Transmission Woes - 08/25/2013

The lack of updates has been due 100% to a failed transmission. It never fails, get a car, drive it 500 miles, driving along at 75MPH getting 14.5MPG and then lose 3rd and then 2nd in rapid succession on I-5 20 miles from the nearest exit. Thus having it die 185 miles from home in the middle of NOWHERE and the tow truck driver is out on a long haul and won't be back for 8 or 9 hours, leaving me stranded. I was suddenly left with lots of time to kill in the middle of Kettleman City, California. If you've never been there, don't bother. It's a tiny little place with no auto parts stores and a single mechanic who doesn't speak English and thus isn't interested in my problems.

Who you gonna call? Obviously not my insurance towing. They tow 15 miles and told me I should be grateful that I wasn't stranded on the highway anymore. Thanks guys. Tow truck driver said if I had cash he could store it for me at his yard until I could call a long haul tow truck driver. Or that he could go get a junkyard transmission out of Fresno for me in a few weeks. A 40 year old transmission that went out of production after 1977? I don't think so. So I called Steve. He offered to come haul it back to his place in San Diego. I didn't beg or demand, I merely asked if he minded after he offered. He said he didn't and drove all the way out to get me. That's a true friend if there ever was one! Drove 8 hours through LA traffic on a Sunday afternoon to bail me out of a jam and then all the way back to his place.

Steve's first plan of attack was to use a 1973 Buick TH-375. He had pulled it around 7 or 8 years ago and it ran great. This was a good plan as it was cheap and we're only out labor if anything goes wrong (which is free, right?).

Homemade jig to hold transmissions. Steve figures he should make one so he can learn to take them apart and rebuild the many cores he has lying around and make some cash (a wise plan, never hurts to have another skill!).

Lots of transmission fluid was drained in this process.

Pump seal in good shape.

Transmission gears in the Buick are different from the Pontiac one...

Different colors! The wagon has a 3.08 rear end and I speculate the Buick probably had a 2.73 rear end.

Output shaft in decent shape.

455 hanging out! Steve says all the hardware came out nicely. West coast cars for the win!

Crank machined for a pilot bearing so I'm told...

You can see the culprit here... governor gear is ruined, thus the transmission can't tell what speed it is running at to know if it needs to shift. Output shaft bushing wearing out will cause this failure, and you can easily duplicate the failure in another 400-500 miles by just swapping the governor gear out and leaving the output shaft bushing as-is. I speculate the car sat for a long time and the output bushing got surface rust and ended up getting scored in the process.

Wagon transmission out! Vacuum modulator is newer... This transmission was rebuilt. It had an orange piece of junk converter (GM didn't use that!) and the workmanship was... questionable. Amusingly enough, Steve took the Buick transmission for a ride. Shifted GREAT... for 20 miles. Then died. Transmission pump failure. Things just can't sit not being used for long periods of time anymore... So the wagon transmission was off to a quality rebuild shop.

Governor gear better shot.

Governor assembly removed.

They call this condition "apple coring" the governor gear.

Output shaft bushing all scored up leading to failure. Funny story, this is the output shaft AFTER it came back from the transmission shop. Steve decided to check it after having the transmission IN the car and noticed they neglected to change the bushing. He went back to the shop and threw it in the owner's face who then furiously grabbed the tech who was supposed to have done it. Guy turned white as a ghost and was made to change it out while Steve and the shop owner watched him do it. He had put a new seal on it but forgot to change out the bushing itself. Lesson learned here: double check EVERYONE's work because it's always suspect, even reputable shops have a bad day here and there.

All nice and shiny new.

Looks great.

New tail shaft bushing installed (definitely).

I don't think they came this nice from the factory.

All new hardware was used on the crossmember pieces since the factory originals were showing their age.

New exhaust hardware as well. Should make upgrading the exhaust in the future a breeze.

Verdict is in, car drives and shifts beautifully just like it should. Transmission shop did a great job despite a single hiccup and the car is back and operational. Next up: fix the rotten exhaust and new tires!

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Last updated August 25th, 2013