Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My Old Pickup

The transmission on my poor old pickup finally gave up the ghost. I guess I shouldn't say finally, because it's only got 156,000 miles. That's not a ton of miles to have on a vehicle made in 1994. Never-the-less the transmission went kaput.

Fortunately I wasn't left stranded. I've been limping along for about a month now in a state of denial. The pickup would start off well, but then it wouldn't shift up. I'd have to get to about 35 miles an hour in first gear before I could let off the gas and let it shift into what turned out to be third gear. I finally summoned up the courage to call the mechanic. I told him what was going on and he told me to bring her into the shop. So I made arrangements to borrow a car from my folks (Thanks Mom and Dad! You're the best!) and took her in.

I got a call the next day. "It's a transmission problem." Not a big surprise, but I was still holding out hope it was something else. "We're not going to be able to fix it here. I'm gonna recommend that you take it down to Lafayette." Really? For those of you wondering I live in Tigard, OR which is south of Portland, OR. Lafayette is about 25 miles farther south. It takes anywhere from 35 minutes to an hour and a half to get down there depending on traffic. "You can't recommend anyone closer? I don't ever get down that way." "Nope, he's our transmission guy, sorry."

OK, well I'm not going to drive down to Lafayette to get this thing fixed. So I start to search around. Nobody I asked had a transmission guy. Makes sense to me. Up until my mechanic told me to go to a transmission shop it didn't occur to me that those things were different. Live and learn. I wouldn't go to an optometrist for a  knee problem. So I'm searching online and there are more conflicting reviews then I've seen in a long time. People seem to either love the shop they went to or hate it.

I settled on a guy in Tualatin, much closer, who had some pretty intelligible, and positive reviews. I made the appointment and took my old pickup in. I got there at 4:30pm and they close at 5pm. There was nobody to meet me in the office. That's fine. It's a small, independent shop. They don't want to spend money on a receptionist. I stick my head out into the bay's and I still don't see anybody. I hate it when this happens. I don't want to wander around out there looking for somebody. There's some really expensive equipment out there. I might look at it wrong and have it fall over. Then somebody will come out.

I rattled some paper, coughed, waited, coughed, called out, coughed again, and rattled paper. Finally someone pokes his head out. Aha. Turns out the owner had knocked off early that day, even after I told him I was coming in that evening, and this poor guy didn't know what needed to be done for me to drop my old pickup off. Dandy. We went back into the office and he rummaged around until he found some forms that looked vaguely appropriate. We filled them out and I made sure to get a copy of the form just in case. I left my key and left with a prayer on my lips.

I like supporting locally owned, and independent businesses, but there is a sort of minimal level of professionalism I expect. This was not meeting those expectations. If there was another shop in the area that had similar reviews I would have bolted. There was not, and I was to the point where I was getting worried about getting stranded on the side of the road. That was back on the 9th of June.

I expected to hear from him on Friday. I did not hear from him on Friday. It would be too much to expect them to work over the weekend. Monday, I didn't hear from him so I called at 3:30pm to find out what was going on.

"Oh yeah, you have a tranny problem. It's not shifting into second gear." Headdesk, Headdesk.
"You don't say." I said.
"Oh yeah, I just test drove it."

Great, you've had it for almost two full business days and you've driven it. That bodes well for the future. He tells me that he can get it fixed and it should be ready to go on Wednesday. I was ready for the problem to be gone and I had already decided that a 1200 dollar bill on a vehicle that is running well is better than spending $16,000-$18,000 on a new vehicle. OK John, get it done.

Wednesday I'm waiting for a call. No call. Finally at 3:30pm I call them. Oh, they're a little backed up, but they'll be done by tomorrow. Thursday I call again to make sure my old pickup is ready to go.

"It's ready, but it's really shifting hard now. The check engine light came on. We hooked it up to our computer and it gave us some strange code we hadn't seen before. Something about a vacuum leak. That's probably been going on for a while now huh?" No, no that has not been happening for a while now. The check engine light has gone on once before, 10 years ago. Great.

So I pick my old pickup up from Tualatin Transmission. Sure enough, it's shifting hard and after about five minutes the check engine light comes on. I drove it to work on Friday and the same thing happened. I fumed over the weekend and then made arrangements on Monday to take it in to my "regular" mechanic. Turns out there are a couple of sensors that need to be replaced, one of which will require a retro kit. Did I mention that my old pickup was built in 1994? Oh yeah, and the hard shifting? "It looks like they put a shift kit on when they rebuilt the transmission." Wait, what?

A shift kit is something that you put on higher performance cars to get a more positive shift. Automatic transmission cars will sometimes drive in two gears simultaneously depending on speed and load on the engine. If you're racing, or going off-road you might not want that, so you put on a shift kit. This makes the transmission engage in only one gear at a time. The trade off? The transmission shifts hard. It saves wear and tear on the transmission, but the drive train takes the brunt of all that extra force when the vehicle shifts gears.

Sweet. "Can you tell me why they would do that?"
"Well a lot of the transmission shops will put a shift kit on so they can preserve the transmission. Did they give you a warranty?"
"Yeah, 2 year, 24,000 miles."
"They're hedging they're bets that you'll get there by installing the shift kit."

So the pain moves from the rebuilt transmission to the original drive train. I believe I hate them.

I'll be getting my old pickup back today and I'm hoping that everything will be in working condition.
Wish me Luck!

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