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Discussion Starter #1
My car stopped at a light and suddenly felt like it was neutral when it was in gear and made some horrible noises, after sitting for a bit it engaged again and drove just fine. After driving for about ten minutes it happened again and then again after sitting for a bit.

When it does work it works perfectly, no hard shifting or anything like that. It either works fine or won't work at all. A mechanic friend said it might be some "plate"... has anyone any ideas?

Basically it engages into gear and works fine but soon feels like it in neutral again and makes horrible noises. Presumably unrelated problems are a leaky fuel line and bad muffler.
 

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OBW H6 VDC, Tribeca, XT6
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Have you checked the transmission fluid level and front differential level if it's an automatic? That's the first thing that needs to happen.

Online we can't see or touch the car, info is good. We are good but not magicians.
auto/manual?
year/model?
mileage?

Have the axles ever been worked on or replaced?
Has the engine ever been pulled?

fuel line and muffler as you said will be completely unrelated to this.

Your mechanic friend is referring to a flexplate (which it only has if yours is an automatic, which it sounds like it is). It is rare for them to fail, but it does happen. I can't picture how it could cause the car to not move though...and then move again, that doesn't sound very likely for the flexplate.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thanks for the quick reply. It's a 2001 Outback vdc and it's automatic. I had bad tranny fluid and the car wouldn't move properly before this, but the symptoms here aren't the same. The bad fluid made the car not move as well as it should, it engaged but didn't seem to engage enough to drive at speed. Now when it does engage it works fine but seems to slip out and I get nothing. The best info I can give is that I'm getting "all or nothing" and when it does slip out it makes horrible noise. I tried checking the gear oil lvl but the dipstick is stuck =( I'll try and check all the fluid lvls as they could very well be low or have bad fluid... I haven't the money to put into the car that I had when I bought it new =( and I'm sure I've let a lot of things lapse.
 

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03 H6 OBW & 06 WRX Sportwagon
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was any work done prior to this problem? Axle replacement?
 

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Thanks for the quick reply. It's a 2001 Outback vdc and it's automatic. I had bad tranny fluid and the car wouldn't move properly before this, but the symptoms here aren't the same. The bad fluid made the car not move as well as it should, it engaged but didn't seem to engage enough to drive at speed.
how was it changed (one drain and refill or a flush or...)?
a simple drain and refill only gets 30% of the fluid out due to valve bodies, torque converter, ATF filter, ATF cooler, etc - it may need a few more if you only did one.

how long ago was it changed?

my guess is one of two things:

1. It still needs a proper or another fluid change (or three).
2. the previous issue with fluid compromised some internal parts that are now starting to fail.

of course I wouldn't rule out anything yet, it's just sounding awfully suspicious.

axles ever been worked on or replaced?
engine ever been pulled?
 

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Discussion Starter #6
No major work has ever been done to the car, no axle work or lifting out the engine or anything. I managed to pull the gear oil dipstick for the front differential and it looks a mess, I could barely get it out. Could this have something to do with it? Also I've got no warning lights coming on from this problem.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Alright... when I pulled the dipstick for the front differential it was reading WAY too high and I'm sure it was at the right lvl when it was changed last 'cause I did it myself. Also I can see a clear line of very rusty oil at the bottom of the dipstick. Could this be the problem or just another problem?

Yes, when I changed the transmission fluid it was just a drain and refill, I'm not sure if it matters but when it does run the shifting seems fine and drives like normal, then suddenly it feels like I shifted into neutral and get a lot of noise and it won't get back into gear.
 

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Usually when the trans slips there is not a horrible noise. Maybe the spiders in the front diff are shot or missing teeth, that'd do it.

Trans fluid could be leaking into the diff, was that rusty oil on the stick or red trans fluid?

Just to put the 'stupid stuff' out there, didn't someone have a half-shaft popping out of the diff cause something like this?
 

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the dipsticks can be notoriously hard to remove sometimes. that is not an issue.

you have a few issues to address:

1. change the front diff fluid
2. monitor front diff fluid levels after you change it
3. change the trans fluid some more - one drain/refill only gets a third of the fluid out.

it sounds like it may be too late and the damage is already done from neglecting the fluid changes but i would at least try it.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
It really looked like rust, rust on the dipstick seemed to be the problem I couldn't pull it out easily (CV joints need work as well). This is hard me to diagnose because I'm sure the car needs more work than just this particular problem.

What puzzles me the most is that when it goes, it goes like there's nothing wrong at all. No hard shifts or lack of power or anything and then suddenly I get nothing and awful sounding noise. The noise stops when I pull it over and try to get it into gear again and eventually it seems to go into gear again and everything starts over again.
 

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it was reading WAY too high and I'm sure it was at the right lvl when it was changed last 'cause I did it myself. Also I can see a clear line of very rusty oil at the bottom of the dipstick.
It really looked like rust, rust on the dipstick seemed to be the problem
The bottom of the differential dipstick (as well as all other dipsticks) is in the pool of oil it measures; it's not going to rust. If the level on the dipstick is much higher than before, then either the differential became filled with water (could lead to rust but not likely if the car was continuously used), or the rusty look is from ATF getting from the transmission into the differential, as others have already noted.

Have you checked the ATF level?

No hard shifts or lack of power or anything and then suddenly I get nothing and awful sounding noise.
The on-off drive with loud noises reminds me of a half shaft (axle) pulling out of the differential. But you do mention the CV joints -- that too could cause these symptoms, especially if a damaged joint is causing the differential axle stub to pull out.

I'd start with the differential gear oil -- as was suggested, change it, examine what comes out, and refill to the proper level. Also, check that the transmission fluid is at the correct level. Then drive for a while to see if either changes, and especially if that rusty look reappears in the differential. If the red reappears, you have a leak between the transmission and the differential.

If not, deal with the CVs -- check for broken CVs, and for axle stub shafts that can be manually pulled out of the differential, especially when the front is raised and the wheels hang down (they shouldn't).

This is hard me to diagnose because I'm sure the car needs more work than just this particular problem.
The idea then is to deal with the more obvious and somewhat easier possibilities. Follow the suggestions that have been made so far. Take it step-by-step.
 

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yeah, I was concerned that the noise and weird behavior could be from an axle popping out from the diff. And now it seems there could be atf in the diff.

Douglas, if you tell us your city - someone here may be able to recommend a mechanic for you. perhaps even someone to help with a schedule/plan-of-attack if several repairs are needed.
 
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