You don’t have to be a mechanic to know that rebuilding or replacing a transmission sounds expensive. Any time someone weighs the difference between installing something new or fixing something already in place, you have an inkling the cost is quickly going to move upward.
And we aren’t going to lie – it is expensive. That’s because your transmission is a major part of your car.
A car’s transmission ensures the proper amount of power is spread to each wheel at whatever speed you decide to go. It converts force from your engine into a controlled power source.
Engines operate at a high speed, while your wheels rotate at a slower rate. It’s the transmission’s job to meet in the middle, marry the two together so that your car operates correctly. It does this all through gear ratios, using toothed gears to interact and control the power between the two mechanics.
Automatic or manual – what’s the difference?
In most cases, we tend to think a car has either a manual or automatic transmission. There are varying levels of automatic transmission, but for this article, we’ll assume only the two.
Manual transmissions use a stick shift to change gear ratios manually. If you’ve ever driven a manual, you know how to “feel” the process. As the engine revs, you push the clutch in to separate the gears. You use the shift to move between several different positions, then engage by pulling back on the clutch. You can hear the engine power reach capacity before engaging the process all over again.
Automatic transmissions do the same thing through the use of fluid pressure. An automatic transmission uses transmission fluid to provide the necessary pressure to activate the clutch and determine which gear the car should be in. It finds the right gear ratio and places the gear in motion.
Every vehicle uses transmission fluid to keep the transmission in good operating condition. And like other fluids your car uses for operation, you should ensure your car has the proper amount at all times.
Before you check your transmission fluid levels, read your car’s operating manual. Some cars test transmission fluid levels while the vehicle is running, while others state it should be turned off. This varies by make and model, so ensure you’re checking your levels in the right manner.
Open your hood and find the dipstick for the transmission fluid – don’t confuse it with the oil dipstick. When you find the right location, you test it in much the same way as your oil. Remove it and verify what level the fluid is at. Wipe it off with a rag, re-engage it, and perform the test again. If everything is okay, you can replace the dipstick and continue driving as usual.
Keep in mind that transmission fluid doesn’t run out the same way as motor oil does. While every manufacturer makes different recommendations based on make and model, you can go thousands of miles before transmission fluid needs to be changed.
This isn’t something you should do “just because.” You can null and void your warranty if you change it out at the wrong time. If your transmission fluid isn’t in good condition, topping it off can be just as bad as being low. Sometimes the right thing to do is flush and refill. But again, it depends on your make and model. Every car is different, so it’s important to understand what’s best for your vehicle.
Transmission fluid can be differentiated from motor oil by its distinct color. Transmission fluid is dyed pink or red, so it’s easily recognized. It should be translucent and see-through if it’s still in good quality. Never rely solely on color as it will darken over time. Yet that does make it easy to determine if you have a problem if you find a puddle underneath your car. The distinctive color can be the first clue you have a leak.
This isn’t something you should run down to your auto parts store and buy a can for refilling. If you need more transmission fluid, there’s a good chance there’s a bigger problem. We can carefully diagnose the problem and make sure your vehicle is in great shape before you return to the open road.
Rebuild or replace a transmission
At what point should you consider rebuilding or replacing your transmission? There comes a point when the problems add up and become too great to fix without sinking a lot of money into it. At that point, it’s better to replace.
Have you ever had a water heater or furnace go out? Your mechanic will make recommendations to repair or replace based on a variety of factors – age, cost of new parts, and how many problems there are, to name just a few.
Your transmission works in similar fashion. It’s an expensive replacement – why replace if you can repair?
But you know it’s time when:
Your transmission has lots of problems – if it seems you’re in the shop every few weeks installing a new “band-aid” to keep the transmission operating, it’s indicative of things to come. Several hundred here and there often become better spent on replacement to give yourself a longer lifespan.
Your transmission is difficult to diagnose – sometimes the problems run so deep, they are hard to diagnose. If it takes a mechanic hours to find, it’s often better to replace rather than spending hundreds on labor, knowing you’ll still add hundreds more for the repair.
Your transmission needs a high cost repair – weigh out the option of repair vs replacement costs. Minor repairs are worth the cost to give your vehicle more life. But when the repair moves from minor to major, it’s almost always better to think twice about repairing. Your mechanic can give you a better idea of how long a repair will last, and determining the right path for your vehicle.
Your transmission is failing – your mechanic can determine how much life is left in your current transmission, and tell you if replacement is a better idea. If your transmission wasn’t well cared for, it can have far less than the manufacturer’s guideline mileage. It may be difficult to budget in the expense of a new transmission, but far worse is having to replace shortly after a major repair.
What’s better for your car: rebuild or replace the transmission? We’d be happy to help you make the proper diagnosis.