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Replace Transmission?

So, on Sunday I purchased a manual 1988 Saab 900 (non-turbo) with 158,000 miles. I test drove the car, driving it around town, and it seemed fine. The engine ran smoothly, and it seemed to shift just fine. All in all, no real issues besides a bad battery. So, I purchased the car for $900, down from his original asking price of $1200.

I drove the car to get a new battery and noticed that there was, what looks like, a little bit of oil in the coolant reservoir, and decided I needed to take it to a mechanic the next morning. I was worried it was a head gasket or cracked block. On the way to the shop, I had it on the highway for the first time, and that’s when I discovered that the car would not go into 5th gear.

The good news is that the mechanic said there was problem with the engine. Ther are no signs at all of a crakced block or broken head gasket. The car doesn’t run hot, idles and drives smoothly, no smoking from the exhaust, and no coolant in the oil. He said it just needed flushed.

The bad news is, the transmission is bad. The mechanic said I could drive on it for quite a while with just the four working gears. I just can’t bring in on the highway. He aslo said it was in great shape otherwise, and even with a bad transmission, it was still a good deal and perfectly fine for in-town driving.

So, stifling my anger that the guy I purchased the car from never mentioned the problem to me (even after asking if the transmission had any problems), I’m left to figure out what to do.

Is the mechanic right that for $900 I still got a drivable car that will get me around town? Secondly, should I pay $900 to get a rebuilt transmission? That would put me $1800 into a car that I really like otherwise.

You could drive it around town but I think you’d find it pretty annoying after a while not to have the freedom to take a longer drive if you wanted to. If the car is otherwise structurally sound and you can really get the transmission fixed for $900, that sounds like a fairly cheap lesson (never trust the seller – get an inspection) and you end up with a car you like.

Also, check the law in your state. Even though car sales between private parties are generally “as is,” it may be that if you asked directly if the transmission was fine and the seller lied, you could cancel the sale or sue for the cost of the transmission repair on the basis of fraud.

So how many RPMs does it turn at 60 MPH in fourth? My thinking is that you would probably be OK to drive it on the highway as long as you weren’t reving it to more than 75% or so of redline for long periods. Of course your gas mileage will suffer. You should be able to get $900 worth of fun out of it before something else more major breaks. Then you can sell it to the shredder for $175 a ton.

Normally you would be using fifth gear in town.  In most manuals fifth gear is not an overdrive to be used only on the highway.  

I certainly would have noticed it not going into fifth, even if I only drove around the block.

The good news is it may not be all that expensive.  An adjustment to the linkage might take care of the problem. 

Good Luck

You can drive it on the highway, it will just rev a little higher in 4th than it would in 5th. Lots of people forget to shift into 5th and drive along happily for miles.

This just goes to prove: there’s no such thing as a $900 car.

Drive it as is for as long as you can and be happy.

Are you sure it’s not just a linkage problem?

I’m not sure about the linkage. The mechanic specializes in Saabs, and said it was the gear box after driving it with me for a while and looking under the hood. Is checking and/or adjusting the linkage something I could do myself?

If your mechanic specializes in Saabs, I’d take his or her word for it.

Unless you’re planning to restore the car I suggest not spending large amounts of money on it, such as buying another transmission.

If the seller didn’t disclose the transmission problem, you have to wonder what else you don’t know about.

Drive it and live without 5th gear.

SO - I checked around on some other Saab-related boards and someone suggested it might just need a latch stud adjustment. Low-and-behold, that seemed to do it. I now have 5th gear, tough now sometimes reverse is tricky.

Seems like that was the problem all along. Maybe a few more minor adjustments to that, and I should be good to go.

Thanks for the info, everyone!