Testing a Troubled Taurus

How to tell if you really need a replacement transmission or simply have an external electronic problem

James M. Reynolds writes: I have a '97 Ford (F) Taurus wagon. The transmission will not shift into drive. All the other gears work fine. The car has 184,000 miles on it and the fluids have been replaced. Can you provide any direction?

James, congratulations for having nursed a Taurus transmission so far. You did better than most. Before condemning the transmission, at least invest a little to make sure you don't have an external electronic problem, as opposed to an internal problem. Have a mechanic scan the powertrain control computer and make sure you don't have a faulty manual lever position sensor (it tells the computer what gear you have selected). Also, Fords are known to have the valve body of the transmission loosen up, causing improper operation.

If it's neither of these things you have an internal transmission problem. A replacement transmission will probably cost between $2,500 and $3,000. I cannot say this would be a wise investment, given the age of the car. However, if you have all your other gears (reverse, 1, 2, and 3) there's no reason the vehicle could not be used as local transportation until you replace it or it dies completely.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.