Updated Augest 12, 2013
AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION REPAIR ADVICE
Help ! My Transmission Is Shot...Now What ?
Having over 25 years of experience in the Automotive Transmission Industry, I feel pretty well qualified to tell you "Now What".
The first thing is...Who says "Your Transmission Is Shot!". You ? Unless you are a mechanic, own expensive diagnostic equipment, and are familiar with the electronic and hydraulic schematics of the transmission, it would be best not to assume you have a Major Problem. But again...First make sure you need a transmission !
Your Car is not shifting gears so the first thing you do is get on the phone and call around for prices. That creates a number of different problems. For example you call shops "A", "B", and "C". Shop "B" has the best price, so you go there. Since you already agreed on a price, shop "B" replaces your transmission. Had they checked it first, he would have found a defective speed sensor. A four figure difference in cost.
But I said "Check it first !"...Yea..But shop "B" isn't too honest..He knows you think you need a transmission...So you won't suspect much when he confirms it !
The MOST EXPENSIVE transmission is the one you DIDN'T NEED.
Shopping on price is a bad practice. It's helpful to get a general idea of what the expense will be, but that shouldn't be the determining factor.
HOW MUCH DOES A TRANSMISSION COST ?
So after you are sure you need to replace your transmission do some research.
Manufactures like GM, FORD and CHRYSLER are getting quite aggressive in marketing there transmissions. I've had cases where a GM reman was just a few hundred dollars more than what I could offer...and some have nationwide warranties longer than average. So don't hesitate to call a dealer service department for an estimate.
NOTE :In my market the average cost is $1600 to $2000.00...if thats all you want to know.
Be aware that not all diagnostic trouble codes (DTC) trigger a check engine light. So even though the light is not on doesn't mean there isn't some valuable information being stored in the memory.
Also on some vehicles the O/D cancel light will flash or stay on steady to warn you of a problem. This page has a list of OBDII trouble codes with definitions and some FAQ's.
(DTC'S) LISTING OF DIAGNOSTIC TROUBLE CODES and Definitions with FAQ
But again...First make sure you need a transmission !
D.I.Y. or professional if you need more information... ATSG (Automatic Transmission Service Group) Makes the same manuals we use available to the public...most are under $20. They are transmission type specific, so you need to know which transmission you have. Don't Dig In Until You Have All The Information You Need!
You Can Find Most Of them at Amazon...
I once had a person..I'll call "Know it all Joe" bring there car to my shop and ask me to install a starter motor he bought at a local parts store. He paid an hours labor and left. A few hour later he called back and said "the car still didn't start properly." I suggested he bring the car in to have us diagnose what the problem was. His next question..."Is there a charge for the diagnosis? The Answer.."Yes, Unless you can convince my technician to work off the clock." So Joe comes back..Another starter in hand..He's sure he has bought a defective starter. He declines paying anything for diagnostic...but wants a break on the cost of installing the second starter. By now I'm sure you know where this is going...The end result was a poor ground at the battery. Diagnosing and repairing that...Under $50.00. So he added 2 hours labor and the cost of a unneeded re-man. starter motor. In the end Joe did learn his lesson...Now he lets us diagnose his vehicle for him.
WHERE SHOULD I BRING MY VEHICLE ? It doesn't move and I don't want to tow it all over town !
The first thing to do is seek referrals...Friend, Co-worker, Relatives. If you hear good things about the same place more than once, that's a good bet. Ask you local garage or service station. One bit of advise is if your local full service station says they can do it, take caution, because without proper experience and equipment, you can end up with a misdiagnosis or the cure being worse then the disease. Also don't assume that because it's a national franchise its good. It's not like hamburgers...which are all the same. The shop is only as good as the people working in it.
Useful Transmission Tips:
First...Always Check the fluid level using the proper procedure, which is often stamped on the dipstick.
Be aware that many new cars no longer have dip sticks and must be check with special procedure's while running on a lift. So checking the ground for signs of a leak is very important.
SYMPTOMS CAUSED BY LOW FLUID LEVEL
What Type of Fluid Does Your Transmission Use ? If you don't know the answer, you should find out. Many newer vehicles use specialized fluid. Introducing the wrong fluid can cause damage. So if your vehicle is one of them, You should purchase a few quarts and put it in your trunk with a funnel. (If your vehicle has no dip tube, don't bother) just get Triple A.The last thing regarding Fluid. It doesn't evaporate...If It's Low...Your Leaking...Get It looked At...Or keep it up to level until you can.
Fluid condition is a strong indicator of transmission health.
Beside checking the level you should also check the color and odor of the fluid. Yellow or brownish (Varnished) fluid is an indication that the fluid isn't being cooled properly or that the transmission is being over stressed.
Slipping cluches can generate enough heat to actually cause the transmission fluid to blacken and develop a burnt odor. Transmission fluid is cooled by being sent to a cooler inside the tank of the radiator. Sometimes this can crack and cause the transmission fluid to intermingle with the antifreeze and the fluid looks pink sort of like a strawberry milkshake. Seeing an oily residue on top of the antifreeze in the overflow tank is also an indication of cooler failure.
Transmission Maintance Service
Transmission Flush vs The good old fashion Pan Drop. I still prefer the pan drop for a number of reasons. First because it gives a good indication of the health of the transmission by the amount of clutch material and metal shavings in the pan. Numerous times I have found pieces of sealing rings or other parts in the pan which gave the owner a heads up so they could trade or repair before the problem came to a head. You can also remove the normal particals that breakdown during the operation of the transmission and change the filter.
Broken Half Shafts (CV Shaft) On front drive vehicles are often mistaken for transmission problems. A easy way to tell the shaft is broken is the car grinds going back into park. (since the wheel is no longer attached to the transmission the breaks cant stop the rotation.)
Also in some cases the speedometer will register even though your not moving. And it may still roll when in park
In most cases this is a major internal problem. But on some vehicles such as the Dodge Caravan with a over drive transmission, It can be due to the TCM...Transmission control module (Computer) or solenoid body.
No Forward Movement Before you call a tow truck, try unplugging the main electrical harness at your transmission.
Why?... First you need to understand that most 4 speed automatic transmissions use 2 solenoid's to shift them. Example ["A" on "B" off...first gear]["A" on "B"on...second gear]["A" off "B" off...third gear]["A" off "B" on..forth gear]
On most electronic transmissions both solenoids off is second or third gear, so by unplugging the transmission is may be possible to move in that gear and limp into a garage or at least get off the highway.
Not shifting is a whole lot better than shifting and "Slipping". Be aware that on many vehicle again such as the Dodge Caravan, if the TCM senses one of many different problems it will put the vehicle into "fail-safe or Limp Mode" which is to say the vehicle will default to one gear and stay there...Giving you the opportunity to "Limp" it into a garage.
Limp mode can be due to major or minor problems....The "NOT SHIFTING" is not the problem...But the result of another problem.
Other causes of No Shift are..Defective input or output speed sensors..The Vehicle has to know how fast it is going in order to knows when to shift.
The Transmission Range sensor (formally the Neutral Safety Switch) It tells the TCM what range your in, Reverse, Drive Low..If your in drive and it things your in low...No shift !
No Down Shifts can also be caused by a disconnecter or improperly adjusted kickdown cable/rod or T.V. cable and defective solenoids.
Misadjusted kickdown and Throttle Valve (T.V.) cables can also cause late or early shifts. On some transmissions they also can cause a major failure due to low line pressure.
This is just a few of the No Shift causes...But the point is there is a good chance it is NOT a Major repair.
Slipping on the other hand, unless the fluid is low, usually is a major repair. The amount of heat given by slipping clutches is tremendous. That is why the fluid smells burnt. The big issue today with lots of aluminum and plastic parts in the transmission, is the damage to additional parts because of the heat. Since the more you break is the more you pay...Realize it won't fix itself and get it looked quickly.
Some transmissions like GM 4T65E time the shift and use adaptive shift modifiers to fix slips if the shift takes longer then 0.65 seconds.
If the modifier can lo longer correct the problem a code DTC P1811 may be set. (This code can also be set if you overloaded, exceeded tow limit,
or towed in overdrive.
Electronic Transmissions need the proper voltage to operate correctly. Symptoms like late and eratic shifts can be caused by a bad battery, cables or poor ground. E40D transmissions can have hard shifts if voltage falls below 11 volts or spikes. Some A604 / 42LE transmissions will forget the shift adaptives. It is also a good idea to use a memory saver(automotive computer memory retaining tool designed to maintain the memory of the on-board vehicle computer) when replacing your battery.
Here's why... The four wheel drive is activated when the wheel speed sensor sense a slip...one wheel turning faster than the other...but if a tire is under pressure, it is also smaller in circumference. this causes the sensor to think its is slipping, over working the transfer case and destroying it.
MORE ABOUT TIRES CAN BE FOUND HERE.
Shift Timing and Feel
Early or Late shift speeds and hard or soft engagements.
Where older vehicle used a modulator or cable to time and adjust shift patterns, most new vehicles are now controlled electronically.
A common complaint is a late shift from third to forth gear. But on closer observation the transmission is shifting from first to second to forth.The lag where third gear should be makes it seem like a late shift.So pay attention and count the shifts or manually drop to third and see if it slips.
Transmission Fluid Pressure is also controlled electronically and in some cases hard shifts are due to the strategy of the TCM when it senses a problem.In some cases Pressure is increased to clamp down tighter to help eliminate a perceived slip.
What you think is simply a hard shift can require a complete rebuild to correct.
The Transmission Front Pump Seal (Front Leak). How much to fix a front leak ?
This is a question that will burn you just about every time. Why?...The problem is when your transmission comes out of the you'll be told the front seal alone will not correct your leak. That is because the bushing in the pump and its fit to the torque converter are critical in sealing the front of a transmission. Also in many cases there are underlying reasons...and treating the symptoms without finding the cause is a waste of your time and money.
In a Nut Shell...If the vehicle isn't worth the cost of a full repair...don't get lead down the "hope springs eternal" path. Most shops know it won't work...But a few will not tell you... hoping you'll go for the rest of the repair.
Clogged Tramsmission Filter
A clogged filter is the hope of many...but seldom the case. If it is clogged it's usually clogged with the guts of the transmission. The most common symptom of a clogged filter is a high pitch whine, the sound of the pump straining to pick up the fluid.
Low Antifreeze Level And Transmission Damage.
Transmission fluid is cooled by being pumped thru lines from the transmission to a separate cooler inside the main reservoir of the radiator. The fluid is not air cooled, but cooled by contact from the antifreeze against the cooler wicking the heat away. Low antifreeze in some setups will cause loss of contact and no cooling and overheated Antifreeze even if it is making contact, does not cool.
So next time you drive your overheating car, remember it's not just your engine you can damage.
COMMON SYMPTOMS THAT MIMIC TRANSMISSION PROBLEMS
Most auto parts store or at Amazon 4 Lucas Transmission Fix 24 oz.
Well...The closes thing to that is finding out what is going wrong with other peoples cars, and you can get a good idea by checking with places like the National highway Transportation Safety Admin. (nhtsa)...and other sources of recalls.
nhtsa.dot.gov/portal/Recall info |  Main nhtsa page |  Problems/Recalls |  Cars/Problems
REPAIR OPTIONS :
Beside doing nothing and junking or selling your vehicle, there are three choices for fixing your transmission.
Repairing the unit, install a rebuilt or re manufactured transmission, or get a salvage (used) transmission.
Repairing a transmission with internal problems (no matter how small) is expensive because the majority of the cost involved is for removing and reinstalling (R&R), tear down and reassembly plus once the transmission is apart all the seals, gaskets, sealing rings, ...etc. are destroyed and a overhaul kit needs to be used. So for the few dollars more you are better off with a rebuild kit because the savings is not worth the risk of leaving old parts which can fail later.
When external repairs are done, such as replacing solenoids and sensors, it is a good idea to check that there are no underling reasons for the parts failure. Replacing a solenoid that is clogged with clutch material will work...until it clogs again.
Rebuilt or Re manufactured transmissions are basically one in the same. A transmission rebuilt to the proper standards, whether done at a transmission shop or purchased from a re manufacturer are often equal in quality. However a re manufactured transmission often comes with a longer warranty (usually at a much greater expense) and are built using test equipment that a lot of smaller shops can not afford to invest in. There transmission is tested in your vehicle. Another difference may be a nationwide vs. that shop only warranty. However, many smaller shops belong to national organizations such as ATRA (The Good Guys) which offer Nationwide Warranties...just be sure to ask if that is what you are purchasing.
A re manufactured transmission may be the answer if your original unit is not rebuildable because of severe damage. Most re manufactures won't charge a core charge unless the case in broken...and I've recently bought a transmission from Ford that had a "No Hassle Core Return" As long as they got all of the parts the condition was not a factor...and it had a nationwide 36 month or 75,000 mile warranty...perfect for this particular customer who planed to keep the vehicle and traveled a lot.
One note of caution...MAKE SURE THE DIAGNOSTIC IS DONE PROPERLY BEFORE YOU INSTALL A REMANUFACTURED TRANSMISSION a lot of full service garages offer re manufactured transmissions. A garage called me to check a vehicle in which they had installed two transmissions into over a few week period and it was back again with the same problem. That was because a mouse nibbled wires to the transmission, shorting them. When they worked on the vehicle the wires were move and it was fine until they fell back down again. Again, be sure the garage can properly diagnose your vehicle before rushing to judgement.
Keep in mind the fact that transmissions are evolving quite rapidly... and the transmission in your vehicle might fit only that or a few years later. So If you drive a 1997 Whatevermobile, you are guaranteed to get a 10 year old transmission. Ask about the year and the mileage of the vehicle the transmission came from. Also ask about the length of the warranty and if it covers labor. There are larger yards that offer 6 month and 1 year warranties.
Don't End Up On The Hook
It is true that the actual cost of repairing a transmission can't be determined until the unit removed and torn down. However a good idea of the price range can be given ...so your not thinking hundreds when its thousands.
But before you let anyone remove, dismantle and inspect (RDI) your transmission ask this. How mush is it going to cost, does it include reassembling and reinstalling or at least making the vehicle tow-able in the event you want to remove it from the shop. The last thing you want to happen is get quoted what may be an unfair price only to find out it will cost $600.00 to get it out. This can and does happened...Don't be a victim.
Some other useful notes..
Burnt Fluid is dark in color and smells well.."Burnt". Keep in mind the amount of heat necessary to burn ATF is more than enough to damage the rubber seals that operate your transmission.
NEED A TRANSMISSION MANUAL ?...
- Does it cover BOTH parts and labor ?
- Is it covered by a Manufacturers or Extended Warranty ?
- Is an Extended Warranty or service contract available ? ...the duration of the service contract ?
- What is the the reputation of the company? Will they be around when you need them ?.
- Are terms and time limit of the guarantee should be be listed on the invoice ?
- Will you be charged a diagnostic fee and or a teardown if you decide to take your car elsewhere to be repaired ?
Some transmission problems can be avoided by changing your driving habits and keeping up on required maintainance. There are also the ones that are due to manufactures design or defect. Before you make repairs be sure it is not subject to recall and see if there are any updated and improved designs. Be sure your repair shop is going to incorporate the updates in your repair so you don't suffer the pain of a repeat failure.
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