Bucking and stalling: engine or transmission issue?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 1996

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have an '88 Olds Cutlass Ciera. A few months
ago, my wife was in the
process of slowing down to stop on an exit ramp.
The vehicle started
jerking as though the engine would die. By the
time she came to a complete
stop, the engine had, in fact, died. Using the
ignition, she immediately
restarted the engine. There was no more
occurrence of this experience for
the next several weeks until we took a long trip
of about five hours. When
we pulled off the highway to stop in a small
town, the vehicle bucked and
stalled again. It has not done it for the last
four weeks. Could this be
happening because the engine has stopped firing
instead of going into the
idle mode? -- Phil

TOM: You've just illustrated beautifully a major
difference between men and
women when it comes to cars, Phil. If your wife
had come to us, she would
have said something like "The car stalls
sometimes when I stop after a long

RAY: To which we would have asked a few
questions and said, "OK, we'll take
a look at it."

TOM: Whereas you, Phil, said, "Could this be
happening because the engine
has stopped firing instead of going into the
idle mode?"

RAY: To which most mechanics would say,
"Absolutely, Phil, probably due to
a misaligned anti-bozerus valve and a calmly
flexing multi-platinum port
socket. Big money, Phil. But an excellent

TOM: And you would have forked over 1,200 bucks
and walked away proud that
you sounded like you knew what you were talking

RAY: For some reason, men feel a need to act as
if they know what's wrong.
Whereas we believe you get better service from a
mechanic if you tell him
the symptoms and let him make the diagnosis.
That way, you won't
inadvertently lead him astray (remember, most of
us mechanics aren't that
bright, and are easily swayed) and, more
important, HE'S then responsible
if the thing he replaces doesn't fix the

TOM: Anyway, if I had to guess, I'd say your
problem is a faulty lock-up
torque converter in your automatic transmission.
The lock-up converter
locks the car into gear at higher speeds -- as
if it were a manual
transmission -- to eliminate slippage and save

TOM: Every so often, yours isn't unlocking. And
if you've ever driven a
manual transmission and come to a stop while
forgetting to put your foot on
the clutch, you know what happens; the car bucks
and stalls. And that's
exactly what's happening to your little Ciera.

RAY: A dealer or transmission shop can perform
one of two repairs for you.
They can simply unplug the lock-up converter and
you can do without it (and
the increased mileage that it brings). Or you
can have it fixed for a few
hundred dollars. And if you're planning on
keeping the car for a while, I'd
recommend fixing it. But let your wife take the
car in for you, Phil.

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