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First off, here's a pretty good rebuild guide for the AX4S:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_8wejsxq8CVM0FjZzlRUTZERDA/edit?usp=sharing

I've had my car (01 SES Wagon, Vulcan with AX4S) for 5 years, and it currently has 250,000 miles on it. The engine and transmission are original, but the engine and transmission are original. No work has been done on the transmission beside regular maintenance, and it's starting to go.

I have a few questions regarding some of the symptoms I have.
The first sign of issues was sluggish and rough shifts. The most noticeable is 2-1, and sometimes 1-2. Then, it started shifting a too high speeds. When I take it out of the driveway, I accelerate very slowly, and I can get to 3.5k to 4k rpm easily in first gear before it shifts.

The next issues were with shifts from drive to park. The shifts became extremely rough, and eventually they were able to cause the car to stall.

A local transmission shop said this was due to the torque converter not unlocking. I don't think this is true, because when I'm not moving in drive, and the engine is running, the torque converter must be unlocked.

When the car's in drive but not moving, the engine side of the torque converter is moving, but the transmission side isn't.

When a car is in park, the engine side of the torque converter is spinning, and the transmission side is.

This transition is causing issues for me. Is it best just to put in a new torque converter?

I also plan to rebuild the transmission. I've never done an automatic gearbox before, but I think I can do it with the guide posted above. I might also buy a service manual for it. Any suggestions?

Any suggestions for a complete rebuild kit?

The trick for me is going to be taking out the transmission. I plan on dropping it out the bottom. Are there any special tools needed? How high must I raise the car to get it out? Would it be feasible for me and two/three strong friends to get the thing out by hand? Is it just a better idea to just buy an engine hoist and pull the engine? How much work is pulling the engine on a Taurus? If I do pull the engine, what should I replace while I'm there?

Thanks in advance!
 

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This is my advice for rebuilding AX4S transmission. Im doing mine right now. My car is a 1993 3.8. I removed the transmission from underneath the car and it is heavy. Take care that the torque converter doesnt fall out. I supported the engine from above using chain and a metal ladder. The car has to be put on jack stands or a lift as the the front wheels were removed which is kind of dangerous. Expect to purchase a minimum of $400.00 in parts before starting. Purchasing replacing the following parts is almost necessary. Purchase a rebuild kit that includes as much as possible seals, ORings, brake bands, gaskets, bushings, clutches friction, springs. Its more expensive to buy separately these items and to save shipping charges. Local auto parts stores do not sell transmission parts. Also mark all the bolts and where they go back. Make sure to remove the bolt inside the car engine oil pan. There are many bolts in the valve body. Mark there location. Purchase the ATSG repair manual. This manual will help identify the parts in the valve body and which bolts to remove. There is an update manual as well. A new pump seal bearing combination etc. I bought a new seal only as my bearing was in good shape. Also what to look for and assembly instructions etc. The book is limited so mark everything before disassembling. This is key especially for older cars where official repair manuals are not in print. Theres a lot of parts and its difficult to determine sometimes what is a bad part and needs replacing. The clutches are pressurized through holes that may be blocked so everthing should be cleaned. Take note of where all the parts are. have an area to dissasemble the parts where bolts and needle bearings parts wont get lost. A lot of items should be dissasembled to check for worn bushings or bearings. They keep everthing centered on the axle. I have found many parts cant be replaced because no one sells them. Do not damage anything or gouge metal services in the valve body. A lot of the parts in the valve body arent sold seperatey or are hard to find. Some tools needed, a way to compress clutch springs. Seals need to be pressed in for the axles and torque converter. torx bit. Ohm Meter to check solenoids. The shift linkage may not have to be removed to get everything out as stated in the book.
This is my experience so far so hope it helps.

 

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Regarding the 2nd gear problem, cracked pistons are a known problem on earlier transaxles.
A summary of points and additional thoughts.
1. Replace the converter with 250k. It's a repository for debris and cheaper now than later.
2. Is used ziplock bags to catagorise hardware.
3. Leaving the engine in place and supported will save disconnection of wires and hoses. I used a 4x6 as a support.
4. Replace the freeze plugs in the engine block while they're accessible, including those under the flex plate.
5. There is a bolt between the engine and trans that goes in from the passenger side and missed sometimes.
6. Special tools:
Smaller torx are used in a few places.
A good external circlip pliers is needed.
Feeler gauges or dial indicator are needed to check clutch end play. (I measured mine before disassembly and wrote numbers down the old and new values in my ASTG manual for future reference)
A press with a small plate and 3 deep sockets of the length works well to compress the spring packs. 3 medium size C-clamps is a good alternative.
I replaced the entire valve body, pump drive and several bushings on mine do to catastrophe pump failure. This added $220 to the cost because it was a rare type used for only part of '98 model year.
 
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