Worst Automatic Transmissions Ever Built?

isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
edited March 2014 in Chevrolet
I'll give my vote to the Chevy Turboglide built
from 1957-1961. They were pure junk!

Instead of rebuilding these, they were usually
converted to a Powerglide.

Also Buick's Dual Path, used in Buick Specials
from 1961-1963 was another terrible transmission.


  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Alfa 164 automatic...pretty awful...

    Saab automatics are also pretty lame at least up to 1994.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    The Micky Mouse semi automatics used in VW bugs?

    These were really bizarre!
  • nrd525nrd525 Member Posts: 109
    I had a relative that had an Audi,I don't know exactly what year it was but it had to be 72-74.That thing seemed to slip,then WHAM,into second,and then very smoothly into third.The shift was about as hard as the built Turbo 400 my friend had in his Big Block Vega!I always thought there was something wrong with it,but the loaner they got when they were having the hood repanted due to vandalism was EXACTLY the same way!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    The Germans got a lot of complaints from American drivers in the 70s for their automatics. Some of the units were sturdy enough, but too hard shifting for American tastes of the time, where feeling anything, like the road, the steering or the shifting, was considered a defect. Mercedes had fits with this, trying to explain to people tht they were supposed to a) rev up the small 6 ohc engines and b) shift the automatic manually.

    I remember showing one person how to drive their 280SL roadster...the complaint was "no power" and "gutless"...well, sure they were driving it like a Rambler...so I put it in #1, revved it up to 6,500, shifted it up through the gears....they about freaked...but that's what the car was BUILT to do...it could take it, too.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    The old cast iron Hydramatics had a rough shift! When they changed gears, you knew it!

    They were reliable, though. Later, they were replaced with the Roto-Hydramatic. These were called "slim jims" and they were pretty lousy too!
  • carnut4carnut4 Member Posts: 574
    has produced its share of lousy automatics. That "Super Turbine 300" I think they called it-the 2-speed job with the switch-pitch torque converter-what a mess that was. I remember taking a class in automatic transmissions back in '74. The instructor had one of those in the shop for demo. He pointed out all the heat marks on certain parts that were prone to failure. Also, don't forget those GM "THM 200" automatics-the small chevette-sized HM they stuck in full sized Pontiacs and others in the seventies. Those were the subject of a class action lawsuit because of so many failures. C'mon GM! You could do much better than that!
  • gkelly3gkelly3 Member Posts: 38
    Renault (AKA "run like hell") used to make a curious AT called the "SAXOMAT". This had an electromagnetic clutch (Magnetized iron filings in an oil slurry that would act as a clutch when magnetized. I never experienced one of these-people tell me they had a rather short life-has anybody else ever tried this exotic type of tranny?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    I've driven them...they also made one called a "Ferlac"....and Benz had something called...um...was it Hydrax?
  • modvptnlmodvptnl Member Posts: 1,352
    I remember the turbo 200. I wasn't sure if it was a 200 or 250 but I remember GM putting them behind V8 Camaros and such and they were grenades.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    The Turbo 200's held up pretty good in Chevettes and other underpowered GM cars. Then GM thought they would put them into Chevy Caprices, etc.

    I knew a guy who owned an independant transmission shop at the time. He made a fortune on these. His fix was to convert them to a 350.
  • vosakivosaki Member Posts: 5
    Certainly one of the worst transmissions were built was Buick's Dynaflow. It had a enormous torque converter with no planetary gear sets. It was really smooth, but it also absorbed all the power.
  • carleton1carleton1 Member Posts: 560
    I agree with postings here based on personal experience and observations.
    My dad got a Powerglide in 1950...had to be rebuilt many times when reverse went out. Turboglide in 1957...replaced with Powerglide 6 or 7 years later as you wrote many did. A friend had a 1957 Turboglide and he said it was very easy to repair so he kept repairing his own. The Fluid Drive of Chrysler could have as a motto "All
    the slippage of an automatic with all of the inconvenience of a manual". Ford-O-Matic was not much to brag about. Dynaflow also a sick joke.
    But the original 4 speed Hydramatic was quite rugged and in various degrees of beefing up was used in many Army vehicles of Korean War Vintage. Our Army FA Battalion took 1950's GMC 2-1/2 ton with straight 6 cylinder and Hydramatic to Vietnam
    in 1965 and they were still running 1 year later..
    ..But, the few new diesel trucks we got with manual transmission were shot while the old M211 duece and a half were still going strong!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Best trans in the world, I think. Even Rolls Royce used it, which made it the best part on a Rolls Royce (after the wooden dashboard and leather seats, that is).
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    But we are talking about the early cast iron Hydramatics and not the Rotos, 200's, etc. The 350's and 400's were good also, but not like those rough shifting ones from the 50's.

    But, I disagree to a point about the Dynaflows. They were inefficient and sluggish to be sure. They did hold up, however.

    My parents kept their 51 Roadmaster until 1965. I learned to drive on that beast!

    I was never able to hurt that Dynaflow despite using a trick another 16 year old taught me...

    Start out in drive from a stop, floorboard the gas. When the big Buick got up to about 35 MPH, drop the shifter into low without letting up on the gas.

    The Buick would chirp the rear tires, the front end would bounce up and it would take off...Shift back to drive around 55 MPH!

    Funny to watch. That big 320 Cubic Inch straight eight has a sound all it's own too. These were great engines.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Member Posts: 1,598
    My vote goes to the Roto Hydramatic they put in Pontiacs and Olds in the early '60s. When you took off with that super-low first gear the engine would rev like the tranny was slipping, then the tranny would lurch into second, which had a normal ratio. It was like short-shifting a manual 3-speed.

    However, a close second would be the "world-class" (thanks, Car & Driver) tranny in my '98 GTP. At 26k it failed. The dealer rebuilt it, and it failed again. All in the last week. On the plus side, I'm driving a really nice Volvo S70 rental car. Could be my next car. Shiftright, what do you think of S70s?
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    Some of the WIERD transmissions that came from Chrysler?

    A buddy bought a '52 De Soto from an old lady who decided to quit driving. What a shame...The car was soooo nice until he got ahold of it...

    Anyway, it had a hemi V-8 engine, and the STRANGEST transmission. It shifted when you lifted your foot off the gas. It also had a button on the end of the shifter that put it into "passing gear".

    Of course, he had great fun winding out as hard as it would go and then would quickly lift his foot off the gas so it would shift, then slam the gas back down.

    The De Soto desperatly missed grandma and didn't last long as I recall...too bad, it was VERY nice, very low miles, etc. Oh well!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Don't know much about the S70...I never gave it much attention and it hasn't called me either. An apathy stand-off!
  • speedshiftspeedshift Member Posts: 1,598
    Rent an S70 the next time you're at an Enterprise. Very well-damped European ride and handling, precise well weighted steering, very nimble without banging the heck out of you over bumps. Everything my GTP isn't.

    Okay, back to transmissions.
  • moparmadmoparmad Member Posts: 197
    Worst trannsmissions for strength thats easy...anything new.
  • gkelly3gkelly3 Member Posts: 38
    For a long time, Jaguars (if ordered with AT) used the B-W AT. Most tranny mechanics I've talked to rate this as one of the worst-slow shifting, unreliable, and very fragile. Most tranny shops would not even rebuild them-they would refuse the job, as parts were very scarce and expensive. I guess FORD has had some positive effects on Jaguar-certaily the ATs are much better now!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Yep, if you have a 70s/80s jaguar you can just about count on rapid and frequent transmission failures.
  • mjc440mjc440 Member Posts: 76
    One of the worst automatic transmissions of all time were the electronic 4 speeds put in 1989 to 1993 model year Chrysler cars. These transmissions were junk right out of the factory.

    One of the best automatic transmissions of all time were Chrysler's Torquefites (727 and 904). These transmissions were practically bulletproof.

    I guess Chrysler goes forward one step and takes two steps back.

    BTW - Chrysler fixed these defective transmissions by 1995 - the post 1995s don't appear to have many problems.
  • eparkeeparke Member Posts: 3
    Here's my story: Ordered a brand new 1997 GD
    Caravan Sport. At 30K the transmission was acting
    funny, each time it was taken to the Dodge dealer
    they said it's alright. At 43K (now out of
    warranty) it would only go into 2nd or reverse.
    Chrysler said, 'to bad', and only paid half the
    $1,500 it cost to fix. And the Dodge dealer would
    only give $10,000 for it as a trade in. So, Two
    things if you buy a Chrysler product minivan: 1)
    buy an expensive extended warranty, 2) resale will
    be very low.
    Now after surfing the internet, I see I am not
    along. Verdict: Chrsyler minivans look nice, but
    have no quality or resale.
    Has anyone been successful at suing Chrysler?
    For 2001, also know that Chrysler has repeatedly
    said over the past 10 years that they have fixed
    their transmisson problem.
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,610
    I have a 2000 Intrepid with about 25K miles on it. Sometimes reverse refuses to engage, and I have to shift back and forth through the gears until it catches. I've had it in to my dealer who, naturally, can't find anything wrong with it. A local shop that I usually deal with told me to hang onto all of my paperwork, because the say that all Chrysler transmissions tend to be weak nowadays, even the ones in the trucks.

    Most of my cars in the past have been Chrysler, ranging from a 1957 DeSoto with a pushbutton TF727 on up to the Intrepid. The only one that ever gave me any serious tranny trouble was a 1979 Newport with a TF998 (I think...it was basically a heavy-duty 904) that had to be rebuilt at 230K miles. Oh well, I guess those days are over!
  • johndopejohndope Member Posts: 7
    My girlfriend has an 89 chevy celebrity with 54,000 miles on it. When we took it to get the oil changed today, the Precision Tune guy said that we should flush and fill the transmission because the fluid was "burnt." Is this necessary?

    There have been no problems with the transmission so far. He said it would be preventive maintnenance and would save us from buying a $5,000 transmission down the road. That made me suspicious because I've never heard of a $5,000 transmission, especially for a Chevy.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Probably just a sales pitch, but if you've never changed the fluid, it's certainly overdue. Transmissions have oil and filters, just like engines, and they need service.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    Let a Chevy dealer or a QUALITY independant transmission shop do the job.

    The chains scare me!
  • speedshiftspeedshift Member Posts: 1,598
    Check to make sure the fluid level is okay--not too high or too low. Either one is bad. Our Ford dealership overfilled my wife's T-Bird's tranny once.
  • sokwesasokwesa Member Posts: 2
    I need some advice. My manual 626 has a first gear synchronizer problem that will cost $1500 to repair. I have been thinking about just buying a used transmission to replace it at a total cost, including installation of $800. Does anyone know if this is a viable solution to a tranny problem?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Sure, if the wrecking yard will guarantee the transmission. No one, by the way, will guarantee the labor, so if the tranny is bad, you're stuck for the installation. That's why you want a warranty with the unit.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Member Posts: 1,598
    Had a friend who replaced the noisy tranny in his Coronet with a junkyard unit that turned out to be even noisier. He was a little upset.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    There is a problem inherent with some junkyard parts, and this is the problenm: If you are replacing a unit that is know to be very troublesome (factory defect, etc.), then the part you get in the wrecking yard might be just as bad, logically. But if you're replacing a basically soundly made unit that just wore out from high miles, then a low mileage wrecker's part might be just the ticket. The really good yards clean and test their trannies and warranty them.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Member Posts: 1,598
    I hear that wiggling the transmission input shaft is a good way to determine wear. If it wiggles, it's worn.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    Are sure different now then when I was a kid!

    Some of them are as clean as a grocery store! No longer do they send you out back with your tools to pull your own parts!

    And they charge! They seem to know just how much they can charge before you will simply buy a new unit or have your old one rebuilt.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Pretty soon the wrecking yard guys will be calling themselves "Salvage Counselors" or maybe "Recycling Therapists"?
  • badgerpaulbadgerpaul Member Posts: 219
    When I've wandered through junk yards and looked at all those clapped out old heaps, I can't help but think that at one time, almost every one of them was the pride of somebody's driveway.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    When I see a truck hauling away the cars that have been crushed. Kinda sad in a way...
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Member Posts: 64,481
    Well, think of it as the Big Picture of Life...everything comes and goes...just keeps on rollin' through time...
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    All things must pass...

    I also think of the fat payment books that came along with most of those cars not all that many years ago.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Member Posts: 1,598
    is some of the cars that end up in the wrecking yards and shouldn't have. I ran across a mint '66 Skylark convertible being parted out by a guy who specialized in Buicks. He told me he'd tried to buy it but the yard wouldn't sell the complete car. Then there's the "perfectly good cars" I rescued from the yard and should have run away from screaming.
  • I_DamianI_Damian Member Posts: 6
    My 1988 Mazda 929 has been stopped in its tracks due to its transmission (135k miles). I have heard that many Mazda owners have had similar troubles and are banning together to confront the company. Does anyone else know of this situation?
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    I mean, the car is 12 years old with 135,000 miles!

    The only bad Mazda transmission I'm aware of are the ones in their MPV mini vans.

    There could be more that I'm unaware of.
  • stickguystickguy Member Posts: 50,283
    I believe that Mazda had some problems with early FWD 626 transmissions. Have never ehard any problems with the 929, which has a different tranny since it is RWD.

    I second ISELL that 135K in 12 years is not unreasonable, especially without knowing driving habits, maint. history, etc.

    2020 Acura RDX tech SH-AWD, 2023 Maverick hybrid Lariat luxury package.

  • carnut4carnut4 Member Posts: 574
    although there are a few legends, like the old Chrysler 727 Torqueflites, which would commonly outlast the rest of the car, and go indefinitely. The one in my old 72 Dodge van was still going strong, no trouble, with 187,000 miles when I sold it. But you're right. Back in the 50's and 60's, I wonder how many people remember transmission failures [or major work] before 70 or 80 thousand miles or so. I bet alot. It would be interesting to take a survey.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    Chevy's aluminum Powerglide that came out in 1962 would usually start slipping between first and second gear around 60,000 miles.

    Similar stories applied to other models. Others, like your wonderful torqueflght lasted much longer.

    And...remember the leaks? Reseal jobs were VERY common in the old days!
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,610
    Hey gang,

    While its true that modern transmissions (usually) outlast older designs, what about the cost of them? The last tranny rebuild I had to to was to a 1979 Chrysler Newport. It had a TF-998 (beefed up 904), which lasted to about 230,000 miles. This was early 1997, and it cost about $650 to rebuild. I had a TH-350 self-destruct in an '82 Cutlass Supreme in 1993, and it was around the same to rebuild.

    Don't these more modern trannys run in the thousands, though? I know a pizza delivery driver who toasted the tranny in his 1997 Subaru wagon, and it was something like $3900+core to replace! I've heard the one in my Y2K Intrepid would run around $2-3,000 once it goes out of warranty.

    In constrast, when I bought my '89 Gran Fury, the dealer I bought it from said if the tranny ever went, he could throw in a used one for around $300, and a used 318 for around $1000.

    I think this price disparity in transmissions is going to send a lot of otherwise ok cars to the junkyard before their time. When I had my two tranny rebuilds, I was thinking in terms of monthly payments. I figured I could either throw a tranny in it for $650, or pay around $300 a month for a cheap new car. So that tranny equated to about 2 months of car payments, no big deal, have it rebuilt and hope the car lasts another 2 months. But now a $2000 tranny would equate to almost 7 months of payments, and is a pretty large sum of money to sink into an old car, and a $3000 tranny is a decent down payment on a new car.

    As far as tranny failures go, I think the only one in my family I can recall (other than my own) was my grandfather's 1977 Granada. It failed within a year or two. But that side of the family never kept a car more than 3-4 years. Actually, come to think of it, one of my great uncles burnt up the tranny in a 1957 Ford when he got stuck in the snow in 1958. Oh, then there was the Torqueflite 904 in my '68 Dart. The guy who had it before me rebuilt the 318 at around 240K miles, and put a mild cam in it. It was fast enough that most of my friends were shocked to find out it only had a 2bbl carb on it. Anyway, he put all this money into the engine, and all that added power just killed the worn out tranny (and rear end). He threw in a used one that some guy had in his back yard, and that was about 98,000 trouble free miles ago.

    Hope I haven't rambled on too much!
  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,610
    Just curious about the terminology here...is a trans overhaul the same as a rebuild? Just curious, because my two were rebuilt (the Cutlass and the Newport), but my friend's 1998 Tracker had to be "overhauled" (the dealer's word) at around 30K miles. He had some other stuff done to it at the same time, but I remember the "overhaul" amounted to around $700 of the bill, although that was covered by his warranty.

  • isellhondasisellhondas Member Posts: 20,342
    An overhaul or "rebuild" is the same.
  • stickguystickguy Member Posts: 50,283
    The main difference in the prices is probably related to the fact that the Sube and Intrepid have FWD, and technically have transaxles not transmissions (is there actually a difference? I'm certainly no mechanic).

    Couple that with the electronics that were unheard of probably even on the '79, and you can see why they cost big bucks. i have to imagine that a FWD set up is much more complicated than an old fashioned straight through model.

    2020 Acura RDX tech SH-AWD, 2023 Maverick hybrid Lariat luxury package.

  • andre1969andre1969 Member Posts: 25,610
    I think another reason for higher prices nowadays is the 4th gear, or "overdrive" that most transmissions have. When I bought my Gran Fury ex-police car, the salesman steered me away from the Caprices, saying that the trannies weren't nearly as reliable, and when they went out, and would cost around $1000 to put in another used one (vs about $300 for the 3-speed Torqueflite in the Gran Fury) And I know someone who paid around $1900 to have a new transmission put in a 1987 Buick Estate wagon.

    As far as the transaxle and transmission go, I heard the difference is that the transaxle houses the differential, too, where it would be a seperate unit on a RWD car.

    At first I thought that my friend's Tracker would cost a lot more than $700 for a rebuild, especially by the dealer. However, it's only a 3-speed, and RWD, so even though it's a '98, I guess it's still pretty simple.
This discussion has been closed.