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What might cause a 1999 Taurus 3.0 to refuse to select 1st first gear possibly only when hot - the rest seem fine?

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12/05/2006

MORE INFO: The car is a 1999 Ford Taurus with the base 3.0l V-6 engine and a 4-speed automatic transmission and 30,000 miles total. It was likely a city car, but I got it used about 18 months ago. I drove it yesterday and it was fine until I was a few blocks from home. I pulled away from a stop sign and it shuddered as it shifted from first to second. This is the first time it's done anything like this. When I turned onto my street, the car must have wanted first gear again, but when I pressed the gas after making the turn, the engine revved as though it was in neutral. I was coasting at about 10 miles per hour at this point, and the engine was completely disconnected from the wheels, revving freely. I took my foot off the gas completely, the engine dropped to idle, then the transmission decided that I was rolling fast enough to shift to second. The shift was rough, but the car would now accelerate. I stopped at the curb (fortunately, this happened about 200 feet from my house!) and again, had no drive whatsoever. There were no idiot lights illuminated on the dash. This morning, I started the car and it engaged reverse and first gear without trouble. The transmission fluid, though cold, was within the cross hatched area with the car in park and the engine idling. I have not driven it more than 2 feet yet, but I'm concerned that, once the transmission heats up, it will again fail to select first gear (that is, I assume the computer is trying to engage first, but the band is failing to do its job). Since there wasn't any noise or drive whatsoever, I assume this is an electrical problem of some sort rather than a worn band, since there were no symptoms until this complete failure. I am modestly adept at fixing things, so if it's a sensor or wire that is bad, I can probably manage to replace it myself. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I can also buy a scanner if this is likely to help diagnose the problem. Any suggestions on scanner brands that could diagnose transmission problems in this car? Thanks for your advice!