SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 23, 2013

Auto Scanner: ’95 Pontiac Grand Am keeps dropping out of gear

Auto Scanner
Larry Rubenstein

---- — 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.

Q: I have a 1996 Chevy Blazer with 109,000 miles, and every time it rains or the car sits for one or two days, it does not start until weather clears or is dry for one day. This has been going on for the last six months, and my repair shop cannot find anything wrong with the car when they have it for two or three days. Last time this happened was last Friday and Saturday. I had the car towed to their garage on Sunday, and when he started the car on Tuesday, the weather was good. Any ideas?

A: There are so many things that could cause this problem. Unless you have test gear attached to the vehicle to see if you have lost spark, fuel or fuel injector pulse, it’s a guessing game. The first thing I would ask you to do would be to watch the dashboard when you turn on the key. On these rainy days, is the check engine light on when you turn the ignition switch to the “on” position? If it’s not, you can expect a bad connection at the computer. The 1996 Blazer also uses a lot of relays in the ignition system, such as for the computer and fuel pump. So, if any water was entering into the relays, it may cause the car not to start. Now, the surefire way to diagnose the problem is as follows: When you know that rain or inclement weather is on the way, drop off your car at the repair facility. Let them look at the vehicle while the problem is present.

Car care tip: Next time your car is in for service, ask the technician to check your spare tire and tire-changing tools.

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Larry Rubenstein is a master technician who owns a North Shore service station. His column appears every Saturday. Write to Larry at The Salem News, c/o Auto Scanner, 32 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA 01915, or send an email to scanauto@aol.com.