Transmission in a Honda Accord- Can it be saved?

I am a happy owner of a 98 Honda Accord Lx (4 cylinder). This car and I have been through a lot. A few weeks ago I went into the dealership because the check engine light came on. They said I had no oil in the car, did an oil change, and sent me on my way. The following week I broke down after coolant came pouring from my car. A different dealership said that there was an oil leak that compromised the hose carrying the antifreeze, which caused it to break, and as a result the thermometer broke. My first question… do I confront the first dealership that swore they checked & inspected everything to figure out why my oil was so low?
Now, the question of MOST IMPORTANCE… The second mechanic that worked on it told me that the transmission was going. It was brought to my attention about 9 months ago that there may be a small leak in the transmission. Well, it still ran fine. Occasionally it wouldn’t have the smoothest shift, but was nothing big. Well, the same week the second mechanic mentioned this, and my need to start looking for a new car, the transmission is a complete mess! It jerks and won’t shift as quickly, and I can’t think of how to describe it easily, but when it jerks it does it multiple times. How did this happen so fast and is there anything I can do to salvage it just a few more weeks??? I am just graduating college and must have a job before I attempt to buy a new car and I NEED her to hang on until then.

Everything that we say from afar is going to be speculation, simply because we don’t know the maintenance history of the car, and because we can’t personally examine it. That being said, I theorize that this car may just be the victim of lax maintenance.

Why do I say that?
Because–unless there is a sudden catastrophic oil leak–an engine does not go from being properly filled with oil to, “no oil” all of a sudden.

We need to know the following:
How often does (did) the OP check her oil?

How often–in terms of both odometer mileage and elapsed time–does the OP do an oil change?

How far (miles and/or minutes) did the OP drive with an apparent low oil/no oil situation?

When was the coolant level last checked?
When was the coolant last changed?
How old are (were) the hoses?

How far (miles and/or minutes) did the OP drive with the apparent low/no coolant situation?

My point is that, with a 15 year old car, virtually anything can suffer a mechical failure at any time, and to try to pin the blame on dealership #1 may well be…inappropriate.

Has the OP been told about any damage from overheating?
The notation about “the thermometer” being broken is…likely not exactly what was stated by the service personnel. Perhaps a defective thermostat led to overheating, and perhaps the overheating caused a hose to burst. Unfortunately, Hondas do not take well to overheating, and if–as I suspect–there is more extensive engine damage, such as a warped cylinder head and possible major internal damage, this car may not be worth trying to repair.

While there may well be transmission problems at this point, they could be the result of 15 years of use with little or no transmission maintenance, and transmission problems at this point might have nothing to do with either of the aforementioned problems.

Most importantly, the OP tells us that the transmission apparently began leaking about 9 months ago.
During those 9 months, how often was the trans fluid checked?
If it was topped-off, was geuine Honda trans fluid used?
If not, this slowly-dying transmission may have been killed by either low fluid level or the wrong fluid.

Can the OP fill us in with the answers to the questions that I posed above?
If we have more information, I may change my answer, but at this point, I think that the OP is dealing with an old car that may not have had the best maintenance over the years, and–unfortunately–lax maintenance and/or failure to check & replenish fluids are the main reasons why cars are junked.

The jerking may not even be related to the transmission; it could be an engine performance fault caused by any one of a number of things which may or may not be related to lack of oil, overheating, etc.

To be honest, it sounds like the car has been neglected into the ground. Keep the oil and coolant topped off, tolerate it as best as possible for as long as possible, and either call a scrap metal facility to buy it or list it on Craigslist as is with make an offer.

What the first shop should have told you (and I’m assuming they did not) is that by running your engine out of or nearly out of oil the engine has now become damaged goods.

Why was your engine oil low? The car is going on 16 years old. Combine that with X number of miles, not checking the oil, operating a car with little or no oil, overheating, etc and oil consumption can become a given.

I can answer those questions…

First, I know nothing about cars. I have tried to learn about cars but it is a little hard when I have no one to teach me. There aren’t exactly classes in college on auto repair and maintenance, trust me, if there were I would be the first to sign up!! I know that people do not believe this, but mechanics do not take me seriously because I am a young female.
I go to the dealership every month and a half to have them put air into the tires and check the fluids. Lately it has been there more often for other issues. I make it clear that I rely on them but can only do so much. The oil had been checked a month before the check engine light came on indicating the low oil level.
And yes, the mechanic did say that the hose was compromised and broke due to the oil leak, which caused the thermometer to break.
Both of the dealerships told me that there was no additional damage done from either issue.
I don’t go anywhere other than the Honda dealerships in the area and only Honda parts and fluids go into the car.
There was a great deal of coolant pouring from the car so I am quite certain there was plenty of that in the car. I had to drive it for approx. 2 minutes out of the parking garage so that the tow truck could take it. During that time it started smoking and the second it did I turned it off.
The jerking issue does not always happen. In fact, I feel it happens less when it is raining.
I think I covered the questions. If not, I can answer anything else!

Thank you for your comments. I wish the mechanic would have told me about the potential for these issues.

agreed with all, all you can do now is keep the fluids topped off, including the transmission fluid. you may be a woman, and low knowlege of cars, but you can check these fluids and add weekly if needed. I bet you will be able to wring out more miles if you follow a weekly regimine of topping off. good luck.


What’s done is done. This is not the end of the world, but it probably is an unfortunate and expensive learning experience. Some of us have learned the same way, or got lucky and narrowly avoided a major problem. Maybe you’ll be lucky too.

For your next car, it’s important to realize that you as the car owner need to be responsible for checking the engine oil, transmission fluid, coolant level, and to do that regularly in order to protect your financial investment in the car. Every couple weeks would be reasonable, maybe monthly, depending on how much driving you do. One possible alternative to doing it yourself is to find a full service gas station, which are rare these days, and have the attendant check the oil and transmission fluid when your gas up, maybe every other tankful.

But it’s far better I think to learn to do that yourself, simply because a car is a significant investment, repairs are expensive, and because it’s neither difficult, technical, or time consuming. Surely you have friends who do this, and they can show you the basics. Perhaps better would be to ask the repair shop you use, I’m certain they would be glad to explain what you need to know, probably in more detail.

Another consideration for the future is that it’s not essential to take your car only to a dealership for most repairs - unless you have a new car, still in a warranty period. Even then some work can be done elsewhere. Generally, dealerships are more expensive, though not always. The alternative is a locally owned independent business (not a national franchise), where you feel like you are treated fairly and with respect, and which you judge to be trustworthy. You might ask parents of your college friends who they use, and also refer to the Mechanics Files at the top of this page for shops which are recommended. You should have no trouble finding well qualified shops who can work on your 1998 Honda for less than a dealer will charge. Once you find the right place, stick with them when you change cars. Loyalty usually results in superior service.

I hope your car survives until you have graduated and gotten a job, but as others have said, some serious damage has probably resulted from the lack of oil, coolant, and possibly transmission fluid. At this point, you should probably check the vital fluids every few days until you get a sense of how quickly oil is disappearing. Be sure to watch the coolant level too, but if that requires that you remove the radiator cap, PLEASE wait for the engine to cool several hours.

98 Accords had known problems with automatic transmissions. The rest of the stuff was maintenance related but the transmission was a ticking time bomb based on the design. How many miles do you have on it?

First off if you can post on here, you have internet and know how to use it. YouTube has many videos along with many other people on maintaining and working on cars. All cars use oil they burn tiny amounts every time the piston is on the power stroke, left unchecked the level will get critical eventually.

Blaming the dealership will get you nowhere, and if you need that car to last and are short on cash attempt to replace the items with salvaged parts from a junk yard.

Congrats on the college graduation, and good luck job hunting!

Nicole, did the dealer fix the oil leak. From what you describe, I would guess that the oil leak is from the distributor O-ring, they are prone to leaking. The O-ring only costs a few dollars and only takes a few minutes to replace.

When that O-ring leaks, it leaks onto the heater hose located directly below it. Eventually the hose softens from the oil and it breaks around the clamp. So I’m guessing that this was the hose that broke. Since it is a small hose, it takes a few minutes longer to leak out all the coolant so you may not have damaged the engine this time.

The distributor is located at the back of the engine, right above the transmission so it is easy to think that the transmission also has a leak when it doesn’t.

If you are planning to only keep the car for a few more weeks or months, I would not worry about the leaking O-ring, you won’t loose that much oil in that short of a period of time and the replacement hose will hold up for a year or two. If they just cut the hose a little shorter and reattached it, you may need to keep a close eye on it then, but it should still last for a few months.

If you have never had the transmission fluid changed, I would suggest that you ask the Honda dealer to do a simple drain and refill with the new ATF. The new ATF helps the transmission shift better when cold, something that has been an issue with them for a long time. You don’t need a flush, fluid exchange or multiple changes, just one simple drain and refill. It takes 3 quarts at around $9/qt plus labor, no filter or gasket except for the washer on the drain bolt.

Your temperature gauge (thermometer) might not be working because there is still air in the cooling system or a wire got knocked loose from the sensor. BTW, by the schedule, the engine is due for its second timing belt change, should run you about $750 at the dealer, but that is between you and the dealer if you haven’t had this done.

It is possible there are no local courses on basic car maintenance in your area. But, it would be rare. They have those things all over the place. Check out adult evening no-credit courses in local high schools.

It is possible there are no local courses on basic car maintenance in your area. But, it would be rare. They have those things all over the place. Check out adult evening no-credit courses in local high schools.

Also try local community colleges, my mom took an auto maintenance course specifically geared toward women from one about 30 years ago.