Illustration of a vehicle's transmission system

Whether an automobile’s transmission is manual or automatic, it is one of the most complicated parts of any vehicle. The system is built of many moving parts, not one solid piece that can be easily removed and repaired. Other systems also overlap with the transmission. This makes transmission auto repair more expensive than most other car parts, with labor being a large part of the cost.

Drivers can keep problems to a minimum by scheduling transmission inspections on a regular basis at a transmission shop like Reliable Auto Repair.

As with any part of a vehicle, this routine maintenance is critical to preventing larger issues and bigger repair bills from occurring down the line. For example, a car’s transmission needs continual lubrication from transmission fluid. The fluid helps with normal oxidation as well as wear and tear. A transmission fluid change is part of any car’s regularly scheduled maintenance. During a routine transmission flush, old fluid is replaced with new, clean transmission fluid.

How It Works

Automatic transmissions change gears between set speeds, based on the fluid sent by the solenoids to a specific area in the transmission. This process is done manually by the driver using the clutch and then shifting the gears himself. Dual-clutch manual gearboxes function like manual transmissions, but use a combination of an automatic and manual transmission for instant shifting.

Common Transmission Problems

The transmission takes a beating in any car. The system is under constant pressure from regular use. It works in high heat all the time and whatever hardship the engine and wheels face is transferred to the transmission, as well.

For these reasons, all transmissions may routinely develop problems.

Here are some things to pay attention to that can alert you to transmission problems:

  • Reverse and/or forward gear failure
  • Leaky transmission fluid
  • Bad or failing clutch
  • Whiny or clunky noises
  • Vibrating and grinding
  • Popping in and out of gear
  • Clutch returning to position slowly
  • Burning smell
  • Squishy clutch pedal
  • Automatic transmission trembles when shifting
  • Check engine light coming on
  • Shifting delays
  • Noisy when in neutral
  • Clicking when key turned to start car
  • High RPMs

Don’t take chances with possible transmission problems like these. Let’s face it, your car simply can’t run without its transmission. If you ignore these red flags, you can end up stranded somewhere when it fails completely. Don’t put you or your family at risk for a dangerous situation like this.

Make an appointment for an inspection at your nearby Reliable Auto Repair today! You may not know what the problem is, but Reliable’s ASE-certified mechanics will inspect your vehicle and resolve it for you.

Preventing Transmission Problems

Aside from making sure the fluid is changed in your vehicle between 30,000 and 50,000 miles, there are several other things you can do yourself to prevent problems from occurring with your transmission:

  • Wait for the vehicle to stop completely before shifting from drive to reverse or vice versa.
  • Keep your foot off the brake until you need to stop.
  • Engage the emergency brake when parked on a hill.
  • Keep the car’s engine tuned.
  • Don’t raise the RPMs when sitting still.
  • If you haul heavy loads or drive difficult terrain, have an auxiliary cooler installed.
  • Add an in-line filter to the cooler lines to keep debris out.
  • Keep the AC system serviced.

Keeping all your car’s systems properly maintained will help the transmission run longer without issues. Since the transmission is connected to everything else that runs the car, it may be difficult to diagnose problems. The electronic systems are all interconnected, so a transmission may fail due to a bad wheel sensor or ignition coil.

This is a good reason to find an auto shop you can trust and use frequently. Reliable Auto mechanics are highly trained and qualified to deal with overlapping systems like this.

Cost of Transmission Repair and Replacement

If your Reliable Auto transmission specialist has recommended replacing the system, you can expect to pay between $1,000 to $7,000. However, if you own a luxury car or an unusual make or model, the price tag may go as high as $10,000 or more. Get an up to date quote on the worth of your car and then you can decide whether to simply sell the car or replace the transmission.

Another decision may be to repair the transmission rather than replace it. Average repairs cost around $900, depending on whether a new clutch is needed (around $1,150) or a leak repair is all that it will take to remedy the problem. If your car has a manual transmission, the repair cost will generally be less than an automatic transmission.

Labor costs for major transmission repairs can escalate to another $1,000 to $2,000 for the labor alone. Fluid lines and electrical wiring have to be disconnected, engine mounts dealt with, as well as exhaust system components, axles or driveshafts. There is no “one size fits all ” transmission, so they can be oriented in different directions on cars, depending on the size. While the mechanic is working on a transmission, they may find they need to remove the entire subframe of the car or even the engine in order to get to the transmission.

Another cost to figure into either repairing or replacing a transmission is the time it might take to finish the job. Many times the needed parts aren’t carried in stock, so the service staff must order them. Some parts have to come from overseas and in the meantime your car is out of commission. You will have to rent another car or your family may be inconvenienced by everyone using the same vehicle, while your car is sitting in the shop for several days or even up to a month.

Don’t forget about the coupons and savings page on Reliable Auto’s website. No matter which Reliable location you deal with, you can gain access to savings on your transmission work.

Common Transmission Repairs and Cost

Don’t immediately assume that your transmission must be replaced. A simple repair may fix the problem without investing a great deal of time and money. All it might need is changing the fluid, adjusting some links, correcting a computer system that’s misreading the RPM, or replacing a sensor.

Here are some common repairs in cars with transmission problems:

  • Transmission Fluid Flush

Average cost is $75 to $150 

  • Leaking Transmission

Typical cost is between $150 and $200 (Maybe more if the front seal is involved).

  • Shift Solenoid Replacement

Each solenoid costs between $20 to $100 to replace.

  • Clutch Replacement

Typical cost is $1,150.

  • Catalytic Converter

Average cost is $1,700 – $1,800.

Repair or Replacement?

In general, the transmission in a car can be replaced cheaper than it can be repaired, especially if your car is an older model. If you have a newer vehicle, it is often recommended to replace the transmission rather than repair it.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking you can do the replacement yourself in order to save on expensive labor costs. This is definitely a job for a professional in a fully-equipped shop. There are multiple parts to be taken from the vehicle (and then put back), some may be very difficult to get to.

If you try to do the job without a lift, you will be facing a dangerous and uncomfortable experience ahead. Mistakes can make the situation worse, or can even be deadly.

Now is the time to trust the Reliable mechanic you have worked with before on less major car repairs.

What is the most common problem with an automatic transmission?
Degraded or low transmission fluid is the most common problem, and that’s easily prevented or remedied. Make sure your car is being inspected regularly, including all the fluids in the car. Your Reliable Automotive service staff can set up a schedule that can catch these issues before serious damage is done.
What is the number one cause of transmission problems?
Unfortunately, it’s driver neglect. As stated before, low transmission fluid levels, dirty fluid, or a clogged filter are the most common problems. The good news is that drivers can turn that around by following the information in the vehicle owner’s manual. Getting the fluid checked and changed on time solves the problem.
It’s also important to remember that the transmission fluid cools the transmission down. If you use a vehicle in harsh weather or under stressful circumstances, like towing or driving in hilly areas, the fluid should be checked more frequently. Don’t put pressure on the systems in your car and then not take care of them.
How do I check the transmission fluid?
You will need to bring your car to your Reliable Automotive transmission shop for a fluid check with a manual transmission. The car must be on a hoist so the mechanic can reach a plug at the bottom of the transmission. This isn’t something you should attempt yourself.
For an automatic transmission, the process is identical to checking the oil in the car:

  1. Locate the dipstick for the transmission fluid. It will be sticking up out of the transmission or the transaxle, located toward the rear of the engine.
  2. With the engine running and the transmission in park or neutral, pull out the dipstick. The fluid should be nearly clear and a pinkish color.
  3. Wipe it clean with a lint-free cloth.
  4. Put the dipstick back into the reservoir and then pull it back out. Check the level of oil on the stick compared to the “Full” line on the dipstick.
  5. Transmission fluid that is clear and has no debris in it can have new fluid added to reach the “Full” line on the dipstick. Make sure to use a funnel to add just enough transmission fluid into the dipstick tube to reach the line.

If the fluid is dark, has a burning smell, or has debris in it, take the car to Reliable Automotive for the mechanic to assess. They will probably do a transmission flush and refill the reservoir with clean fluid. The cost is minimal, especially compared to any transmission auto repair that is the result of never checking the fluid at all. Transmission repair is one of the most expensive auto repairs, so it’s to your advantage to check the fluid on a regular basis.
What happens if I add too much transmission fluid by mistake?
It happens but the consequences are damaging. They range from erratic shifting, oil starvation, and transmission damage. None of these results are minor, so it points up that adding transmission fluid is best left to the experts. Add a transmission inspection to your list of other maintenance checks so this doesn’t happen to you.
A word of caution: If you see fluid underneath your car, don’t add more fluid thinking you have a leak. That only makes the problem worse!
Can transmission slips or leaks be a problem with the vehicle’s computer and not the transmission itself?
The Transmission Control Module (computer) can go bad but seldom does. The TCM’s job is to cause the transmission to alert you when there’s a problem by changing how the car feels when shifting. When you take the car in to find the problem, the tech will automatically check the computer, too. Generally, though, it’s simply the computer doing its job.
What if there are metal shavings in the transmission pan?
If there is a powdery metal deposit stuck to the pan, that is normal. But if you find larger shavings or even chunks of metal, you may have a serious problem with internal wear in the transmission. Set an appointment to have a mechanic look at it and determine which it is.
What are minor and major transmission repairs?
Minor transmission repairs:

  • replacing defective solenoids
  • re-sealing for leaks
  • replacing parts
  • throttle cable adjustment

Major transmission repairs:

  • disassembling
  • cleaning
  • rebuilding

How does a vehicle’s transmission affect the gas mileage of the car?
For years, the general consensus was that a manual transmission in a car meant better gas mileage. However, today with more advanced gears in automatic transmissions, fuel efficiency is about equal.
What is a shift solenoid?
Solenoids, in general, convert electrical energy into mechanical work. The shift solenoid is a component of a car’s automatic transmission that helps shift the gears. In a manual transmission, the clutch controls when the gears shift. Getting your transmission serviced on a regular basis as part of your car’s maintenance schedule will help keep the solenoid from sticking.
What is a torque converter?
Torque refers to a measure of force that causes an object to rotate around an axis. Your vehicle’s torque converter is a device in an automatic transmission. It transmits power to the transmission through fluid and prevents the car’s engine from stalling during a shift change. A torque converter that is malfunctioning causes overheating in the transmission and prevents it from moving into the higher gears. This is a time for a professional diagnosis, since most transmission problems can be confusing. A torque converter repair is costly, but the problem may be something else.
What Is a CVT Transmission?
CVT stands for continuously variable transmission. It is also called single-speed, shiftless, and stepless transmission. The CVT changes through an infinite range of gears while you drive, compared to other kinds of mechanical transmissions that only have a fixed number of gears.
The main advantages to the CVT are better gas mileage, no hard shifting between gears, and better control on uphill terrain. Disadvantages are the higher cost, the noise generated by the shifting, a short life span, and more costly repairs.
Does towing hurt my car’s transmission?
When towing heavy loads, the transmission has to work harder. The consequence of that if no preventative measures are taken is overheating. Drivers who routinely tow or do heavy hauling might need an auxiliary transmission fluid cooler in order to protect the car.
When using this additional piece of equipment, the heated transmission oil flows through an extra cooler and then back into the transmission. The transmission has less chance of overheating because of the extra work being asked of it. Note that this cooler does not increase the capacity of the vehicle to tow more.
Exactly what kinds of sounds mean a transmission is in trouble?
Most articles about transmissions talk about “strange noises” indicating a transmission problem. Let’s be more specific:

  • Clunking
  • Humming
  • Whining
  • Machine-like thunks especially when shifting
  • Bumping sound when in neutral

If you hear any of these sounds, don’t wait to have the transmission checked. It might be low fluid or the wrong kind of fluid. Or it could be bearings or gear teeth that need to be replaced. In either case, the transmission needs attention and will get worse if you don’t have it checked out. A transmission fluid change could be all you need.


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