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My friend bought a 96 Sable sedan a few months ago for $900 because she needed a car to get to and from work. It seemed fine when we test drove it, but we apparently have terrible luck with vehicles in our group of friends and this one was no different.

Just last week, the car began to make strange noises while in Park, or in OD/Drive at a complete stop. Accompanied by a fluctuation in the idle and a minor shudder. Then suddenly it began to stall upon coming to a complete stop while in Drive, much like a manual transmission vehicle will stall if you forget to take it out of gear. It keeps pulling the car forward and requires more brake pressure to actually stop, and then the engine will die, because the torque converter is no longer disengaging properly. The same thing will happen in Reverse, making it an extremely hazardous proposition to try getting into or out of a parking spot.

Strangely enough, if the shift lever is placed in "1", the car will idle perfectly normally at a complete stop. Acceleration is smooth and predictable up to 20MPH, when I place the lever into D and it shifts immediately (firm, not harsh) into 2 or 3 at a very low RPM. Acceleration is then a bit sluggish because the torque converter feels to be in 100% lockup mode even at this low speed. 2-3 and 3-4 shift happens normally (firm, not harsh), and the car drives very well at 30-70mph considering it has almost 200k miles on it. No loss of power, excellent hill climbing, just in 100% torque lockup all the time whenever the lever is in OD or D.

Downshifts are difficult. Because of the torque lockup, the car will lag on hard pedal depression, with a sudden and HARSH downshift from 3 to 2. There is some hesitation in choosing the lower gear, and it sounds and feels as if the TQ is deciding that it wants to do its job once again. Sometimes after a harsh downshift like this, the TQ behaves "normally" like I'd expect a Ford automatic to do, with very easy release of torque lockup. But there is never any of the commonly-reported "car feels like it's just revving in neutral" feeling-- like i said, the main problem is that coming to a stop in D or OD will stall the car when the TQ refuses to let go of the wheels.

But my workaround appears to be fine-- I've put approx 200 combined miles on the car since this problem appeared. I simply put the shift lever from P into 1 in order to start from a parked location, and then into D once i'm at speed. Coming to a stop sign, I will decelerate in D until about 20MPH, then put the lever into 1 again. The car does "pull" to a stop obviously in such a low gear (engine braking), which actually seems to be putting less stress on the brakes, but I'm worried about the long-term serviceability of this solution.

1. Has anyone ever had this specific problem? Is it just another random symptom of the "exploded pump" failure common to these trans? I checked the AT Fluid and it appears normal.
2. Why does the "1" selection allow correct operation of the torque converter? Is there a mechanical linkage instead of electrical/solenoid at work here?
3. With these symptoms, what is the prognosis? Can we get more life out of this thing without spending more than it's worth in labor?

Thanks everyone for any help! I just don't want my friend to get stuck on the side of I-5 when she leaves Seattle to visit family in Portland!
 

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Replace the Transmission Range Sensor (sometimes called Neutral Safety Switch) with one from a junk yard. It happend to me someting similar (but not identical).
 
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