Complete Transmission Repair Guide
The transmission is one, if not the most important part of making your car run. If it doesn't function, you don't have a car. Just thinking about a car transmission going bad can cause a car owner's heart to beat a little faster. Life happens, and cars break down. It's important to identify the signs and stay on top of the maintenance of your car.
Consumer Guide Chapters
- 1. Back to Basics
- 2. Problems Start
- 3. Fix it or Junk It
- 4. DIY or Professional Repair
- 5. Costs
- 6. Rebuild vs. Replace
- 7. How Long will it Last
- 8. Why Express Transmissions
Taking care of your car or truck's transmission is important for its long-term health. But all too often, car owners misunderstand the basic maintenance that's needed to keep a gearbox running smoothly. Maintaining the gearbox is important—and often overlooked.How Does a Transmission Work?
Your transmission is the powertrain that converts the engine's force into a controlled source of power. It is a metal case that contains a series of gears, hence the name gearbox. It acts as a mediator between the engine and the wheels, and converts the high power the engine produces into torque (rotational force), which is then transferred to the axles that in turn rotates the wheels. Each gear has a specific ratio to ensure the wheels don't spin at the same speed as the engine.Automatic vs. Manual Transmission
Automatic and manual transmissions both perform the same basic function, however — they channel the power generated by the engine to the drive wheels. However, there are two big differences between them; there is no clutch pedal in an automatic transmission car, and there is no gearshift in an automatic transmission car.
A manual transmission is also known as a stick-shift. The driver literally uses a stick to change gears. The shift lever is commonly mounted vertically on the center console and connected to the transmission via a linkage.
To change gears, a clutch disc sandwiched between the engine and the transmission needs to be released via a third pedal located on the left side of the brake. Release the clutch, select the desired gear, and engage the clutch again. From a standstill, engaging the clutch too slowly will wear out the disc prematurely, and engaging it too quickly will cause the engine to stall.
An automatic transmission is connected to the engine via a hydraulic torque converter, and a dual-clutch automatic relies on a pair of clutches. Both can change gears without any input from the driver. The process is done hydraulically or electronically by monitoring important parameters, such as the position of the throttle pedal, the speed that the car is traveling at, and the engine's rpm. Once you put the transmission into drive, everything else is automatic.
Having only two pedals offers many advantages. It's almost impossible to stall the engine with this configuration, and an automatic car tends to be smoother and more comfortable to drive than a stick-shift, especially in stop-and-go traffic. An automatic typically requires less maintenance than a manual as well, though that can vary from model to model. Finally, a dual-clutch automatic gearbox often shifts gears in mere milliseconds for greater performance and efficiency.Basic Transmission Repair
The transmission is one of the most complicated mechanical systems in your car. But there are some basics of transmission repair that all car owners really should be aware of.
- Checking for low transmission fluid — This should be the first thing you look at. A low level of transmission fluid is the cause of the vast majority of transmission problems.
- Inspecting the clutch — The way you drive can cause transmission trouble. “Riding the clutch”, or not keep it fully engaged while driving and downshifting instead of braking will lead to accelerated wear and tear.
- Watching the torque converter — Revving the engine and streaking off at every light creates lot of damaging heat in the torque converter.
- Understanding lubrication — There are innumerable moving parts in an automatic transmission. It is important to check the transmission fluid every 20,000 miles.
- Not driving badly — The best way to avoid a transmission repair is not to do any harm to the mechanism, to begin with. Avoid “grinding” the gears and using the clutch at the wrong time. You should also use first gear from a standing start and not second gear — even though the latter is more easily engaged.
Transmission fluid is used to lubricate the components of a car's transmission for optimum performance. In vehicles with automatic transmissions, this fluid also acts as a coolant. While the primary function of auto transmission fluid is to lubricate the various parts of the transmission, it can serve other functions as well:
- Clean and protect metal surfaces from wear
- Condition gaskets
- Enhance cooling function and reduce high operating temperatures
- Increase rotational speed and temperature range
You can check your transmission fluid the same way as your engine oil, except the car should be running when you do it. You can use your dipstick to check your transmission fluid levels, and you'll want to have service done immediately if you realize you are running low. You'll also want to make sure the fluid is the right color. Transmission fluid is clear pink. If the fluid is brown or smells burnt, it's time to replace it.
Check your transmission fluid every one to three months. It should be replaced every 50,000-100,000 miles.
Transmission problems can be expensive. If the transmission on your car fails, it can literally cost more to have it repaired than the car is worth. How can you tell if a transmission is going bad? Here are a few signs of transmission problems to consider:Automatic Transmission
- Check Engine Light is on
- Transmission tries to up shift, then falls back into a lower gear
- Transmission refuses to up shift
- Transmission falls into a lower gear, causing the engine to run at a high RPM
- You step on the gas, engine RPMs increase, but the vehicle speed doesn't
- Reverse won't engage
- Strange or Burning Smell
- Unusual noises when shifting
- Hard / Rough Gear Changes
- Transmission won't go into gear
- Transmission inexplicably falls out of gear
- Unusual noises (like grinding) during gear change
If you're experiencing automatic transmission slipping, it can feel like you're driving in a certain gear and then it changes for no apparent reason. The noise from the engine may change in pitch or start to sound like whining.
Your car may also seem like it's struggling, is suddenly under powered, or isn't accelerating like it should.Rough shifts
When you are driving, the shifting between gears in an automatic transmission car should operate almost silently and imperceptibly. If you are having problems with your transmission, you may notice that there are vibrations or hesitancy when shifting through different gears as you drive. Your car may feel like it's refusing to change gears as it normally does, or the gear shifts aren't very smooth. Sometimes you can feel or hear a noticeable “clunk” or “thud” when the car shifts gears. You may also notice the car has difficulty getting up to speed.Drips or fluid leak
Transmissions are generally sealed units that should never leak fluid. If you notice that your car is dripping a red fluid, that is most likely transmission fluid. Check on the ground where your car is normally parked. If you find that you have more than a few small drops, you may need transmission repair in a hurry. If your fluid is low, you can add transmission fluid to your car in order to protect it from damage while you drive it to the auto mechanic.Delayed engagement
If this symptom occurs, you'll notice a delay before the car actually engages into drive and starts moving forward. When you shift out of “P” and into “D”, there may be a long pause where the car revs the engine as you give it gas, but it's not moving forward as it should.Stalling
When your transmission doesn't have enough fluid, you may experience it stalling at red lights or stop signs. Though it should start right back up, taking your car to an auto shop for repair is key as your transmission lines may be leaking and may need to be replaced. Though still not a small repair, getting new transmission lines can make sure that your transmission is getting the fluid it needs to operate and can be less costly than an entirely new transmission or rebuild.
You know you have a major transmission problem. If that's not bad enough, you are now faced with a big decision. Do you repair, replace, or rebuild your transmission? Maybe it's not even worth those choices. Maybe it is simply time to for a new car.
Some people have emotional attachments to their cars. Others hate the thought of a hefty monthly payment for a new car. Whatever the reason you are hesitating sending your car to the junkyard, there may be some obvious signs that your car is no longer worth repairing and keeping.Junk It, Sell It, Trade it
If your vehicle is 20+ years old and has over 200k miles on it, then the cost of repair or replacement is most likely higher than the value of the vehicle. In this case, it's typically not worth getting the car fixed.
Check a guide, such as the Kelley Blue Book, to see what your car is worth currently. The value will drop significantly if there are needed repairs. Junkyards will purchase cars with failed transmissions as parts cars. Dealers will also typically give you a few hundred dollars in trade-in for a vehicle with a bad transmission, as well.Repairs Vs. Car Payment
How much have you spent the last year making repairs to your car? Are more major repairs looming? If you add that up and do the math, a car payment may look better than more maintenance expenses. Simply put, it is time to start car shopping when repairs cost more than the car is worth.Your Vehicle Isn't Safe
The reliability of your vehicle is one factor to look at when making the decision whether to continue to driving it. If you fear that it will break down and leave you stranded on the side of the road, you should replace it with something safer and more reliable.Your Car is a Rusted Mess
While all cars can get a little rusty from time to time, it's easy for a buildup of rust to get out of control. This isn't just unsightly and embarrassing, it's also dangerous to drive. This is because the rust can actually damage the support systems of your vehicle. It can even slowly eat away at your brakes.
Some vehicle owners take pride in their ability to do small maintenance tasks. Many of us can add oil or install a new battery. Before you make that decision, you must weigh some pros and cons of do-it-yourself (DIY) auto repair versus taking your car to an area transmission shop or professional auto technician. There are many circumstances where DIY auto repair is not always a great idea. When you experience transmission problems, repairs require a professional. Even the most talented “DIY” mechanic might be stressed by the complexity of transmission repairs.Advantages of Hiring a Pro
- Is DIY Worth It? Other than what could equal a large cost savings, there are not really any other advantages of performing your own transmission work. In fact, making improper repairs could further damage your transmission and other systems in your vehicle. When it comes to your transmission, it is best to leave the work to an area transmission shop or automotive professional.
- Repair Complexity. Your transmission is one of the most integral pieces of a car's system. It's made up of multiple parts and pieces, and each area can experience problems. Having a professional do the repairs ensures an accurate diagnosis of any issue. Transmission designs vary by make and model. Professional mechanics commonly use computer programs that allow them to tap into a modern vehicle's computer system for an accurate diagnosis of car problems. These programs are only available to professional mechanics.
- The Right Tools. The tools needed to perform transmission repairs reflect the complexity of repairs. Our mechanics have pretty much everything they need when fixing your car. They must elevate the vehicle. Removing and replacing a transmission system requires more than one person.
- Take Away the Stress of Repairs. Even for an experienced DIY mechanic, transmission repairs create stress. You're already pressured to get the car running again. Take your vehicle to a licensed, professional shop where you know the mechanic's credentials, the cost, and the date you can pick up the car. You can relax knowing that the problem is solved.
- Warranty Protection. Two warranties come into play here. First, you protect your car's warranty by having a professional mechanic complete the repairs. Second, professional area transmission mechanics offer warranties on their repairs. This means that in the rare case the mechanic misses something or the repair is faulty, you're protected from paying more for additional repairs. Read and completely understand any warranty offered before you have the work done.
The cost of transmission repair varies widely based on a number of factors, the most important of which is the type and extent of the repairs being performed by the mechanic.
If the transmission needs to be completely replaced or rebuild, drivers can expect to pay several thousand dollars for parts and skilled labor. A few minor repairs and a fluid change will only be a couple of hundred dollars.Cost to Repair a Transmission Fluid Leak
One of the most common maintenance issues is low fluid level caused by a transmission leak. With this service, you will have a new transmission pan gasket as well as a new filter. You will also, of course have new fluid installed. The average cost for this service is about $150, but prices can range from as low as $100 to $200, including parts and labor.Shift Solenoid Costs
To change gears, your vehicle likely uses pressurized hydraulic fluid. This fluid is sent to the appropriate location by the shift solenoid, which is activated every time you change gears on your vehicle. If you are having trouble changing gears, it may be time to replace the solenoids. To replace the shift solenoid, you can expect to pay $150-$400 for a single solenoid replacement. The cost goes up for each subsequent solenoid that is damaged and needs to be replaced.Cost for a Transmission Flush
A transmission flush is a maintenance process where all the fluid in a transmission is removed. New fluid is run through it using a special machine to push out grime and sludge and then it is filled up with new transmission fluid. The typical price range for a transmission flush is $125 to $250 — approximately twice as much as a fluid change due to the additional fluid required (12-22 quarts instead of 5-7 quarts) to completely replace the old fluid.Cost to Rebuild or Replace Your Transmission
Transmission replacement is one of the most expensive jobs done by any mechanic. The average cost of transmission replacement ranges from $1800 to $3500. The labor to remove and replace a transmission ranges from $450 to $850 for 4 to 9 hours of billed time.Factors That Affect Cost
There are several factors that can affect the cost of transmission repairs. The most common factors include:
- Make & Model — The cost can depend on the make and model of the vehicle, with domestic/standard models costing quite a bit less than high-end or imported vehicles such as BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen.
- Extent of the Damage — What the car has been through can also affect the price as newer cars that have been well maintained will cost less than those that have been through tough times.
- Old vs New — Considerably older or rarer cars are harder to find parts for, which also increases the cost.
Manual vs Automatic — Repairs for a manual transmission can be less costly. Replacing a manual transmission can run $1,500-$3,000, compared to $4,000 or more to replace an automatic transmission. Much of that cost is labor, as pulling/removing a transmission can be a day or day and a half job.
You have five options to choose from once you know your transmission to past the point of repair. The decision is not an easy one. But there are some things to consider that could make your choice a little easier.New Transmission
Many people believe when they buy a new transmission to have installed in their vehicle, that they are getting a brand-new factory-made one. That is usually not the case. Brand-new transmissions are not available from the manufacturer, your automotive dealer, or any other source. New transmissions are only used in the production of new cars and trucks. Thus, when you purchase a “new” transmission, you are, in fact, getting one that has been remanufactured. Be advised the price tag affixed to a so-called new transmission and a remanufactured one may not be the same.
Price: $1,400 — $3,500Rebuilt Transmission
A rebuilt transmission is a transmission that has been disassembled and inspected, all the worn or damaged parts are replaced, and then the transmission is reassembled to factory specifications. Some components will be replaced as part of this process: new gaskets, steel clutch plates, seals, friction clutches, filter, and bands. The term “rebuilt” is used in a shop setting where the customer's transmission is removed from the car, rebuilt and then reinstalled. One of the major benefits of having your transmission rebuilt is that often there are new updated components that can be installed. These updated components often address common weak points of the transmission; thus they are less likely to fail in the future.
Price: $1,500 — $2,500Repaired Transmission
A repaired transmission is one where a specific component is replaced or fixed. For example, if an input shaft broke, those parts can be replaced without rebuilding the entire transmission. That includes instances where a transmission may have sprung a leak. In such a case, the external seals would be replaced to resolve the leaking problem.
Price: $500 — $1,500Used Transmission
Used transmissions have become a viable option because insurance companies will often write off the expense of a car simply because the airbags deployed during a relatively minor accident. The rest of the car may be in terrific condition, with very low mileage. A used transmission can cost hundreds less than a rebuilt model.
Price: $800 — $1,500
Most car transmissions are designed to live as long as the car lives. So most cars that are put out of service still have their first transmission installed. Of course, that is not always the case. Without some type of care, automatic transmissions can fail in as little as 30,000 miles. That is why you need a transmission expert. With minimum care you'll probably get close to150,000 to 200,000 miles out of your transmission. Of course, how well you follow the manufacturer's recommended maintenance procedures and your driving habits can greatly influence the longevity of your transmission. Automatic transmissions are tough, but they can be damaged.
- Transmission Maintenance An automatic transmission needs to be tuned every once in a while, just like your engine. If you don't service your transmission on a regular maintenance schedule, dirt and contaminants will build up and cause your transmission to develop problems over time. Its performance will decrease, parts will wear out more quickly, and leaks might occur. Ignore your transmission's health long enough and one day it may fail outright, probably when you least expect it or can afford it. An ounce of maintenance is worth of a pound of repair.
- Fluids = Longevity Too little or too much fluid — either will damage your transmission. Letting the transmission run out of fluid is a surefire way of causing some serious damage. That precious red fluid keeps the transmission's internal parts lubricated and running together smoothly. If that fluid gets low, the parts grind together, overheat, and eventually fail. Neglecting to change, or at least check, the transmission fluid is a common mistake that damages transmissions. Failure to change the fluid can lead to leaky seals, cracked gaskets, and other important parts overheating and breaking down.
Ultimately, the best ways to extend the life of your automatic transmission are to keep the fluid levels at the proper place and to have the transmission inspected regularly by a trusted technician. Routine maintenance appointments can be money-savers in the long run.
While there are few car repairs that are more nerve-wracking than transmission failure, there are more solutions than simply replacing the transmission. Transmission problems can be solved with a range of solutions. That is why it is important to make sure that you take your car to a reputable area auto repair shop that specializes in transmission repair. Express Transmissions and Automotive Services will make sure that you are getting the proper repair to bring new life to your transmission.Transmission Experts
The diverse skill sets of our repair technicians allow us the ability to diagnose and repair just about any automotive problem, no matter how minor, major, or complex. We also specialize in transmission services for all makes and models of vehicles.
The transmissions in today's vehicles are becoming more and more complex. We've evolved from a 5-speed transmission that was the standard for many years to a 6-speed transmission and more recently a 10-speed transmission. Advancements in technology have led the way for this progression and it will only continue at a more rapid pace. This means transmission repairs are becoming more complex, as well.
The knowledgeable staff of expert maintenance professionals at Express Transmissions understands these new transmissions. Our automotive technicians have advanced skills to effectively repair them.
Do you need more information on transmissions or are concerned that the car problems you are experiencing is the result of your car's transmission going out? If so, contact Express Transmissions and Automotive Services today.
- 1. Back to Basics
- 2. Problems Start
- 3. Fix it or Junk It
- 4. DIY or Professional Repair
- 5. Costs
- 6. Rebuild vs. Replace
- 7. How Long will it Last
- 8. Why Express Transmissions