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Is my beloved Honda doomed?


I looove my 97 Honda Civic. I inherited it in high school from my crazy uncle who didn’t take care of it. It was filthy, had a cracked windshield and body damage, and had transmission issues. My uncle told me that the (automatic) transmission “slipped,” which meant that the car overrevved and shuddered when going from slow to fast, such as after a stop sign. To avoid the skull jingling, I adopted a psuedo-manual transition style of driving. I.e., I just downshift to 2, the lowest automatic gear, whenever I accelerate from a stop. I should mention that the car always makes a horrible scratching noise while idling.

I wondered, however if there might be an easy fix, so I took it into a shop to check it out. To make a long story shorter, the first guy thought it was a solenoid issue, while subsequent others told me that I needed a whole new transmission. The solenoid guy closed his shop (for whatever reason) during the month I was saving up the money for the repair, so it never got fixed because of the other guys telling me I needed a new transmission.

At the time, I didn’t have the money to replace the transmission (quotes were in the 2-4K range, which was nearly the value of the car). A couple years later, a new noise started, only while in 4th gear, and only when I lifted my foot off of the accelerator. It sounds like a vinyl belt being pulled quickly over a sharp edge, and gets louder and faster: ffffffvvvvvttt! I never had the guts to find out what would happen if I stayed in 4th gear, so I’ve been driving in 3rd gear on the highway for years.

So, my first question is: what is the real problem with my car, and do I need a whole new transmission.

If I need a whole new transmission, I’ve found a couple for pretty cheap (like $250)…a lot cheaper than they were back when the guys were trying to get me to fix it. My question is, if I buy one of these cheap transmissions, can I install it myself having no automotive experience? I think of myself as pretty handy–I built a wood fence out of a book, installed a spa pump with no manual, etc. I find that most things mechanical and electronic are pretty intuitive (like Legos), but am I going to really regret trying to install an automatic transmission in my Honda?

Finally, is there any danger to just continue driving my Honda until the transmission suddenly dies? Is my beloved Honda doomed to always toil in 3rd gear for the rest of its days?

Your Honda isn’t doomed, but it is sick. A new transmission is likely going to take care of some of your problems, but perhaps not all of them.

Can you put in an auto transmission yourself? First, this is not a one man job. Second there are lots of connections, linkages, hoses, that all have to come off and match up properly with the new transmission. Sometimes all goes smoothly, sometimes it doesn’t. You’ll need lots of tools, and some maybe specific to Honda. You’ll need some jack stands, floor jacks, and a good space to work in. If you have all that and a good manual you might just get it done. I’d advise having a friend with some experience in this kind of job help you and be available to troubleshoot any problems you encounter.

If you try and fail you can always have the car towed to a mechanic to complete the job.

Building a wood fence out of a book is impressive. How did you re-constitute the paper into its source wood? :wink:

Do you have another car you can drive while you’re working on this? Even with lots of experience, if I were tackling the job by myself, I’d want to be able to take my time, because bolts always freeze, and things always go wrong. If you do, and you’re as good at figuring things out as you say, I’d say go ahead and make the attempt. What’s the worst that can happen? Buy the Helms repair manual for your car and follow its instructions exactly. Ask here if you have questions.

You’re going to need a way to support the engine, and you’re going to need a way to get the transmission out of the car. I haven’t done one in that year of Civic, but you may actually have to pull the engine to get to the tranny, especially if you don’t have access to a lift.

Another option for you is to search out Honda clubs. There’s at least one in just about every major metro area. See if they can help, or at least point you to people who can (most will help if you feed them pizza and beer)

Throughout all these issues did you ever get the trans fluid changed?
In the future get the fluid changed every 30K miles, regardless of what the automaker says.
A transmission change is something you should watch someone else do first.
If I were you I would find an independent (NOT Aamco or Cottman) transmission shop to overhaul your transmission.

The transmission is likely due for an overhaul so forget any piecemeal repairs.
A FWD car is generally harder to change than a RWD and I have no idea if you can do this job or not. You may find that it’s much easier just to pay someone to do it.

If you go with a used transmission you should keep some things in mind.
One is that a used transmission is a roll of the dice. It may or may not have issues.
The pan should be dropped and inspected for debris and the fluid changed BEFORE installing it.
A used transmission should always have the front pump seal replaced before installing it. Having a used trans leak the week after installing it means yank it back out again.

Since this vehicle has apparently been neglected to oblivion have you considered the timing belt/water pump/tensioner issue? If the belt breaks you will say hello to engine damage and if the belt has never been changed then it’s about 7 years overdue.

Honestly, my impression from your post is that this vehicle has been neglected and abused to the point where iit’ll never again be anything but an unreliable, perhaps even unsafe, money pit. I consider not correcting serious problems abuse. Unless you’re willing to do all the work yourself, I’d suggest just driving it until if dies.

And drive it carefully. That cracked windshield and body damage just may have compromised the body integrity enough to have destryed the car’s ability to protect you in a crash.