Don't know where you've been, but this is the way cars are built now. WAY too many unreliable, unnecessary computers. Don't expect anything different from any other brand. Many are much worse.
This system has been used since 1989. When the transmission computer detects a problem, it defaults to second gear to allow you to drive it to the shop. The only way to reset it is to turn the engine off and restart it.
One clue to look for is when it goes into this "limp-in" mode. If the car starts out in second gear right away, suspect a sensor problem. If it starts out in first gear like normal, then upshifts at least once, then goes to second gear and stays there, there is likely slippage taking place in one of the clutch packs. There are two speed sensors on the transmission, an input speed sensor and an output speed sensor. The computer knows the relationship between them depending on which gear it is in. When the two sensor's readings don't agree, the computer keeps the transmission in second gear.
The dealership mechanics or any transmission specialist can connect a hand-held computer that will read the "clutch volume index". That is four numbers indicating the volume of fluid it takes to apply each clutch. These numbers will tell them how worn out the clutch plates are.
Some history is in order so you will understand what you have. The clutch plates in every automatic transmission ever built wear out over a period of thousands of miles. This happens so gradually that you don't notice that the shifts are getting sloppy or sluggish. Then the day comes that it has to be rebuilt. Now you are amazed at how solidly it shifts. The change is sudden so you notice it.
The computer in your car learns how much fluid it takes to apply each clutch. As the plates wear over time the amount of fluid needed goes up. To prevent sloppy shifts, the computer will apply a clutch just a little sooner before it releases the previous clutch. That causes the shift to be nice and crisp. This updating occurs every time you drive the car, ... Until the day it can't update any further because the plates are too worn. That's the day the slippage starts and it pops back into second gear. It doesn't matter if it's a 30 year old transmission or your computer-controlled unit, the wear takes place at the same rate. The only difference is with your car, you don't have any warning the wear is taking place. You just go from working fine one day to staying in second gear the next day.
Anytime the battery is disconnected or run dead in your car, the computer will lose its memory of the updated shifting characteristics. Until it relearns these values, the shifts could be mushy, or more commonly, very harsh. The relearning can be done in the service bay with the hand-held computer as a convenience for the customer, otherwise, it could take as much as a couple of miles and a dozen shifts from first gear through overdrive for this to occur. Many mechanics will either test drive your car to take care of the relearn process, or they will tell you to possibly expect a strange feel to the shifts due to the battery being disconnected.
Chrysler was the big innovator in the industry for many years, giving us the first alternator (1960), the first anti-lock brakes (1969), the first electronic ignition (1972), the first engine computer, (1977), the first lockup torque converter (1977), the first airbag (1988), and the first computer-controlled automatic transmission (1989). There's no denying those first transmissions were nothing to be proud of, but the design idea was very impressive. So impressive, in fact, that it has been copied by other manufacturers just like every other innovation. Unfortunately, in my opinion, all the manufacturers have gone insane with the need to hang a computer onto every system in the car. That's why I refuse to buy one. I'm still driving an old '88 Grand Caravan. The point of this really long reply is not to defend the use of computers for everything from dome lights to power locks and heater controls. It is to point out that every manufacturer is building cars with the same unneeded technology and consumers are paying for it in the end. There's a lot of people like me who won't even consider buying a new car, and it's sad that they guys in Detroit can't figure out why.
So before you single out your car as a lemon, read through some of the posts for other brands and models of cars in this forum. You will see it isn't just your car. To be fair, by 1997 a lot of the problems seen in earlier transmissions had been corrected. It's becoming more common now to see sensor problems and less common to need a new transmission. In the earlier models, it wasn't unheard of to go through three transmissions in 100,000 miles. My mother's '95 Grand Caravan is a perfect example. They were replaced at 45,000 and 80,000 miles. My old '88 Grand Caravan has the older style transmission based on their design from the 1970s. It has 217,000 miles, never been repaired, and I use it twice a year to pull an enclosed trailer that's bigger than the van! If I tried to do that with my mother's van, it would explode and sit there with its tongue hanging out!
Sunday, February 14th, 2010 AT 3:49 AM