Is It Safe To Drive Car With Slipping Transmission?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 2016

Dear Car Talk:

We love our 2000 Volvo V70 and know she's getting old and in need of some TLC. We use her mainly as an in-town second car, and as a tow vehicle when traveling. Her transmission, a five-speed automatic, slips periodically, but she has only 207,000 miles. We had the tranny "superflushed" with new fluid about 10,000 miles ago. We would like to keep her for another four or five years, driving less than 10,000 miles per year, before reinvesting in another used Volvo. Is it safe to keep using this car if the tranny slips periodically? We've had no problems on the highway. We've been quoted about $1,600 for a used tranny and about $3,000 for a new Volvo one. We have been advised against any rebuilt transmissions. Your advice would be appreciated immensely.

-- Bill

If you want to keep this car for another four years, I'm going to guess that your youngest kid just started college. As an alternative, would you consider a 2016 Volvo and enrolling your kid in the three-month certificate program at the Barnum and Bailey Clown School?

Here's the problem: A transmission with 207,000 miles on it that's slipping is not to going get better.

If you really want to keep this car for another 40,000 or 50,000 miles, you're going to need a transmission. And you might as well do it now, and stop suffering the anxiety of wondering when this one is going to wet the bed.

I'd look for a used transmission. Assuming you don't buy one with 208,000 miles on it, there's a good chance it'll get you through to graduation.

Reputable junk yards these days (and no, that's not an oxymoron) keep very good records of where parts come from. So they should have the vehicle identification number of the car's transmission, as well as the mileage. And the really reputable places will give you a guarantee on the part and even the labor. That's what you want.

So if you find a good transmission with, say, 120,000 miles on it, it could easily last you four or five years. It might not, but keep in mind that you can buy two of them for the price of a new transmission.

And yes, to answer your other question, it can be dangerous to drive a car with an unreliable transmission. Think about the classic case of making a left turn across oncoming traffic. If your transmission picks that moment to slip badly or fail, a FedEx truck could make a personal delivery into your passenger seat.

So consider a used transmission with a good guarantee. And if you're not comfortable taking a chance on a used transmission, then get the new one. Three thousand dollars actually is a good price. The rebuilt Volvo transmissions we install typically cost the customer about $4,500, including labor. Of course, at our shop, that includes a new pine-tree air freshener -- which, with 207,000 miles, I'm sure your car could use, too, Bill.


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