All signs point to a transmission issue

Dear Car Talk:

I recently bought a gently used Toyota RAV4, and passed on my 2000 Honda CR-V with 189,000 miles to my grandson. One day while he was driving, it developed “a loud banging noise right under me.” He drove it a few more blocks. The U-joint at the front end of the drive line broke completely off, and the yoke was slightly damaged. The tech at the shop said we could pay $65 to remove the drive line and support brackets, and turn it into a front-wheel-drive-only car, or pay $1,000 to order and install a new drive line. He assured me that everything would work fine, and since Junior doesn’t drive in snow or mud, I took the $65 option. After about 1,500 or so miles, the car started having all kinds of issues: not wanting to get going after stopping in traffic, and not wanting to get out of first gear. One guy told me it’s the transmission; another told me to put the drive line back together and the problems would go away. What do you think? – Grandpa Jess

RAY: I would guess it’s not related to the front-wheel-drive battlefield conversion you did, Jess. Which is too bad, because then the Magic 8 Ball points to the “transmission.”

On some cars, you really can’t convert them from all-wheel drive to two-wheel drive. But this CR-V is really a front-wheel-drive car at heart. They added a viscous coupling in the rear that activates only when the front wheels are going faster than the rear wheels (like when the front wheels are slipping on ice). So if you remove the rear drive shaft, it’ll simply never activate. So that shouldn’t affect your transmission. But 189,000 miles followed by a young, lead-footed grandson can affect a transmission.

My advice would be to go online and look at mechanicsfiles.com. That’s a database where readers and listeners of ours recommend mechanics they really like and trust. You can search it by ZIP code. And you can and should look for someone who specializes in Hondas.

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It could be a bad transmission control module, a bad range sensor or a stuck valve or obstruction somewhere. Someone who works on a lot of CR-Vs may have seen this problem before, and may have a sense of whether it’s more likely to be something mechanical or something electronic. He may want to try a transmission-fluid flush first, just in case it’s a stuck valve, since a flush can free it up. That certainly would be the best-case scenario, Jess.

But once you get a better handle on what’s causing the problem and what it’ll cost to fix, you can decide whether you want to repair it … or let Junior hoodwink you into kissing that gently used RAV4 goodbye. Just don’t give him a transmission warranty this time, Jess. Good luck.

Is buying an old car a good idea, even if it is pristine?

Dear Car Talk:

I’ve got three worn-out old cars and likely will have to replace one or another soon. My neighbor has a 1992 Buick Regal. He wants to sell it – the first $2,200 gets it. Having always purchased pre-owned automobiles in the past, I know what kind of challenges a 25-year-old car can bring (there aren’t any more in the junkyards, for one thing). But this car is perfect: Showroom condition, inside and out. My neighbor is proactive about maintenance. He replaced the alternator just because he thought it might wear out someday. The paint is double-coat, waxed twice a year. There are no cracks or splits in the upholstery. No leaks. No dents. No scratches, even. What do you think? Can I depend on a 1992 Buick to be a daily driver? – Bob

RAY: Well, Bob, you say you’ve got three worn-out old cars. So what’s one more?

I think it’s great that your neighbor has kept it up well. That certainly improves your odds of making it to work and back a few more times.

But it’s a 25-year-old car. And even though he may have replaced 100 parts with brand-new ones, there are a thousand parts that haven’t been replaced. I’m guessing the transmission is original, the differential is original, the water pump and the fuel pump probably are original.

And he’s probably getting rid of the “perfect” car because he’s got a feeling he’s on borrowed time. And you will be, too. But it sounds like you’re willing to accept that. And if so, go for it.

My advice would be to keep doing what your neighbor has done. Do all the regular maintenance, change all the fluids on time and, most importantly, drive it gently. That’ll increase the time it takes for this Regal to look and drive like your other three cars, Bob.

And look on the bright side: At least you know you won’t need an alternator anytime soon. And given how well he’s kept up its appearance, you’ll look great in it when you do get towed. Good luck. Hope it surprises everybody!

Got a question about cars? Write to Car Talk write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.

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