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Noisy engine when I accelerate

I have a 1992 Toyota Camry with approximately 142,000 miles on it. I had started to notice (or thought I did!) that the engine sounded louder when it was on idol. I didn’t think much of it. Today as I was driving to work, upon acceleratation after a stop light, the engine started to be REALLY loud, almost like a motorcycle engine. Additionally, the gas pedal started to vibrate a bit. These symptoms would get worse whenever I “reved” up the engine, so I drove to work, and then to the repair shop afterwards, as delicately as I could. Otherwise, the car runs fine; there is no shaking, no other noises, no funny smell (as far as I can tell), and no indicator lights have come on.

Does anyone know what might have caused this, or how much it might cost to fix it? Thanks!!

There are a few possibilities here, ranging from not too expensive to…you don’t want to know.

First–is there a tachometer on the dashboard?
If yes, does the tach now register higher RPMs when accelerating than it did previously?
If the RPMs are higher than they used to be at a given speed, then it is likely that your transmission is about to die (if you have an automatic trans), or your clutch is slipping badly (if you have a manual trans).

If it is an automatic transmission, when was the last time that the trans fluid (and filter) was changed?
Because of this car’s age, the fluid should have been changed…about 6 times already.
If you did not do this, then your transmission was living on borrowed time already, even before the appearance of any strange symptoms.

If the RPMs are in the same range as they normally/previously were, then the likelihood is that you have a leak in the exhaust system. That would be considerably cheaper than transmission overhaul, but since you report gas pedal vibration, I tend to think that this is more likely to be a transmission problem. When the friction surfaces in the transmission are worn away, a shuddering sensation is frequently felt upon acceleration, and many people interpret this as an engine problem, even though it is originating in the failing transmission.

What can you tell us about the engine’s RPMs?
What can you tell us about the transmission’s service history?

Thanks for your reply!

The tachometer does NOT register higher RPMs than previously when accelerating. I drove carefully to the repair shop because I was worried about damaging the car more, but I could have accelerated faster if I had wanted to. Additionally, the vibration of the gas pedal is pretty small; it’s hard to quantify, but I’d say that it was not a SHAKE, and I may not have noticed it if I wasn’t actively engaged in noting problems/symptoms related to the noise.

I don’t have a record of the last time the transmission fluid was changed (it was my dad’s car previously), but he seems to think it was changed at least as recent as the summer of 2007. I had an oil change last October, and they checked the transmission fluid then and determined it was fine. They have not been shy about suggesting things on the car to fix. Perhaps it is a leak in transmission fluid?

Any possibility that this could be due to a transmission fluid leak? If so, have I done irreversable harm to the car by not catching it sooner? Or would it be as simple as fixing the leak and replacing the fluid?

If the car was driven for more than a relatively short distance with a low level of trans fluid, you could have done some very expensive damage to it. Rather than paying to fix a leak on a transmission that is going to fail next month, I would suggest that you have a transmission shop examine the trans. Hopefully you will get some good news regarding the transmission, but in any event, you need to know the truth about the trans before investing even one cent in it.

Whatever you do, do NOT go to AAMCO, Lee Myles, Cottman, Mr. Transmission, or any other chain trans shop unless you want to be told that you need a new transmission–whether you really do or not. You need to use an independent trans shop that has been in business for at least 3 years if you are going to get an honest diagnosis, a fair price, and good workmanship. A chain trans shop will overcharge you for substandard, possibly unnecessary work.

You should also realize up front that if the car needs a new/overhauled transmission, the cost will likely exceed the book value of the car. You need to start contemplating whether to invest a lot of money in this 18 year old car, so that you don’t make a snap decision if you are given a diagnosis that is very expensive to fix.

It sounds like part of the car’s exhaust system has sprung a leak, or possibly has rusted through.

Take it to a trusted mechanic and have the exhaust system looked at.

The repair shop said that the “flex pipe” was rusted and had split open. They told me to fix it, they would need to replace the tail pipe ($550), the center pipe ($439) and the converter pipe, including the catalytic converter ($800). Labor for this would be around $300. A total of $2100 before taxes. The KBB on the car is about $1300 (trade-in). I am planning on getting a second opinion at another shop, in part because this shop will not put in after-market parts in the car, which could really bring down the repair cost.

What do you think about their diagnosis? Or about the price? Also, I’m wondering what people think about getting it fixed anyway, since (if everything else in the car checks out) I could probably get another 5 years out of it… So, I would REALLY appreciate any thoughts, comments, and suggestions. Thanks!

Well, an exhaust problem is better than a trans problem!
However, that estimate sounds VERY high to me, and it would definitely give me pause regarding a vehicle that is already 18 years old. Another opinion/estimate is definitely a good idea.

As to getting another 5 years out of it, I am skeptical. Have you done ALL of the required maintenance on or before schedule? Have you changed the trans fluid every 3 yrs/30k miles? If not, then the trans will be the next thing to go, and that would definitely be the time to send this car to the crusher.

How would you feel about spending…let’s say…$1,500 on the exhaust repairs, only to face a bill of ~$2,000 for transmission replacement in the very near future? At some point, it ceases to make economic sense to keep putting money into an 18 year old car.

I took my car into another (local) repair shop, and they stated all that it needed was a new flex pipe, which they could do for $200, AND NOTHING ELSE! Not only that, they also said that the rest of the “problems” identified by the other place during the “used car inspection” I requested were non-issues, or things that should be handled much later. (On another note, this place was so much more helpful, curteous, and customer service oriented–it was NIGHT AND DAY.)

I know it won’t last forever, but I’d say the $200 was definately worth it. I just wanted to say thanks to VDCdriver for helping me (several times!) through this. Your knowledge and advise was indespensible!!

To quote The Bard–“All’s well that ends well”.

I’m really glad that you found a customer-friendly shop with a realistic approach to repairing your exhaust system. Just be sure to stay on top of the car’s maintenance, and it should last you for at least a few more years.

And, thank you for letting us know the outcome!