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Transmission Repair, '97 Toyota Celica

Well folks, I have a transmission problem.

I drive a 1997 Toyota Celica GT Convertible, ~137,000 miles; I’m the second owner, I’ve maintained it carefully (fluids, service, etc.), and it hasn’t given me much trouble – until this week…

The Breakdown: After 30 minutes on the road, the car became very sluggish leaving stoplights, and after a few minutes, it stopped moving. The engine sounded perfectly normal – it just wouldn’t go into gear. Once I got safely to the shoulder, it wouldn’t move. No smells, sounds, or other telltales – just an immobile car.

The Shop: To make a long story short, I had to have it towed to a shop I don’t necessarily trust. They tell me that the transmission fluid levels are normal, that the fluid itself looks “old,” but is not seriously discolored (it’s still pink). They say there’s a “loss of pressure” in the transmission, and that some part or other has likely failed.

Then they don’t want to tell me anything else. Instead, they say they have to go ahead and take out the transmission and open it up, and they want a flat fee of $2100. Whatever’s going on in there, they’ll fix it, for that exact fee, and no more.

Honestly, the flat fee has me perturbed. Is this a good deal, or a potential scam? I suspect I should take this to a transmission specialist, but I’ve called around, and nobody has been able to take a good guess as to what happened (which makes sense), or about how much the work should cost (which has me scratching my head – I’m hoping for at least a labor figure for getting it out and opening it up, if that’s what has to happen).

I hope I’ve provided enough info, and I look forward to hearing anyone’s thoughts on the shop, the car, or any of my available options.

Find your nearest owner-operated shop that specializes in transmissions and get the car towed there. I smell a rat. But even if I didn’t, if this isn’t a shop that mostly does transmissions then you don’t want them dealing with your transmission problem anyway.

You haven’t specified whether this transmission is an automatic or a manual shift. I will assume by the flat fee of $2100 and the “loss of pressure” that it is an automatic. If the line pressure is low especially in Reverse, the transmission will have to be removed and disassembled to determine the cause. A transmission technician would have to do some diagnostic tests to make an educated guess as to what has failed.

The flat fee is odd because that usually indicates the installation of a rebuilt unit or just replacement of frictions in your present transmission with a rebuild kit. From what you describe, the problem could be a failed hard part. The cost could well go up if the pump, a planetary unit, or the torque converter has to be replaced. If this shop is a franchise transmission shop, make sure you get the guarranted price in writing.

Hope this helps.

I would have the car towed to an independent transmission specialist. The flat fee you were quoted is not a good sign.

When I say “independent” I mean someone who is not affiliated with a national chain of trasnsmission repair shops such as AAMCO, Cottman, etc.