Transmissions and Transaxles SIMPLIFIED  
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  BEFORE AGREEING TO A TRANSMISSION REBUILD
RULE OUT THESE LESS COSTLY REPAIRS FIRST!

When you have an engine problem you don't immediately jump to the conclusion that the engine needs to be rebuilt or replaced.  But, when you have a transmission problem - all too often the initial diagnoses is that the transmission must be rebuild or replaced.  This is not to say that, in many instances, a rebuild or replacement is not needed, but consider the cost involved it is only prudent that all other less costly possibilities be rules out first.

Use our downloadable free pricing guide to make sure the pricing you are getting for a rebuild or a remanufactured transmission is within the market rates:

  wrong transmission diagnosesA correct diagnoses of a transmission problem is not easy.  The reason is that many different problems have the same or similar symptoms.  For example, slipping is a common symptom of a transmission needing a rebuild because the clutches are worn out.  Slipping is also a symptom of a transmission with low fluid.  Hard or erratic shifts are a symptom of a transmission in need of a rebuild - a faulty shift solenoid causes these same symptoms.  The list goes on and on.  

Thousands of automatic transmissions are rebuilt or replaced each year when the problem could have been resolved with a $75 solenoid or even worse, a $6 quart of automatic transmission fluid.

Things you must rule out before rebuilding or replacing your transmission.

1. Low Transmission Fluid Level:  Transmission fluid not only lubricates and helps cool the internal workings of the transmission, it also provides the pressure needed to shift gears.  Thus, when the fluid level is low, the transmission may slip, shift hard, shift erratically or not shift at all.  Gear engagement may be delayed.  Low fluid also causes the transmission or transaxle to overheat. 

Solution: Add the correct type of transmission fluid until the fluid level on the dipstick shows in the "full range".  How to properly check transmission fluid level

Cost: $5 to $10 per quart of ATF.

2. Old, Dirty/Contaminated Fluid:  Old and dirty transmission fluid can cause many of the same symptoms as having low fluid.  Additionally, dirty fluid can clog the filter, which will cause even more shift problems as the fluid pressure needed to make shifts is insufficient.  With a clogged filter, the transmission oil pump must work double hard to pump fluid through the transmission and thus is more likely to fail.

Solution: Fluid and filter change or fluid flush.

Cost: DIY Cost: $40 to $95.  Shop Cost : $110 to $350+

3. Oxidized "burnt" Transmission fluid:  Burnt/oxidized transmission fluid may mean some internal transmission damage has already occurred.  But, whether it is time for a rebuild is still questionable.

Solution: The recommended action is to change the fluid and filter or possibly a fluid flush depending on the vehicle mileage and whether the transmission has been flushed previously.  If changing the fluid and filter (or flushing the transmission) does not resolve the problem(s) you are experiencing, a rebuild may be needed.

Cost See Transmission Rebuild Costs for cost information.

4. Faulty shift Solenoid - Open Electrical Circuit:  A failed shift solenoid or an open/shorted electrical connection can cause delayed and erratic shift or no shifts.  The condition may cause the vehicle to jerk when placing the shifter level into "Drive" or "Reverse" and when the transmissions shifts automatically.

Solution: If the check engine light is illuminated, an OBDII scan may provide information pointing to the problem solenoid.  If the check engine light is not illuminated, pinpointing a faulty transmission solenoid or locating an open electrical problem will require a series of electrical tests or a scan of the vehicle's powertrain using a special transmission scanner.  Transmission repair shops have the equipment and special scanners needed to find open circuits and other electrical problems. 

Cost: Do-it-yourself cost: $40 for a single solenoid to $250 or more for a solenoid pack.  The transmission oil pan must be removed to access the shift solenoids.  Repair shop cost range: $175 to $400+.

5. Failed Sensor(s) and/or Switches: Today's automatic transmissions and transaxles are controlled by an electrical (computer) device called a Transmission Control Module "TCM".  Note: Some vehicles use a Powertrain Control Module "PCM" for both the engine and transmission operations. 

The TCM (or PCM) relies on input data received from various switches and sensors to control the operation of the transmission. These sensors and switches include the throttle position sensor, crankshaft position sensor, wheel speed sensors, ATF temperature sensor, brake switch, inhibitor switch, torque converter turbine speed sensor and others.  The failure of anyone of these sensors or switches can cause a number of different transmission problems, including shift problems. 

Solution: If the check engine light is illuminated, an OBD-II scan should identify the faulty sensor or solenoid.  If check engine light is not illuminated, a transmission scan may be necessary.  Transmission repair shops are typically the only auto repair shops that have these special transmission scanners.

Cost: Do-it-yourself cost: The cost range for sensors and switches is $25 to $200+.  Repair shop cost: $125 to $350+.

6. Valve Body Problem: The transmission valve body controls shifts by controlling fluid pressure and directing transmission fluid into the appropriate passageways to initiate and activate gear shifts.  Over time, metal debris can scratch or score the aluminum passages of the valve body causing a change in pressure, which can cause numerous shift problems including hard "jerky" shifts and delayed shifts.  If any of the valve body passages become blocked by debris, the transmission may not shift into the appropriate gear, either automatically or by manually shifting.

Solution: Replace valve body.  The valve body can be replaced without removing the transmission.

Cost: Do-it-yourself cost: $300 - $1,000 for the cost of a new valve body.  Repair shop labor for replacing the valve body is $150 to $350.

7. Worn, Frayed, or Broken Shifter Cable: Over time, the shifter cable can become worn, frayed or even break.  Oftentimes, a worn or frayed shifter cable will cause the transmission to be in a different gear than the shifter indicator shows.  For example, the shifter lever can be in the Park position but the transmission can be in Reverse or Neutral.  When this happens, the engine may not crank when turning the key to start the vehicle because the transmission is not in Park even though the shifter lever indicates it is.  With a broken shifter cable, the transmission cannot be shifted into any gear.

Solution: Replace shifter cable.

Cost:  Do-it-yourself cost: $50 to $150 for the cost of cable.  Repair shop cost: $150 to $275.

8. Out-of-Adjustment Shifter Linkage: The symptoms of a shifter linkage being out-of-adjustment are similar to a worn or frayed shifter cable.  The difference is that with a worn shifter cable you may feel a looseness in the shifter level when moving the shifter lever.  With an out-of-adjustment linkage you will probably not feel any difference in the shifter lever movement.  A shifter linkage out-of-adjustment can also cause the transmission to be in a different gear than what the shifter lever shows.

Solution: Adjust shifter linkage

Cost: Do-it-yourself cost $0.  Repair shop cost: $50 to $75.

9. Faulty Transmission Control Module (TCM) or Powertrain Control Module (PCM): A faulty Transmission Control Module (TCM) or Powertrain Control Module (PCM) can cause erratic shifts, hard shifts, delays between gear shifts, hard downshifts and taking longer than normal to go into Reverse or Drive.  The transmission may fail to engage in any gear.

Solution: Test TCM (or PCM) and replace if found to be faulty.

Cost: Diagnosing a faulty TCM or PCM may require a professional transmission scan to be performed.  The cost range for this type of scan is $50 to $125.  The cost for a new TCM or PCM can range from from $75 for a used module to $500 or more new module.

Note: Many of the above conditions will cause the transmission "Drive" indicator light to illuminate or flash.  The transmission may then go into "Limp Mode" (also called "Safe Mode" or "Fail Safe".  When this happens, the transmission will become locked in either 2nd or 3rd gear in order to protect the transmission from internal damage.  When in Limp Mode, drive slowly and directly to a repair shop or to your destination and park the vehicle until it can be checked-out by a professional.  Continuing to drive a vehicle when the transmission is in limp mode can ruin the transmission.

Before agreeing to a rebuild, get an estimate for a remanufactured transmission. You may get a better price/warranty on a reman vs. a rebuild. Get an estimate via e-mail within hours using the button below:

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