The Basics of Auto Transmission Repair

February 16, 2012

Basic information on auto transmission repair tools, techniques and prices for both do-it-yourself and professional work.

Auto transmission repair can prove to be very costly and may leave you without use of your vehicle for a few days or a few weeks. Knowing a few basics about transmission repair will help you avoid many potential problems, and possibly help you save money when repairs are needed.

Transmission Repair: The Basics
Your car's automatic transmission has many small moving parts on the inside, but you don't need to know what all of them do. In fact, there are only four basic parts of the transmission you really need to know.

  • The bell housing.The bell housing is a cone-shaped metal case underneath your vehicle. In a front wheel drive vehicle, the bell housing is located on the side of the engine underneath the hood. On rear wheel drive cars, the transmission is situated underneath the vehicle directly behind the engine. Unless your car is involved in an accident, the bell housing very seldom needs repair, as its main function is a case for the transmission itself
  • Gears.Although the automatic transmission changes gears for you, they still have to be changed. The transmission gears are broken into main gears and planetary gears, and all need to work properly if your vehicle is to move. Damaged or worn gears can cause various problems for a transmission and may necessitate a repair or rebuild
  • Transmission fluid.Transmission fluid is perhaps the most important part of your automatic transmission. Failure to maintain adequate levels of fluid will result in many transmission problems. Fluid leaks cause various problems and are one of the most common types of transmission repairs
  • The filter. Your car's automatic transmission fluid has to stay clean in order to help prevent wear and tear on the gears and other moving parts. Periodically changing your transmission fluid filter will help you avoid many common repairs as well

Tools for Auto Transmission Repair

If you intend to repair or replace your auto transmission, you need to keep a few tools handy. Gather your tools beforehand because you won't be able to complete the repairs without them.

To repair or replace your auto transmission you must keep jacks and jack stands handy. A transmission jack and jack stand, and a floor jack and stand are essential; these will help you have easy access to your vehicle's transmission system. You also need to buy wrenches and a socket set to loosen nuts and mounting bolts with relative ease. Consider purchasing a torque converter, because this will help you remove and replace your old transmission with a new one.

You could also purchase DIY kits and car repair guides to help you complete the task successfully.

Where to Find Discount Auto Transmission Parts

When you need to make repairs to your car's transmission, you'll want to find the best prices on auto transmission parts. Whether you need bushings or gaskets to repair your transmission, or tools like an air compressor or transmission jack to help you get the job done, you'll need to do some research in order to save as much money as possible.

Finding Discount Parts on the Internet
The Internet allows you to quickly and easily compare prices from many different retailers that have the type of transmission parts you need. It's always easier to use the Internet for your product search if you know the brand name and part number of the part you wish to purchase.

Before you start comparing prices, do a little research into the different companies that manufacture the type of parts you need. Once you narrow your search down to a couple of brands and manufacturer product numbers that interest you, you can quickly use online search engines or the search engines of comparison shopping sites like Bizrate, DealTime and Nextag to search for online retailers that offer the best prices.

You can also use the Internet to search auto parts stores that have branches in your local area as well. Major auto parts companies like Auto Zone, Advance Auto Parts, Pep Boys and NAPA all have websites that allow you to quickly and easily browse their store inventories. You may even be able to save money by using coupons available online that can be printed out and used at a local auto parts store.

Finding Transmission Tools and Accessories
If you need tools and accessories, you'll probably find better deals at stores that specialize in various types of tools rather than at car parts stores. For example, if you need to find the best prices on air compressors or transmission jacks, you should visit sites like Home Depot, Northern Tool and Shop.com. These websites generally have the best prices on power tools and other equipment needed to make transmission repairs as well as any other type of automotive repair.

Consider Used Parts for Older Cars
If you have an older vehicle that is not worth a particularly large sum of money, consider not spending too much on the transmission repair. Instead of purchasing expensive, new parts, visit local junkyards or salvage yards and pull the parts yourself from wrecked vehicles that have the same type of transmission as the vehicle you are trying to repair. You may be able to pull as many transmission parts as you need for only $20 or $30. If you get lucky, you'll find a vehicle where the transmission is still in good shape, and you will save a lot of money over a repair kit or purchasing multiple parts.

Average Prices for an Auto Transmission Service Repair

There is a large price range for auto transmission service, dependent on the extent of the repairs, and the make, model and year of the vehicle. Transmission repairs can be as simple as a shift point solenoid, in computer controlled vehicles, or vacuum modulator, in non-computerized vehicles, to a complete transmission replacement or rebuilding. Transmission repairs also cover leaks in gaskets, seals and transmission lines. While these types of problems will eventually cause transmission difficulties, they generally do not affect the transmission's operation.

The most common type in transmission repair is the leak. Leaks are generally caused by bolts becoming loose due to the regular vibrations caused by operating the vehicle. Other leaks can be the result of a gasket that has become dry and brittle with age. These types of leaks carry a minimal expense to fix. Gaskets are low cost items, typically less than $40.00. However, the labor involved in changing the gasket will drive the cost up. The cost of any repair job is the sum of the cost of the parts, plus materials, plus the labor. Unfortunately, labor costs make up the lion's share of the equation. This will be most evident if the transmission needs to be disassembled to replace seals or parts within one of its many sub-assemblies.

Today's transmissions are very complicated. Moreover, due to the computer's control over engine and transmission function, problems with the computer can make it appear as though you have a transmission problem. This is the reason why you should always use reputable transmission repair facilities. Actual transmission repairs involve the disassembly, and inspection of hundreds of individual parts. Parts that are worn are replaced, and then the sub-assembly must be adjusted before being assembled to other sub-assemblies. As each sub-assembly is added to the transmission case, additional adjustments, and/or testing must be performed. Once all of the sub-assemblies have been tested/adjusted, and are assembled back into the transmission case, a final test must be performed before the transmission can be reinstalled into the vehicle. This type of job is very time consuming and thus causes high amounts of labor dollars to be logged.

Average Prices

  • General repair (seals and some minor components):$1,800 to $3,600
  • Rebuild (complete overhaul of internal components):$3,000 to $5,000
  • Additional warrantee purchase price:$1,200 to $1800
  • Fluid flush with new filter:$85 to $125
  • Inspection (external):Free to $75
  • Inspection (internal): Charged at the shop hourly rate, typically deducted from the total bill if repair work is performed at the facility

Auto transmission service can be a source of stress if you need major transmission repairs. Check the shop's credentials, and membership with the Better Business Bureau. Ask for references and certifications (ASE) before allowing any work to be performed. A cheap transmission auto repair is unlikely, but you can offset the greater costs by calling around the area and doing plenty of research.

Common Auto Transmission Scams

The majority of transmission mechanics and repair shops are ethical, honest and do a good job of making good-faith estimates and repairs for customers. However, there are a few unscrupulous repair shops out there that engage in various auto transmission scams that to pad the customer's bill and increase profits in an unethical manner. In order to help you avoid common transmission scams, review the list of common transmission scams below.

Lowballing
A common tactic practiced by unscrupulous transmission repair shops is that of lowballing a customer. Lowballing, or bait-and-switch, occurs when the transmission shop offers you a very low price on the repair. An easy way to spot lowball tactics it is to pay attention to how much time it takes the shop's service writer (or person who gives you an estimate) to actually provide an estimate for your car's transmission repair.

Many times, correctly diagnosing a transmission problem can take several hours and can almost never be completed in just a few minutes. You should be very suspect of very low repair quotes that are not written down. These types of lowball quotes often increase dramatically after the shop has your transmission spread all over the shop floor. They count on the fact that you don't want to waste more time, and raise the price of the repair considerably.

The Fake Transmission Rebuild
Another common scam practiced by some transmission repair shops is the fake transmission rebuild. Sometimes, linkage problems can cause serious symptoms that are similar to a badly damaged transmission. Some repair shops take advantage of unwitting customers by telling the customer that they need their transmission completely rebuilt, when only the shift linkage needs to be adjusted.

This type of dishonest behavior turns a repair that usually costs less than $100 into a repair that can cost $600, $800 or even well over $1000. In fact, they probably won't even have to remove the transmission from the vehicle in order to make the adjustment. The scam artists need only keep your vehicle long enough in order to convince you that they've performed considerable work on it.

Online Transmission Scams
Scam artists are taking advantage of people that want to save money by purchasing a transmission on the Internet—especially rebuilt transmissions. While there are certainly many honest online transmission sellers, you should always be wary of ones that offer supposedly top-quality rebuilt or remanufactured transmissions on auction websites for prices that seem too good to be true. Many people complain of receiving a used transmission that had not been rebuilt at all, but had simply had the bell housing cleaned and repainted.

The best way to avoid these types of transmission related scams is to do as much research about the seller or repair shop as possible before agreeing to have the repair done. Ask for references (a reliable mechanic will provide these) and check with the Better Business Bureau in your area to see if the company has unresolved issues or consumer complaints. Consider only doing business with transmission shops that are members of the Better Business Bureau.

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