Maybe the TA Isn’t Corona’d!

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Possibly. . . maybe . . . if the ghost of Burt Reynolds favors me . . . the Great Pumpkin will soon ride again. The heartening news is that it seems like it might. I won’t know for sure, though, until I can actually drive it.

Italicized to emphasis that I have “driven” it …  just without it moving.

With the rear end off the ground, in the garage. Because it’s raining out. Has been raining, for the past four days straight. It might float if I make the attempt. Plus, the Pumpkin doesn’t get wet.

It is forbidden.

But I just had to know whether there was any reason for optimism – at least as regards the Pumpkin. There’s not much reason to be optimistic otherwise – Fear Masking being on the rise even as the mortality rate from the WuFlu (not “COVID-19” … don’t fall into the trap of using the enemy’s language; in this case, the new ALL CAPS and ominous-sounding appellation being hard-sold to sell the populace on the idea that WuFlu isn’t just another Corona virus – which is exactly what it is) is not only on the wane but never waxed.

At least, never waxed to the degree advertised – and waxed almost exclusively the already waxed (from old age and other sicknesses).


The TA, as readers of this column already know, suffered its own bout of Corona about ten days ago. The transmission stopped upshifting. Well, it wouldn’t shift out of second gear. With 3.90 gears in the pumpkin (the rear axle) that made for a screamin’ mimi 35 mile drive back home. But the important thing – and the reason why the TA has been the one constant in my life for almost 30 years now, outlasting my marriage and practically everything else – is that it never lets me down.

Including this time.

Crippled yes. Inert, no. She got me home. It’s like that harrowing yet triumphant scene in the classic film about WW II German submariners – Das Boot – in which the ship almost drops to crush depth but doesn’t and comes to rest on a fortuitous sandbar. After some desperate repairs – and prayers – the crew restarts the MAN diesels, blows the tanks and stare hopefully at the depth meter. Slowly – hopefully! – it quivers a little, then – yes! – it begins to move! The ship is rising! Salvation!

Just the same, I watched the needle. Kept the RPMs steady at 3,400 and tried to maintain a constant speed, so as to not upset further whatever was upset inside the transmission. And eased her into the safety of dry dock – my garage.

Thence came a process of elimination. Automatics are mysterious transmissions; unlike a manual, inscrutable things can go wrong deep inside the valve body, which is full of narrow passages critical to the proper shifting of the thing. There are also other things, which I checked and eliminated, one by one.

The governor, first. This has springs and weights and if the spring breaks and the weights don’t spin outward (or retract) as they should from the force of the spinning of the shaft they ride on, the shifting can get shifty. It was pulled and examined and not found wanting.

Next, the torque converter clutch solenoid and the wiring to and from. These also checked out. A close check of the tension of the throttle valve (TV) cable, which if too loose or too tight can also result in shifty problems. It was possible the adjustment/lock nut worked loose. I rechecked everything – alles in ordnung.

New filter, of course. And fresh fluid – which could be just exactly what is wanted. It was just possible that something was sticking inside the valve body – the hydraulic control circuit of an automatic tranny. Fresh fluid (and fresh additives) might clean that out. Regardless, there’s no checking the rest out without refilling the box with fresh fluid – and so I did that.

But not quite enough. Actually, not close to enough.

Usually, a GM automatic (2004R in this case) will take roughly five or so quarts of fluid after dropping the pan for a filer (and fluid) change. But in this case, the pan was off for roughly ten days and a lot more fluid escaped. It took eight quarts plus a pint more to top off the 2004R.

It is really important to get this right before you attempt a drive. Because it is really easy to burn up an automatic by subjecting it to heavy loads when very low on fluid. This is why I always do the initial restart with the TA’s tail end off the ground. The wheels meet almost no resistance this way, which is a sound safety precaution until you’re absolutely sure of the fluid level.

Which takes careful – and partial – addition, a pint at a time. So as to avoid overfilling (and having to drain the thing, again).

Engine warmed up – and tranny full – I crossed myself and moved the shifter into Drive and felt it engage! Happy day, even if raining like it’s the End of Days. Then Reverse, then First and Second – to get the fluid circulating. Then Park and a recheck of the level, just to be sure.

Confirm this twice at least!

That done, it was time to see . . . would it upshift out of second? Wheels spinning, throttle opening . . . first to second . . . and then, third! Yes!

Fourth (which is overdrive) came next.

Oh, thank you Burt! 

It appears the Pumpkin will ride again. As soon as it stops raining, anyhow.

. . .

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  1. I had a similar experience when I bought an 87 Olds 88 with large 6 and front wheel drive. After a few months it would not shift out of 1st. I replaced the trans filter and put in new fluid and like magic it ran perfectly.
    Before that I took it to a local trans shop. He offered to buy my car for a ridiculously low price after telling me I would need a rebuilt trans. I said no thank you.
    Unfortunately the car got stolen from in front of my house and the police were never able to find it.
    So yea filter was needed. The trans pan was full of grey gunk matter and was also cleaned up.
    Europeasant; former US army wheel and track mechanic.

    • Hi Euro,

      I still am not sure what was wrong! All I did was drop the pan, drain the fluid, check a few items and adjustments, refill with fresh and – voila!

      Not that I am complaining 🙂

    • euro, on your next car take the wire that goes to the solenoid, put a switch on it back up above your ash tray in the dash or under the dash somewhere. If the lights come on, and it won’t start, it gets hard to figure out. If you put a switch on the positive battery cable they might raise the hood and see it.

  2. Eric, I know it feels GREAT when ya figger something out and fix it….but you KNOW, after you get her out on the road and confirm she’s fixed…you’re gonna experience a lt-down, ’cause YOU KNOW you want that T10 in there now, and you’re not gonna be happy till one’s in there!

    Eric: “Yep[! She shifts perfectly fine. Job well-done! Uhh..well….I guess when I get home I’ll start pulling the tranny out and looking a T10…” 😀

  3. Eric,
    There is no better feeling than troubleshooting thru a problem yourself, finding or isolating a suspect and getting the old girl back on the road. These corona scared Millennials will never experience such joy.

      • Eric, give auto-rx a try on your pumpkin. I’ve used it with amazing results, in engines and transmissions. It saved my lawnmower, and pocketbook, for three years. Not a miracle oil, just good chemistry. A little pricey, but a lot cheaper than a new drivetrain. Good luck, and keep up the great work!!

          • eric, I have my huge pump bottle on the back of the commode so I can fill the various bottles I have here and there including the one outside behind the janitorial size sink I have on my fish cleaning table. I even carry a tiny bottle in the toolbox on the pickup along with a bottle of distilled water(and one of anti-freeze)for emergencies with a coolant leak. I had one of those recently. The 2000 and newer GM pickups have a quick detach on the heater hoses. I thought it was a screw up but the little tool that takes one off works without a hassle.

  4. Hallelujah! Aaahhhhh…that feeling when you do major drive train stuff and IT RUNS! There are no atheists in the driver’s seat on first crank.

  5. ’73 MGB was getting hard to start. Plugged in my OBD reader which indicated electrical problem. Replaced 4 spark plugs. Cured problem. Took 10 minutes. :>)

  6. I never understood why the older ATs, which recommended fluid changes, didn’t have drain plugs, while newer ATs, some of which erroneously do not recommend fluid changes, do have drain plugs.

    • Hi JWK,

      Not having a drain plug means changing the fluid is like changing engine oil by dropping the oil pan. It’s the damndest thing!

      • eric, I always recommend installing a drain plug if for no other reason than to not have that damned mess. I don’t recall the last time I had a “dirty” filter and the fluid was crap. I don’t trust ATF beyond next week. I do trust synthetics though….and for good reason. I’d bet that Amsoil cleaned those passages and made everything work again. Old fluid sitting around in a pickup you don’t use except on a rare circumstance will have your transmission not working right when the thing hasn’t been 1,000 miles on the fluid in it.

        And stay away from those jobber fluids, pure trash. Look like ATF, smell like ATF, feel like ATF and last like a used rubber in a can of gas.

  7. Eric,

    I am proud of you. Best of luck.

    Brings back memories of lying in a snowbank with WD-40 dripping in my eyes so I could replace the half-shafts in my Datsun 510. Oh, and frozen, bleeding, knuckles.


  8. I know exactly that feeling of blessed relief when you first see/hear/feel the beast shift through the gears after maintenance. It is akin to the feeling of almost-joy when you feel the manual transmission pilot shaft slide fully home into the spigot bush…ahhh, downhill from here!

    Keep ’em rolling Eric!

  9. Yeah! The Great Pumpkin has arisen! An old girl like that needs a gentle hand, a caress now and again and loving maintenance.


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