Author Topic: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?  (Read 2740 times)

pk_aeryn

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Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« on: March 03, 2018, 03:06:55 PM »
I've just gotten some truly bummer news from my very honest mechanic that I will need to replace my transmission.  (Check engine light when on, my OBD reader said: P0741 Torque Converter Clutch Circuit Performance or Stuck Off)

I'm pretty upset because my car is a 2004 Toyota Corolla with only 100k miles (I just passed 100k this month).  Despite my low mileage, I estimate it's not worth more than 3k WITH a good transmission. It's been in a few accidents where I've had most of the rear and side panels/doors replaced so there are no major dents but there are a few deep visible scratches in several different places.

The quote for a new transmission was $2800, so given that is about the worth of the car, all the advice is to buy a new one.  But I want to be Mustachian and if my torque converter hadn't broken, I'd have happily driven it for maybe 7 more years or so.

Mustachian angel on my shoulder in favor of fixing:
1) Low mileage, and it's otherwise a Corolla with a few years of tires and brakes left.

2) I've been the only owner, (my 22 year old self bought new before knowing better) I know all the maintenance and accidents, and I'm falling to the sunk cost fallacy of thinking of all the times I paid honestly a lot of money for body repair when the accident was my fault.  I had a 1k insurance deductible and paid that on two separate occasions)

3) I really wanted this car to last me until the self driving car utopia is upon us and I never have to buy and maintain my own car again. I would have happily driven it another 7ish years if it takes that long for fully automated cars to be legal for a ordinary citizen to own.

4) My insurance and registration will be kept as low as possible with a car my age and value (no collision coverage)

Consumerist devil on my shoulder telling me to buy a new-to-me car (probably something like a 2012-2015 Prius):

1) This expensive repair will not add any value to car, repair is worth as much as the car is - put the money toward a new car.

2) I have the cash for a new used car, no loan needed.

3) if I get a Prius, I'm helping the environment and the savings on gas will go toward the increased insurance and registration.  Although I only drive about 8/k per year, it's all extremely slow bumper to bumper city traffic so a hybrid is perfect for these conditions)

4) I will help future-proof myself against rising gas costs (at least a little)

5) I have had the same car for 13 years, which is in the modern world is still fairly commendable.

6) My employer will give me about $1,000 for the purchase of a hybrid (after taxes I guess it would be about $550-600). This deal actually might only be available for another year.

7) I sit in traffic a lot (2.5 hrs a day, no I cannot improve this, long story) and a more modern system that integrates with my phone would be kinda nice TBH

8) I haven't had to do replace any belts or parts in a few years, and my water pump is supposedly leaking a little, so I could be due for some other somewhat pricey maintenance soon that I don't know about yet.

I have a feeling you guys will tell me to fix but given all the info on my specific situation- what would you do?

Slow2FIRE

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #1 on: March 03, 2018, 05:54:16 PM »
I don't have advice on which path you should go with, just wanted to mention that I've been reading some recent disturbing news articles alleging that the 2014 Prius (not sure if any other year is affected as I haven't been moved to fully research the details) had a software fix for an issue and this results in much lower fuel economy.  May want to research this specific issue to find what model years are affected and if it is really something you need to be on the look out for.

Tuskalusa

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #2 on: March 03, 2018, 06:01:58 PM »
How many years does your mechanic think you can get out of the car if you make this repair?  Are there other expensive repairs on the horizon?

Clean Shaven

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #3 on: March 03, 2018, 07:56:30 PM »
Torque converter failure does not usually mean total new transmission needed.  If this is an honest assessment by the mechanic, try to find out why he says a complete new transmission is needed, rather than just replacing the TC.

Also spend some time googling your car and transmission issues to see if this is a common problem. Seems unlikely for a Corolla, but IDK.

pk_aeryn

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #4 on: March 03, 2018, 11:24:16 PM »
Clean Shaven, everything I've heard about a torque converter failure (not just from my mechanic) is that when that breaks, it can cause very small metal shards to go through the transmission.  So you can replace just the torque converter, but I've been told by many that by then it's too late- the new TC and transmission as a whole. The mechanic I mention in my post is technically my second opinion on the same error. The first told me the same thing, I kept driving it until the error popped up again and then. Got this second opinion and my own OBD to read the code myself.  But yeah it's crazy because this car was supposed to last me so much longer.  Who ever needed a Corolla transmission replaced at 100k miles???  Seems unbelievable.

As for long how it will last, nobody can say. Could be weeks or maybe years.  I'm going to keep driving on it fort the time being while I explore my options, but I also don't want to get into a place where I need to impulse buy a car from Carmax just so I can get to work.

Trifele

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2018, 03:19:48 AM »
The Edmunds valuator does indeed indicate a $2800 blue book value for your car, but that seems strangely low to me.  I checked Autotrader and Craigslist, and the '04 Corollas with low miles in my area are listing for over $4k.  Not sure where the disconnect is between the blue book and the marketplace.  For shits and giggles, let's say the car in good running condition is worth $4k, even with the cosmetic issues. 

This is a close call; you can make a good argument either way and I don't think there is any wrong answer.  If it were me I would probably repair and keep, if you otherwise like this car.  For the cost of a transmission, it should be able to go another 100k miles without too much trouble, and your insurance will stay low.   Another thought -- because this is a Corolla we are talking about, you could likely get a very good used/refurbished transmission, which could shave more than half off the cost of a new one. You may be able to get the repair (including labor) down into the neighborhood of ~$1500. 


CoffeeR

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #6 on: March 04, 2018, 04:55:57 AM »
I have a feeling you guys will tell me to fix but given all the info on my specific situation- what would you do?
If it were me, if I could replace this car without going into debt (you say you can), I would replace it. How much I would pay for a "new-to-me" car depends on how much of my savings it would take. For example, I would not spend $15K on a car if I only had $20K in savings.

Thegoblinchief

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #7 on: March 04, 2018, 06:16:32 AM »
The Edmunds valuator does indeed indicate a $2800 blue book value for your car, but that seems strangely low to me.  I checked Autotrader and Craigslist, and the '04 Corollas with low miles in my area are listing for over $4k.  Not sure where the disconnect is between the blue book and the marketplace.  For shits and giggles, let's say the car in good running condition is worth $4k, even with the cosmetic issues. 

This is a close call; you can make a good argument either way and I don't think there is any wrong answer.  If it were me I would probably repair and keep, if you otherwise like this car.  For the cost of a transmission, it should be able to go another 100k miles without too much trouble, and your insurance will stay low.   Another thought -- because this is a Corolla we are talking about, you could likely get a very good used/refurbished transmission, which could shave more than half off the cost of a new one. You may be able to get the repair (including labor) down into the neighborhood of ~$1500.

I don’t find the used car value sites very accurate anymore. A car like that in my area would probably go for $4-5K easily. I personally would fix it. My experience with $3K cars has been that you inherit a lot of time bomb deferred maintenance issues because people are so bad about maintaining their own cars. I personally would fix it. The devil you know....

At the rate you’re driving that thing, unless salt/rust is a major issue in your area you should easily get another 10 years out of it.

Clean Shaven

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #8 on: March 04, 2018, 10:54:52 AM »
Clean Shaven, everything I've heard about a torque converter failure (not just from my mechanic) is that when that breaks, it can cause very small metal shards to go through the transmission.  So you can replace just the torque converter, but I've been told by many that by then it's too late- the new TC and transmission as a whole. The mechanic I mention in my post is technically my second opinion on the same error. The first told me the same thing, I kept driving it until the error popped up again and then. Got this second opinion and my own OBD to read the code myself.  But yeah it's crazy because this car was supposed to last me so much longer.  Who ever needed a Corolla transmission replaced at 100k miles???  Seems unbelievable.

As for long how it will last, nobody can say. Could be weeks or maybe years.  I'm going to keep driving on it fort the time being while I explore my options, but I also don't want to get into a place where I need to impulse buy a car from Carmax just so I can get to work.
That makes sense.

What about a low mileage junkyard transmission?

FatFI2025

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #9 on: March 04, 2018, 11:18:30 AM »
[/quote

What about a low mileage junkyard transmission?

I would replace the tranny and be prepared to buy another car by 2024. Regardless of the mileage, cars really start to go sideways at the 15-20 year mark with little things. Then just drive it until it experiences a mech problem and donate it. You might be lucky and get a few more years. Even though you bought it new, it's a frugal car and owning it for 20 years would be a mustachian win. I doubt we'll have affordable self-driving cars in the next five years, but would love to be proven wrong.

wortdog

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #10 on: March 04, 2018, 01:22:56 PM »
Are there any other symptoms than just the code? A failed torque converter sounds like it has ball bearings bouncing around inside of it, and it will feel like it is slipping.

That code does NOT mean that the entire torque converter has failed, just that the torque converter lockup clutch isn't working. This could be something as simple as the torque converter lockup solenoid coming unplugged:

https://repairpal.com/check-engine-light-came-on-with-p0741-code-what-it-mean-054

Quote
I have a funny story on this. This exact same code came on my 2007 Toyota Corolla S. I took it to a Toyota dealearship and they ran the tests. They checked my solenoids and they were fine. The tech checked everything and could not figure out what was wrong. He gave up and called Toyota headquarters to ask what to do and Toyota told him to replace the transmission at a cost of $4,300. I declined the repairs. The next morning I was calling around town to get quotes on rebuilding the transmission and I called a transmission shop and asked them for a quote. The person on the other end of the phone asked me to describe what was happening and I told him the above story and he started laughing hysterically. He said that one NEVER has to replace a transmission due to a check engine light. He told me that the owner of his shop used to work at a Toyota garage for over 10 years and that I should bring it in to be looked at. He even said he would check it for free. I brought it in and they found that a solenoid at the bottom of my transmission pan was bad. He quoted me a charge of $550 to fix it (considerably better than $4,300). I went ahead and accepted and told them to do it. Then a really funny thing happened. After the mechanic removed the transmission pan he looked up there and found that the solenoid was not plugged in. Somehow the solenoid had gotten unplugged. He plugged it in and test drove it and it worked completely fine without the light. He then only charged me $200 (the cost of removing the transmission pan, replacing the gasket and putting some new transmission fluid in). The entire shop started laughing. What was originally going to be a transmission replacement for $4,300 ended up being a solenoid that was not plugged in to be fixxed for $200. Check to make sure your solenoids are plugged in.

I'd suggest taking it to someone who has a clue about transmissions.

Finally, unless there is something actually wrong with the torque converter(to the point that it is making noise), just keep driving it. You'll get slightly worse gas mileage. It won't hurt anything.

pk_aeryn

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #11 on: March 04, 2018, 02:20:39 PM »
wortdog, thanks for the extra info. It does sound like this could be worth a third opinion at a transmission specialist.

The first time the check engine light went on, I had for a few months felt like the acceleration was sluggish.  So I wasn't suuuper surprised when the check engine light eventually came on.   I took it in to the dealership only because I had to do my airbag recall still, and I figured I'd save myself some time. They of course said they spoke only replace the transmission as a whole, not even lower it to do further diagnostic work.  They'd turned the check engine light off, so when I took it to my usual mechanic (the one mentioned in my original post) he said without a code he couldn't do much and suggested I just keep driving it.  I did ask him to change the transmission fluid in case that was part of entirely the issue, and he confirmed it had been very dirty and overdue for a change- so I guess that was part of my bad not knowing that was a maintenance thing I'd never done.

After having the fluid replaced the car did run better with no sluggishness. I honestly don't know if it really is better or if I just got used to it. It was always very subtle in a way that only someone who had driven the same car for 13 years would ever notice.  I think occasionally there may be a noise but if there is it's extremely intermittent with no consistent pattern, and I drive in Los Angeles where roads are very poorly maintained and bumpy so it's hard for my ears to tell what is road noise or not.  But this means there's no obvious noise.  My fuel economy might be less than it was, but I only drive in bumper to bumper city traffic and I usually get 280 miles to a tank, takes about 12 gallons when I fill up at that mileage.

So when the code came back, my mechanic read it with his device and said I would need a new soilenoid, but he can't replace that by itself, only a new transmission. Thoughts given this extra info now?

nick_mmm

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #12 on: March 04, 2018, 02:27:35 PM »
I would imagine that you could get a junkyard transmission installed for less... look for smaller shops or call around and ask some junkyards if they know mechanics who could do it cheaper.

It does not seem like widespread transmission issues exist on corollas of that era, so a junkyard transmission should be relatively safe. At 120K miles you may be able to get another 80K (or more!) out of the car.

It also would be worth scouring corolla forums for that error code, it is totally possible something obvious is being overlooked like a fuse or connector.

wortdog

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #13 on: March 05, 2018, 11:18:20 AM »
Regarding the noise, a torque converter with broken vanes will make noise as soon as you put the car in gear with your foot on the brake sitting parked. If you leave the car in gear, place your left foot hard down on the brake, and push the accelerator pedal a bit to rev the engine, a broken converter will get much louder. It doesn't sound like the torque converter has failed, so your transmission should be in ok shape other than the small amount of extra wear from the missed fluid change.

I would try calling other shops that specialize in transmissions and asking them for a quote on testing/replacing the solenoid. These shops may be familiar with this issue, as a bit of Google searching indicates that this is somewhat common for Corollas in the 100k to 120k mile range that missed their 60,000 transmission fluid change. Replacing the torque converter solenoid is no more than a two hour job and should cost you around $500 at the most.

Since a fluid change only changes out about 3 of the 8 quarts in the system, it is also possible that just having the fluid changed again will free up the solenoid. Even if it doesn't, you should easily get five more years out of the car driving it as is.

pk_aeryn

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #14 on: March 05, 2018, 09:21:45 PM »
Thanks for all your googling on my behalf, wortdog.  I think my plan is to do another fluid change and take it to a specialist the next time if/when the light comes on and really make sure I've had them take a close look. I really do hope my car will last me another 5 years and I can keep having it pass CA smog checks- I've read an engine code or recently cleared memory is a fail.

Lmoot

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #15 on: March 06, 2018, 02:43:28 AM »
I don't know enough about cars to speak on the mechanical specifics, but I drive a 2003 Accord (bought used, owned for going on 9 years), around 160k miles. I have spent more than it's worth replacing belts, transmission fluid, repairing crack in oil pan...over the last couple years. My car is more beat up than yours sounds. If the tranny goes within the next couple of years, I might consider repairing it, as my hope is to get my car to 250k miles. It's been a pretty sound car and most of the major milestone replacements and repairs have been done over the last few years.

If you plan on driving it into the ground (do you?) then what do you care what the value is? You should pit what you're willing to pay to repair it against what you're willing to spend on another vehicle (and the risk you're willing to take on a used vehicle), not against what it's worth. That in my opinion, is a common mistake and justification people use to buy a more expensive vehicle. It makes sense that cars go down in value as they get older, and the older they get the more expensive the repairs. That's not an anomaly, and not really a fair metric to use in deciding whether or not it's "worth it". Would investing a few grand to get 5 more years of no car payments (or having to throw down for a quality used vehicle...which will likely be coming up on its own season of repairs shortly after 5 years as well), worth it or not?

Personally I say yes, but only you can really make that decision because it's still a risk and I understand the hesitation to invest so much into something. But if it's been an other-wise stellar vehicle, I would include that in the decision-making process, moreso than the paltry return you'd get on a 14 year old car, and with possible tranny issues at that. It sounds like it would be more valuable to you with a new transmission, than it would be to you without the repair.

ChpBstrd

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #16 on: March 06, 2018, 09:50:31 AM »
Here's the assholish / semi-ethical option:

It drives fine right now so take it to a car auction. Some dealer will take it off your hands for a wholesale price and then you can go shopping... maybe at the same auction.

frugaliknowit

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #17 on: March 06, 2018, 11:41:48 AM »
I would not rebuild or buy new.  Get a wrecked car's transmission (with a warranty, hopefully) and get a Shadetree mechanic to install it.  Otherwise dump the car.

Mr.GrowingMustache

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #18 on: March 06, 2018, 02:06:42 PM »
Have another transmission flush. Have them check for metal shavings, there should be a magnetic drain plug on the transmission oil pan.

Now what I don't understand is how the car is driving now, it's sluggish? Noises are bad, so is jerking around violently, if that's not happening yet then I say keep driving it until it goes one day.

My dad bought a $1000 1998  Saturn with 120k miles. I went driving to the store with my wife and when I pressed the gas taking off from the stop light the car would rev up and not move. The transmission caught and lunged us forward, it kept doing this on our way home. So there the transmission went out, and had problems getting in 1st gear. My dad went on to drive that car for another 4 years (and still running) by figuring out how to "shift" the automatic transmission trough the gear lever.


Tuskalusa

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #19 on: March 13, 2018, 06:39:35 PM »
So, what did you decide to do?

gatorNic

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #20 on: March 15, 2018, 05:44:40 PM »
Had this same dilemma last summer when my transmission went on my very old 97 Saturn.   For being 20 years old though it only had 160K, ran well and has always been very reliable.  Besides regular expected maintenance I have had very little repairs on it.  Always said I was going to run it into the ground and be done with it.   Due to the timing of it though and after looking at used cars made the tough decision to have the transmission and clutch replaced for $2400 at a tranny speciallist.   Well more than the car is worth.   BTW that was for a rebuilt tranny, there are no new ones and a use one was nearly as much.

It really came down to the previous reliability, how much it would cost to get a reliable slightly used car and how much longer I think I could get out of the repaired car.  Also the fact that being such an old car my insurance is ridiculously small, which would of increased substantially with a new/usd car.  That alone offset some of the cost.   I ended up feeling like if I could get like 2-3 more years out of it, it was worth it.   So far so good. 

So I would ask your self the same questions about reliability, insurance costs, what would the replacement be and factor that for your own situation.   As others have said, definitely shop around and take it to a highly rated transmission specialist.   


EDIT:  just reading your original post again, from your list it sounds like you are trying to convince your self into a new car.   With your sizable commute it may be worth it.  Again every situation is different.   If I was going to buy it would of probably been a used Nissan Leaf, for gas savings and for the HOV lane sticker.    It's too bad Chevy Bolts are so new, it would be another good used option.
« Last Edit: March 15, 2018, 05:50:54 PM by gatorNic »

pk_aeryn

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #21 on: March 18, 2018, 02:45:44 PM »
Since ppl have asked for an update, I'm afraid I don't have much of one yet, though everyone's advice and help has been immensely valuable.

I was on a business trip this whole week and haven't had to drive anywhere.  My car the last 2 days prior to the trip was acting decidedly sluggish, so now that I'm back in town I'm planning on taking it to a transmission specialist to see if they can diagnose anything without the engine light on. I'm intending to see if they recommend another transmission fluid change and see if they spot any metal shards.

You're right, gatorNic, I kinda do want a new car because c'mon who doesn't, but really I would also love to spare myself the hassle of buying another.  I honestly just want to do what makes the most sense financially over the long run, which it kinda sounds like I might come out basically even in the end no matter what I do.  I'd prefer for my current car to last another 2-3 years without a giant repair cost when the newer electric/gas hybrids are cheaper.  I don't really want to buy a car right in the middle of a revolution and get stuck with something I paid a lot for, but is now outdated in energy/fuel or not upgradeable to self driving tech.  Ultimately I was really happy with my Corolla when gas was $2.50 gallon but now I'm concerned about future gas prices again.  I'm sure with increases in insurance and registration any gas savings from a hybrid upgrade will be wiped out, howrver.

Anyway those are my current thoughts and I'll probably have more of an idea of what to do when I can take it to the transmission specialist.
« Last Edit: March 18, 2018, 02:47:25 PM by pk_aeryn »

pk_aeryn

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #22 on: January 16, 2019, 11:38:59 AM »
I wanted to update you guys on the situation and with a Mustachian victory!

I took it to a transmission specialist several months ago, when my light came back on, who told me that this was a really common code with my car model, it doesn’t need to be fixed except that I would fail the CA “smog test”  That test is not intended to be a safety check but everything is done via OBD now so it wouldn’t pass.

So that specialist cleared the code and said if I could drive 300 miles without the code re-occurring, the car’s computer would reset so that it would pass the smog test.  I anxiously awaited my registration renewal, as my car did not have the light come back on and it was 2000 miles since the code had been cleared. Of course as luck would have it, the code came back on 3 days before I received my renewal!

So the Mustachian victory is this: I bought my own OBD reader for only $15, cleared the code myself, drove it 200 miles (doing certain kinds of driving internet research said would trigger the computer checks) and verified with the reader that the computer had finished all its checks, went and got the test and passed!  The smog dude even told me I had a beautiful car (I tried to keep a straight face, if only he knew how recently I cleared an engine code!)

So I’m keeping my car until it dies and $15 and a lil DIY saved me $4000.

RWD

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #23 on: January 16, 2019, 01:05:51 PM »
Congrats, that's great!

Trifele

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #24 on: January 17, 2019, 03:42:21 AM »
Congrats OP!  That is great.

I've been meaning to get an OBD reader too.  We have a witchy check engine light on our '08 Scion that we've concluded over the years means nothing.  I usually go to Autozone and they read the code for me, but they don't clear it. 

Nice!

Brother Esau

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Re: Repair Transmission or Buy New Car?
« Reply #25 on: January 17, 2019, 05:46:24 AM »
Good job!