My car just stopped working....

So my 98 Escort has been having problems recently. Last summer i took it in to have the transmission rebuilt. About 2 months ago I started noticing the same problem I had before the tranny was rebuilt - problems going from 2nd to 3rd (it’s an automatic but I can tell) - but this time it just has a problem going to 2nd. It gets there but it moans and complains at 20mph.

Of course it only happens intermittently, and when i took it back to the tranny place, they said they couldn’t find a problem (even though they kept it for a week). So i just took it back and continued driving it.

The problem is now more than intermittently, but still not every time I go over 20mph.

However, last night I had quite a strange driving experience. I was going down the road at about 45mph then started to slow for a red light. The service engine light came on at 40mph, then as I slowed to 20mph the battery and oil lights came on and the car stopped responding. It didn’t make any loud or awkward noises. I just lost power steering, breaks (I think) and was no longer responding to the accel. pedal. The lights and radio stayed on. The temperature level was right between H and C. I pulled off into a parking lot (rolled, really), considered calling AAA then started it back up again.

Everything worked fine/the same but the engine light was still on.

As I was continuing home, I was on the freeway. 70mph, no problem. As I got off the freeway, I slowed to 45mph. Once I hit 40mph, the car jerked, the oil and battery lights flashed, I went back up to 45mph and everything was OK.

Then as I was getting closer to home, I had to go under 40mph. It kicked again as it dropped below 40. Then the tranny felt as it was definitely not in the correct gear for the speed i was going. The engine was really loud and it felt as if it wasn’t responding correctly to the pressure I put on the pedal.

Obviously I have to take this to a mechanic, but I am so peeved because the last 2 mechanics I took it to (the tranny place and the regular mechanic) told me there was nothing wrong. Perhaps it’s cuz I’m a young woman or perhaps it’s because I am not explaining myself clearly to the mechanics. I’ve been telling them exactly what happens when the car messes up like this and they sort of look at me funny then their eyes glaze over.

Can anyone shed some light on what might be causing my car to … stop working?

FTR the spark plugs are new, and I get regular oil changes, filters are all good. The tranny fluid was flushed about 6 months ago.

If no one answers, I reccomend try cartalk discussion boards on
Have you checked the fluid levels? Could have a leak, and if you’re going to post on a message board, it would be helpful to rule that factor in or out.

I just got an oil change about a month ago and the guys check all the fluids and nothing was reported low. I have been having the tranny problem for more than a month. I will check for leaks, though.

My '95 Talon did the exact same dying/restarting thing once. Except it happened several times in a row (off/on/off/on/off/on in quick succession) I managed to get the car home, all while it was shifting weird and even blowing some smoke out of the tailpipe!

Amazingly enough, all the problems went away when I put a new battery in after the car wouldn’t start the next morning. It has been running fine ever since then.

And yeah, you should check all the fluids - especially the transmission fluid. Check your owner’s manual on how to do this - it is a little more complicated than checking the oil, but anyone can do it.

Can a 5 year old batery be bad? It looked pretty clean when I did the spark plugs a few months back and I don’t recall leaving any lights on lately. But it has been really wet here lately and I do tend to drive through massive puddles. Can that muck things up?

Check the alternator and make sure that is operating good. That will affect engine performance and may make noise as it fails. Make sure oil level is ok. Try to restart it in park and see if it runs ok and make sure the red engine light is not on. Stop the car immediately it the RED light comes on. The yellow (check engine) light is a different matter. I doubt if the tranny caused your experience. More likely the engine was acting up. Sounds like an electrical problem associated with the alternator.

Water could have caused the alternator to die.
You could have water in a harness connector or the engine compartment fuse box. Doubtful though.

Whuckfistle - My car only has one light, “Service Engine Soon” and it’s orange :frowning:

However, last night I had quite a strange driving experience…
This whole paragraph can be summed up as follows: the “check engine” light came on, the engine died, and the car restarted. Perhaps the glazed looks you described are from too many details, exceeding their attention span.

I’ve found that a number of folks don’t know this, so for everyone’s benefit: if the engine dies while driving, you have a situation where the key is in the “on” position but the engine isn’t running. You can duplicate this by going out to your car and turning it on, but not starting it. The warning lights are on, the accessories work, there is no response to the accelerator, engine-driven power features (power brake assist, power steering) don’t work. This is such second nature and so obvious to mechanics that if someone starts describing every little aspect of it, they’re thinking “yeah, the engine died, get on with it.” That said, a good service advisor or mechanic is still going to pay attention to what you say–they’re used to the different perspectives held by laymen. But it can be helpful for customers to recognize that the engine died and say so succinctly.

As I was continuing home…
This paragraph sounds like the engine cut out momentarily but restarted on its own (because it died so briefly that it had enough internal momentum to not need the starter’s help).

The “check engine” light coming on indicates a fault in the areas monitored by the electronic control system (“computer”). There will be a fault code stored in the computer memory, which will aid in (but not necessarily be all the info needed for) determining why the light came on. This may or may not be related to the engine dying or the transmission operation, which may or may not be related to each other.

Most batteries have a useful life of 5 years. Your battery may or may not be a factor in your problem(s), but it would be wise to test or replace it at its age.

There are very many possibilities in the situation described, so we’re really not in a position to know what’s wrong with it. The pertinent info to relate to the mechanic is that the car died but restarted right away/quickly, the “check engine” light came on, the car jerked and cut out several times but only at or below 40 mph, and it felt and sounded like it was not in the correct gear.

Good communication is fairly critical in auto repair, and it’s a two-way street. Both parties must try to both speak clearly and listen attentively. If the repair shops you’re dealing with aren’t doing their part to enable effective communication, you may to need to keep looking for a shop that is better for you.

Was it raining or wet when you had the problem?
If so it may just be wet ignition parts.
Cracked distributor especially.
Avoid driving through big puddles if possible.

My car did the same thing as yours.

It was the alternator/car computer. I wasnt getting the electrical charge I needed, so “all” of my computer chips were going haywire on low power, causing all kinds of funny reactions, including false transmission symptoms.

My mechanic did some bypassing, and gave me a separate standalone alternator which bypassed the way the car was built to save me money from buying a complete new car computer. He said my alternator chip was inside my car computer, and if I went to the dealer, they would have replaced my car computer which is very expensive.

GaryT THANK YOU!! That is the sort of information I need. I want to be careful not to leave out anything important that would help them diagnose the problem but I surely don’t want to make them bored by telling my whole story. I did call the mechanics today for an appointment and started telling my story and the dude said “so it stalled?” YES :slight_smile: I will be sure to tell them it stalled while driving, and tried to do it a few more times.

justwannano no it wasn’t raining when I was driving. Dry as a bone.

Susanann thanks for the anecdote. If they tell me there’s nothing wrong I’ll tell them to check the alternator. Luckilly we’ve been going to this shop for years and they’re good about saving us money, so I will inquire about the bypassing and separate alternator.