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Transmission Trouble

I have a 2001 Honda Accord, 4cyl, about 135k miles. It has begun to have trouble shifting into, I believe, 2nd gear. It does this only first thing in the morning if not warmed up. After just a slight warm up, the car will shift fine. After just a 1/4 mile of driving, it will be warm enough to shift fine. The engine does have an error code, P0786, which the internet tells me is “Shift/Timing Solenoid Range/Performance”. I was hoping it was a solenoid problem, but wasn’t sure about diagnosing it myself, so I took it to a trans shop. They had to keep it overnight in order to reproduce the shift problem in the morning. The shop owner told me it needed a rebuilt transmission, $1900-2400 for the job. He actually recommended not doing it and getting another car. He seemed like a good character, so I believe he was being honest with me, but I still wonder about that error code. Does this sound normal? Would a broken transmission cause a solenoid error code?

Have you been getting he transmission fluid changed on a regular basis and if so, are you only using the Honda ATF? Is the D4 light blinking+

I’m assuming the xmission fluid level is at spec and the routine engine and xmission maintenance suggested in the owner’s manual is up to date. It wouldn’t be that unusual to need an xmission rebuild in a 2001 w/135K. I expect that’s what you need, an xmission rebuild. Sometimes just replacing a selenoid will resolve some of these problems. I have no experience on Honda auto xmissions though, so I’m just guessing. Maybe somebody here has experience with Honda automatics and can give you the good dope.

The price quote for the rebuild seems sort of high. But there could be a reason for that, he’s seen it, we here haven’t. Maybe ask your regular mechanic (not the one who gave you the quote) which xmission shop he’d go to - an inde xmission shop preferably – if he needed an xmission rebuild for his own car. Then go there, tell the shop who recommended you to them, and ask them for an estimate.

Besides the trans, what condition is the car?
Financially, spending thousands on a rebuilt trans isn’t worth it.
But looking for the next ride can be even more stressful and risky.

Salvage yards are full of Honda’s with nothing but the transmissions wrong with them…But the cost of rebuilding them exceeds the value of the car…Having your transmission SERVICED, fluid and filter changed, may or may not be money well spent…That shift timing solenoid, I would investigate that a little further, as in take it to a dealer for a second opinion…

I don’t exactly know the history of the transmission service on the car, but I think it’s fairly good. Bought this honda from my parents when they upgraded, and they tend to get their cars serviced regularly at the dealership. Probably not perfectly maintained, but I do know the trans fluid has been changed over time.

There’s no blinking D4 light.

The car has been gently driven over its life, and is almost otherwise sound. I say almost because for some reason the rubber around some of the front suspension ball joints wore out and tore, causing squeaky steering. I just last week replaced two tie rod ends, and have one more ball joint to replace. Other than that, it’s had no problems.

I wonder what a dealer would charge to check it out. Around here, it seems more and more common for dealers/chains/even independents to charge $90 just for a “diagnosis”.

I don’t think I described very well what the car does…if you accelerate when the car is cold, it gets going like it’s about to hit 2nd, and then misses and it’s like it’s in neutral…I take my foot off the gas, and then gently prod it for a few times until it engages again, and just gently accelerate from there.

If it drives fine after warming up, I would drive it until it quits pulling itself. It doesn’t cost any more to overhaul it after it quits.

I think you can assume the transmission is toast. Hondas of this vintage are famous for failing automatics, and the fact you got 135K is pretty good actually. My mother-in-law’s 2001 Accord gave up the tranny at 95K - all service and maintenace done on time or early. If the car is in good shape otherwise, and you like it / it meets your needs (and the other expensive stuff - timing belt, brakes, struts etc. are all OK) consider fixing it. Put another way, can you get a safe, reliable equivalent vehicle for $2200? Probably not. Suerte.

Mike, your problem might be cured with a transmission fluid exchange, preferably the Honda recommended method which is four drain and refills with a defined drive cycle between each one. The drive cycle is none on the rack.

Honda has a new type ATF now and it is said to fix this particular issue with cold shifting. See a dealer about getting this service.

You can do this yourself. If you have some basic tools a good jack and two good sturdy jackstands and some wheel chocks. Get 10 qts of the new fluid and a new plug washer from a dealer. Jack up the front end and place the jackstands one the hard points. Chock the back wheels.

Pull the plug and drain the transmission. Replace the plug with the old washer. Refill with 2.5 qts, it should come up to the right level, but ask the dealer to confirm the amount that it should need. While still up in the air on the jackstands, start the engine, put the selector in reverse for a couple seconds, then into drive. Carefully accelerate until you feel all 4 shifts, then brake back to zero, repeat three more times. When the spedo is at zero mph the fourth time, brakes on, put it into park and shut down. Be sure the wheels are stopped when you put it into park and when shifting between park, reverse and drive.

Drain and refill again and do another drive cycle. Repeat again and again once more. On the fourth time, use the new washer on the plug. You do not need to do a drive cycle after the fourth fill up, just put it down on the ground, on a level place and check the ATF level. It should be between the marks for hot and cold.

Worth a try! Thanks for the instructions on trans fluid change. That’s easier than the way I had been doing it!

Let me repeat a word of caution, make sure the wheels have stopped turning when ever you shift the transmission. Since the car is up in the air, it is not moving so you do not have that sensation to work with, it is purely visual by looking at the speedometer. If you shift into reverse or park with the wheels turning at say 60 mph, you could do serious damage to the transmission.

I would think the shop does the driving cycle with the car lifted because of time constraints.
Might be safer for a DIYer to drain and refill the fluid, drive normally for a few days, then repeat the drain and fill if necessary.

And just make sure you use new Honda ATF fluid.

the manager at my local Advanced Auto says they carry Honda ATF fluid, says it’s made by Castrol. Same thing as what the dealership carries?

I have to ask, the local auto store also stocks transmission additives from what I think of as reputable companies, i.e. lucas and seafoam. What about running one of those through for awhile before changing trans fluid?

here’s the marketing pitch from the horse’s mouth:

So the Advanced guy actually carries Castrol ATF, and says it’s good for Honda?

Given the problems with the Honda trans, I’d want new type fluid from the Honda dealer.

Likewise, I would put absolutely no additives in.

Yeah, I have before always made the trip to the dealer and bought my ATF there. But I was thinking, Hondas are obviously very popular, and the auto stores would be shooting themselves in the foot if they didn’t carry Honda ATF, right?

Before you decide to replace the transmission you should inspect the following items which are prone to major problems, especially if the car has lived in a snowy area such as upstate NY where salt is used on the roads in the winter.

1- Front engine subframe - $1,000 repair that is commonly needed on this vintage Accord. The subframe rusts out and, when they attempt to remove the transmission, it crumbles.
2- Brake lines - $1,200 repair. These lines rust out and start to leak. Complete replacement from the engine compartment to the wheels is needed. If you luck out you can find someone who can do this for less (maybe $600 if someone can install steel reinforced flex lines).
3- Fuel line - $800 repair. The fuel line rusts out right at the top of the fuel tank where water accumulates. This can also be done more cheaply by a competent mechanic. You might be able to get this done for as little as $300.

Other trouble spots are the suspension control arms in the front suspension and the rear sway bar mounts. If all of these are in good shape then a new transmission (or a rebuilt one) might be worth a try. But unless you live someplace VERY dry I think you will find quite a bit of trouble when you start looking at all of the other potential issues.