My mini-van goes forward when it should go backwards...

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 1990

Dear Tom and Ray:

I've had a problem with my 1987 Plymouth Voyager mini-van for some time. The automatic shift indicator keeps slipping. For instance, the indicator will show the van to be in "drive" when in fact it is in "reverse." The van has been back to the dealer at least four times in an effort to fix this problem, but the problem persists. My main concern is that there is a major problem I won't be told about until after the warranty runs out. What do you think?

RAY: First of all, don't worry about the warranty running out. Our lawyers at the firm of Dewey, Cheetham, and Howe say that if you've complained about a problem during the warranty period (and you can document it on a repair order, for instance), the manufacturer should honor its obligation to fix that problem, even if the warranty expires before he figures out HOW to fix it.

TOM: Secondly, this problem shouldn't be very difficult to fix. That little needle that points to "P," "R," "N", "D," and "L" is connected to the shift lever by a small cable. When you pull the shift lever down, the cable pulls the needle toward "L." On the other side of the needle, a small spring is trying to pull it back towards "P." Your spring is probably loose or sticking, so when you push the shift lever back up, the needle doesn't follow.

RAY: There's probably nothing wrong with your transmission (unless of course you've been driving on the highway in "L" thinking you were in "D"). The problem is that the mechanic at the dealership is too lazy to fix this correctly, so he keeps spraying it with WD-40 and crossing his fingers. That works for a short while, but as you well know, it soon starts sticking again.

TOM: This is a van, right Marilyn? Tomorrow afternoon, stop at the high school and pick up four of the biggest football players you can find. Go back to the dealer, and with these guys standing behind you, suggest that they put in a new shift indicator assembly--the needle, the cable, and the spring. It's neither complicated nor expensive. This is the same mechanism they used on the Conestoga Wagons that took Ward Bond across the continental divide. Replacing it should allow you to shift happily ever after.

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