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Toyota Repair/2001 Chevy Prizm 5-speed manual transmission bearing(s)

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Question
Hello,

I'm a single, 66 year-old woman with no mechanically minded friends, so I turn to you, :).  I was told yesterday that the bearings in the transmission needed to be fixed, and it would be less expensive to replace the whole thing with a re-manufactured transmission.

The problem:  several months ago, I heard what I call a 'bad' noise coming from the right front - thought it might be a wheel bearing or CV joint, or something else expensive.  When driving on a 'smooth' road, didn't hear noise, but get on a bumpy road? YIKES - thought the wheel would fall off, clunking and sometimes, sounding like metal striking metal (a sharper sound).  I have avoided bumpy roads ever since, as I need to save up money to pay for a repair.

Took it to mechanic and was told it was a sway something-or-other (not so serious) and made appt. to get fixed.  Showed up yesterday to get it fixed, and was told 'sorry, made a mistake, but as you can see from this ... and he grabbed the two 'rods' that go into the transmission and moved them up and down... and said these rods should not move at all, which indicated the bearings inside the transmission were bad.  This garage does not work on transmissions, and suggested I call around for "out-the-door cost" for replacing with with re-manufactured transmission.

Obviously, without looking at it, you are at a disadvantage, but I am wondering if a new tranny is the best solution?  I do not know who to trust, and an older, single woman going to a mechanic can end up being taken to the cleaners. Is this a 'normal' thing to break down?  Thought Toyota engines (with proper maintenance) lasted almost forever....

The car steers fine, suspension seems to be good (and mechanic said it was 'solid'), and other than burning some oil, is running fine.  170,000 miles, 35-41 mpg average, MN winter conditions.

Thanks very much,

M

Answer
Hello,
If you only hear the noise when going over bumpy roads and not while driving on smooth roads the problem is in the suspension and not the transmission, bearings make noise all the time and usually change during left or right turns or on acceleration/deceleration, what you are describing is not a transmission noise, it's normal for some movement of the axles in transmission especially on older corollas/prizms so I don't believe this is a problem and I doubt the credibility of the shop/mechanic that told you this. It sounds to me that what he said at first about the sway bar was correct but then he changed his mind and said it was the transmission bearings.
What I would recommend you do is find another repair facility, if possible one that fixes Japanese cars and has Toyota experienced mechanics, you may opt to have a Toyota dealer inspect this or even better wherever you go get a mechanic to go for a test drive with you and point out the noise.
My best guess at this time is that it's still the sway bar, worn front struts or strut mounting brackets or tie rod ends, mention those to a mechanic and have them check those things out.

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