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On Sunday the 5th, an oil change place replaced the fuel filter, cleaned the fuel system, changed the transmission fluid (but did not change the oil). After manager specials and discounts this amounted to $200. Their receipt says they used the special transmission fluid required by the Spectra.

On Thursday the 9th, the car started behaving oddly. After about 20 or 30 minutes on the Interstate, around 65-70 mph, someone will invariably cut in front of me. As soon as I apply the brake, the engine revs really high. When I take my foot off the brake, the problems begin. At random times, the engine jerks the car forward or jerks the car back. It’s a tad like watching a beginner try to start a stick shift from a halt – except it’s an automatic, I’m on the highway and I never know when it’s coming. I can bring the car to a stop. I can get the car going. Once it’s going, either I have very little control over the car’s exact speed (when my foot is on the accelerator) or I have very little control over how much the engine is revving (when my foot is on the brake.

The car was towed to the nearest garage, a GM dealership. (I was rattled and had forgotten about roadside assistance.) They replaced a vacuum hose in the fuel system and told me that sometimes broken hoses like that can cause GM’s computers and fuel injectors to do odd things that could match my symptoms. This helped nothing – the same problem persisted. They said I should go to a Kia dealership where the diagnostic equipment and staff training are more specialized for my car.

Kia towed the car to their dealership. They found nothing irregular under the hood. They could not make anything bad happen when they test drove it. They sent home with my car saying it was probably a bad batch of gasoline. I’m pretty sure that the car behaves normally for the first 20-30 minutes (which is about as long as they would drive it) and then starts misbehaving. The Kia dealership has seen my car twice and cannot find anything to fix or anything to charge me for (other than diagnostic time). Why should a 2002 with fewer than 61k miles have such expensive-sounding troubles?
 

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This sounds more like a transmission problem than anything. Especially with the jerking when you release the brake, almost like it's not changing gears properly as you slow down (jerking you forward if it's gone to a lower gear than it should for example).

Do you have cruise control? I used to have this happen in an old car of mine, I'd hit the brake to slow down and the engine would rev high. It turned out to be just a simple relay that cancelled the cruise control when the brake was applied - it was sticky and wouldn't disengage quickly. It was very frustrating as I couldn't make it happen on demand, and sometimes I could go for days without it happening.

Is there anything you can do to make it happen consistently? The bane of any service tech's day is the intermittent problem that can't be reproduced. I work as a network technician and have people with weird problems that I can't replicate - and they are always the first to think you're dumb because you can't make it happen. Look for a pattern in how it occurs - maybe when you're at a certain speed or when the temperature is high or anything that you can find similar, no matter how insignificant you think it might be. Usually that little detail is all it takes to put the pieces together and figure it out, even though the customer doesn't think it's relevant.

Hope that helps a bit, and let us know how you make out.

Devin
 

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The car has no cruise control. The problem does not happen after driving around in town. Only after 20-30 minutes of interstate driving. My guess is that temperature plays a role of some sort. The problem is that the techs will never drive it around town all day then take it on to the interstate for 20-30 minutes to replicate the problem. It would take them 10 minutes to get the interstate and 10 minutes to get back. There’s probably 10 minutes of paperwork and a 30 minute limit on how long the techs can spend on a diagnostic exam. I can drive it around and get the engine warm for them, but they can’t drop everything and look at the car when I get there. Once the engine has cooled, we’re back to square one.

Why does the tech have to experience the problem to fix it? Won’t a good, thorough description of consistent symptoms help them know where to look? Why are they telling me it’s a bad batch of gasoline?
 

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They're telling you it's a bad batch of gasoline because it's easy to blame and it's possible.

I'd say if they took your description of the problem and acted on that alone, they wouldn't be a good tech.

Everybody perceives problems differently. For instance, you said "the engine jerks the car forward or it jerks the car back". I know that the car can't jerk backwards at 60 mph, but I know what you mean. A customer can come in and say "my back tires are making noise", when it's really the rear end differential that's making the noise. The point is that everyone see's things differently, and the customers aren't supposed to know what the problem is because that's the tech's job. Details help, but it's always in the back of your mind that what the customer is seeing isn't what's really there.

The techs need to hook it up to a scanner and take it for a drive. I agree with Pinchy that the problem is probably transmission related. It could be a bad sensor, a bad TCM (transmission control module), a sticking pressure solenoid, etc...

I could guess all day, but unless I have proof of what's happening under the hood it would be impossible to pinpoint the problem for you.

They didn't even bother hooking it up to the scanner to see if there are any codes?
 

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According to the Kia dealership techs:
1. All three times we took the car in, they drove it on local highways for 30 minutes at 70 miles an hour. (I doubt this because of traffic, the 55 mph limit and the need to turn around.)

2. The engine reaches maximum temperature after 20 minutes of driving, so a 3 hour trip should not necessarily show any symptoms that a 30 minute trip doesn’t show. (This seems odd, but I don’t know enough about cars in general or Kias in particular to dispute this.)

3. They cannot put more diagnostic time into it without charging us. (Which I think sucks because their diagnostic services had not provided much value until we met in person.)

4. They needed to see receipts of every scrap of maintenance or repair work the car has ever undergone before they could proceed. (This seemed like an obvious attempt to void the warranty by showing that we had done something a couple of miles after the recommended time.)

The Kia tech asked us if the oil change place used the right transmission fluid.

“I guess so. I mean, first we stopped at Valvoline. They said they didn’t carry the fuel filter we needed or the right kind of transmission fluid. We went home, opened the phone book and called Jiffy Lube. They had the right kind of fuel filter and they checked their big book to make sure they had the right kind of transmission fluid. It took forever on hold.”

The Kia tech called Jiffy Lube and asked what kind of transmission fluid they used. No joke, they kept him on hold forever while they looked it up in the book. Either their book had the wrong answer or they were pulling our leg all along.

Should the oil change place pay for the draining and replacing of the wrong transmission fluid? Should the oil change place reimburse us for the first tow or the work the GM dealership did? Should they reimburse us for the diagnostic time at the Kia dealership? Should I believe that they relied, in good faith, on a book with incorrect information, or are they covering themselves?

Our Kia tech really went to bat for us when he had a solid chance to point a finger at the oil change place. He endured all-to-frequent and not-so-happy phone calls from us and remained professional (which is more than we can say for ourselves).
 
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