Transmission Rebuild 101: Words From A Shop Manager's Perspective
Introduction to Course. The View from Behind the Service Desk:
Well...How many out there have ever experienced having to have your Transmission Rebuilt ? Ok...Thank you for the show of hands. All of you are dismissed! (Just Kidding...However this Hub will be geared for the first time person in need of a rebuild...or someone "pre-transmission" rebuild...to help them gain some insight.) Now...What qualifies me to be able to write such a Hub on this topic. Simple, I was a commision-paid Transmission Shop Manager for four years. And, during that time I was able to make a good living at it. This Article is going to be written from my experiences as a Transmission Shop Manager...who quite often...had to explain many particulars about the transmission to my customer. Even some Men...needed a little crash course...in the ways of Transmission operations when it comes to having the thing underneath you rebuilt.
That's really a key point: "The thing underneath you all the time". Like most things that we don't see all the time...we tend to take them for granted. But, that transmission of yours is used every time you accelerate. And, it always has a lot going on inside with every shift it makes...whether we are talking about a standard transmission or an automatic. So...like all machines...with every bit of use you have associated with it...it begins to slowly wear down. That's just the nature of everything on the planet. So, don't let it "shock" ya' too bad...if someday without warning...you have transmission troubles. It happens! For those of you prone to keep your vehicles a long time...you've probably already factored in...that one day you will need a transmission rebuild.
Transmission Rebuild's are not cheap. Well, nothing is cheap in life now anyway...So what's new. But, let me justify why a rebuild is going to cost you...and we will go from there. Transmissions are big and bulky. They take a great deal of care and expertise to do the job right from beginning-to-end. They have a great deal of moving parts that need to work perfectly together like a watch...and that even goes for a standard transmission, also. You would not try to "short-cut" putting a watch back together...and then expect it to work properly. This especially goes for that heavy, complicated piece of machinery beneath the floorboard of your vehicle. You are really counting on it to do its' job every time right...and without fail.
My objective in this Hub titled: Transmission Rebuild 101 is to have you gain a little inside understanding and familiarity with the Transmission Rebuild Industry. So, that when you walk into the front door of your local transmission shop, you are a little more prepared and knowledgeable on what you may begin to expect once you are greeted by the Transmission Center Manager.
Transmissions are really a great deal of work. They are not easy to get to. They require two specialized tools right off-the-bat...to get the job done quickly and efficiently. A transmission jack and an automobile lift. These are basic...and essential. As equipment goes they are not cheap.(Pictures can be seen below.) Please note: There should be several of both of these items at a good shop for a good shop to stay busy. A good shop will want to keep things moving in order for everyone to be making money...and stay happy, etc. Why do I tell you this? So, you can see the very basics of a good operating shop and identify some things right away. There are more keys to this which I'll get to later on in the article. You don't want to pull into some "fly-by-night" operation...or a "flat-rate" shop...or a bunch of amateurs...do you? I mean you might like the sound of the price they give you...but what good does that do you if you find yourself back on the highway and stuck again after a month or two? Here are those pics below that I promised to show you in order for you to know what to start looking for as you enter the parking lot of the Transmission Shop. The first one that you have chosen. [Note: This is not a restaurant...that equates lots of cars as being a good place to eat or that they are always busy. Seeing that the Transmission Shop has a great many cars in the parking lot doesn't mean a thing. It might just mean that they are slow...or incompetent. You don't want either...trust me!]
Continuing with the Beginning Lesson: What are the Makings of a Good Shop?
Ok...I'm educating you already (from behind the service desk) on things that make up a good shop...and how it should look. That way you can begin to recognize good shops. Ones who will work hard for you and do the job right. Not some "shady" company with one beat-up ol' lift inside a building that is barely standing...and a few cats (and mice) making homes out of the vehicles left to be fixed... someday! Or, an Old Dilapidated Place that sends out some "unskilled" worker with lift stands and a ratchet to crawl under your vehicle to pull the tranny out on his back. Not ...that there might be some good folks who make a living by pulling and rebuilding transmissions in a place like that...mainly local "Shade-Tree" Mechanics. Just make sure that if you use them for your transmission job...that they come highly-recommended from experience from a very good friend or family member...and that the transmission that was built for them worked for them for a very long time after the job.
OK, moving on. Let me cover some other good things that make up a good shop. Things you should look for. Standards in the industry that you should get a feel for to make an informed decision. At least one or two brand new lifts (If they have been around for many years-then lifts wear out and eventually need replacing due to fatique from repeat useage over the years.) Some Employees in the Shop. Some Hustle and Bustle. Some ironed-starched uniforms (maybe oily...actually should be oily somewhere on the shirts...if they have actually been working on vehicles), Cases and Cases of Huge Standing Tool Boxes (depending on Number of Employees in the Shop. Each is responsible to have their own tools. And they need lots of tools of all kinds to be proficient at their job), Organized parts area, An Organized Shop, Clean Floor with few spills, Professional Demeanor, Discouragement Sign of Some Kind from you just walking around the shop floor (which means they actually carry insurance!), At least: One guy studying and/or carefully assembling a Transmission, A Very Big Parts washer (looks and sounds like a big dishwasher), A Large Metal Press like-looking Machine, Visible Air Hose Connectors on the wall/Air lines/ Rubber Air Hoses, Cars that have been rotated off the lifts for the most part (at least after several days. Note: Some cars can not be moved or are too much trouble to move once the Bottom Frame for the Front End has been removed), Large Storage tanks for new oil, Large Storage Tank for disposable oil, and a clean public office area. (Maybe even some nice reading matireal, clean chairs, and perhaps even fresh coffee made...at least in the morning),
Also things to look for in the Public Office Area are: Mats/ Welcome Mats, Pictures/Plaques of the Shop belonging to the community, Pictures of their favorite rebuilds/customers, Better Business Burea insignias, (maybe even an award/plague from the City/Chamber of Commerce/Rotary Club/Someone citing how great a company they are), Transmission Rebuilders Trade Association Emblems, and some kind of poster promoting the products they use (means they do enough business to have sales reps of transmission related products to call on that particular shop to also make money in the sales that are generated from said shop). There should be some kind of basic information near the service desk bragging about their Shop, and Some kind of description of the Warranties they offer (because they offer a great warranty which can be compared with other leading shops in the area. And, they are proud of that warranty offer), and a Manager that is attentive to the fact that you just entered the Shop office area. These are all the makings of a professional Shop. Some are very minute' points...but there is a reason behind each point.
These details can mean the difference between Lazy Managers, Lazy Workers, Shops that don't care about their customers, a very cheaply run organization, a "brand-spanking" new shop, and even owners who don't give a damn about their business. I could explain each one...and might have or I might get a chance to before the end of the article. Not sure...but you can ask me in the comment section about any of these points...that you want to know more about. Regardless, these are things you should be looking for based on a comparison between a "ratty" run shop and a reputable one...even though some of the points I made are just a little bit of common sense. If you go to a "ratty" run shop...expect that type of quality in their work. Expect it in their attitude. Their Attitude will tell you a lot about the quality of their work. Their professionalism will tell you a lot about how they perceive themselves. How they are percieved as you walk through the door...tells you a lot about the owner. The owner of the shop is the key to the whole operation. Who do you want to come back and see when your daughter's car needs help because it starts having a transmission problem somewhere down the line? Who do you want to tell your next door nieghbor about when they can't get their vehicle out of park in the driveway? Which people do you want to come talk to when you have a warranty issue?Think about it ahead of time!
Here's a very real tip from someone who has been in the business about the points I mention above: No Good Mechanic/ Transmission Builder/ R&R/ Swing Man/ Parts Runner/ or Shop Manager (Transmission Shop terms are mentioned below) is going to want to slip and slide along the floor and end up killing themselves on an extended piece of metal on the ground. And, No Owner of a Shop is going to want his employees looking like they just hopped off the train with a wrench in hand, to come to work for him. Ok, the industry has standards...even if they are not mandatory ones. There still are things that you can notice that are the makings of a Good Shop!
The Owner is the man brave enough to stand behind the work of his people. Proud enough of what he/she does to warranty a very complex piece of machinery, And, Proud enough of his company that he is willing to spend a few extra dollars to look sharp, look professional, stand out from the crowd, or meet the "visible" standards of a good operating shop. There are reasons for everything the owner does...you should be able to notice it from the minute you enter the parking lot. That goes into the kind of people he has working for him. The kind of business he is seeking. And the kind of quality he projects, etc. You get the point.
Did I say that the Transmission business is highly-competitive and highly-sales driven? Let me tell you now...in advance of your repair. Because, like I stated earlier. You probably haven't given it much thought until you needed a rebuild. Now it has happened to you...and you pretty much just want a solution to a big problem. Make it a good solution to a big problem. These ingredients are key in the big picture of the Shop of your choosing. Don't use any one particular thing I mentioned, as a final judgement to leave a shop, as soon as you roll-in to the parking lot. You're there now, hear them out, and then make judgement call, after being informed. Also Note: A local independent shop will not have the kind of money a franchise can have for fancy floors, landscaping outside, and an espresso automatic coffee maker...and that may be a good thing. Maybe, the independent shop just wants to work hard at impressing you with the kind of work they do...and leave that kind of frilly stuff to the big franchises. Big Franchises who in turn will put all those frills back into your final bill. Oh...and did I mention big advertising expense? Someone has to pay for the TV commercials or Full Page Ad in the paper. Independents don't usually have that kind of budget, but then they don't have that kind of overhead either. And, their price should reflect it! One way or another. We all get what we pay for!
Value of the Work Done: What to Consider in Regards to Price?
We all want one thing when it comes time for any repair: The Bottom-Line. I can't give you that! Too many variables...for one thing. There can not even really be an average price that a shop could throw out to you with an average number to help ease your concerns. Why? Look out at the road...How many different vehicles do you see within the span of one block! Do you think all those vehicles were engineered exactly the same...and have exactly the same problems when they go to the shop? However, I can help educate on the particulars to what you are paying for. I can say that there are literally a couple hundred of separate parts inside your transmission. Every single clutch, clutch plate, seal, and even check ball...add up into a huge project to put together. Having it work in precision...is a beautiful thing. Something you became quite accustomed to everytime that thing worked perfectly under your seat or hood (front-wheel drive fits under hood with engine) and shifted you down the road. Let's talk about the value of work done.
So...like every Introductory Course...you have to get started with the basics. And, because I worked at a Shop...I would highly-stress that most folks just don't get what makes up a transmission, and all the work involved. That would be an essential part to learning the basics. This is what I'm going to try to pass-on to you. You, in turn, will have a little more appreciation for what goes into a complete rebuild. Then, you can make an informed choice...ahead of time...while dealing with a problematic transmission. Let's just say that you know of or anticipate that a problem exists within your transmission. This is the time to consider whether to get the particular transmission in your vehicle rebuilt or not. To cut corners or not. To get a cheap job that may patch the problem, or to fix the problem.
As part of your education...I've felt it best to explain what to look for in a rebuild shop. Unless, you have another strategy to having that transmission rebuilt. I suggest a good reliable transmission shop as the solution, and ways to recognize one. Which, I just did above (Hub Author smiles here!) Now, let's look at some more pieces of information in regards to rebuilding a Transmission...shall we? Or at least let's look at it from an informed Customer's view. And specifically, how do I determine whether I am getting a fair price?
Here is some quick notes to think on...that you might not have thought of:
1. Your vehicle just had a major break down. It can not be fixed overnight for the most part. There is a great deal to do to produce a completely repaired transmission. Point: Be prepared to be without the vehicle for a few days.
2. Not just any Mechanic can rebuild a Transmission. A Transmission is a completely different creature from the Engine...altogether. (Although...tranny's share much of the same skills required to rebuild differentials and 4WD Transfer Cases.) It is like any other profession. Does the butcher come out from behind the counter to bag your groceries? No, there is a person for each task. The builder, like a butcher, is highly-skilled, and up-to-date with the world of updates coming through on your particular transmission. He rebuilds, especially as his main job. He may know how to pull a transmission out of a car better than the best of them (most likely worked his way up from pulling/installing transmissions in a shop). But, He builds Transmissions. That is more than enough to warrant a specialized position. In fact...the expertise needed demands the strict devotion to building one transmission at a time. Nothing less! Bigger shops with high volumes have many Builders. Smaller Independents have One! Don't knock that. That Builder is the Backbone to that Business. Like a Skilled Surgeon is to an Operation on a Vital Organ. That Builder can build Transmissions...Trust Me. Transmissions don't work from People that don't know what they are doing. (Period)
3. Whatever success plan you had for dealing with transmission problems in the long ago past does not work on modern transmissions. If it does it is because you have the luck of a Gambler. To elaborate...Transmissions have evolved several times since the long ago days of the past. They have often evolved from different series on the same model with in several times a decade. In other words, it isn't the same transmission you think it is...that use to be under the floorboard of that old truck. I can't tell you how many people that use to drive up to our shop and were shocked because the transmission didn't stop slipping because they changed the transmission fluid. Ok...I fixed on Old '82 Mercury that way too...back in the day. I get it ! But...that was back in the day. Things are much, much more different now.
4. Because of the skill involved, Amount of parts involved, the precision necessary to do the job right, and the technical knowledge/technical updates involved. You are going to have to pay for the job equally to the task at hand. Unless you have a family member in the transmission rebuilding industry that owes you money and a very big favor...It should not be cheap! Let me explain, starting at the bare minimal fact that you will need to get a tranny back in working order: The price to make this job right...automatically includes a basic rebuild kit, a rebuilt torgue converter, any "Hard Parts" (More on the term "Hard Parts" down below.) needing replacement, cost of parts getting to the shop, the labor in hours to have pulled the trans and put one completely back together accurately, then accurately reinstalled, plus topped with 14 quarts transmission fluid, and road tested. That is the basic essentials of a rebuild at the bare minimal.
What that means from a Shop standpoint: Someone pulling the tranny and installing it, Someone cleaning it, Someone assessing all the conditions of all the parts, Someone rebuilding it with quality replacement parts, and updating it (mainly, the majority of the updates are done to the valve body...a highly intricate part of the tranny), Someone re-installing it, Someone committed to it working correctly in the vehicle, road testing it, making necessary adjustments if needed (by someone who knows if it is working properly), and then warrantying it for the minimal of 30 days (Most all States have this as the minimal allowed) to whatever great warranty they subscribe to. (Our Shop's average warranty, a few years back, was 2 years or 24,000 miles) Then the Owner of that Shop sharing a percent of the profit of that rebuilt transmission with his Manager, and helping to pay all the workers, the utilities, the upkeep, the misc. shop fees, towels, papermats, carpet spot remover, etc. You get where I am going with this? It is going to take a reasonable amount of $$$ to do the job at the bare minimal. The fact is: the rebuild of a transmission takes a great deal of work and staff behind the scenes.
Maybe, you don't want to think about all that incuded in the price. Maybe, you just want to fix the transmission for dirt cheap and get the vehicle down the road? I can see how the most important thing for you would be to just resolve this current problem, the quickest, and cheapest way possible. Now, based on some of things above which corner are you willing to cut to get the result you desire? If you are looking at going on with life with that particular automobile, and with it running right again with a completely rebuilt transmission, then get this work started at a good shop that stands behind their warranty...and feel good about making a wise choice. If you are not willing to do it at the price that a good shop gave you...and you are prepared to cut some corners...i.e going with a shop with a ridiculous "low-ball' price, or replacing your broken transmission with a used unit, Then, expect the results of having a few corners cut! Again...Remember that old addage: "You get what you pay for!"
5. Beware the "low-ball" price: HHHmmm...How do I tell you a way to be aware of companies or individuals that would take advantage of you during this "some-what" stressful event of trying to get your vehicle working again? By Stating: "Beware the "low-ball" price." That would be the best way I know how to do that. If you are a saavy individual...I don't have to tell you that the guy down the road that has four cars permanently stuck to the pavement out in his parking lot, and offers to fix your transmission at a great low price...is a bad thing. How did he give you a price over the phone when he doesn't even know what's wrong? What were the exact words he used when he gave you that price? Did he say "should be" that amount to rebuild...Did he leave any back doors open in his statement? Did he leave room for the price to go up later...in what he said...because it will if he left that door open.Maybe he even possibly outright said that the price could go up. (So, at least he's honest when he said the "low-ball" could go up...Now the final price he ends up giving you may be the highest price around...HHHHmmm?) Just think ahead of time.
Honest shops will tell you that they have no idea what is wrong with your car before they see it...and definitely will not know what is wrong wiith your transmission before they open it up! Get the picture? If you are given a "low-ball" amount for a job of this nature on a modern vehicle and the price is ridiculously low. Somewhere, somehow...there is a "short-cut" to get to the final outcome as compared to that of a quality rebuild. (Hence, a term that comes up on a lot of shops that are competing on the same transmission to give a good price...can be "Short-Cutters"...as in they cut some corners to get the job done! This term is mentioned below.) You may be the best shopper around...but your skills have to change for this job. Here the key is to compare "Apples to Apples, Oranges to Oranges"...and the quality of Shop matched up against the Quality of Shop. Let Quality Shops determine the outcome of your vehicle...that's all I'm saying!
Why I'm just saying: You don't want to pull your vehicle from a good shop that can do the job right...to a cheap shop that only wants to do a cheap job and send you on your way. It happens...I have seen it. And, ended up with many a customer who should have come to us first...or let us do the work...and do it right...the first time!
Let the Buyer Beware! Your welcome for that little bit of education from the other side of the Service Desk. (Sorry...it was a wordy one.)
Explanation of Terms in the Transmission Industry:
(Or Understanding Transmission Shop Lingo:)
Well, I'm going to include in this lesson...All the Transmission terms I can remember. Like any profession...it has its' own jargon that describes what is happening.
First Off...and just as an FYI: The minute you're vehicle rolled into the lot...It became referred to by it's Transmission name. So, if you're visiting the Shop and checking on the progress, one day, and you hear them shouting A4LD or 4L60E or AX4LN. They may be talking about your particular vehicle and you would never know it. Or perhaps, you might have a fantastic Shop Manager like myself...who informed you of the Model of Trans. you have and what problems it was prone to have, and of course, what updates we are doing and suggesting to help correct the problem.
Now for some more terms: (Some are actually fun)
"Tranny": Seems to be a "Hot Rod" magazine type of favorite word.
"Trans.": Abbreviated for obvious reasons that you would not want to say the long version every time.
"R & R Man": This is the remove and re-install guy. Buy this guy a Coke. He is the one that puts actual hands on your vehicle. He gracefully removes your Transmission (On a Front Wheel Drive Vehicle...that is No Small Task...Nor A Four Wheel Drive) and then "Buttons" it up.
"Button-it-up": Refers to the re-installation of the transmission. Everything from CV Axles to Frame Pieces have to be removed to get to the Transmission (and those are the basics). The R&R Man becomes your personal vehicle's best friend...and puts every little thing back in place...just the way it was before the transmission was removed.
"Swing Man": An Old Term From Back in the Day. But...you should still hear it at Big Shops that have been around awhile. It refers to an R & R Man (who might even be an Apprentice Builder) who can build the ol' school tranny's, such as an AOD ( 80's F-150 truck), 350 (70's GM Truck), and maybe everyone's favorite trans. from a front wheel drive: The AXOD (Early 90's Ford Taurus). A lot of naturally good R&R guys become Swing Men...just because they have been around so long and have picked it up over the years.
"Butcher": Well...I just mentioned the best of the R&R Man...let me mention the worst. Mentioning this term might "piss-off" a few people in the industry. Big deal! There shouldn't be any Butchers in the industry...that's the bottom line. A "Butcher" is as the name implies...someone who "Butcher's" your transmission when putting it back in. Either they force the tranny back in place, don't know what the heck they are doing, end up with a bunch of extra parts, or end-up screwing something up. "Butcher's" don't cut it at any Shop...for obvious reasons.
A "Yo-Yo": A Repeat Visit Back From the same Transmission. Never Desired!
"C.B": Same thing...Only goes on the Production Board as a C.B. "Come back". Like all things in life...some vehicles need more special care than others...many times it can be other problems from a series of problems that caused the transmission to go in the first place. If the vehicle wasn't running when it came in...the Transmission Center fixed the problem they were assigned to: The Transmission. Now, it is time to evaluate the underlying reason the trans. had enough problems to cease working or perhaps an intermittent problem has reoccurred. Most all the time the problem can be traced from electronic solenoids acting up. There are many other things that occur: Your vehicle computer may have problems, brakes have been known to stick which will wear the trans. down in a hurry and the fact that your vehicle may have overheated on a hot commute once...and you didn't even notice the gauge (or the temp gauge may have intermittant problems). There are many other reasons. I know I have seen all kinds of combination problems associated with transmission problems.
Don't blame the Transmission Shop. If you really want to start blaming someone: Blame the people who put the electronic solenoids under the hood to begin with...and added a new series of problems. Seriously...I ain't joking! There are many solenoids that control the shifts and other functions to the Tranny coming from the vehicle's computer. As well as, ones that control the engine, the emissions, the ignition switch, and one that even can act up if your vehicle's gas cap (on some makes) isn't secured tight enough.
In Any case...both you and the shop will work through it, because you went to a Good Shop in the first place. Right? One that will stand by their work, honor their Warranty, and help you all the way through the process of getting your vehicle right.
"Delivery": Vehicle that is ready to return to it's owner after being thoroughly road-tested.
"Cut-Out": A Transmission Unit that is taken out of a Junk Vehicle. A Shop that can afford a lot of inventory will have a lot of these. The hard parts are all pulled and mic'd (measured) for specifications. The outside transmission cases become part of the inventory as well...or can be scrapped for recycle. (Although, today there are so many variations in case models, where they were made, etc. that it makes it hard to match a Transmission case. It is rare that an entire Transmission case needs replacing. But, heat and abuse can crack or warp a case. It is not indestructible.)
Many people choose to go with a "cut-out"...or used unit as an answer to their rebuild problems. That's Real great...if you ask me...you just bought someone elses part (and/or problem?) and have to start over with whatever history that unit has. Good Luck...if you go that route...You must be a Gambler. Most all Transmission Shops are in the Business of Rebuilding a Transmission because they know what they are doing! They are not in the business of gambling with used transmissions. But, Im sure you could pay them to install it professionally. That way, at least you can make sure that the used unit was installed correctly. Then, after that...it will be your headache to deal with moving forward. Heck, a real Good Shop will appreciate the opportunity to assists you and demonstrate their abilities...during your project. That way...you will know who to bring that used transmission back to when it needs rebuilding!
"Flat-Rate": UUGHH...A word associated with the scum of the industry. A "Flat-Rate" fee for fixing the Transmission is ridiculous. Any one that tells you out right how much your particular Transmission will cost with out checking the condition of the "Hard Parts" is a "Flat-Rater". They have no idea how many "Hard Parts" might be destroyed on the inside. So, when it becomes time to fix the transmision...a variety of things can happen: They may have to give you a new price to cover the additional "Hard Parts" needing replacing. They may just install the "Soft Parts" with an overhaul kit and hope for the best. New Seals and Clutches are a good start to helping bring the transmission back up to specs for all but the worst "blown" transmissions...but your trans. still needs every part that is inside it...checked and brought back up to specs to be reliable again. If a "hard part" goes out later while you are driving around...because it was not replaced...since the shop you visited just gave you one "flat rate" price to technically only have an overhaul kit installed in it. Guess What may need to be rebuilt again...only better...in the near future?
Also, "Flat-Raters" have been known to spray down the outside casing of a Transmission with a Varsol Gun (Varsol Solvent used for Heavy-Duty Cleaning of intricate parts)...and paint the outside of it...without the Transmission ever being pulled! Oh yeah...that's a "Flat-Rater"! About the only thing you may get out of them is a 30 day Warranty on your transmission (AS-IS...Even though you didn't know better). But, seeing how they operate business...I imagine that 30 day Warranty on your transmission is not going to be very helpful. Can you see the importance of knowing as much as you can about the professionalism of each shop you use? Luckily, in this mordern era of media 20/20- type news broadcast...any "Flat-Raters" would soon find themselves on a News spot. But...who's to say that they are that smart...to think ahead that type of thing could happen...with them featured in the News. Let the Buyer Beware! And...do your Transmission business with a shop you can trust!
"Exploded": A transmission whose "Hard Parts" have come apart on the inside.(or Torque Converter came apart)
"Burnt": Clutches have fried or the Transmission has overheated for one reason or another. (Reminder: The same tremendous heat that your engine is susceptible to...your transmission is, as well!).
"Short-Cutters": Shops that cut corners on a rebuild to keep the price low on a transmission. This can happen for sure...if you get a quote from one Shop...then another Shop joins in on the Hunt. Oh yeah, Sorry to say...but when you tried to pit two Shops against each other...you are probably the one who lost! If a Shop is honest...they know they can't do it for under the same price of the other Shop without looking at the Transmission. Again, one of the reasons for dealing with Good Shops! If the Shop you are at is trying to jack with you on a ridiculous price. Research it, Protest, Negotiate, Take your Complaint right to the Owner...A Good Shop will be able to go toe-to-toe with you on price justification...they will be able to validate the price for work needed to be performed...and will care that this thing is costing you an arm and a leg. A Bad Shop could care less...or would not be able to stand up to the scrutiny. Aren't Good Shops Great!?
Shudder: An uneven vibration that can occur at intermittant intervals. This is one sign...and a huge one at that...of a problem with your Torque Converter.
Stall Speed: Each Factory has a pre-set stall speed for each Torque Converter. This is when the Torque Converter kicks in at a set RPM off of the motor. One of the many jobs of a Torque Converter.
Fluid Change: Back a few years ago when I was a Transmission Manager the interval for a fluid change was 25,000 miles. This was suggested to keep everything in working order and keep the transmission at peak operation. After a 100,000 miles it is better to use more caution on a fluid change. The main reason for that is that transmission fluids have a detergent in them. When you combine that with the amount of pressure force that transmission fluid operates at inside the unit, you may end up loosening a particle of something-somewhere-that can now travel through the valve body, if not caught by the transmission filter first. Something to think about. It is a fine balance though. With every rotation of the pump inside the transmission and use throughout the unit, the measure of the proper viscosity of the trans. fluid begins to diminish through age and being used.
"Blown a seal": This can happen at the front or rear seal of the transmission. Both are very common leak points to leak from. If you have metal debris floating around in the transmission, (this could be a "tell-tale" sign of bigger problems going on inside the Transmission) then the metal can slip through at the seal, wrecking the seal, and resulting in a bad leak. Also, seals go bad as part of wear and tear, The front and rear seals are the ones usually facing the outdoor elements day after day.
The Transmission Front Pump components sit right behind that front seal, so if the front seal is blown, then the front pump may be in bad shape as well. Sorry to inform, but if this happens then the minimal a Good Shop will have to do to repair the leak is replace front seal, rebuild the front pump, and replace the torque converter to insure a good seal on that front seal. One which fits snug around the hub of the torque converter. But, remember what I said about metal debris and it possibly being a "tell-tale" sign. You might want to have the whole transmission checked to prevent another very possible return leak. (Point to think about: Quickest way to fry some clutches inside and "Hard Parts" is to run that trans. with out fluid!) In fact, if there is any metal debris inside the transmission, a Good Shop would not tell you that you can get by for long by just replacing the front seal and/or rebuilding the front pump. Because, they know that will not be the ultimate solution to the problem. If your a Gambler you could probably find someone to slap in a new front seal alone...without the rest of the repair I mentioned. Anybody who would do that simple of a job would be crazy to warranty the job though...and you would be crazy to expect it to last. Better have a Tow Truck phone number handy, and pray that when the transmission goes (from other problems behind that original leak), that it doesn't happen late at night.
Causes for front seals to blow are manufacturer defects with the pump, metal debris (as stated), and heat. Hot transmission fluid has to go somewhere, and the front seal is one of the big indicators that your transmission got hotter then it was spec'd for. This can be a very common problem in regional areas (like Texas) where folks are sitting parked for long periods on a baked cement freeways with no circulation under their vehicle, and with the AC running, and/or the Motor already running hot. (Your Tranny butts up right to the Motor...if it gets hot...Then Guess What...So, does it!) Some vehicle models are very prone to this condition,,,and although I won't mention them (from the ones that had this problem often)...I would like to thank them for all the business they created...back in the day. One good solution to this is an Aftermarket Transmission Cooler that can cool at greater capacity then a stock one...or the common one that flows through the radiator. (If the Radiator Gets Hot...Guess What Happens to the Transmission Fluid Flowing through the Radiator?)
The Transmission rear seal is a much easier and affordable fix. It can also mean a "tell-tale" sign of what is going on on the Transmission. However, the seal in the rear does need to be replaced as a solution to a problem if you have a high mileage rear wheel drive vehicle that spends a lot of time parked "nose-pointed-up" on an incline...or if you ever had a U-Joint go bad. These are two things that can cause a Rear Seal to go out faster than you might be expecting on the tranny. This also applies to axle seals on front wheel drives that have problems with CV Axles. Have those Axle seals replaced to avoid an additional labor charge, and tow charge fee, or trans rebuild expense later. There is a good chance that somewhere down the line, that the trans. fluid could start leaking,after replacing a bad CV Axle. For gosh sakes...Please check the trans. pan every time you have a leak from a seal. (Although, a Good Shop will do this automatically.)
Late Hit: This comes when the shift takes a slightly longer time to shift. Then, when it does it hits harder then it should. This can come from a tremendous amount of sources, but the most common are bad solenoids, bad trans. or front end lower frame mounts, and also, sludge build up in the valve body. The sludge build up would be from too much clutch material and/or metal shavings off of your internal metal components ("hard-parts" that are wearing out) inside the trans. unit. If too much debris enters the valve body (which the filter did not trap) then, it will create all kinds of problems. One of the real problems it creates is "Late Hits" from sticking valves.
Slipping: Pretty much even a novice to transmission problems can pinpoint this in a troubleshoot. The tranny does not engage into the next gear. period. Or spends a great amount of time doing that. The feeling under the floorboard or hood (front wheel drives) is that of something "Slipping". Main cause for this problem: clutch wear.
"Bench job": When someone who works on cars and trucks all the time wants a transmission job done...they "pull-it" themselves. They also install it themselves. That transmission goes straight to the Builders bench for Inspection. They won't get a full warranty until after they bring the transmission back to the shop upon re-installing it. That way the Transmission shop can do a thorough inspection to make sure they put everything back correctly. It isn't as easy as sounds. There is a lot to keep track of on an installation, even on older vehicles that have easy underneath access to the trans.
Drop the pan: Every Honest shop should offer to inspect the transmission pan for free. Some front wheel drives do not have a pan that is accessible, but that was only a few models back a few years ago, and was rare. There might be more vehicles today that are manufactured to not be able see the pan! I would believe that...with no problem. If you see a very large thick build up of metal on the magnet to the pan, if the trans. fluid is dark, dark brown (if it is burnt black it is burnt up inside), if you see glitter that is bronze (brass from torque converter), or silver (aluminum-many planetary gears housings around the spline are aluminum-other parts are made of aluminum, too.) suspened in the tranny fluid, sludge pieces moving together like sand underwater (excess clutch material) or you just see flat-out some metal chunks and small metal debris in the bottom of the pan...you have transmission problems. And these are signs of big problems. If you have high mileage on your transmission and a small build up of metal has accumulated on the inside magnet in the pan...that is to be expected. Something metal inside is showing signs of normal wear. Start preparing for a transmission rebuild in your future. This is normal for the most part, so don't feel like you have to sell the vehicle right away, either. That vehicle and transmission could have another 100, 000 miles to 200,000 miles left in it. Whereas...the next vehicle you get...may not! Just monitor the amount of metal build-up with periodic checks to that transmission shop. I am sure that an Honest Shop will want to work and build a relationship with a potential future customer. Especially, one who will come back to see them, and will talk about how honest that shop was, and was not trying to tell them they need a transmission rebuild quite yet...after a serious look at the pan! Aren't Honest Shops Great?
Scan for codes: Highly important in every evaluation of a trans. condition are the electronics which are involved in how the engine operates...on up to how the transmission operates. I can not explain all the intricacies of electronic sensors and solenoids throughout your vehicle, other than to tell you that your vehicle has them. Unless it is an American vehicle of the very early '90s and before that...it has them. And, they are in the transmission as well. It would take another Hub Article to explain them and their different functions...and this isn't the forum to educate you on what happens with each. I am no expert either, but I did get very familiar with each one that was important to the proper operations of the motor and transmission. The rest is up to auto diagnostic experts and the process of scanning each vehicle for codes.
Transmission Builders are very good with the important sensors and solenoids down the line that effect the operation of the transmission. It comes with experience. One benefit of scanning your vehicle for codes is that you can discover a bad solenoid inside the transmission right away. If it sends out a code. Most Transmission Centers will do this free for you as a service to the customer. They do this because it is a fairly quick way to get a picture of what problems your vehicle actually has. It may not be a trans. problem at all, even if it feels like it to you, the customer. The scan helps get the ball rolling for the shop to see what the next step is.
"R.D.I.": "Remove, Disassemble, and Inpect": Every Shop has a term for this. This was ours. It refers to the internal inspection of your problematic transmission. The shop is going to have pull your transmission and go through it to find out which parts are salvageable and which are not. No one has any idea how much it will cost to repair your transmission accurately until this step happens. It is a Catch 22 of sorts, because you will have to pay some money to have this step done. It is a great deal of work. The Transmission builder will examine each part, measure all tolerances, Check all components based on his knowledge and experience, evaluate the condition of gears and bearings inside your planetary gears, inspect drums and splines for wear, and future reliability, etc. You get the picture. The RDI fee will be waived once you both come to an agreement of the work that needs to be done and the price. Hence, the Catch 22...you already have a disassembled transmission lying on their workbench. You are at an extreme disadvantage. Oh, but wait...you researched this company and got a reliable referal from someone you trusted first, checked with the Better Business Bureau, and you are happy with the warranty they offer, and the way they deal with the customer...Correct? So go with the repair there...even if it is a little bit more then you were expecting. This is a company with a proven track record, Correct? You get what you pay for, Correct? You want a good reliable rebuilt transmission, Correct? I know you would rather pay this amount to fix the tranny...then to go down the road and get screwed...Right? Aren't you glad you spent all the time up front checking out the Transmission Shop you are at...before you proceeded with having them begin any work?
Here's a bonus tip for you to feel a little bit better about this whole transmission repair ordeal, "R. D. I.", that you are going through: A Good Honest Shop will take the time to show you each and every problem, bad part, and necessary improvement that needs to be made to your sophisticated transmission. And your Trans. will be lined up in an organized fashion on the workbench to demonstrate all the work needed and parts needing replacement. They will explain what it will take, in order for you to have, one completely updated, and back up to specification, rebuilt transmission. They should be able to educate on many of the questions you have in regards to your rebuild, and give you all the benefits of having that particular unit rebuilt with them. A"not-so-honest" shop would probably want to pass on this step of the sale for a rebuild...and move on to less involved customers.
"Lead": Whether you know it or not...or choose to be niave about it. Your transmission is a big sale to the Shop. They will treat it as Sales from the moment you make the first call. They are a business. You become a "Lead". What y'all both do from here on out is completely up to how good of a business they are...and how well you can rely on them. If they have been around for any time at all...then they didn't stay in business by not taking care of the customer. Just know that the bottom line for you...no matter what is said to get you in the front door...is that you have a rebuilt transmission that is reliable once again, and one that can be counted on...and all at a fair price. This is where you need to put your focus while talking to the Shop that deserves your business!
Well Class...I hope you have enjoyed getting a little bit of the inside scoop...during this course: Transmission Rebuild 101. I know I have really enjoyed sitting behind the Service Desk once again...if only for a brief time. I hope that everything I have entrusted to you has helped make you a better and more educated consumer (Which only a Good Shop could Stand Up to...See How that Works!? Hub Author Smiles...) From reviewing this Hub...It looks like I was able to give you a lot of "Meat and Potatoes" from a once Transmission Shop Manager's Perspective. Thank you for reading this entire Hub article...thus far. I hope that my Texas conversational writing style helped to make this read an enjoyable one. Thank you for reading this Hub.
This is Transmission Rebuild 101...201 is an advanced course and 301 and beyond should be done by R &R Guys, Swing Men, and Actual Builders. I can only tell you basic stuff, since I was a Manager...never any of these guys. And, I won't tell you any trade secrets...because then that wouldn't be right. But, what I do have a heart for...and it is left over from my Transmission Shop Manager Days...is good old-fashioned, hard working, dependable shops in the community that are honest, do a good job, and stand by their business. And , I would want to tell others about such a shop...and I would want them to tell me about such a shop.
In Transmission Rebuild 201, I will move on into the education to point out what a Transmission basically is made-up of. It will be a simple look at the components...and less on the Transmission Rebuild Industry from a Shop Perspective. If I am going to tell you about what to look for in a Shop...then I need to tell you what to look for in reference to transmission parts. I will keep it simple...from a Transmission Manager's view. I don't want too much detail...as I am doing this all from personal experience...not from research of the topic. It has been more than a few years...since I flipped on the lights and opened the tall garage doors to our shop's bays.
I'll try to keep Transmission Rebuild 201 basic: Basic parts, Important things, and Really Important Things. I (But...I get carried away with my writing...Apologies in advance!) I will be working on this Hub next for the future. Hope you enjoyed a look at Transmission Rebuild 101 from a Shop's Perspective. I hope it gave you a great education on what to expect as to what lies ahead when you bring your vehicle into a Transmission Shop.
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