Toyota Matrix: Transmission Leak?

Greetings Car Talk Nation:
I have been looking to upgrade my car (I currently drive a 1992 Honda Accord, Bondo edition). I have been looking, and I really like the look and quality of the Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe. I found a Matrix on Craigslist that I think could be a good deal. I talked to the guy and he said that it was in “excellent condition”. I drive an hour and a half to find out that the car isn’t as great as he said. The first thing I saw was a pretty good size scuff on the rear bumper, and 2 missing hubcaps. I thought, those are pretty easy fixes, no problem. I took the car for a test drive, and it drove smoothly…a little too smoothly. When we got back from the test drive I looked under the car to see that it was leaking something. I thought it might be water from the AC since we tested that out, but alas, it was not. He backed the car up and there was a small collection of some sort of fluid. We checked the oil and the tranny fluid, and the transmission fluid was quite low. I told the guy that if he got that fixed, I would still consider purchasing the car.
He got back to me about a week later saying that he replaced the transmission fluid and it hasn’t leaked since. He also took the car to Midas for what he said was an “oil leak”. I’ve attached the Midas paperwork. They replaced the oil pan gaskets. The original asking price of the car was 7199, I talked him down to 7000, and he said he would drop another 100. WHAT SHOULD I DO? I’ve been talking with this guy for several weeks now. Should I buy the car, should I try to talk him down more? What if the transmission starts leaking again, what kind of costs would I be looking at to fix that? Could I do the repairs myself? Help.

At this point the only person would could advise you would be a mechanic who could actually lay hands on the car. Off hand, it sounds to me like a good chance of becoming a nightmare.

You say the transmission fluid was quite low. Quite low means a pressure problem and this translates to a transmission problem to some degree.
This could put the transmission itself on shaky ground because who knows how long that trans has been leaking and how much of a slippage problem there’s been in the past. The transmission may turn out to be fine or it may go belly-up the week after you buy the car.
EBay and Craigslist is a common dumping ground for problem child cars.

Based on the transmission leak, this oil pan leak, scuffs, and missing hubcaps along with the deceptive use of the word “excellent” I’d pass on the car because I’d consider it an abused vehicle. For the right price maybe; the price he’s asking is not it though.
If this guy used the words excellent condition to describe this vehicle then he’s either flat lying or he’s pretty jaded.

“I’ve attached the Midas paperwork.”

I don’t see it.
Should I buy the car, should I try to talk him down more?

You say you’ve been looking. You’re doing great, so far. Now you know what to look for in the next one. Looking at all one model makes this easier. With each one you look at that has some questions, you are teaching youself to know a great deal when it comes along. Don’t start out with potentially serious problems.

How much do you have to spend . . . what’s your budget . . . $7,000 ? Are you leaving something in your budget for tweaking minor problems ?

Buy one that has not been in a collision and repaired and make arrangements for a mechanic of your choice to check the vehicle over prior to purchase.


Don’t let a low price induce you to but a car that has been neglected. I would never buy a car that I knew had had low engine oil or low transmission fluid. If you see a car that is priced below market there is always a reason for it. There is always a reason for the price and you don’t know it but the seller does and he is trying to unload it on you before you find out.

I won’t buy a used car from someone who is driving it low on transmission fluid/leaking and not even knowing about it. This car is abused in my book.

One lesson I learned in my used car shopping was not to get too carried away and drive too far just to look at a car that is falling apart with a owner that thinks it is a perfect car.

Thank you everybody for your responses. Just what I needed to hear: some straight-to-the-point truth. My car search rolls on.

Here is the paperwork from Midas.