Putting Skids on Slippery Transmission

Times Staff Writer

Question: My wife’s 1984 Buick developed a bothersome problem at 43,000 miles. Its automatic transmission slips. Under a heavy load, it seems to be free-wheeling or unable to downshift. For example, when she attempts to drive up our steep entrance drive, the car is left in a state of suspension. It finally catches hold and she moves up. It happens at stoplights as well.

The Buick dealer speaks glibly about the need for a new transmission. I wonder if their diagnosis is accurate or whether there is something else that a less-than-wealthy motorist could do.--A.B.

Answer: Welcome to the wonderful world of GM transmissions from the mid-1980s. Your transmission is designated a 125c, and you can take consolation in the fact that it is a lot more reliable than a GM 440 transmission, but not quite as reliable as a hot-water heater.

A brief delay between the time you step on the accelerator and the time the car begins to move may be normal for this transmission. It seems that when the transmission is cold, fluid can drain out of the torque converter and momentarily disconnect the engine from the transmission. It takes a few moments for the transmission pump to refill the torque converter, which is the clutch an automatic transmission uses.


But it is unlikely that this is the problem, because this chiefly occurs when you first start the car. Nonetheless, you should check the transmission fluid level, because a low fluid level can exacerbate this condition. If the fluid is low, you should examine to see whether it is oxidized. It will look burned and have a burnt smell. If this is the case, you have more serious problems.

It is possible that the forward clutches on the transmission are shot. If you suspect the clutches, the transmission needs to be torn down and inspected. But it may not need a full rebuild. In fact, replacing the clutches can be done in about 10 standard hours of labor, which is a whole lot less than a total overhaul would require.

On a final note, you might want to look into GM’s Service Replace Transmission Assembly or SRTA. These are fully rebuilt transmissions that you buy off the shelf and have installed by the dealer. The GM 125c transmission is just now being offered under the SRTA program. I don’t have a price for the 125c, but the 440s were being offered for $1,200.

Q: I have a 1984 Dodge Aries with a four-cylinder engine that refuses to start when it is hot unless I push the accelerator to the floor. What can I do?--B.C.


A: Pushing the accelerator to the floor is one correct way to start a hot engine. By pushing the accelerator to the floor, you will open the choke fully. Otherwise, a hot engine can flood.

Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.