Babying a failing car transmission

My daily driver is a '96 Buick Skylark. I’ve known for some time that the transmission had leaks, but it was minor enough to ignore for a while. Not anymore.

The car currently has 189k miles. I took it to an independent transmission shop to have it looked at. They said (A) it’s leaking from just about every place that it can leak, (B) it needs a rebuild/replacement, and © in the owner’s opinion, the engine is far enough gone that it’s not worth spending anything on the transmission. He thinks it likely that the engine will actually go before the transmission goes.

I’m not at all certain that he’s correct on that last point; in any case, I would like the transmission to last as long as possible without spending money on anything (besides fluid).

I live in Colorado Springs, where we have hills, often steep ones, all over the place. They can sometimes be avoided, but not always. I know that getting moving from a stop places the most strain on a transmission. What I’m wondering is whether it’s better for the transmission to have more starts on level(-ish) ground, or fewer starts but going uphill. That may be an impossible question to answer, but I thought I would throw it out, and see what the Dope says.

You can buy transmission stop leak fluid:

That might help some.

More info please?

What specifically did the tech at the transmission shop say about the transmission’s condition. Other than fluid loss, what symptoms are you experiencing? How fast is it leaking (quart of fluid per X miles)? It’s perfectly possible for a transmission to leak like a sieve but still be perfectly fine mechanically. As long as you keep the fluids topped off, you’re golden.

On two different occasions, it’s run low enough on fluid to slip rather badly.

And I have just begun seeing minor and intermittent noticeable symptoms in first gear when I know that there’s enough fluid in it.

So far, every issue, low fluid or not, has been only while in first gear.

I’m not surprised that first gear is showing signs of slippage. It’s almost invariably the first to go. I suspect you’ll also find slippage when you shift into reverse since it uses the same components.

In regards to hill vs flat starts, hill starts are probably a bit more wearing than a gentle start on flat terrain but this isn’t something I would worry about. At this point, it’s pretty much damage done. Try to drive and accelerate gently, keep the fluid topped off and that’s about the best you can do.

Yep. And for all you know, it may last nearly forever, or it could quit later today. I’ve had both happen.

I’ve got a ‘Ford-a-Matic’ in an F-250 that I’ve driven for years with a bad/weak reverse. Just takes a little more planning on where you park it. :wink:

Only other thing I can suggest to maximize the life of your transmission is to make sure the car’s cooling system is working correctly. A cool transmission is a happy transmission. A dedicated add-on, transmission cooler would help but probably cannot be considered a justifiable expense.

running it low on fluid to the point it slips is what’s damaging it. the drop in hydraulic pressure (due to lack of fluid) is letting the clutches slip, and if the lack of fluid is letting them slip dry, then you’re just accelerating the wear. there’s really nothing you can do in terms of driving style to prolong things; the only thing you can do is be religious about making sure the fluid level is correct.

I doubt that the tech was correct about the engine being about to go. Our 1996 Buick Park Avenue has way over 300K & the V-6 engine is still strong. It is a bit low on compression, but it starts fine & has plenty of power. It burns less than one quart of oil between oil changes. We are closing in on 380K, so we have almost double what you have in mileage. The transmission is the original one & it is still strong.

One thing to be aware of is that Buick used at least 3 different transmissions in that year. I had a cousin that found that out the hard way. When his transmission started to slip, he bought an extra transmission & he rebuilt it so it would be ready when the other one failed. The plan was to swap it out over a weekend. When the time came, & we went to swap it in, his fresh rebuilt one did not fit. Boy was he upset!

If it were my rig, I would get a second opinion. I am not impressed with the first fellow. If three transmission shops say it is not worth rebuilding, I would look for a new-to-me Buick.