Could a 25 mile tow-truck ride be responsible for my busted transmission?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 2001

Dear Tom and Ray:

My '97 GMC 3/4-ton four-wheel-drive pickup recently stranded me with a faulty fuel pump. The dealer graciously towed me 25 miles and called me the next day to inform me that not only would I be paying for a new fuel pump, but I'd also be paying for a new transmission. To say the least, I was surprised, since I have never had a problem with the transmission. A tow-truck operator suggested that since the '97 models don't allow you to shift the transfer case to Neutral, they shouldn't be towed for more than a few miles. Is this true? Is it possible that the tow job ruined my transmission? -- Fred

RAY: Possible? I'd say "likely" is a better description, Fred.

TOM: I agree. It's extremely odd that the transmission on a 3-year-old vehicle -- which had no previous transmission problems -- just happens to buy the farm right after a 25-mile tow. So I think you're right to be more than a little suspicious here, Fred.

RAY: But while the transfer case MIGHT have been involved (GM claims that you CAN put this transfer case in Neutral), I'd say it's more likely that the tow-truck driver accidentally towed the car with the automatic transmission in Drive (or something other than Neutral). If the transmission was in gear during a 25-mile tow, that certainly could have overheated the transmission and cooked it.

TOM: Most likely, it was an innocent mistake. The driver might have thrown it into "N" and then accidentally knocked it into "D" as he was straightening out the steering wheel ... or when he was scooping the change out of your ashtray.

RAY: But innocent or not, you shouldn't have to pay for it. So what should you do? Well, both dealerships and reputable towing companies carry liability insurance to cover just this kind of screw-up. And whether they set the transfer case incorrectly or set the transmission incorrectly, one of the parties is going to have to make a claim to pay for your cooked transmission, Fred.

TOM: Since the dealership engaged the towing company on your behalf, then it should act as your advocate here and see that the transmission gets fixed at no cost to you. If the dealership isn't extremely accommodating, I'd go up the ladder to GMC Customer Service (800-GMC-TRUCK). And if you still don't get any satisfaction, I think you'd have a very strong circumstantial case if you have to go to court to get your transmission fixed.

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