Elusive Fluid Leak May Be Design Flaw

Times Staff Writer

Question: I have a 1983 Toyota Corolla with an automatic transmission. The transmission has been leaking fluid for the past nine months, despite the fact the dealer has replaced several gaskets and attempted to repair the transmission six times. I can’t afford any more repair work or rental cars. What could be the problem? --M.F.L.

Answer: Automobile owners often assume that a mechanical problem on their car is a random misfortune. But a lot of ordinary problems result from basic design flaws or workmanship errors that were repeated in the factory over a substantial number of automobiles of a particular model.

In your case, the leak is probably the result of a part that is prematurely wearing out because of its original design. The part is the bushing to the front transmission pump.

A bushing is a metal sleeve that holds a rotating shaft. The original bushing was made out of aluminum, a lightweight metal that isn’t known for its durability in high-temperature and high-friction environments.


When the bushing wears out, it permits the pump shaft to wiggle as it turns. The technical term for this wiggling is excessive run-out. The wiggling action then permits transmission fluid to seep past the pump-shaft seal.

Toyota recognized the problem and much to their credit introduced a new bushing, this one made from brass. If a worn-out bushing on your front pump is the problem, the repair will cost you about $250.

Q: The silver paint on my 1983 Honda Accord seems to be developing minute cracks or scratches. The scratches are only on the sides of the car. They look as if they follow the pattern wind would make as it flows over the car. What is causing this problem? --T.F.

A: The Honda Accord has what is called a two-stage paint process. First, a coat of color is applied over the primer. Then, a clear acrylic is sprayed over the color coat, adding depth and shine.


In all likelihood, the scratches are developing in the clear coat. It is very likely that wind action is causing the problem, but it is unusual that the scratches are developing only on the sides. Usually, paint deteriorates fastest on the horizontal surfaces of a car, which are subject to much greater ultraviolet radiation, heat and urban soot.

There probably isn’t much you can do to correct the problem now. A good-quality wax will slow down the deterioration but will not restore the paint. Eventually you may have to have the car repainted. It is possible to have only the clear coat removed and a new coat applied, which would preserve the original appearance of the car.

Q: My 1983 Buick Regal, 4.1 liter, V-6 engine has 35,000 miles on it. Since it was new, this car has had average oil consumption of one quart every 1,000 to 1,100 miles. It has no leaks. The dealer has told me this is normal. Is this correct? --Y.K.C.

A: When it comes to oil consumption, “normal” is a matter of judgment. It would be correct to say burning a quart every thousand miles is typical for a Regal engine and is certainly not excessive.


Many motorists put a lot of stock in oil consumption, because they don’t like the inconvenience of frequently checking the dip stick. And some cars indeed can go 3,000 miles without burning a quart of oil.

But as long as the oil consumption on your Buick isn’t increasing, you don’t have a problem that needs to be corrected.