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Discussion Starter #141


Hair-dryer heater idea may have been ahead of its time

Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
I taught high school auto mechanics for over 30 years. In the 1980s, when I was explaining how the resistors in the fan blower worked, I compared it to a hair dryer. That gave me an idea. Why not add a hair dryer-type of heating element in the car’s ductwork for instant heat to the passenger compartment? It could reduce or turn off as engine heat increased until it was no longer needed.
I didn’t pursue this idea because batteries back then were overworked beyond their capacity, and heating elements draw a lot of power from the battery.
Fast-forward almost 30 years to today, and you have remote starting devices that are installed for hefty prices. These wear out engines, pollute, use gasoline and reduce gas mileage and have too many parts that can fail.
Today you have heated seats, heated rearview mirrors and mega sound systems guzzling up power from the batteries, so they can’t claim the battery can’t handle it.
I would guess that installing my system in the air duct would cost less than $20 at the factory and cost little to operate. Can it be done? — Raymond
Anything can be done, Raymond, but that doesn’t mean it should be done.
A typical hair dryer uses about 1,200 watts. And realistically, you’d need at least a pair of them, which would be about 200 amps at 12 volts. That’s a pretty significant load on the battery.
It wouldn’t kill the battery in 10 or 15 minutes, but if your battery were old or marginal, and it was a cold day (which it obviously would be), you could weaken it to the point that you’d have trouble starting the car. And wouldn’t that stink?
Of course, once the car is running, you could pull 200 amps from the alternator and the battery combined, and that wouldn’t be a problem. So it could be a way to get some heat right away, once you start the car — but before the engine is producing usable heat.
The larger issue is that heating the air is the least efficient way to keep the driver warm.
Take a typical sedan. Say it has about 20 cubic feet of interior volume. You’re taking up about 4 of those cubic feet, and yet you’re wasting a ton of energy heating up the other 16 cubic feet to 70 degrees.
In contrast, radiant heating (seat heaters, steering wheel heaters, rear window defroster) use far less power and deliver the heat precisely where it’s needed: to your tuchus and key surrounding areas.
But here’s the good news, Raymond: Your idea actually makes more sense for electric cars, which are getting more popular every day.
Here’s why: Electric cars don’t have internal combustion engines, which give off heat, and they already use electric heating elements to warm the cabin.
On a cold day, with a simple remote control, you could run the heating element while the car is still plugged into its charger. That would preheat the cabin without eating into the car’s battery reserve and driving range.
It’s a great idea, Raymond. You were just 35 years ahead of your time and working on the wrong propulsion technology.
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Discussion Starter #142


Try switcheroo to chase down spark plug issue

Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
I have a 2013 Camaro with the V-6 engine. When I changed the spark plugs, the old plugs from cylinders two to six were light tan in color, but plug No. 1 was dark and sooty. The engine seems to be running fine. Is this a problem to worry about?
— Michelle

I’d worry a little, Michelle. When a spark plug is black, that’s usually a sign that there’s incomplete combustion in that cylinder. And when it gets bad enough, it’ll turn on your Check Engine light, and might even create a misfire.
The cheapest and easiest thing it could be is a bad spark plug. If it isn’t firing hot enough or is badly misgapped, it won’t combust all the fuel and there’s a coating of black soot.
Now that you’ve replaced the plugs, check in 30 days and see if No. 1 is getting black again. If it’s clean then it was a bad spark plug, and you’re all set. If it’s black, then test the coil.
This car has what’s called “coil on spark,” where there’s a coil on top of each spark plug. If that coil isn’t sending enough voltage to the plug, you’d get incomplete combustion. It’s pretty easy to test: Simply swap two coil packs.
Switch the coils from cylinders No. 1 and No. 2, and check in 30 days. If No. 2 is getting black, then you’ve identified your bad coil, and you can buy a new one for about $40. If the blackened plug still shows up in cylinder No. 1, next on my list would be a bad fuel injector.
Each cylinder has its own fuel injector to spray in the precise amount of fuel at just the right moment. If the No. 1 injector is leaking or its spray pattern is off, too much fuel can be sent into the cylinder, and not all of it is combusted.
You’d also test the fuel injector by swapping, but getting to it is a lot more involved. You might want to just buy a replacement injector for $150 or so, and replace it. Once you’ve ruled out the plug and the coil, there’s a pretty decent chance that the injector is causing the problem.
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Discussion Starter #143


Why are there no four-door convertibles?

Click & Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
Why do convertibles and coupes have such large doors, which makes it hard to get in and out in tight parking spots? Why can’t they have four normal-sized doors? — Raymond
I guess the autobody repair lobby is very powerful, Raymond. Those supermarket parking-lot dents have sent a lot of their kids to college. And on to medical school.
Actually, the reason convertibles (and traditional coupes) have only two doors is because they have no “B-pillars” to which rear doors can be attached.
Cars generally have between one and four structural pillars that go from the bottom of the car to the roof. Those structural pillars provide rigidity and safety, so the car doesn’t fold like a used Amazon box after you open the top and bottom flaps.
The A-pillar is the forward-most pillar, the top of which holds the windshield.
The B-pillar is the pillar between the front and rear doors.
The C-pillar is the next most rearward pillar. On sedans, it holds the rear window.
And on station wagons or SUVs, there’s a D-pillar, which is at the very back of the vehicle.
Convertibles only have A-pillars. Coupes have nothing but A-pillars and C-pillars. In order to hang a door, you have to attach the hinges to something. Obviously, the front doors attach to the A-pillars.
In a sedan or SUV, the rear doors attach to the B-pillars. But in a coupe or convertible, there’s no B-pillar, so there’s nothing to attach the rear doors to.
And because they can’t use four doors, they make the two doors they have bigger to provide at least some access to the back seats.
So, should you be unlucky enough to have to sit in the back seat of a coupe or convertible, you can at least squeeze your way in through that larger door opening, rather than diving in through the rear window.
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Discussion Starter #144


Nothing foggy about running AC with the heat

Click and Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
My wife drives a 2019 VW Tiguan. When I occasionally drive it in the winter, I notice she has both the heater and the AC on. She claims the owner’s manual says to have the AC button on to remove humidity. But I can’t figure out why you’d have the AC compressor running at the same time as the heater. Why? — Richard
Like your wife said, Richard, it’s to remove humidity. You should listen to her. In fact, maybe I’ll write to her next time I get a question that stumps me.
The way air conditioning works is by removing humidity from the air. That’s the “conditioning” part of air conditioning. It cools the air, too, but removing humidity is a big part of what makes you feel cooler and more comfortable.
Why do that in the winter? Let’s say there’s humidity in the air, which there usually is, and the outside of your windows are cold.
Now, when you heat up the inside of the car, you have cold glass outside and warm glass inside. That causes condensation or fog to form on the inside of the windows (see also: beer glass). Then you can’t see.
If you remove the humidity from the air inside the car, there’s nothing to condense and fog up the inside of your windows. That’s why you run the AC. Many cars automatically turn on the AC with the defroster.
Are you “wasting” something by running both the AC compressor and the heater? Yes, but it’s small potatoes.
While the AC compressor does use energy, and reduces your mileage a bit, your heat is really free. With an internal combustion engine, your cabin heat is excess heat that’s being thrown off by the engine. And it’s being produced whether you’re sending it to the passenger compartment, or letting it dissipate into the atmosphere.
I think most people would agree that it’s better to spend a few cents more on gasoline than to let your windows fog up and drive into the back of taco truck.
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Discussion Starter #145


After 7 years, a little oil loss is not a big deal

Click and Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
I have a 2013 Subaru Outback 2.5i with 171,000 miles. It’s been burning a quart of oil every 1,500 to 2,500 miles. This doesn’t seem right, and I know Subarus have issues with oil burning.
What can I do to fix or improve this? Or is it time to trade it in? — Kirby
What do you think the doctor says when a 95-year-old guy comes in and complains that he has to get up at least once a month during the night to pee? He probably thinks: “Once a month? You’re a medical miracle, Sheldon!”
That’s my reaction to your oil burning, Kirby. For a car with 171,000 miles, this is not a serious problem. My late brother wouldn’t make an offer on a car unless it burned at least a quart of oil every 300 miles.
If you were burning a quart every 500 miles or less, I’d say to start saving for a down payment on your next car. But a quart every 1,500 to 2,500 miles is almost insignificant on a car of this age.
What you should do is check for leaks. Don’t assume you’re burning the oil. Some leaks can be easy to find and cheap to fix.
Maybe your oil pressure switch is leaking. You can fix that for $50. Or maybe your valve cover gaskets are leaking. We see that frequently on Subarus. And if that’s where you’re losing your oil — or some of it — you can fix that for a couple hundred bucks or less.
Then maybe you’ll be losing a quart every 3,000 miles, or every 5,000 miles.
Some leaks won’t be worth fixing, like if you’re leaking oil from the head gaskets. But if you have any obvious leaks, I’d fix those.
And then I’d buy a case of oil the next time it’s on sale, and just keep an eye on the dipstick. At your current rate of oil loss, a case of oil ought to get you to about 200,000 miles. That’s pretty much how long Subaru engines, on average, last.
However many more miles you get from here on out, Kirby, you’ve gotten your money out of the car.
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Discussion Starter #146


On or off — it’s easier than ever with automatic parking brake

Click and Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
I swear my old Jaguar had a parking brake that automatically set when I put the car in Park, and released when I took it out of Park.
This was very convenient, as I never had to remember to set or release it. And I never tried to drive away with the parking brake still on, which I have done a few times in my Audi A7 and my wife’s Toyota Minivan. Why don’t other cars have this feature? — J.C.
They do, J.C.
We’ve driven a few cars that have that feature recently, including several Mercedes models. And it’s easier to do than ever.
Traditionally, parking brakes were operated by cable. You’d either yank up on the lever between the seats, or you’d tighten the cable by pushing on a pedal with your left foot.
But cables weren’t perfect. They’d stretch over time and go out of adjustment or rust and even seize up if they weren’t used regularly. Or they’d just snap.
Recently, most car makers have moved to electrically operated parking brakes.
This not only eliminates all of the problems with the old cables, but — since all you need to operate your parking brake is a button — it also frees up space in the passenger compartment, which can then be devoted to more important things, like USB outlets and cup holders.
It also makes it incredibly easy to create an automatic parking brake.
You simply program the parameters into the car’s computer. For example, you say, “When the car is put into Park and the engine is shut off, engage the parking brake.” And “When the car is put into Drive or Reverse from Park, and the doors are closed and the seat belt is on, release the parking brake.”
That’s essentially what the Mercedes system does, with a few extra safety protocols. So I suspect you’ll see more automatic parking brakes in the coming years. It makes a lot of sense.
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Discussion Starter #147


Do the math: how to calculate the cost savings of a hybrid

Click and Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
At one time, hybrid cars clearly made sense. But with seriously improved gas mileage for all cars, is that still true?
What formula can we use to decide if the extra cost of a hybrid is worth the improved gas mileage? — George
It’s a good question, George. Now that there are so many hybrids available, it’s worth doing the math. And here’s how you’d do it:
First, you figure out the difference between the hybrid and nonhybrid version of the same car, equipped the same way.
Let’s use the Toyota RAV4 as an example. A 2020 LE AWD starts at $25,950. A hybrid version of the same exact car starts at $28,350. That’s a difference of $2,400. Now the question is, how long will it take you to save $2,400 in gasoline?
To do that, you’ll need to know the annual fuel cost for each car. Start by going to fueleconomy.gov and looking up the average miles per gallon of each vehicle. For the RAV4, it’s 30 mpg. For the RAV4 Hybrid, it’s 40 mpg.
Then you take the number of miles you drive in an average year (let’s say it’s 20,000 miles), and divide it by each of those mpg numbers. That tells you how many gallons of fuel you’d need to buy in a year.
For the RAV4 (20,000 miles/30 mpg) it’s 666.67 gallons a year. For the RAV4 Hybrid (20,000/40), it’s 500 gallons a year. Then you multiply the number of gallons you’d buy in a year by the price of a gallon. That varies, obviously, but let’s say it’s $3 a gallon.
So, to run your regular RAV4 for a year, it’d cost you approximately $2,000 in gasoline (666.67 gallons x $3 per gallon); the RAV4 Hybrid (500 x 3) would cost you about $1,500 a year in gasoline.
Now you can put it all together. You know that you would save $500 a year in gasoline costs with the RAV4 Hybrid. So divide the extra cost of buying the hybrid ($2,400) by the amount it would save you per year ($500), and you learn that it would take about five years for you to pay off that premium you spent on the hybrid, before you started banking money.
So if you keep your cars for six, seven or 10 years, it’s clearly worth it. If you keep your car for three or four years, it’s probably not.
Now, there are other variables. For example, hybrids use regenerative braking, so you’ll spend less on brake pads and rotors with a hybrid. You’ll also use the gasoline engine less, so your cost of maintenance (oils, fluids, belts, filters) will be spread out over a longer period of time.
The value in decreasing pollution, increasing American energy independence or simply not having to go to a gas station is also important.
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Discussion Starter #148


Don’t forget, regular oil changes keep an engine sludge-free

Click and Clack Ray Magliozzi

Dear Car Talk:

Am I negligent? I assume so, since I have not had the oil changed in my 2011 Hyundai Tucson since 2015.
I put lots of short trips on this car, and it doesn’t even have 40,000 miles on it.
Yikes, I fear. What say you? — Steve
As you’ve correctly surmised, what you did is not great. The reason we change our oil every 5,000 or 7,500 miles (or 10,000 or more if it’s synthetic oil) is to keep the engine properly lubricated.
With the metal parts inside your engine rubbing against each other thousands of times per minute, good lubrication is the difference between your engine having a long life and a short life marred by lots of burning oil.
And oil provides more than just lubrication, as crucial as that is. Oil also picks up contaminants and dirt inside the engine and holds them in suspension.
If the oil gets saturated with dirt, and can’t absorb any more, that dirt’s going to stay in your engine. And in the worst cases, we’ve seen more than an inch of sludge in the valve train. Those engines are toast.
You may be lucky, Steve. Maybe the automotive gods were smiling on you, and, despite not changing the oil for the past 20,000 miles or so, there’s no sludge in your engine.
That’d be great. Then all you have to worry about is that poor lubrication will lead to oil burning down the road. And you can solve that problem by selling the car to your brother next week. That’s what I always did.
But if it were me, I’d want to know. I’d ask my mechanic to take off the valve cover and peek in there.
If there’s an inch of sludge in there, you’re either looking at an engine rebuild, or a new vehicle as soon as voluminous plumes of blue smoke start billowing out your tailpipe — which won’t be long from now.
If the valve train looks reasonably clean, then you should thank your lucky stars, change the oil and set a recurring event in your calendar to change the oil every six months. Then set about 15 or 20 reminders so you can’t ignore it.
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Click and Clack Ray Magliozzi
 

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Discussion Starter #149


5 reasons to take your car for a weekly ride during COVID-19

Click and Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk: Of all the “how to deal with the pandemic” advice I’ve read so far, no one has recommended that we periodically start our cars.
I’m afraid that if people aren’t going out at all, the first time they try to start their cars, there will be a lot of dead batteries — and no one to jump them.
I plan to take my car for a ride once a week until the COVID-19 crisis is over. Is that a good idea and, if so, how long or far or fast should I drive? — Cecily
I think that’s good advice, Cecily. I do recommend you take your car out for a ride once a week.
There are several good reasons for this. First, running your car for 15 or 20 minutes will keep the battery charged. That way the car is ready for use should you ever need it. If you drive for 15-30 minutes at moderate speeds once a week, that ought to be enough to keep your battery in good shape.
Second, when you drive the car, you’ll keep your moving parts lubricated. Not just the stuff under the hood, but even things like your shifter linkage and parking brake cable.
Third, by moving the car occasionally, you’ll avoid creating flat spots on your tires. Even if you just move it 1 foot in either direction, you’d address that. But certainly, taking a ride once a week will do the trick.
Fourth, when you take the car out, you disturb any rodents or Murder Hornets that have been taking up residence in your engine compartment, reading Dwell magazine and working on their midcentury modern air filter decor.
Rodent damage can be significant, and expensive. So, actually, if you live in an area where you’re particularly susceptible to that, you might even consider using some rodent traps around the tires. We prefer the humane variety, but to each his own.
Finally, taking a ride once a week is good for your mental health when you’re otherwise stuck at home. It changes the scenery a little bit, and reminds you that there’s more to life than your four walls and “Better Call Saul.”
Even more crucially, it gives you and your spouse a much-needed break from each other, thus reducing the chances you’ll get divorced, and lose the car entirely in the settlement.
Enjoy your weekly ride, Cecily.
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Discussion Starter #151


Expensive repair fails: Does my mechanic owe me a refund?

Click and Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk:
How much of a refund does a garage owe when they mess up?
My 2006 Honda Civic’s wipers would stop after 30 minutes. A local garage replaced an electronic control box for $750, parts and labor. The next time it rained, the wipers failed again.
I then took it to the Honda dealer, who found several problems with the wiper motor, replaced it and the car is fine now.
I don’t think the local garage was dishonest, just incompetent. I feel they owe me the labor charges, plus whatever markup they took on the new part.
They don’t think they owe me anything since they did their best. — Robert
I can tell you what we’d do in a case like this. We’d give the customer their money back. Then we’d put the part back on our shelf. And it would sit there, glaring at us every day, as a reminder not to guess — but to actually figure out what’s wrong.
Then we’d pray another ‘06 Civic would come in needing a body control module, so the part would stop mocking us.
These days, every shop has access to all kinds of online diagnostic tools and mechanics forums to help eliminate a lot of guesswork. And shame on any shop that doesn’t avail themselves of those resources.
When you come across something unusual, it’s often possible to find a post from another mechanic who had a car with the same problem, and can tell you what fixed it. Or what he tried that didn’t fix it.
If you’d come into our shop, I probably would have suspected your wiper motor first, because I know from experience that they tend to overheat and conk out like that due to an open circuit. But let’s assume I didn’t know, and I was stumped. And I couldn’t find anything definitive online to help me.
The first thing I’d do is let you know that I didn’t know the answer, so you could make an informed decision about whether you wanted me to take an educated guess. Maybe you wanted to go to the dealer instead. Or take it to someone smarter than me (which wouldn’t be hard).
Then, with your knowledge and assent — if there were several options — I’d guess the cheapest part first. So I would have proposed that we get a rebuilt wiper motor from my regular auto parts supplier for about $150. Since I do a ton of business with him every day, I know he’d take the motor back and put it back on his shelf if need be.
I would have installed the wiper motor, and told you to report back after the next rainstorm. If that fixed it, great. If not, I would have put your old wiper motor back and refunded the money, or applied it to our next guess.

Unfortunately, the mechanic you went to guessed, and guessed wrong. That happens. But unless you gave your consent to that, knowing it was a guess, he really should take responsibility for the error.
Giving back a customer’s money and eating your diagnostic time and labor hurts. But we tend to assume that any business we lose with a refund gets more than made up for over time by having repeat, loyal customers.

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Discussion Starter #152




The perfect car for cold climate, transporting aging parents

Click and Clack Ray Magliozzi
Dear Car Talk: After 30 years in California, I will soon move back home to Maine to be near my aging parents.
I’m not taking my 2010 Volkswagen GTI with me. Nice car, but in snow it would wallow like a beached whale.
Can you recommend a small wagon for the frozen north? It needs to be all-wheel drive, and big enough to carry groceries, luggage, or a folding wheelchair, while not so big it is inconvenient to park.
I also want a car with good all-around visibility. Backup cameras are great, but they do not make up for the pitiful rear windshield on many recent models. I recently drove a rental that had a good camera, but the back window resembled a smoked-glass porthole. None of that, please.
My parents have a 2008 Subaru Forester. I wouldn’t mind having a car just like it if it was less than 5 years old. But the newer Foresters are gigantic.
Can you recommend a car that would work for me? Thanks! — Caroline
Everything you asked for was pointing me toward a Subaru Forester: all-wheel drive, big enough for a wheelchair, great visibility. But then you described it as huge.
Maybe when you get to Maine, you can go test drive a Chevy Tahoe. And then go right from there to the Subaru dealer. The Forester will seem downright claustrophobic.
Seriously, I would give a little more thought to the Forester, because it meets so many of your criteria. It has great visibility — which, as you say, is unusual these days — and Subarus are notoriously good in the New England winter.
The other car that comes right to mind is the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack. It’s more commonly known as the Jetta Wagon.
It was just discontinued for 2020, but you can probably find a leftover new one, a demo, or a lightly used one.
It also has all-wheel drive. It’s a small station wagon, not an SUV. And it has excellent visibility, with a nice, large, flat back window that made us reminisce about the days when we could see behind us. It’s also a little smaller, in every dimension, than the Forester, and more carlike. You might like that.
Those are the two that come to mind first. But if you decide they’re both too big for you, I’ll give you two other ideas.
One is the Subaru CrossTrek, which is smaller than the Forester. But I don’t think you’ll like the visibility as much.
Another option is a car we just drove and liked, the Kia Seltos. Again, the visibility is not quite as good as in the Forester or the Alltrack, but it’s a good 8 inches shorter than even the VW. You’ll need to bring the wheelchair with you to test the cargo space, though, since we didn’t do a wheelchair test during our review.
But when considering size, bear in mind, you’re moving to Maine. Last we checked, lack of parking was not among the top-10 reasons not to move to Maine
Good for you for moving to be near your parents. They’re lucky to have you, Caroline. Maybe they’ll even show their gratitude by giving you your own parking space.
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Discussion Starter #153


Repair or replace? Persistent oil leak looks pricey to fix
Click and Clack Ray Magliozzi

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2006 Honda Accord EX-L with a 3.0 L V-6 engine. I bought it used 10 years ago as a Honda Certified Used Car with 46,000 miles.
For the first seven years, I only drove it once or twice a week — mostly in town —with occasional 120-mile highway trips to the big city. I keep the vehicle very well maintained, and it was a great, problem-free car.
About three years ago, my driving habits changed and I started driving the car four to five days a week on a 120-mile highway commute to work.
At 80,000 miles, a local quick oil change shop told me I had a very bad oil leak coming from the transmission. They showed me the leak, and it was pretty bad. They weren’t exaggerating just to sell me some repair work. They put a tracer dye in the transmission oil to help locate the leak and told me it was likely coming from the oil cooler lines.
I took it to the Honda dealer where I bought it, and they said the same thing, so I had them fix it.
Three months later, at the same shop, they told me my transmission had a bad oil leak. I didn’t believe them, and told them I had that fixed by the Honda dealer.
Sure enough, it was still leaking. They checked for the leak again and now said the gasket between the two halves of the transmission case was leaking and the transmission would have to come out to change the gasket.
I took it back to the Honda dealer and showed them the receipt for fixing the leaky oil cooler lines and that the leak was still there. They agreed the transmission case gasket was now leaking and recommended replacing it with a rebuilt transmission at a cost of $5,700.
After giving the service manager a harsh talking to, I took it to a reputable repair shop in my area and they found the same leak and quoted about $2,000 to fix.
I don’t want to spend that much money to repair the leak, so I have been driving it for the past two years adding transmission fluid every time I fill it with gas. But this is really getting old. Is there an additive I can put in the oil to stop or slow the leak? Or should I just trade it in?
— Mike

If you want to keep the car, you have two choices. You can either keep adding transmission fluid at every fill-up, or you can fix it.
And if you decide to keep driving it with the leak, consider relocating to an area with lots of dirt roads, where the residents will appreciate your personal “dust reduction” program.
I know you don’t want to spend $2,000, but you should compare that with what another car will cost you.
Ask a mechanic you trust to check the whole car for you, as if you were considering buying it now. Have him tell you what else is worn out and looks likely to fail soon. If the car is in pretty good shape, other than the transmission gasket, then consider fixing it.
Let’s say you get another two or three years out of the car for $2,000. That’s less than $100 a month, which is almost certainly less than even a used car payment.
Or, if you’re lucky, your mechanic will give you a long list of stuff that’s broken and make your decision easy. Either way, get the facts first.
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