Is it worth fixing my transmission?
Transmission Problems – Rebuild or Replace?
Some of the most dreaded words any car owner can hear are that their vehicle needs a new transmission. Replacing a transmission is quite possibly one of the most expensive services that your car will ever require because working with the transmission is incredibly complex and can be quite time-consuming too. In most circumstances, you have two choices when you replace the transmission on a vehicle. You can rebuild the transmission or install a new (replacement) transmission. So, which of these is the best option? The answer isn’t always cut and dry.
Rebuilding a transmission means that your existing transmission will be taken completely apart and inspected. Any damaged parts are replaced until the transmission is back to factory specs. In most cases, the gaskets and other rubber parts will all be replaced, but damaged moving parts may need to be replaced as well. This is a complex process and rebuilding a transmission is a job for a specialist for certain.
The beauty of rebuilding a transmission is that you can rebuild an older transmission with up-to-date parts that manufacturers have designed to be more efficient and safe. While a transmission rebuild is a great solution in many cases, it can be challenging to find a transmission specialist who is up to the task and it may take him or her some time to complete the job correctly.
Installing A Replacement Transmission
Replacing your transmission is a bit misleading–in most cases, you can’t actually find a “new” transmission. You’re likely working with a remanufactured transmission. This is similar to a rebuilt transmission, but it was done in a factory setting. For a quick fix, this is ideal. However, you may not have access to the most up-to-date parts and you don’t get to pick and choose how it is rebuilt.
Work with a Transmission Expert
Deciding on whether your transmission should be rebuilt or replaced is usually a question of cost and time to complete the repair. Having a transmission expert rebuild your transmission may take a little longer and cost a bit more upfront, but it can result in a longer-lasting and better-performing transmission. The other option of installing a “new to you” transmission still assures you have a safe, functional vehicle but you may not get as many options. Whichever way you are leaning, it makes sense to discuss your desires with an expert.
How to Decide Whether to Repair or Replace Your Car
Now that you know the options available, you’re probably wondering if it’s worth repairing your car or if you should start looking for a replacement. There isn’t one right answer as it depends on the year, make/model, mileage and condition of your vehicle as well as your personal situation (work/family driving requirements), but here are a few tips to help you make this important decision:
- Does your car still meet your needs?
Things change. Sometimes the purpose you bought your car for years ago is no longer necessary. For example, if you’ve recently been married and are planning to have kids, does that sports car still make sense? The kids have all moved out, do you still need that 7 seat minivan? Or maybe you’ve retired and no longer need a pickup for hauling things at work.
- What condition is it in?
If your 14 year old car that has more than a little bit of rust on it, has over 200,000 miles and is worth less than $2,000, then it probably isn’t worth investing several thousand dollars in a transmission repair or replacement. If the car is rust free, runs smoothly and all the other parts are in good condition, then it makes sense to at least consider a replacement transmission.
- How long would you have kept the car?
If your transmission hadn’t died, were you planning to keep it for another 2+ years? The payback period of a replacement transmission is about 2 years, which means that if you choose to get a new transmission installed, you’ll want to drive your car for another 2 years in order to get your money’s worth.
The (Many) Factors that Can Rack Up Transmission-Related Costs
Transmission systems are complex, consisting of an unimaginable number of moving parts. From the planetary gear sets to clutch packs to output shafts, the list goes on. Keep in mind that these primary components are also made up of many other parts.
This sheer number of parts that make up a car’s transmission is what makes them super expensive. It’s also the reason a transmission is one of the most valuable car parts to scrap or sell.
That should already give you an idea of how hefty their repairs or replacements could be. As if that’s not enough, there are also many factors that can further drive the costs up. For starters, there’s the car’s year, make, and model, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Age of the Car
The older or rarer your car is, the harder it’ll be to find replacement parts for it. As you can imagine, this will increase your mechanic’s fee, since it’ll take a longer time to hunt for parts.
Costs also depend on who manufactured your car, such as if it’s a domestic brand, like GM or Ford, or if it’s imported. US-made transmissions usually cost less to fix or replace than a BMW or Volkswagen.
Manual vs Automatic
There’s also the matter of whether it’s a manual or automatic transmission. Manual transmissions are often cheaper to repair or replace.
The Severity of the Transmission Problem
How big the damage to your transmission is will also affect your costs. If you followed your recommended fluid change timeline, you may be looking at a lower repair cost. Whereas a clunker that’s been through a lot will definitely cost a lot more.
Is a rebuilt transmission worth the cost?
When your car transmission is on the fritz, it may conjure thoughts about expensive repairs or even a new vehicle, but there is a better option. Rebuilding a transmission can save you a lot of money over the short-term, while keeping car payments out of your monthly budget. For many, rebuilding their transmission is worth the initial cost.
Smaller Cash Outlay
Rebuilding a transmission may cost you twenty-five hundred dollars or more, which is a significant chunk of change. However, it pales in comparison to the cost of a brand new transmission or the purchase of a new vehicle. New transmissions can cost thousands of dollars more than rebuilt ones, and the down payment requirements for a new vehicle can be much more, depending on the vehicle you want. Rebuilt transmissions typically come with warranties, ensuring that you’ll get your money’s worth out of the unit.
Less Financial Strain
The cost to rebuild a transmission isn’t cheap, but you’ll be left with more money in the bank, if you decide to forgo purchasing a new unit. The same goes for purchasing a new vehicle, because monthly installment payments can make life more difficult. The net result of rebuilding a transmission being less financial strain on you and your family. The less debt that you go into, the better your finances will be over the long run. Over the short-term, you’ll have more disposable monthly income that you can use to invest or save for retirement.
Longer Vehicle Life
When you rebuild your transmission, you’re extending the useful life of your vehicle, which has a number of financial benefits. You defer car payments and interest on debt, when you make your used car last just a little longer. Most dealerships pay little to nothing for cars and trucks with faulty transmissions, but if your vehicle still has functional unit, you can get more money for it when you trade it in. Overall, extending the life of your vehicle has worthwhile financial benefits for you.
Tips to Keep Your Automatic Transmission in Excellent Shape
Check and Change Fluid Regularly
You probably check your coolant and your windshield washer fluid, but transmission fluid may be last on your list, if it’s on there at all. The fluid is the only safeguard against the wear and tear that comes from high-temperature friction. Check fluid levels routinely.
You can find the dipstick by checking your owner’s manual. If the fluid looks low or you see a reddish puddle forming under your vehicle, you could have a leak.
Also, make sure to read the manufacturer’s recommendations about when you should plan on changing your fluid. While some manufacturers say that your car will be fine up to 100,000 miles, if you regularly drive in stop-and-go traffic or tow heavy loads, it’s smart to flush the transmission more frequently.
Establish Good Driving Techniques
How you drive affects the life of your automatic transmission. Try to accelerate gradually rather than pressing your foot down hard on the gas pedal. Do the same when you’re coming to a stop and allow enough time to brake slowly. When you’re shifting from reverse to drive, let your vehicle come to a complete stop in between and you’ll reduce the strain on the gears.
Take Care of Your Cooling System
On some cars, the automatic transmission fluid is cooled by the vehicle’s radiator. It’s pumped into an additional heat exchanger and back. This means you should always take care of your car’s cooling system — cooling system health goes hand in hand with transmission health. If you suspect any coolant leaks, get them repaired completed right away.
Address Problems Immediately
Is your car jerking when you shift? Do you hear any rattling or grinding noises? If you suspect an issue with your transmission, waiting it out won’t work. Acting quickly can save the system, but letting the problems continue may cause the entire transmission to break down. The longer you drive with a faulty transmission, the worse the problem will become.