Educational Consumer Tips

Transmission Repair

Author: Better Business Bureau

The following information is provided courtesy of the Automatic Transmission Rebuilders Association.

The transmission is a group of parts that transmits power from a vehicle's engine to the drive axle, which in turn makes the wheels go around. If you do not use a clutch to switch gears, your vehicle has an automatic transmission. If you use a clutch, your transmission is manual.

Automatic transmissions contain an oil-like fluid to cool and lubricate the mechanism. The level and quality of this fluid should be checked regularly (see your vehicle owner's manual) and replaced if needed. If your transmission performance seems good, the fluid is clear and red, and you have not had to add fluid, leave your transmission alone.

What Is Normal Maintenance?

Maintenance consists primarily of checking the transmission fluid quality, refilling it if necessary and periodically having the transmission screen or filter cleaned or replaced. Consult your owner's manual for details. Routine maintenance can be performed by most service stations, repair shops or auto dealerships and does not require a specialist.

What Is An Inspection Service?

The inspection service advertised by most transmission shops includes such procedures as:

Fluid level check
Test drive
Manual linkage check
Oil pan removal
Band adjustment, screen cleaning or filter replacement

The oil pan is usually removed and inspected for metal particles and friction material.

Tiny metal particles in the transmission pan do not necessarily indicate a problem. Even a moderate amount of metal particles is normal for most vehicles.

What If There Is A Problem?

The transmission is a complicated assembly and many different things may go wrong with it. Your best bet is to invest in inexpensive routine maintenance and get at least two written estimates if repairs are recommended. If you are interested in an advertised "Transmission Special," find out exactly what is and is not included.

If the repair shop says your transmission needs major repair work, read the following section on "teardowns."


Experienced, certified transmission mechanics can usually diagnose the extent of a problem and provide a written estimate without removing your transmission. But sometimes a mechanic recommends the transmission be removed and disassembled for close inspection: a teardown.

If you have had no transmission problems, yet the mechanic says that a teardown is needed, insist on a written reason why. You should try to get a second opinion before authorizing a teardown.

Once you authorize a teardown, you will have to pay for it, plus reassembly costs, if you decide not to have repairs made.

Before you authorize a teardown, ask the repair shop to provide a written maximum price for fixing the transmission in case it does need repairs. If the mechanic says he or she cannot do this before doing a teardown, TAKE YOUR VEHICLE TO A SHOP THAT CAN.

Always get a written estimate of repairs before leaving your vehicle at a repair shop. This is your right.