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2003 Ford Focus, Transmission slipping?

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Feb 20, 2017, 6:06 PM

Post #1 of 5 (656 views)
2003 Ford Focus, Transmission slipping? Sign In

Ford Focus
2.0L, 16v Zetec
63,000 miles

Hello everyone,

I think my transmission is slipping, but I'm also not entirely sure what 'slipping' is. This is what's up:

I bought this car used back in 2015 from a trusted dealer/family friend. It had 34,000 miles at the time (did a lot of sitting). I had the alternator die on me last summer, but that is the only problem I have had with this car until lately.

Sometimes when I am trying to accelerate quickly to merge onto the highway, it feels like it doesn't really want to. It does accelerate, but the RPM seems a little higher than usual and the acceleration is a bit slower going. Once I get up to speed though, things seem fine. I just attributed this to the cold weather because I live in Michigan and It's winter. But there was a major problem that I noticed today that had me on the phone with my mechanic while I was driving. I had been driving around all day with no problem, but when I was about half way home and came to a stop sign, my car really struggled. I left the stop sign as usual (I didn't try to fly off or anything like that), and my car barely made it above 15mph and my RPMs were over 4000. I let off to coast for a sec and then hit the gas again and it jerked into second gear and then things were fine and my car drove like normal. But then I came to another stop sign, and then a red light, and then another stop sign, and this proceeded to happen for the rest of my drive home. Always flying up past 4000 rpms while creeping up to 15 or 20mph until I would let off the gas and then gently re-accelerate and then it would jerk into second gear and go back to driving like normal. After it happened the first time I was careful to not let my RPMs get into the red, and was successful in doing so. I called my mechanic to ask if my transmission was going bad or if it was just low on fluid, and he told me it could be either. He said to check the transmission fluid while my car was on level ground, running, and in park. He said if I am low on fluid that I could just add more and things would be fine, but if I was good on fluid and that wasn't the problem, I would have to take it to a transmission specialist because he doesn't do that kind of work.
Well.. Needless to say, my fluid was full. I had my grandfather take a look for a second opinion. He took it for a drive to see what it was doing and the car ran great (OF COURSE it did! as soon as I try to show someone, nothing is ever wrong!). Also, after my limited research, I went outside to look, smell, and feel the fluid. It had it's red color (but maybe not as clean red as it looks fresh from the bottle, but that could just be because the tip of my dipstick is yellow plastic), it felt nice and slick and not gritty, and the smell - forgive me, but it kind of smelled like a poopy diaper. Not sure what burnt trans fluid or good trans fluid smells like normally, but this had what to me smelled poopy (health care professional here!)

So I know it is a problem with my transmission, but I don't know how serious this problem is, or what kind of a fix I am looking at. I also know that a transmission is one of the most expensive car repairs. Is it worth it to just spend $1000 or so on fixing the problem, or is it better to cough up the rest of the $$ to redo everything? In my limited 2 hours of research, it seems that once you start having transmission problems, its bound to be one thing after another and given that the labor is one of the biggest costs, its best to just take care of it all at once. Also, given that the car is a 2003 and I paid $5000 for it, would it even be worth it to fix the transmission or should I just buy a new car? Keep in mind, it only has 63k miles and the only other problem I have had is the alternator. This car has been a godsend until today. Also, on the subject of the alternator, the last time I had to go to a different mechanic in an emergency situation (when my alternator left me stranded in the middle of nowhere) the mechanic milked me for $250 labor (and I helped him put it in because he was in a hurry and working on other projects!), and then $100 for the part. The alternator (luckily under lifetime warranty) went bad again at home and my regular mechanic only charged $90 labor to put in a new one... In other words, the fact that my mechanic doesn't do transmission work as me really nervous that some guy is going to try to take me for a ride and charge me an arm and a leg rather than give me a fair labor charge.... I'm already expecting $1000 plus, but I honestly don't know what labor charges are beyond what my normal guy charges (I should say that my guy very often doesn't charge me anything! he has been so good to me that I bought him an Applebee's giftcard for christmas last year).

In short: What is wrong? How much is the fix (how much would you charge, what is average so I know if someone is pulling my leg)? Should I only fix the problem or redo the whole transmission so I don't have to keep repaying for labor? Is it worth it to do the labor or should I just start looking for a new car, keeping in mind it only has 63k miles, but is a 2003 and I paid $5000 for it two years ago?

Thank you in advance for any responses! I look forward to hearing what everyone has to say and I hope to get to the bottom of my problem.



Feb 20, 2017, 6:23 PM

Post #2 of 5 (652 views)
Re: 2003 Ford Focus, Transmission slipping? Sign In

First, Do you have any codes? Gary

New User

Feb 20, 2017, 6:33 PM

Post #3 of 5 (650 views)
Re: 2003 Ford Focus, Transmission slipping? Sign In

Sorry, I do not. This all happened a few hours ago and I have not gone beyond a quick chat with my mechanic on the phone and checking everything the internet told me to do..


Feb 21, 2017, 3:31 AM

Post #4 of 5 (625 views)
Re: 2003 Ford Focus, Transmission slipping? Sign In

See if you can get it scanned, that may give some direction on which way to go. Gary

Tom Greenleaf
Ultimate Carjunky / Moderator
Tom Greenleaf profile image

Feb 21, 2017, 5:23 AM

Post #5 of 5 (624 views)
Re: 2003 Ford Focus, Transmission slipping? Sign In

@ CherokeeGonzalas: Re- Odors. It's always asked but not the world. Assorted odors are common - coolant burning, oil burning, wiring burnt are a bit distinct. Try a drop on something in a safe way just get it too hot away from vehicle. All the high tech in the world isn't going to do and descriptions are unique.

Allow Gary to advise away I'm out just chiming in on that point and like to add that cars just plain cost something no matter what you do and we need them. BTW - the alternator replace in this car is a bit invasive as things go and does add up more labor so that might not have been out of line at all.

Good luck and hope it's something simple enough yet to find out,


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