Q How long will it take a small leak in my transmission to cause the car to stop working? How can an auto transmission get a leak? I thought steel was tough.
MYRNA J. THOMPSON
A It's impossible to say how long a small leak might take to cause greater difficulty. That depends on how much fluid is escaping, how often you refill the reservoir, and whether the leak stays small.
As the fluid level sinks, the transmission may give you notice that trouble's afoot—by slipping, for example. Or it might consider the pavement stain beneath your car fair warning and just stop working when the fluid level gets low enough. Steel is tough, so transmission fluid tends to escape from places where the going is easier, such as hoses or gaskets. It's best to fix the leak before it has an opportunity to hand you a more expensive problem. In addition to the risk of mechanical troubles, there's a chance the combustible fluid could come in contact with hot exhaust components, with results that would make simple transmission failure seem desirable by comparison.
Q What could make my '93 Taurus stall at low speeds or when it is stopped at a light? I have had the fuel pump checked, but it's OK. Could the car just need a tune-up? I've never had one done.
A It's very probable that after all these years your car would need to have the long-deferred maintenance work performed. This would include new spark plugs and other ignition components, a new fuel filter, a new air filter, emission control service, and perhaps more. Cars can be surprisingly articulate, and yours has an understated way of suggesting you treat it to scheduled major service, the kind that's typically performed at 30,000 miles. This quite likely will take care of the problem, although there are other possible causes, such as dirty fuel injectors or a dirty throttle body. Following the manufacturer's recommended maintenance schedule as laid out in your car's owner's manual usually heads off problems like this one.
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This article was first published in May 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.