Thursday, November 25, 2010

Give Thanks for Your Transmission

Not a Good Combo
If you follow me on Twitter (@car_mama), then you heard about my car dying on the side of the road recently. The transmission went out -- specifically the planetary gear broke. I went through a plethora of emotions over the next 3 days, but have come out of this experience with some good knowledge and advice for car owners.

 My Advice:
  1. Find a mechanic you can trust
  2. Ask questions of the mechanic & manufacturer
  3. Be weary of chain transmission stores & find a good transmission guru
  4. Buy an extended warranty (check with your auto insurance company)
  5. If you want a good rapport with the manufacturer, use the dealer service department (they like seeing your service history & loyalty)
  6. Join AAA or have some form of Roadside Assistance
  7. You catch more flies with honey (so be nice)

That Fateful Friday
It was a beautiful, warm Friday in early November. I had dropped the kids off at my in-laws house and then went to the Volkswagen dealer to drive a Routan minivan. Everything was going according to plan and my husband and I were going out that evening with a very good friend, so I wasn't bothered by all the Friday afternoon traffic. Somewhere near Petaluma (California) I felt the acceleration was a bit weird, like my car was hiccuping when I pressed on the gas. I wasn't losing speed, nothing smelled funny, there was no smoke and no funny noises, but my 6th sense kicked in about 5 miles from my freeway exit so I got off Highway 101 as soon as I could. And thank goodness I did! I'm having nightmares imagining what would have happened to me if my wheels had locked up at 65 MPH on a busy stretch of 101.

It was that sudden. At 2:45PM I was a happy Lexus RX300 owner, and at 3:23PM I was talking to AAA requesting a tow truck. The first tow truck tried to hoist my car up on the flatbed, but the wheels were locked up and it wouldn't budge. The second tow truck had to put the back wheels on dollies and hoist the front. By this time we knew it was the transmission and took it to the local transmission surgeons. It was also 5PM on a Friday, so we dropped it off, said thanks to the driver and mechanic and headed home for martinis. 

A Weekend Consumed
My husband and I spent all weekend consumed by research on Lexus RX transmissions. We found forums and owners clubs and read posts by angry owners. All of this fueled our own anger and doubt, and by Sunday we were both spittin' mad that my very reliable luxury car had died. If we believed everything we read, then we had a case for the Lemon Law lawyers. But I take most information found in customer forums with a good dose of reality and checked out all those claims with the local transmission experts. I confirmed that I had done nothing wrong, the vehicle was in great shape other than the broken planetary gear and the need for a new battery.

Fortunately, I was tweeting with Lexus over the weekend and I asked them for some help. They promised to have someone call me on Monday morning, and sure enough, my cell phone rang at 8:20AM as I was walking my daughter to school. The very kind customer service rep (M.L) took my stats (2001 RX300, 90k miles, original owner, serviced regularly, no other issues) and gave me the scoop on "good will assistance." They would look into my story and possibly give me some assistance with the cost of the part.

2010 Lexus RX450h
I told M.L. all about my research and thoughts on the lack of recalls for parts of the RX transmissions -- especially the planetary gear. The issue Lexus had was with my choice of mechanics for the past 8 years: it wasn't the dealer. And so I explained that in 2002 I had a horrible experience with the local Lexus service department and refused to go back. (It was one of those mom nightmares: car trouble, toddler in need of a nap, no loaner car, and stuck in the waiting room for hours. Add being treated like a stupid woman, and you can imagine how angry I was back then.) Fortunately for all Marin Lexus owners, the local Lexus dealer now has a good staff in place with friendly service advisers. M.L. explained that my RX needed to be fixed at the dealer this time, and that they would cover 25% of the part costs. So my RX got another tow truck ride and a thorough examination from the dealer mechanics. (I see images of the Sheriff getting examined by Doc Hudson in the Pixar movie Cars.) I got a nice new loaner (a 2010 RX450h), respect, a break on labor costs, and update calls from the service department.

Lessons Learned
All of this is to say: take care of your transmission by finding a reputable mechanic and keeping up with service updates from the car manufacturer. Lexus had printed in the original Owner's Manual that the transmission fluid in RX300's didn't ever need to be changed and therefore it wasn't on my radar to have it checked outside of routine fluid checks. Now they recommend checking the fluid every 30,000 miles and changing if it is dark with particles.  If you have a new car under warranty, follow through on all those service recommendations and ask questions of the mechanics. If your car is no longer under warranty, consider buying an extended warranty. We found out after the fact that our insurance company sells extended warranties for less than a company we found online. It is well worth the cost.

2010 Lexus RX450h
I haven't enjoyed any of this other than driving a new Lexus with comfy seats and meeting new people at Lexus of Marin. I don't like the thought of new car payments, so I'll hold on to my RX300 for another year or so and see how she does. My kids will be disappointed to return the loaner car -- I know they'll complain about my "old" car. And if they complain too much, they'll be walking to school.

This is a time of year to count our blessings and to give thanks for all that we have. Among many other things, I am very thankful that my wheels stopped moving on a side street and not on highway 101 in Friday afternoon traffic.

My heartfelt thanks to Michael L. of Lexus Customer Service, Lexus of Marin, Marin Autotrans, and AAA of California.

Photos by Car Mama and Lexus.

(c) Copyright 2010-2016. Erika JN Fish. Car Mama. All Rights Reserved.

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