The transmission is arguably the second most important component in your car after your engine. While they can last for quite long, unfortunately, there will come a time where you will need to do a transmission repair. If you have a relatively new car with low mileage, then you can relax. But if your car is getting on a bit, then there are symptoms you might look out for. If you suspect your transmission is failing, then prepare to pay anywhere between $1,500 to $3,000 for a full rebuild.
Transmission Repair: What is a Transmission?
A transmission, or sometimes called a gearbox, is a collection of gears that converts the input speed from your engine into power. It transfers that power to the driveshaft and axle, which will then get to your wheels allowing you to drive the car. By using gears and gear ratios, your engine can be more efficient. The transmission helps to keep your engine’s RPM low but still ensures enough power gets to the wheel.
There are several types of transmission, but three are commonly used in most cars: manual, automatic, and CVT. A manual transmission has a clutch which the driver needs to operate. The clutch engages and disengages power to the drive shaft, allowing drivers to change gear. Meanwhile, an automatic gearbox changes its gear automatically. It usually uses a torque converter to help the car creep forward. As for CVT or Continuously Variable Transmission, they operate similarly to an automatic transmission. However, CVT transmissions use belts instead of gears to operate.
To be honest, transmissions are quite tricky to explain. They are incredibly complex and we believe a visual explanation will help you to understand better. Watch this video below to understand how an automatic transmission work:
Signs You May Need a Transmission Repair
Like other components, a transmission will show symptoms once it starts having issues. Recognizing these issues early means you can repair them early before the problem gets worse. And hopefully, it will help you reduce repair costs. Here are some signs of a bad transmission you can look out for:
Check Engine Light is On
The check engine light is your car’s direct way of telling you that there is something wrong with the car. Usually, it has something to do with the engine or the exhaust system, but it may also indicate a transmission problem. Keep in mind that the check engine light can turn on because of something as simple as a loose gas cap. If your check engine light is on, then try checking the gas cap and see if it’s loose. If it isn’t, then there’s something else wrong with your car that triggered the check engine light.
The simplest way to find out is by using an OBD scanner. You will need to check whether your car has an OBD-1 or OBD-2 system and then acquire the appropriate OBD scanner. Once you have the scanner, simply plug it into your car’s OBD port, this is usually located underneath the dashboard. All you have to do then is run a scan and identify what the error codes mean.
Whether it’s because of a transmission problem or something else, we recommend checking the check engine light anyway. It’s your car’s way of telling you that there’s something wrong. Ignoring the check engine light can cause lead to more serious problems and costly repairs. Also, if your check engine light is flashing rapidly then you will need to stop driving immediately as this means that there’s something seriously wrong with your car.
If you notice a puddle of fluid underneath your car then it’s best to check what that is. The best-case scenario is that it’s just water, in which case you don’t need to worry since it’s probably just condensation from your air conditioning unit. If it’s oil, then you will need to check your engine or your differential depending on where the puddle was located. You may have a leak from either your engine or your differential, which is a serious issue.
If the fluid is red, then you have a transmission fluid leak. This could be coming from a gasket, a cooler line, or a seal. It’s a serious issue as a fluid leak can damage other components. Not to mention your transmission is losing fluid rapidly, once it gets too low, then it may cause your transmission to overheat and slips frequently. Needless to say, this will lead to even more serious damage and costly transmission repair.
Speaking of slipping transmission, this is an obvious sign that there’s an issue with your transmission. A slipping transmission usually feels like you’re driving in one gear and your revs keep rising, but you’re not getting any faster. For example, you’re driving at a steady speed on the highway then put your foot down, the revs go up, but your speed doesn’t that’s a slipping transmission. It will often make a whining noise when this happens.
A slipping transmission may be caused by low fluid levels or just a general lack of maintenance. While it may not feel like a big deal at first, this will cause increased wear and tear on your transmission. It would be wise to get the problem checked and fixed before it leads to something more serious.
Low fluid levels may also lead to a burning smell from your transmission as you’re driving along. If your transmission is low on fluid, then it won’t lubricate properly which will lead to more friction and overheating. This will then lead to the burning smell in your car.
If you notice a burning smell, try slowing down your car and see if it persists. If it does, it would be best to stop the car immediately and check your fluid level. You can do this yourself by using a transmission fluid dipstick. If the fluid is low, then refill your car’s transmission fluid. We recommend dealing with this problem immediately as a burning smell indicates something serious. Leaving it unfixed will only lead to more serious and costly problems.
We found a great guide on how to check your transmission fluid from EricTheCarGuy:
Buzzing or Humming Sound
If you hear a buzzing or humming sound as you drive along, try to identify where the sound is coming from. If it’s coming from somewhere around the transmission area, you may have an issue with your transmission. This may be caused by damaged gears or bearings, or it could also be caused by low transmission fluid. If you do notice this noise, check your transmission fluid level. If it’s sufficient, then we recommend taking your car to a repair shop to get a diagnosis.
Whatever the cause, your car isn’t supposed to make weird noises. The only normal noise you should hear as you drive along is the engine, the exhaust pipe, and tire and wind noise. Anything other than that, then you should diagnose what’s causing it and fix it.
Many modern cars now have what is known as “limp mode”. If your car detects that there is damage to your transmission, especially to the solenoid, then it will trigger this limp mode. Once in limp mode, your car will restrict power and performance to prevent any damage. You will notice a massive reduction in power, and your car will often refuse to go over the 2nd gear.
The limp mode may also be triggered if your car detects the transmission is getting too hot. Whatever the case, the limp mode is there to prevent further damage to your transmission. You can get out of limp mode by restarting your car. Turn it off and leave it for a minute and turn the car back on again, this should get the car out of limp mode. However, you should get your car checked afterward to make sure there is no transmission damage.
Weird Transmission Behavior
Another weird behaviour you might see is the gear changes behaving weirdly. This can either be the gear refusing to engage or the transmission taking longer to change gear. For example, if you have an automatic transmission on you try to put it in ‘Drive’ but it won’t engage, then you have an issue with the transmission. This problem can either be mechanical or electronic.
Another example is the gear change itself taking too long. In most automatic transmissions, you will notice when the car changes gear. You can either tell by paying attention to the RPM or the gear indicator which most modern cars now have. If you notice the gear is shifting slower than usual, then you will need to check your transmission. This can be caused by a variety of things, from low transmission fluid to excess dirt in your transmission. Be sure to do the proper maintenance on your transmission to avoid expensive transmission repair jobs.
Transmission Repair Cost
If you see any of the symptoms above, it would be wise to check your car immediately. The simplest thing you can do by yourself is checking the fluid level as it can cause any of the problems above. If your transmission fluid is low, then you should immediately refill it to the appropriate level. Doing something as simple as this can prevent damage to your transmission and saving you from expensive transmission repair costs.
However, if you need a transmission repair, then the cost will vary depending on what needs to be done. Here’s a list of possible transmission repair costs you might need to pay for, depending on the problem:
Several things can cause a transmission fluid leak. This includes a bad pan gasket, cracked torque pump, a broken fluid line, or a cracked transmission seal. On average, fluid leaks aren’t too expensive to repair on will cost you around $250 to fix.
However, this can become much more expensive if you have a cracked front seal. If the front seal is the cause of the leak, this means your mechanic will need to take out the transmission to do the repairs. If this is the case, you could be paying anywhere between $400 to $1,000 due to the laborious process.
Once your car reaches around 100,000 to 150,000 miles, you might want to take better care of your car. It’s around this mileage where your transmission seal may break, and proper maintenance will help to prolong its lifespan.
Transmission Solenoid Replacement
A transmission solenoid is a valve that controls the fluid flow throughout an automatic transmission. If your car has no problem shifting up but it can’t shift down its gears as you decelerate, then it’s likely you have a bad transmission solenoid. You can also diagnose this problem by using the OBD scanner and scan for error codes. Error codes for a faulty solenoid usually range from P0751 to P0758. If you have a faulty solenoid, then you will need to replace it.
Thankfully, they aren’t too expensive to replace. A transmission solenoid should cost no more than $100 to buy, add labor cost to that and you will probably pay around $250 – $350 for an entire solenoid pack replacement. However, some cars may require you to replace the valve body assembly as well, which will cost you around another $400 to replace.
Transmission Mounts Replacement
Your transmission mounts may go bad over time. When they do, the best-case scenario is that your will notice shakes and rattles as you drive along since the transmission isn’t being held in place properly. If the mount fails completely, your transmission may shift around as you drive along, which we don’t need to tell you is very dangerous.
If you notice this, we recommend replacing the mounts immediately. Broken mounts will cause excessive vibrations on your transmission, which can lead to more damage. Replacing a transmission mount can cost anywhere between $50 – $200 for the part itself. Add another $200 to the labor and you will be paying around $400 for a transmission mount replacement job. Of course, this cost may be higher depending on your car’s make and model.
So far we haven’t really talked about transmission repair costs for the stickshift drivers out there. One replacement job that manual drivers are likely to encounter is a clutch replacement job. A car’s manual clutch can usually last for around 60,000 miles, but it can easily keep going until around 100,000 miles.
If you do need to replace it, then the repair cost can be anywhere between $500 – $2,500 depending on your car’s make and model. Most Japanese cars such as Toyota, Mazda, and Nissan will set you back between $500 – $900 for a clutch replacement. Meanwhile, performance cars such as the BMW M3 can set you back upwards of $2,000 for a clutch replacement. The general rule is that the more powerful your car is, the more likely you will have to pay a fortune for a clutch replacement.
Also, some “automatic” cars actually use a dual-clutch system (DCT). They’re different from conventional automatics as they don’t use a torque converter. Instead, they use computers to operate the clutch and gearchange automatically, making them similar to conventional automatics in terms of operation.
If your car has a DCT transmission, you will need to replace the clutches over time as well. If you drive a manual, you should use the clutch carefully and avoid engine braking to prolong your clutch’s lifespan.
Transmission Repair or Replacement
This is the big one. If the gears and bearings in your transmission are severely damaged, then you will need to replace the entire unit. Which we don’t need to tell you is going to be quite expensive. You have three options in this scenario: buy used/salvage transmission, rebuilt, or remanufactured transmission.
A used or salvage transmission will usually cost you between $800 – $1,500 to purchase. While a rebuilt transmission can cost you anywhere between $1,100 – $2,800. As for a remanufactured transmission, it can cost anywhere between $1,300 – $3,400. This usually does not include labor cost, so you will need to pay around another $1,000 for the labor cost. The total can be anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 depending on what type of transmission you’re going to use.
Used transmission is your cheapest option as you’re essentially buying secondhand, but you won’t know just how good the condition of that used transmission is. A rebuilt transmission basically means it’s an old transmission but it has been reconditioned and should be in good shape. As for the remanufactured transmission, these are transmissions that have been completely restored to factory standards in a factory assembly line. This makes them as close to new as possible, which is why they’re very expensive.
Saving Money on Transmission Repair
When recommending how to save money on a repair job, we will normally recommend you doing the job yourself so you can at least save money on labor costs. However, transmission repair jobs are very difficult to do unless you have the proper training. A transmission repair can take anywhere between 4 to 10 hours to finish for a professional mechanic, so you can imagine how long it will take for you to do it yourself. We really don’t recommend doing this yourself unless you know what you’re doing.
Instead, what you can do is buy the transmission yourself instead of having the auto shop buy it for you. When you buy a transmission from an auto shop, they will likely mark up the price making it more expensive. Instead, try looking for it yourself online or on forums and try to get a cheaper price, and then get the auto shop to do the repairs for you. Buying used transmission will save you a lot of money, but rebuilt or remanufactured ones will probably give you better peace of mind.
If you’re not comfortable with purchasing the transmission yourself, then it’s time to put on your brave pants and pay the transmission repair cost. Letting the repair shop do the work for you will cost you more money but it will make things a lot easier. Just remember to shop around and get estimates. Don’t forget to ask for a warranty so you won’t have to pay too much should the replacement fail prematurely.
Selling Your Car As-Is or Scrapping It
Before you proceed with an expensive transmission repair, or in fact, any expensive repairs on your car, consider selling it as-is or scrapping the car. If your car is old and the resale value isn’t far off from the repair cost, then you should sell or scrap it instead. Scrapping or selling your car as-is will reduce its value greatly, but at the very least you won’t have to pay for the repairs and it will put cash on your hand. We recommend doing this if you’ve been meaning to replace the car or the resale value isn’t too far off from the repair cost.
Transmission Repair: In Summary
The transmission is responsible for taking the power from the engine and transfer it to the wheels via the driveshaft. Because of its importance, it’s no wonder transmission repair costs can be very expensive. Thankfully, you can avoid expensive repair costs by taking proper care of your transmission. Checking your fluid regularly and refilling it as necessary will help to keep your transmission in good shape. If you have a trusted mechanic, then you can ask them to do a check on your transmission’s condition once a year.
If you drive a manual car, then be sure to use the clutch gently while driving especially when going uphill. Harsh usage and standing starts can cause unnecessary damage to your clutch and transmission. As for automatic drivers, remember to not change gears while the car is moving. It’s best to engage Park, Drive, and Reverse while the car is completely stationary.
Most transmissions can last for as long as 300,000 miles, which is a lot. So if your mileage is still well below the 300,000-mile mark, then you should be fine. However, some transmissions may fail as early as 100,000 miles. So, again, we remind you to take proper care of your car. And we can’t stress how important it is for your car to have sufficient transmission fluid.