Advice on failed transmission

I was going down the highway a handfull of hours ago in my 2001 Ford Taurus, no ominous rattlings or threatening console lights to be seen, when unexpectedly I felt the engine lose all purchase on the wheels and my vehicle began to coast. Coast I did, onto a bit of asphalt spanning the medium, where a friendly stranger helped me to move the vehicle across the lanes and onto the shoulder.

The two fuses which, according to the manual, relate to the transmission’s electronics appear intact, and the park position works normally, while all other positions result in the vehicle rolling freely like Neutral. After allowing the vehicle to sit for some time, it did not reengage. According to a mechanic who I managed to snare from a nearby gas station, the fluid level is normal.

About a year ago, the transmission leaked until it stopped working, and I added some seal-swelling fluid and replaced the missing fluid. Since then, it has stopped leaking completely, as the fluid has not been added to since that time and the mechanic I met claimed it was at normal levels.

Can anyone here make a suggestion as to what the problem might be, and how I can hopefully save some money over getting the transmission itself replaced as a easy but expensive option? I dearly hope to hear that the 2001 Taurus simply has a cable which is prone to falling out.

Comments on this page suggest that it might be the torque converter.

Apparently it’s quite common for the '01 Taurus to have trouble without any warning. I found accounts that were virtually identical to what you describe.

In any case, I would recommend that you take it to an independent shop that specializes in transmissions.

Edit: I overlooked the point about the previous leak. It’s quite likely that you damaged the tranny, and it simply took until now for the damage to become obvious.

This describes perfectly what happens when your timing belt goes. Did all of the dashboard warning lights come on? Can you turn the car over?

OK, I’ve turned the car over, what do I do next?

Yes, when the timing belt on my old Honda Civic went, the engine turned easily with the starter but never fired. OTOH, I had a 2000 BMW 328i and the reverse went. I could drive it forward no problem, drove around and then took it to the dealer a few days later and got a new transmission - but I had to manually push it back out of any parking spot. (Fun fact - they denied a 5-year-old transmission would break due to defect, yet I ran across a number of other similar complaints on the internet. Eventually the dealer discounted the replacement by about $3000.)

Your transmission has died. Whether it’s a failure on the management system (the automatic gear shift) or the gears are stripped - who knows? Something that causes seals to swell may have gummed up the pressure sensor and valve(?) system that regulates shifting gears. The question is - what’s the cheapest repair? AFAIK unless you are an expert, taking a transmission apart yourself is probably going to be a disaster. Paying someone to do so for a 16-year-old car, probably not cost effective. Odds are they will find a replacement is better. I imagine cheap transmissions are available from car wreckers for cheap, and replacing a transmission requires a bit less expertise (i.e.cheaper) than opening and analyzing one then possibly having to buy gears or modules from the supplier.

Buying another 16-year-old car may be cheaper than replacing a transmission on one… Buying a relatively newer car may be more cost-effective in the long run.

It is presently in an independent transmission shop. The man there suggested that it may be an issue with the torque converter as well. I realized that it is a 2002 while waiting for the wrecker to drag it out of the tobacco shack parking lot that I’d allowed gravity to pull it into.

No warning lights, and the engine turns over without issue. Power just will not go to the wheels. The arm on top of the transmission which I assume actuates the gears also moves seemingly normally. I can not feel the transmission itself doing anything.

The car only has 54000 miles on it. I believe that the origin of the issue may be that the car was left undriven for a long period of time, as the previous owner was my grandmother who had lost the ability to safely drive before I bought it from her. So, the seals probably dried out, which caused the thing to leak, which may have allowed the transmission to burn itself to the point that, gummed and refilled, it could survive for another year before suddenly and without warning giving out. The device is mysterious. I would’ve expected it to at least become “tricky” before this point, rather than working perfectly up and until the point of death, though.

Thanks for your replies, friendly strangers.

[Look of dubie] I thought the first sign of a failed timing belt was the loud bang when a piston shatters by hitting an open value, followed by grinding noises when the connecting rod gouges out furrows in the cylinder wall … we wouldn’t be able to free wheel with the tranny in “drive” at this point …

That happens with clearance engines, the ones where the valves go down into the cylinders. With valves that go up on top of the piston head the engine won’t run because the valves aren’t moving. I don’t know what type of engine is in that Taurus though.


no Taurus has had a timing belt. up until 1996 they were all pushrod engines, and the DOHC 3.0 V6 which was introduced then has a chain.

the AX4N/AX4S apparently did have lingering issues with the torque converter and front pump though I think they were mostly solved by 1998. However if OP ran it with the fluid low enough it wouldn’t move until being topped up, that may have hastened its demise.

Park typically will work even on a failed transmission if the parking pawl (level like deal that sits on a gear to stop it from moving). I can only think of two things that could be the problem. Broken flywheel or broke gear selector cable. Not sure about the taurus but to replace that flywheel on some you actually don’t need pretty much a whole tranny rebuild. low fluid level also leads to a no-go tranny in some cases, causes it to seize.

to nitpick, “Park” puts the transmission in the same state as neutral, but with the pawl locking the output shaft.

bah humbug! Still explains nothing happening with it, though. Sorta.

The fluid level is not low. The leak stopped many months before, and I checked the fluid levels after the loss of function.

What happens after you use a chemical that swell the rubbers (seals)? They turn to sponge and break away.

No seals no pressure.

yes, but running it at such a low fluid level may have caused its own damage. Plus, those “seal swelling” additives are supposed to be a temporary measure until you can get it properly repaired. they’re not meant to stay in there indefinitely.

As I understood, until recently automatic transmissions used oil pressure from the spinning transmission to actuate the shifting mechanism via pressure-actuated valves that pushed the shifting. It’s possible the additive gummed up this process, making it impossible to shift. I don’t know if it should then be stuck in neutral or first when you set the transmission to drive.

what do you mean “until recently?”

I had an bad experience with an independent transmission shop when my 98 Ranger had transmission trouble. It ended up costing me three grand, about the same as a Motorcraft factory rebuilt, for a “rebuild” which has been a bit flaky, i.e. slow to shift. I have heard that tranny shops are notorious for ripoffs. I usually avoid dealers, which is why I didn’t go there, but in this case I think I was wrong. A Taurus with 54K miles is definitely worth a new transmission, IMO. They are solid cars. I’d get the car over to the Ford dealer and not let the independent open the case.

If you go to a mechanic that simply wants to overhaul your trans he might not be a good choice. A good tranny mechanic know how to trouble shoot your transmission, in your case mostly by inspection. You suddenly lost pressure for some reason, it might just be a bad valve in the trans.

I thought I had read somewhere that the new and improved shifting technique was computer control - like everything else. If not, I stand corrected.