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What to do when newish car mysteriously bites the dust?

Hi everyone,
We have a rather stressful situation with our car and haven’t been able to determine the best course of action.

In the summer or 2015, we bought a used 2013 Toyota Corolla with about 34k miles on it from a reputable Toyota dealership. Around 2018, after driving around 12k each year, we began to hear a knocking in the engine. The knocking got progressively louder so we brought it to a mechanic who said the engine needed to be replaced as the problem would only get worse until it died. Just to be sure, I brought it to a certified Toyota dealership for a second opinion and was told the same thing. They both estimated we could get some more mileage out of it before the engine would completely die.

Last week, my husband was driving the Corolla up a winding road and the car broke down and had to be towed. Oil was leaking from the transmission. We had it towed to a AAA certified mechanic who said the transmission completely blew out. There was zero oil in it and even when he tried to replace it, the oil would leak and come right back out. The car won’t even drive at all. He said we absolutely needed a new transmission but he also wondered about the engine And suspected there was a problem there too. We didn’t give him any background info on the engine diagnosis we previously received. He essentially said, if it were him, he would cut his losses and part with the car because fixing it would be crazy expensive. At this point, we can’t even sell the car as is because it won’t turn on and needs to be able to do so in order to pass a smog check.

I would love others thoughts about what we should do. My husband feels we should keep the car and pay to have both the engine and transmission replaced with used ones, which he estimates a friend could do for $3000. To me, this seems like a complete waste. The car has over 100k miles on it and to invest 3k (or likely more) to replace with a used engine and transmission—neither of which can be guaranteed or warrantied— for a car we will likely never be able to get much back for doesn’t seem like a good idea in my mind. He feels the Corolla gets good mpg and bc it’s a 2013 it’s worth keeping, but I disagree. We have two other used cars so this is a third vehicle and it feels like we are just bleeding money by even having it on our insurance policy.

What would you do? Grateful for any advice. Wish I could just call Car Talk!

Sell the car to a recycler.

There are just too many issues and that $3k you think you’ll spend is probably a low estimate.

This is not normal with this car. I suspect there is more to the story than you know.

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If you can get the engine and trans for 3 grand I would certainly consider it. 3 grand does not go far in the car market.

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Yes, but the estimate that the OP was given is almost surely wildly inaccurate.

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Go to Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds and get the value for your car, based on condition, mileage, etc.

Then get at least 1 or 2 actual quotes to replace the engine and maybe the transmission. Choose either used or re-manufactured, your call.

My approach would be if the cost of the repairs exceeds the value of the car, dump it. Sounds like you already have two other cars and this one is “extra”.

I’ll also add that some folks have a third car because it “saves money on gas”. Compared to the larger, SUV-type cars sometimes in the garage. This is a trap; you may be saving money on gas, but if you actually do that math, you at best break even by the time you factor in the non-fuel costs for a third car. Meaning, don’t let “gets good gas mileage” be an issue if you’ve already got 2 other cars.

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I suppose the oil ran low and cause all the damage.How many time did you check your oil?I own a 2012 and the engine purr like a kitten.

Thanks for all your thoughts so far! I really appreciate it.

I forgot to mention in my post that I was very diligent about changing the oil and performing maintenance. The oil never ran out and I did changes on schedule. When I brought it to the Toyota dealership mechanic, he said one possibility is that at an oil change I may have been given regular oil instead of full synthetic without knowing it. But otherwise I have no idea what could have happened to the car. We bought a used 2006 civic off Craig’s list at the same time for much less money and it’s given us almost zero issues, whereas this $13k corolla is now useless.

We know we had an engine problem but could that kill the transmission too? Transmission problem is new.

The two issues are almost surely not related.

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Yes, but how low did the oil level become between changes?
Did you or your husband check the dipstick on a regular basis?
Did you or your husband replenish the oil as soon as the level had dropped?

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I very much doubt that was the problem.

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Did you check the carfax report in case your car had an history of problems?

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Maybe, just maybe this was a flood car that escaped getting a salvage title. Flooded engine and trans could shorten its life.

Or the odometer was reset to a lower value before you bought it.

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It’s a hard choice to just give up but good things happen from bad. A 7 year old car needing both engine and trans. You are being told to give it up and start over-but not on CL. You will have no idea what service the used engine and trans will provide and could be in the same shape in a year. Forget it. Lick your wounds and find a new ride.

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You got 5 years and about 70,000 from the Corolla. While that isn’t great, it’s better than nothing.
In the old days of rear wheel drive and no computer controls, engine and transmission swaps were relatively easy. Today, the engine and transmissions often must be from the same year and model.
Unfortunately, we live in a throw away society. Accept that, get what you can from the Corolla and move on.

I’d also add that most vehicles can switch from regular to synthetic oil, and you’d never be able to tell any difference. I also doubt that was any kind of issue here.

You were asked a simple question about whether or not you were checking the engine oil level on a regular basis.
This could be answered with a yes or no.

You said you were diligent on oil changes and performing maintenance but that does not answer the hood up/check fluid levels question.

A 100k miles Corolla should not have suffered both an engine and transmission failure on its own and what you were told about regular oil instead of synthetic is pure BS. Sounds like something a service advisor would say…

Just my opinion, but I think the car needs to be gone. Put it on Craigslist “AS IS” along with make an offer and see what happens. If someone has a wrecked Corolla they might be interested in it for the body only.

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The “knocking” suggests that the oil level was well below a safe level.

If conventional engine oil is used, the oil must be changed every 5,000 miles and not at 10,000 miles as shown in the maintenance guide. This information is in the maintenance guide, the service writer is not wrong advising you of this.

Was the transmission case damaged as a result of an impact with debris on the road?

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I am seriously questioning the diagnosis here. Unless you ran over a large rock or other object on the road, which cracked the transmission case, I am struggling to see how this alleged failure happened. If this was a collision with road debris, then insurance might be available to pay for a replacement transmission.

It is certainly believable that an engine which was knocking might have broken apart internally, and punctured the oil pan or even cracked the engine block. That would result in a large leak of engine oil and/or coolant, but not transmission fluid. Are you sure the fluid leaking is transmission fluid, not engine oil or coolant? Does the engine still start and run? Is the mechanic asking you to get rid of this car offering to buy it off of you?

Hello! I meant to respond earlier, sorry about that!

No, I personally never checked the oil level in any vehicle I’ve ever used. We almost always brought it to Valvoline for oil changes and anytime we did we asked about the oil level and were told there was still quite enough left inside. The 2013 Corolla takes full Synthetic oil, which is what I always got. Toyota recommends every 10k miles to change the oil for full synthetic, but the most we ever went was 7k miles before an oil change.

It was the Toyota dealership mechanic (from the dealership where we purchased the car a few years years before) who suggested conventional oil could be to blame for the engine failure. His only other explanation was that maybe we had been driving the car rough, which also wasn’t the case.

To me it’s still a huge mystery. I just can’t understand what could have happened to this car. I grew up with Toyota’s my whole life which is the reason we bought the used corolla, because I know how reliable they are. It just seems crazy to me that we would have this many major issues with a car without any real cause to point to.

Those are all good questions!

The mechanic didn’t offer to buy the car from us. I have a pretty good radar for honesty and he seemed to me to be very trustworthy. His shop doesn’t even perform transmission work so he had nothing to gain. He said he was absolutely certain the transmission died because it had zero oil (or fuel? Sorry, my car terminology is weak) in it and that when he tried to replace it, it leaked out immediately. The car had been running with a dying engine for a while so this transmission issue was a new thing.

We also didn’t run over anything large that could have cracked anything.

I asked the mechanic for his honest opinion about what we should do and he said we could bring it to a shop that fixes transmissions, but it would be a few thousand and then if we have an engine issue on top that would make it much more money. He said in his opinion it’s not worth it.