A friend of mine pointed me this way due to my current problems; I've been working on this for three weeks and am no closer to diagnosing the issue, so hopefully someone here can point me in the right direction.

As the title says, it's a 1997 Oldsmobile 88, 3800 Series II V6 engine, I think 4T60E automatic transmission. When all this started, there had been a blizzard; the car slid off the road into a ditch. This actually didn't do anything but some cosmetic damage, but due to the slick roads, it had to remain there overnight. The next day, a friend attempted to pull it out, which got it mostly out until it slid sideways into another ditch (this time not doing any damage). This ditch was considerably longer and had a shallower approach a few hundred feet up the road, so I drove towards that point until finding a patch of ice.

The following day, the ice had melted enough that I could get the car out of the ditch once and for all; however, beginning that day, I no longer had reverse. Additionally, whenever the car got above 20mph, a few seconds later the transmission would slip and not re-engage until dropping back below that speed. It was absolutely night and day between the two days' performances.

The TV cable seems to be functioning properly; all connectors to the TCC seem fine, and the PCM is producing absolutely no diagnostic codes and the MIL is not coming on, though it is confirmed working. Fluid levels are correct, and the fluid looks to be in excellent condition. I initially thought I'd heard a noise, like a mildly high-pitched sputtering timed with the engine's RPM, but I think that may have been present prior to this after having studied it at length. All associated fuses I could think of are fine; that includes 5C on the driver's side, 5 on the passenger's side, and I think one more on the driver's side. The vehicle engages in Drive and all three "manual" gears with no problems at all; the only issues come from Reverse and what I assume is automatic overdrive. This tells me that the issue is something to do with the "automatic" part, but I could very well be wrong.

I've had no end of electrical problems with this vehicle, so I would not be surprised if this is the problem here as well. The ditch had quite a lot of tall, tough grass, so I could also believe something got knocked loose (however, I cannot make heads or tails of the underside of the engine past the two pans). I cannot afford to take it to a mechanic, and even if I could, the closest is a good 20 miles away at the very least (I'm not 100% sure; they could just be a towing service). I have a very hard time believing it's something mechanical within the transmission itself, as there was absolutely no indication of any problem before this and the state changed after having sat doing nothing for a day in an entirely level position.

Any assistance at all would be greatly appreciated; I'm at my wit's end.

  • New information: The transmission only slips above 20mph in "Drive"; in "3", the car gets up to 40mph before slipping. Not sure this will be terribly useful, but hey, every little bit counts. Dec 28, 2011 at 23:12
  • i have the same problem. i was in a snow bank, i tried to go back and forth several times, however,i did not abuse the car. i have a 1997 olds 88ls. the car will not go backwards now. when i put it in reverse, i can feel a very slight pull on the motor, very slight. i can drive the car. i don't feel like spending a lot of money on my car.
    – user1435
    Jan 20, 2012 at 1:23

3 Answers 3


Problem discovered upon dropping the transmission pan. Large chunks of the reverse input drum were present in the ATF. Fixing this would require a complete transmission rebuild, so, as I only paid $1000 for the car, I'm going to have it scrapped. Thanks for your help everyone.


I feel for you. I have the exact same problem, with the same car, and I believe for the same reason. My son tried to get his Mother out of a snowbank, and I am sure he revved the piss out of the engine to do it. Enough said, I messed up a few of my Dad's cars so I can't throw stones.

Any codes? Be patient, and follow a deliberate plan to get this fixed. I would suggest a qualified electrical test be done, and get a print out if possible. It will be cheaper than just changing out parts. Most test are done by people that rebuild transmissions, and they may have a bias. I only drive 2 miles to work and back so I have not felt pressed to get it rebuilt. There are some great, honest auto repair people out there, but it is better safe than sorry.

Despite what you think is good fluid (you are probably correct) It may not be a bad idea to do a pan drop, fluid/filter change. This messy, but you will get a good look at any debris in your pan, and you will know for sure that it is good. I installed and drain plug on mine, because I anticipated having to do this more frequently than most. The first change is the tough one, after that the plug makes it a breeze. Next change I believe I will use synthetic, if I can find a good deal. You may have loosened some debris in your pan that somehow messed with other parts. I waited to long to do my fluid change, and probably damaged my transmission. Do not have a power flush done on it, if anything have a gentle fluid exchange done, it is supposed to clean out the Torque Converter also. We are talking about a 14 year old car, so gentle is good.

Good luck to you, report any success you may have.


It sounds like the transmission is not getting fully engaged. Symptoms of a not fully engaged transmission can include missing reverse, missing drive, limited power, grinding and clicking.

Have you checked the linkage to the shifter? Also, check the motor mounts because a broken motor mount can move the transmission and cause the shifter linkage be out of alignment.

  • I've checked all of these; however, at present, I'm working with the belief that there is air trapped inside the valve body. While it was nose-down in the ditch, I know it leaked over a quart of ATF, and when it sat level for a day, I believe the remaining space cavitated. The reverse and second gear valves happen to be right next to each other at the very top of the valve body. Do you (or anyone, really) happen to know of a possible way to bleed air out of there? Jan 3, 2012 at 19:22

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