Crud ... my odometer's broke. Costly repair or piece of gateau?

Well, the odometer on my truck (1995 Nissan XE, automatic trans, 4 cyl) has just gone kerplunk. My first thought was that the repair would be a simple, painless, and cheap reconnection or replacement of a cable.

However, a friend has shared his past experience with a broken odometer on a 1991 Mustang GT. He said the repair shop told him that since the odometer cable ran through the transmission, they would have to replace the tranny to repair the odometer cable. Not remove the tranny and put it back in, but replace it! Is this typical of odometer repair?

Since I can’t afford more than maybe a $100 repair bill, I’m thinking of letting the odometer problem on my truck go for a spell. I plan to drive the truck until the wheels fall off.

It depends on the car. When it happened to me, I was able to replace the cable myself (it was an old Renault Le Car). It was just a matter of buying a new cable and putting it into place. It wasn’t easy, but I could do it, and I’m no car mechanic.

I do find it hard to believe that the transmission would have to be replaced for this, though.

Why not call the dealer and ask?

A question: is the speedometer working? If it is, but the odometer isn’t rolling over, then I don’t think it’s a cable. It’s more likely a broken gear in the odometer itself. These are often plastic, and not repairable, so you’d be looking at a new speedometer/odometer. Replacing it probably involves pulling the dashboard, etc., etc., and starts getting expensive.

If the speedometer is also dead, then the cable becomes the prime suspect. Driving around without a speedometer is probably not a real great idea, particularly if the local constabulary is fond of setting up speed traps.

If it’s just the odometer, as long as you’re not planning to resell the beast, and you can keep a rough idea of your mileage, so that you’ll have some notion of when to do routine maintenance, like oil changes, I’d say, “screw it - let it be broken!”

Absolutely not. I’ve never heard of such a thing. If they said that they were either full of shit or severely taken advantage of.

Early Out gave you a good run down.

Early Out raises the critical question–does the speedometer still work? On nearly all vehicles the speedo and odo share the same input signal (sometimes from a mechanical cable, sometimes from a wire from a speed sensor, sometimes a combination of both). So if the speedo works, then the input must be working, and as he said, the instrument itself is the problem. In that case, the options are:
>Replace it a new one. It’s only available from a dealer, and will have close to zero miles on it.
>Replace it with a used one. You may have to check with several salvage yards to find one, and it will have a number of miles on it (you take what you can get).
>Have it repaired. Look for a speedometer repair shop in your area.
>Leave it as is.

Now, if the speedo is also not working, it could still be the instrument, but it’s likely the input signal. You can find out which by either testing the system or replacing parts until it works again.

…since the odometer cable ran through the transmission, they would have to replace the tranny to repair the odometer cable. Not remove the tranny and put it back in, but replace it! Is this typical of odometer repair?

No, and this smells funny. The speedo/odo input is originated by a driven gear in the tranny. Its motion is transferred to a drive gear, to which the cable or (electronic) signal generator is attached. Any of these parts can fail. The cable (or signal generator) and drive gear are readily accessible without tranny disassembly or removal. If the driven gear fails, one has to get inside the tranny. On some designs this can be done with the tranny in the car, on others the tranny must be removed. Generally, only the driven gear itself needs to be replaced. I won’t say it’s impossible, but it strikes me as extremely unlikely that a tranny rebuild or replacement would be called for if there were no other symptoms.

Aargh! I mixed up driven gear and drive gear above–sorry about that.

The drive gear is inside the tranny, on its output shaft.

The driven gear is in a little housing on the outside of the tranny.

Thanks for the advice, all.

FWIW, the speedometer and tach both work fine.

As for the case of the Mustang owner cired in my OP – he sits next to me here at work, so I asked for some details. He said that the transmission was replaced because the repair was under warranty, and if the repair hadn’t been covered, they probably wouldn’t have performed the replacement.

Early Out, keeping track of my mileage is fairly easy – I get almost exactly 260 miles out of a tank of gas (well, with 2-3 gallons remaining) with my driving habits (75-80% highway miles). Also, my oil changes over the past two years have come out to around every six weeks (+ or - a week).

Does the trip odometer work? You know that little odometer in an odometer that you can reset?

No, the trip odometer is also out of commision.

If you don’t want to replaces the cluster or or’s too expensive and don’t mind having a broken odometer you could get a GPS that will add mapping & routing capibilities to your car and also most can be set to display milage for the times you need it. The Garmin streetfinder pro? is one such unit and will work almost anywhere the unit can see the sky (it may take a long time to aquire a signal near tall buildings but once it’s locked in it usually holds it well.)

I have found that my gps milage is almost dead on to the car odometer.

If you want to know more then post so and I could go into more detail.

It is very uncommon for the drive or driven gears to fail. Almost always, IME, it has been a snapped or stripped cable.

The cable is typically straightforward to replace, unless:

  1. Access to the rear of the dash is difficult, or
  2. The stupid threaded sleeve is rusted onto/corroded onto the transmission.

The GPS idea does work, but it does get to be a hassle after a very short while, IMO.

I think a GPS is out of my price range.

Thanks for the advice, all!

If one listened to the dark side of the force, one might conclude that a busted odometer was a good thing… after all, it helps resale value.
I couldn’t do this myself, it would give me trouble sleeping at night. However, I knew a guy who disabled the speedo and odo on his daughter’s car because she had a 100 mile round trip drive to college, which she drove daily. He intended on reconnecting it when she graduated so he could sell the car for more money.

In Virginia, at least (and I’ll wager a lot of other states), when you transfer title to a vehicle, you have to sign a statement that the odometer is correct, or a statement that you believe the odometer to be incorrect. I’m not sure what the penalties are for falsifying that statement, but between the state coming after you for fraud, and the buyer coming after you for misrepresenting what you sold him, I don’t think sleeping at night would be the worst of your problems.

Since the GPS trick is out, maybe you can try this method that has been used with much success by the members of a motorcycle user group I belong to whose odo/speedos have died:

Use an electronic bicycle computer!

I’m serious. It might be a little difficult to manage, but with some cable ties and maybe some epoxy or a glue gun it should not be impossible. Once you input the circumference of the wheel into the computer it calculates the miles. You’d have to affix a magnet to your back wheel rim and the pick-up to your chassis, but other than that I forsee no difficulties. And it’ll only set you back, what, 25 bucks, if even that much.

If the cost of the cluster is $800 or more, the GPS could be a option.

Hi bordelond -

I have a 95 Nissan myself, and odometer problems (Altima, not truck).

My glitch seems to be in the unit itself - If I pull on the “tripometer” spindle for a second, it “catches” and the thing starts ticking away again. A very minor nuisance. Seems to be worse/triggered in rainy, wet weather.

I’ll echo the other posters that a tranny replacement for a speedo/odo cable is like an amputation for an ingrown toenail… overkill and unnecessary. Check your repair manual, those are only about $12. It will show a pic-by-pic of the replacement, and you can decide for yourself whether it’s in your scope of abilities or not. (I do a lot of my minor stuff myself after consulting the book, but I know when I don’t have the tools or the skill or the time - good luck)

Ordinarily that would be cool to have, but per the OP, more than a $100 fix will be cost-prohibitive.

Stockton, thanks for the advice … I’ll try PULLING on the trip odometer knob. Can’t hurt.

BTW, my friend’d experience with the transmission replacement seems as though it were a warranty scam perpetrated by his mechanic. I haven’t been told that.