What would you say about a car with a disappearing...

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 1994

Dear Tom and Ray:

What would you say about a car with a disappearing fifth gear? I have a 1988 Dodge Colt Vista with 4WD and a five speed manual transmission. Whenever I drive on the highway for more than 10 or 15 miles, and I'm in fifth gear, the car makes a big "whoosh," and then I'm in fourth gear, even though the shifter is still in the fifth gear position. And after that "whoosh," I can't get it back into fifth gear, no matter what I try. It just disappears! Do I need a new transmission? A new clutch? A rope?

RAY: Well, the rope won't help, Jamie. When someone has an old heap that pops out of fifth gear, we sometimes recommend that they tie a Bungie Cord between the shifter and, say, the latch of the glove box. But that only works if the problem is mechanical.

TOM: Your problem is electric, believe it or not. The fifth gear in this car is engaged electrically by a little switch on the transmission (called the Transmission Select Switch). When you put your shifter into fifth gear, it activates this switch, and the SWITCH shifts the transmission from fourth to fifth.

RAY: On older Colt Vistas, water sometimes leaks into the Transmission Select Switch and causes it to fail or work intermittently. And when that happens, the car won't go past fourth gear. That's probably what's happening to you.

TOM: And fortunately, to fix it, all you have to do is replace the switch. That's it! This is about the cheapest transmission/ clutch problem you can possibly have, Jamie. I can only conclude that you must be leading a good, clean life.

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