Should I have to pay a fee to have my transmission simply looked at?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 1989

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 5-speed 1982 Honda Accord with 85,000 miles. It runs great except that the transmission slips out of third gear when I let off the gas abruptly, go over a few bumps, or drive in third for an extended period of time. Recently, fifth gear has started to act in a similar fashion, occasionally dropping into neutral with a gear-wrenching sound. I took my trusty Honda to one of these nationally known transmission fix-it shops. The salesperson informed me that I would have to pay an inspection fee of $200 to take apart the gearbox and provide an estimate for repair regardless of whether or not I elect to have the transmission repaired at that shop. Does this sound right to you?

TOM: The transmission shops are analogous to doctors who'll open up your stomach and then sew you back up if the problem looks too expensive. "Whadda ya think Frank, can this guy afford 5K for a gall-bladder removal?" "Nah, just sew him back up a bill him for a thousand."

RAY: The truth is that they really can't tell exactly what's wrong until they open up the transmission, but they do have a pretty good idea. They might be afraid that if they give you the total price up front you'll junk the car. So they use what salespeople call the "foot in the door" technique. They get you to commit to $200, then the increment to fix it is only $400 more. That's supposed to sound like less than $600. Does it?

TOM: You may very well need a rebuilt transmission. If you do, a junk yard transmission would be a good alternative considering the age of the car.

RAY: If you're lucky, you may just need a torque strut. A torque strut is a kind of motor mount that keeps transversely mounted engines from rotating front to back. Such movement could cause the transmission to pop out of gear. Have your torque strut checked first. We'll look at it for $200 and let you know if you need a new one.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One