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How did I drive a car with no transmission fluid?

I loved my 2017 Fusion Hybrid until it overheated. Since it was only a few weeks old to me (bought it used w/6,500 miles from a rental firm. I won’t name the Enterprise), I took it in to a dealer for a look-see. It was missing a louver device that provided air. I decided to fix it and get on with life.

It was sluggish driving off the lot as I took it out for a test drive. About 12 miles in, the transmission started slipping and warning lights appeared. Since I had just left the dealer, they towed it in. They now tell me the there was no fluid in the transmission and it appears that it had been damaged.

So, wise ones, could I have driven it for a few weeks without fluid? If there are no leaks, and the dealer says there aren’t, could I just put fluid in it (the dealer recommends a reman transmission)? Could the self-insured rental firm have fixed a badly damaged car, then quickly sold it, leaving an unlucky buyer to find out just how bad the damage was? And, if fluid alone won’t do the job, reman or rebuild?


Assuming you have some sort of Ford warrantee, let the dealer put in a new transmission. After all, the car is almost new.

How many miles did you put on it in those “few weeks” ?

Your Fusion Hybrid doesn’t have a normal transmission. It has a planetary gearbox driven by the gas engine and two electric motors. I think it could run without fluid until it locks up.

self insured rental firm? are you saying the rental firm is going to fix the car or not?

Before I sprung for a new transmission, this is what I would try. You might get lucky and it’s certainly the cheapest thing to try.

Talk to the dealer and the rental firm to see if your warranty will cover this. Many new cars no longer have a way to check the transmission fluid so you have to rely on warning lights which usually tell you when it is too late anyway.

Thanks. I bought the car from a dealer – who is also a friend – who
got it at auction. The rental agency was the previous owner.
We drained the transmission this morning and it had about a cup of fluid
in it. The transmission itself is definitely gone.
Apparently what happened is what you said – it ran until it locked up.
Thanks for the input.

I put about 500 miles on it. Because the damage was caused by misuse, it
is not covered by warranty. In looking at the car this morning, it had
clearly been in some kind of accident. Since the firm is self-insured,
it could have done the work itself and it would not show up on CarFax or
other reports.

This is 2017. There is no way I would even consider a 2017 auction vehicle with 6500 miles that had been a rental. To me that would be multiple red flags…

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I don’t see how you misused it. The previous owner may have, but not you.

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I don’t believe the auto manufacturer cares who misused it. They will deny coverage regardless.

It’s a bummer a friend is in the middle. If it were me, I wouldn’t want to saddle him with any responsibility. However, you may consider using him as leverage against the rental company. Used cars are sold as-is, unless there is deliberate misrepresentation. He could tell them he is being pursued for repair costs and that he holds them responsible for misrepresenting the car to him. Might be worth a shot. Or just chalk it up as a lesson and move on. Hope you got a good deal on it…

That’s what’s happening. And there is a longer backstory to all this
that I will spare all of you. It was the mechanical issue that
caught my eye.
It will soon be up to the lawyers to sort it out.

When purchasing cars at auction there is generally recourse available if frame damage is found but mechanical defects? Probably not.

Rental cars that have spent a long period of time in a body shop don’t go back into service, they go to auction. If you find a rental car for sale with less than 20,000 miles on it, suspect a problem.

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A rental car is damaged. Happens a lot, I assume. Happens so much the rental co can’t get reasonable insurance? Has a body shop on retainer? The poorly fixed cars go to auction? Dealer bought car and figured out immediately it had issues? Sell it to you? Heck, it might not even have original drivetrain in it. Lost trans fluid? It can happen.