transmission rebuild

Transmission Rebuild 101: Your Quick Guide to Some Common Issues

“There is a problem with your transmission.” These words are likely to scare the average car owner more than any others due to the reputation of transmissions being extremely costly to replace. We buy drivetrain warranties and extended warranties on our cars to avoid having to worry about hearing these words. But with cars being kept on the road longer, or even as shops seek ways to reduce their costs during a tough economy, a transmission rebuild becomes an attractive option. But how much does a transmission rebuild cost, and how long is it likely to take?

What is Transmission Rebuilding?

Transmission Rebuilding is a process that involves removing and replacing worn or damaged parts on a transmission. It is an opportunity to repair a bad transmission, rather than having to replace it. It is often better to buy a refurbished transmission, rather than spend a significant amount of money on a new one.

Reasons for Transmission Rebuilding

Whether it’s because your clutch is slipping or something else, a transmission rebuild will give a car back the responsive driving power that it needs. Transmission rebuilds are becoming necessary more often as cars age. The most common reason for a rebuild is an internal defect. There are many reasons why a transmission may need rebuilding or replacement including the leakage of fresh fluid from the transmission and poor construction of the transmission itself. A rebuilt transmission can be just as effective at providing long-term reliability and peace of mind as a new one.

Potential Problems When Rebuilding a Transmission

Attempting to DIY a transmission rebuild can be risky. Any time you take your transmission apart, there is a chance of damage. Therefore, it’s absolutely crucial that a transmission rebuild only be attempted by a qualified shop. A transmission shop will use the proper tools and materials to ensure that the job is completed correctly. This way, you are assured of a quality end product.

The transmission shop should have a track record of doing quality work and be able to provide you with warranties and references. Some problems to watch out for during transmission restoration include:

  • The transmission shop should check all seals as part of their repair.
  • The shop should protect the case from damage while they work. Damage to the transmission case can be caused by a lack of quality repair materials or improper handling during the job.
  • The transmission shop should properly drain and fill the oil pan while they work on the transmission.
  • The transmission shop should inspect the hydraulic pressure to be sure it is not too low.

A transmission rebuilder is very familiar with all of the potential problems and is experienced at making sure the rebuild project goes smoothly.

How Long Does It Take to Rebuild A Transmission?

A transmission rebuild takes about 8-12 hours and can extend across several days. The actual time required will of course depend upon troubleshooting time, damage, and the complexity of installation of the parts requiring replacement.

Different transmissions require more or less time depending on many factors.

  • Complexity of removing and installing the actual unit
  • Diagnostics and troubleshooting codes
  • Parts availability
  • Rebuilder’s experience

Due to the labor hours, a transmission rebuild can be costly but is almost always less expensive than purchasing and installing a new transmission.

Is it Cheaper to Rebuild or Replace a Transmission?

Everyone is aware that transmission problems can be costly and stressful. When your vehicle stops working properly, and you notice something is wrong, the most frustrating part is determining what went wrong and deciding whether you need a transmission rebuild or a transmission replacement. Understanding the distinction can be difficult, but it does not have to be.

Options in Fixing Transmission 

The first option for transmission repair is to have it “repaired.” Having the option to repair is less likely because it cannot be done if the failing parts have caused too much damage.

When repairing a transmission, you basically replace the bare minimum of parts to restore the transmission to good working order. This is usually less expensive, so it is best to get the correct diagnosis of your transmission the first time.

The option after that is to have your transmission “replaced.” This means you’ll have to replace the entire transmission, which can be very expensive. There are some disadvantages to selecting this option.

The final choice is to have your transmission “rebuilt.” This means that entirely worn-out parts will be rebuilt one at a time and may not cost as much as a complete replacement.

Replacing a Transmission

The most expensive option is to replace the transmission when it comes to transmission repairs. In many cases, this is referred to as “re-manufactured.” Essentially, the manufacturer will replace faulty parts with modified parts. If the transmission is too damaged to be rebuilt, this is an option.

One thing to remember about a replacement is that the transmission is redone in a factory setting. The advantage of having this done is that the people working on it can be trained specifically for that transmission. The transmission you are replacing will be updated to factory specifications. This can have a positive impact depending on your overall goal and how badly your transmission failed.

The Bottomline

In many cases, a transmission rebuild is a good choice. This means that only the parts that have failed are being replaced. You repair specific parts, similar to a replacement, but not in a factory setting. You should have this done by a credible repair shop.

You might prefer a rebuild over a replacement. After all, it is less expensive because it is not done at the factory level. Also, it is common knowledge that having it done in a factory setting does not always imply that all of the parts are brand new from the manufacturer. You have a different type of mechanic to replace the parts. In most cases, new transmissions are installed only when new cars are manufactured.

When rebuilding a transmission, you will replace parts such as seals, gaskets, clutches, bands, etc. When a transmission is disassembled, these are frequently what wears out. The parts will be disassembled and cleaned first by the auto repair shop. The torque converter is then replaced, and the solenoids are replaced. After all of this, the transmission will be reassembled and reinstalled in your vehicle, so make sure you have a mechanic who knows what they’re doing.

Are all rebuilds the same?

Do all transmission rebuilds are the same? The simple answer is NO. Prices and quality of work will differ from shop to shop. It is important that you research and ask the right questions when determining where you are leaving your car. Most people make that decision based on price and not much more. Prices can fluctuate significantly from shop to shop.

  1. Is the shop going to rebuild your transmission or are they swapping yours for a good used transmission from a salvage yard? (Yes, this is common.)
  2. If they are rebuilding your transmission, are they giving you a warranty? The longer the warranty, the better you should feel about the quality of their work. A good rebuild should give you a minimum of a 1-year warranty for parts and labor. There are companies that actually offer 3 years with unlimited miles. Here is where the rubber meets the pavement. Any shop that is willing to warranty their rebuild for 3 years has not only done a good job, but they are putting their trust in the service they gave you. Yes, you may pay more, but as the old adage goes, “you get what you pay for.”