Q: Several years ago you helped me with a wiring question, and I hope you can help again. I have a question about my car. It is a 1995 Pontiac Grand Am four-cylinder, three-speed automatic with about 125,000 miles on it. I have recently been having a problem with it dropping out of gear after a hard stop or when making a hard left turn. Today, I found that in drive it would not engage low gear. I found I had a little more power if I manually shifted down, but the power still does not feel right. At the same time I started having the issue with no low gear in drive, my “service engine soon” light came on. I hope you can give me an idea of what I may be looking at as I am working with very limited resources having been out of work for quite some time.
A: I understand what you are talking about. There are a few different courses of action. First thing we need to do is to read the code that is causing the check-engine light to be on. The computer on your car is capable of putting your car into a limp or safe mode. What happens under this condition is the transmission will start off and stay in second gear, which will be just enough movement to get your car in for service. If you have a code clearing machine, I would read the code, record the code, and clear the code. Go for a road test. Does the car go into first gear now? If so, you now know it was in limp mode. If not, we have a transmission problem. So, next start the engine, keep the transmission in park with the emergency brake on and make sure the car is parked on a level surface. Go ahead and check the transmission fluid. If the transmission fluid does not show on the dip stick, start bringing it back up to the proper level using the correct fluid. Is the transmission fluid a translucent red? Does the fluid have a burnt or varnish odor? If so, a quality transmission flush is in order. If all the above does not bring the transmission back to proper service, then it needs to go to a transmission shop. You have done as much as you can as a weekend warrior.