Today: Will a stuck dipstick on Ken's Subaru Loyale cause trouble?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 2011

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1993 Subaru Loyale 4-wheel-drive wagon. The transmission-fluid dipstick has broken off the cap. The stem is down the fill tube beyond where I can reach it with a telescoping magnet. I tried to grasp it with a long pair of hemostats, but was unable to get far enough down to grasp it. Tape back-wrapped on a piece of wire was not sticky enough to get it out that way, either.

Is the car safe to drive? I purchased a replacement cap/dipstick and can check the level, which is fine. I'm worried that driving it will end up pushing the broken piece into the transmission. Any idea how to remove it, or how much money it will take to have a shop do it?

-- Ken

RAY: You're worried about a broken dipstick on a '93 Loyale, Ken? Isn't that like worrying about the barnacles on the Andrea Doria?

TOM: Actually, if you have an automatic transmission, you have nothing to worry about, Ken. Since the dipstick's lateral movement is confined by the tube, the end of the stick is just going to sit there on the bottom of the transmission pan, where it won't bother anything. There are no gears or anything in that part of the automatic transmission, and the stick can't go anywhere.

RAY: So if it's an automatic, just use your new stick to keep an eye on the fluid level, and otherwise forget about it.

TOM: On the other hand, if you have a manual transmission, then you need to remove that thing. There's nothing BUT gears in a manual transmission, so the stick could get chewed up by the gears and ruin your transmission AND your differential.

RAY: The first thing to try is a more powerful magnet. If you can still see the top of the dipstick, and it's not wedged in there somehow, a more powerful magnet ought to be able to grab it for you.

TOM: If not, the next step is to have a mechanic remove the tube itself. The dipstick tube usually is just force-fit into the transmission housing, or maybe held in place by a single bolt and a bracket. So if you're still on speaking terms with any local mechanics, have one of them pull out the tube for you, and then remove the broken piece of dipstick.

RAY: And if worse comes to worst, and the tube gets damaged during removal, you can buy a new tube for very little money. Altogether, including labor, this is probably a $50 repair if you get to it soon. Or a $2,000 repair if you dawdle.

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