years - but with tighter fuel requirements coming in, and the fact that I probably won’t stay in the States very long - I’m just writing it off.

Based on your statement that “Apparently the previous owners hadn’t maintained the car…” it prpbably isn’t worth the expense of a new or rebuilt transmission. If this statement came from someone who works for Jiffy Lube, get a second opinion from a real mechanic. If he concurs that it has been poorly maintained, get rid of it.