Author Topic: Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?  (Read 3888 times)

Retired To Win

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Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?
« on: March 16, 2015, 12:04:49 PM »
I LOVE my 1996 Dodge Dakota pick up truck.  But is it time to maybe start looking for a replacement?

Two days ago, I got a real jolt/scare when my transmission did a couple of really rough/drop-your-stomach type of gear changes.  At the time, I was on a long, windy country road (and I had left my cell phone at home) so I was a little freaked out that I might get stranded out there.

Now, my truck has an "overdrive" option that you can turn on by pushing a button.  So  I pushed it.  On the next gear change, the rpm dial plunged from 2000 to ZERO and then kicked right back up.  And I haven't had any shifting weirdness since then.  (Yes, the truck remains on overdrive.)

So, tomorrow I am taking the truck in for diagnosis and maybe repair.  How would you approach this?

I've had no problem since I switched the truck to overdrive.  But I don't know what repercussions that might have.

The cost of the repair would not be a problem.  And I really do not covet another vehicle.  But I want to KNOW I can rely on the one I have (which has performed like a champ for me while logging over 140,000 miles so far).

What's your reaction to this pitiful tale?

caseyzee

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Re: Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?
« Reply #1 on: March 16, 2015, 12:36:22 PM »
I think it's too early to say.

You obviously need to find out the cost to fix or replace your transmission.  I'm assuming you checked the fluid level?

And then you need to weigh that against the condition of your truck.  Are there other signs of failure?  Corrosion issues?  Engine runs well?  If there are no other obvious issues then I would lean towards fixing it, provided you get a reasonable estimate.

I have an older car too - a 2000 Chrysler minivan with 175k miles on it.  Whenever it breaks I have to weigh the cost of repair vs. the cost of the vehicle.  At work, I generally go with the 50% rule.  I suppose I would apply that to my minivan also, with the overall knowledge of whether or not this is an isolated incident or the middle of the end.  I only paid $200 for it,  and I've put about $2500 into over the last 7 years.  I would probably opt not to replace the transmission on mine, because it is starting to show signs of decline - lines rusting, hoses degrading, etc. 

Good luck.

Drifterrider

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Re: Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?
« Reply #2 on: March 16, 2015, 12:39:33 PM »
Have it checked (more information before making a decision).  It might be nothing more than a faulty relay/sensor and not really mechanical at all.


Jack

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Re: Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?
« Reply #3 on: March 16, 2015, 12:58:34 PM »
FYI, pushing the overdrive button generally turns the overdrive off -- it's on by default. If your transmission has 4 gears plus reverse, pushing the overdrive button just makes it stop using 4th gear. The normal reason to turn it off is if you're hauling a heavy load and don't want to strain the engine, or if you're going down a steep hill and want to use engine braking, or something like that. Turning it off will hurt your fuel economy a little, but not much else.

(The word "overdrive," by the way, refers to the fact that in that high gear, your wheels are turning at a higher RPM than the engine. In some cars, the highest gear might not count as an overdrive because the gearing is still less than a 1:1 ratio. Other cars, like recent Corvettes, are geared so high that the two highest gears are overdrives.)

I don't know much about automatic transmissions, but I do know that they are more complicated than manual ones (with hydraulic valve bodies and such) and are thus often both more failure-prone and more expensive to replace than a manual transmission for the same vehicle. I don't know if that's true specifically for Dodge Dakota transmissions, but if it does turn out to be a major repair (such as a valve body replacement) it might be worth considering swapping in a manual transmission instead.

I also suggest you read this so you understand what the mechanic is telling you when he gives you the diagnosis.

Retired To Win

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Re: Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?
« Reply #4 on: March 16, 2015, 03:26:47 PM »
Thank you for your feedback, Jack, Drifterider and Caseyzee...

(1) There's no hope for me and manual transmissions, so swapping for one is not an option for me.

(2)  Ah... yes, the trans fluid level is fine.

(3)  Let me be clearer about the overdrive button.  It was pushed in (so the overdrive was off); by pushing it back in I made it pop out and so engaged the overdrive.

(4)  I never even thought the problem might be in a sensor.  Thanks for the idea.

(5)  I assume the 50% rule means that if the repair is going to cost more than 50% of the vehicle's value, to not do the repair (?)

(6)  Like I said, I love this truck.  It's in very good shape in every respect.

(7)  We'll know more tomorrow!

jmusic

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Re: Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?
« Reply #5 on: March 16, 2015, 04:32:58 PM »
(2)  Ah... yes, the trans fluid level is fine.

The level is fine, but has the fluid been changed?  I think the interval is 50K+/-.

Quote
(5)  I assume the 50% rule means that if the repair is going to cost more than 50% of the vehicle's value, to not do the repair (?)

If everything else is in excellent condition (newish tires, brakes, etc.), than I think you could go over the 50% rule safely.  The alternative is to potentially sell it for cheap (depending on what the mechanic says) and take a gamble on another vehicle with it's own brand new set of issues. 

GetItRight

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Re: Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?
« Reply #6 on: March 16, 2015, 04:37:53 PM »
You like the truck, you already own it. Seems a simple choice to me, do whatever it needs to keep it going. It will be cheaper and more environmentally friendly than buying new, and buying used just means you get that fun period of fixing things the previous owner neglected (time and money) before you have a nice reliable vehicle.

surfhb

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Re: Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?
« Reply #7 on: March 16, 2015, 05:36:11 PM »
To replace transmission in your truck should run about $2700.     Are you going to spend more than that for a used truck?     

I would weigh the costs of new(used) to the cost of the repairs, not the value of the vehicle.   

Syonyk

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Re: Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?
« Reply #8 on: March 16, 2015, 05:41:38 PM »
I don't know much about automatic transmissions, but I do know that they are more complicated than manual ones (with hydraulic valve bodies and such) and are thus often both more failure-prone and more expensive to replace than a manual transmission for the same vehicle. I don't know if that's true specifically for Dodge Dakota transmissions, but if it does turn out to be a major repair (such as a valve body replacement) it might be worth considering swapping in a manual transmission instead.

A manual transmission swap is, at best, a giant pain in the rear project, if you can find a nice donor truck.  And then it gets more complex when you have to modify the wiring harness to keep the computer happy.  It's not a reasonable repair suggestion for a failing automatic transmission.

A good transmission shop should be able to pull codes easily enough.  If it's a sensor, it will probably tell you that it's a sensor.

I'd rebuilt it, personally.  A rebuilt transmission should last the rest of the life of the truck, and if the rest of it's in good shape and you know it's up to date on maintenance, then there's no reason not to.  Unfortunately, automatic transmissions do tend towards occasionally requiring a rebuild - they're just not that reliable.  However, as a bonus, transmission shops tend to figure out what fails, so a rebuilt automatic is, in many cases, a better transmission than the factory put in the vehicle to start with.

Syonyk

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Re: Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?
« Reply #9 on: March 16, 2015, 05:42:37 PM »
...and buying used just means you get that fun period of fixing things the previous owner neglected (time and money) before you have a nice reliable vehicle.

Yeah... I figure it's usually about 6 months and ~$500 to fix all the stuff wrong on a used vehicle.  This has proven reasonably accurate across multiple vehicles over the years.

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Re: Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?
« Reply #10 on: March 16, 2015, 07:01:37 PM »
To replace transmission in your truck should run about $2700.     Are you going to spend more than that for a used truck?     

I would weigh the costs of new(used) to the cost of the repairs, not the value of the vehicle.

If you are right about the $2700, I'll have to think very hard about what's smartest to do.  I figure my truck -- because it has a few whizz-bang features -- might sell for $5000.  (BTW, that's what I meant by the "value" of the vehicle.)  But the real issue/question is that I know that my truck has been excellently cared for (including regular changing of the trans fluid!), while I won't really know how some other truck that I might buy was maintained.  So I might be trading a known and limited problem (the trans) for a pig-in-a-poke grab bag of needed repairs.

I think Syonyk has the right idea.  If the trans is in bad enough shape, rebuild it instead of replacing it.  Eons ago, I had that done with the engine on a Thunderbird that I ran into the ground (bad RTW!)  And it was a good decision in the end.  So, that's where my head is at now: get the diagnosis, hope it's a sensor or just some bands that need tightening, and if the news is worse than that, look into a rebuild.

Thanks, everyone!

southern granny

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Re: Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?
« Reply #11 on: March 16, 2015, 07:16:27 PM »
Stay hopeful.  I once thought I was going to be out a new transmission, but it ended up just being some type of belt that was slipping.  The repair was less than $200.  Good luck.

surfhb

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Re: Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?
« Reply #12 on: March 16, 2015, 07:36:38 PM »
To replace transmission in your truck should run about $2700.     Are you going to spend more than that for a used truck?     

I would weigh the costs of new(used) to the cost of the repairs, not the value of the vehicle.

If you are right about the $2700, I'll have to think very hard about what's smartest to do.  I figure my truck -- because it has a few whizz-bang features -- might sell for $5000.  (BTW, that's what I meant by the "value" of the vehicle.)  But the real issue/question is that I know that my truck has been excellently cared for (including regular changing of the trans fluid!), while I won't really know how some other truck that I might buy was maintained.  So I might be trading a known and limited problem (the trans) for a pig-in-a-poke grab bag of needed repairs.

I think Syonyk has the right idea.  If the trans is in bad enough shape, rebuild it instead of replacing it.  Eons ago, I had that done with the engine on a Thunderbird that I ran into the ground (bad RTW!)  And it was a good decision in the end.  So, that's where my head is at now: get the diagnosis, hope it's a sensor or just some bands that need tightening, and if the news is worse than that, look into a rebuild.

Thanks, everyone!

To rebuild it would cost about $2700.    It's a no brainer if you know the history of your truck.    I have driven the same truck for almost 24 years.....with the same transmission too.     It more than doable and will always cost less to repair and upkeep what you already have

Retired To Win

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Re: Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?
« Reply #13 on: March 16, 2015, 09:48:46 PM »
Stay hopeful.  I once thought I was going to be out a new transmission, but it ended up just being some type of belt that was slipping.  The repair was less than $200.  Good luck.


Thank you!  I AM hoping.  (Definitely hoping that I can do better on a rebuild than the $2700 surfhb is "quoting" me.)

surfhb

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Re: Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?
« Reply #14 on: March 16, 2015, 09:58:13 PM »
You may.     I'm just pulling that number out of my ass.    I live in southern Cal and rebuild on a 93 Toyota manual will run me about $2k.    Your mileage may vary.   


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Re: Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?
« Reply #15 on: March 17, 2015, 11:55:15 AM »
Well, I took the pickup to the mechanic this morning.  He drove it around for a half-hour, overdrive on and overdrive off, and he could not make the problem (jerky shifting) happen.

So I am picking the truck back up this afternoon.  I'll just have to keep a close eye.  And I'll keep it on overdrive.

Syonyk

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Re: Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?
« Reply #16 on: March 17, 2015, 12:07:34 PM »
If you're bored, go down there and wiggle all the electrical connections a little bit.  Make sure they're tight and if they have a bit of corrosion, poking at them might remove it.

Good luck!

Jack

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Re: Should I fix the trans on my '96 pickup?
« Reply #17 on: March 17, 2015, 12:23:17 PM »
A manual transmission swap is, at best, a giant pain in the rear project, if you can find a nice donor truck.  And then it gets more complex when you have to modify the wiring harness to keep the computer happy.  It's not a reasonable repair suggestion for a failing automatic transmission.

(Shrug.) It's a reasonable suggestion when the car in question is a MK4 VW, for example (because the slushbox that comes in one of those is just that bad).

I have a friend who had her automatic transmission swapped for a manual at a car club meet 200 miles from her house, in a single day, at a location that didn't have a lift because it wasn't even an auto shop. That evening, after a short lesson from me, she drove it all 200 miles home successfully even though she'd never driven a stick before. I don't recommend doing something quite that risky, but it can be done...

YMMV, of course.