Find us on Google+
Educational Consumer Tips

Automatic Transmissions

Author: Rachel Gelb
Category: Auto

Transmission repairs
The last words any automobile owner wants to hear are: "I think your transmission is gone." Repairing a transmission, especially an automatic transmission, requires special training and tools usually well beyond the capacity of a neighborhood filling station.

Consumers therefore are forced to deal with specialists, and while the majority of transmission repair firms do an honest job at a fair price, most motorists do not have the knowledge available to tell if they have received their money's worth or not.

What is a transmission?
A transmission is a connection between the engine and differential and its purpose is to transmit engine torque to the driving wheels. Transmission performance can only be as good as the power supplied to it from the engine and the driving members to which this power is transmitted.

All automobile transmissions use a combination of friction materials bounded to metal plates and bands, rubber or neoprene seals and bushings. These parts are considered soft parts and will eventually wear out from normal usage. When the seals lose their flexibility and the friction materials and bushings become worn, slippage and other malfunctions occur. If these problems are not corrected, more serious wear occurs to the hard parts (metal drums, gears and pumps) of the transmission, especially if the transmission is abused by jack-rabbit or hot rod starts.

Preventive medicine

  1. Check your transmission fluid regularly and change it frequently. Change or clean your transmission fluid filter or screen at the same time. The "inhibitors" to wear in your transmission fluid deteriorate with use. Excessive heat causes these "inhibitors" to deteriorate, only more rapidly.
  2. Changing transmission fluid depends upon use and on the type of transmission. If the system can be flushed completely, it should be changed every 15,000 to 25,000 miles. If it is the type that can only be partially drained through the pan, it should be changed every 8,000 to 12,000 miles.
  3. "Jack Rabbit" or hot rod starts force the gears to shift a maximum speed for that range which will increase wear and ask for future problems.
  4. Pulling a trailer, especially heavy trailers (16 feet or more) causes an automatic transmission to labor and to build up heat. You should have a transmission oil cooler installed-size of cooler will depend on the size of trailer-and change your transmission fluid every spring to fall. It would also be a good idea to manually select the proper shift position when pulling a heavy load so that frequent automatic shifting of high into intermediate and back is avoided. This will help prevent foaming and overheating of the fluid.

Warning signals
Problems sometimes occur, even with the best kept transmission. The following are some of the warning signals to watch out for and repairing them when they first arise can keep repair bills down.

  1. Slippage between gear shifts-the motor races between shift changes. This is most generally caused by glazed or burned clutches resulting from normal usage with low fluid condition or jack rabbit starts. Have transmission fluid checked on a periodic basis.
  2. Puddles of transmission fluid on your driveway means your transmission is leaking-faulty cooler line or fittings. This is not a major job and if it needs seals, can be done for between $35 and $75 depending upon the make and model; providing it is done as soon as the leak becomes apparent, or major repairs are bound to be necessary.
  3. In order for a transmission to operate properly, the car's engine must be in good running order. Often rough shifting and excessive wear are caused by improperly tuned engines. An engine tune-up can save both you and your engine and transmission extensive repairs.
  4. If your transmission cannot be shifted at all or the shift handle is hard to move, it is possible your shift column needs repairing and there is nothing wrong with your transmission at all. If when going forward or reverse you notice the gear shift handle move down or up to a different point on the quadrant have the motor mounts checked.
  5. On some cars the up shift is controlled by vacuum supplied by the intake manifold of the engine. If the car won't up shift or shifts erratically, the vacuum modulator (a small inexpensive unit) may not be functioning or the vacuum line to the transmission might be ruptured. Such repairs are inexpensive and quickly completed, provided the repair is done as soon as possible.

How to pick a repair shop
Call your local Better Business Bureau and check the firm's reputation for reliability and service.

  • Check with your friends or with persons you know who have done business with the company and see what their experience has been.
  • Does the company promise too much in its advertising? For instance, does the company offer a low price "inspection" without qualification as to the make of the transmission for a low price? Some modern transmissions cannot be "adjusted" at all, other than through ordinary maintenance. If a problem arises, they must be repaired.
  • Most major transmission damage cannot be properly diagnosed unless the transmission is disassembled and inspected. Be sure that the firm will reassemble the transmission to its original condition at a price clearly stated if you choose to refuse the offered service.

About the Author: Rachel Gelb is Communications and Marketing Manager for BBB serving Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont. Find Rachel on Google +.

Questions and Comments

Question Submitted 9/23/2014

My question is RE: 2004 nissan maxima that I purchased 9/19/14 from ***** ***** **** ****. When I saw the car Sunday to 9/15/14, I asked for test ride & salesman said NO, because it had to go in for service. So I wrote a check out and told the finance mngr DO NOT CASH, until I'm able to test drive !! The following Monday I found out he cashed it, via my bank, it was a total shock, he said it was a misunderstanding ???? I called my bank to Stop Payment, unfortunately I was scammed & forced to purchase car, I did like it but w/o test driving & bringing to my mechanic for an inspection I had NO intentions on purchasing w/o further knowledge,It was good faith on my part. to hold car. I went back Thursday the 18th to test ride and they drove car to me w/engine running & the service mechanic took the test ride w/me not salesman, odd ?? I thought. I drove about 2 miles & went back to dealership happy, it drove good and gave the balance by CK. So I ran to RMV got plates (9/17/14) and picked up car & purchased 12mo/12000 mile warranty, I got in the running car they put plates on and not 2 miles from dealership on way home the car stalled out on highway, ck engine light came on, I put it in neutral tried starting it,meanwhile cars are behind me, screaching their brakes, swearing at me, 3rd try I pressed pedal to floor & it started not w/out jerking violenly & hesitating so bad my chest hit steering wheel. I looked for re-calls on nissan website, none for transmission, alternator so I now I cannot get car inpected wi 7 days alloted by RMV, I called Mngr Kevin & he said call service, I called today (9/22) earliest appt is thursday 9/25, How does that affect me getting Inspection Sticker, its the 7th day. What if serv. has to order parts & takes few days ?? Serv closed on weekends. How can they say they did 31 point inspection & NOT notice the trannyy slips & goes from Drive-5th gear. and stalls out daily, hesitates, very UNSAFE, I can cause accidents and hurt myself & others, who watches over dealership & unethical business practices..???? Any advice would help me. please !

BBB's Answer:

You can file a complaint with BBB at you can also contact the Office of Consumer Affairs at to find out more about your rights as a consumer. 
Views expressed on this page are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Better Business Bureau.

Rate this tip

Rate this tip by choosing the stars below.
Average Rating:

Submit a Comment or Question on this tip

(Name that will be displayed to the public)