There comes a time in every car owner’s life when the question of repairs vs. replacement becomes an issue, and especially when transmissions are involved. One rule of thumb holds that if the repair exceeds the car’s value, or one year’s worth of payments, it is time to replace the car. However, with transmissions this is not always the case, since many transmission problems can be resolved relatively cheaply. Let us look at some average costs.
Average Transmission Repair Costs
NOTE: The figures in this table are not definitive, and should only be treated as a guide. Dollar amounts could vary significantly due to factors such as your location, make and model of your car, and where your car was made. Costs for imported cars could be as much as double the stated amounts, depending on the vehicle.
Basic Repairs: $500 to $1500
Full Replacement: $1800 to $3500
Used Transmission: $800 to $1500
Major Repairs on Unit: $1500 to $2500
Rebuilt Unit: $2500 to $3500
The above figures were correct late in 2015, but there is no need to panic just yet. Many serious transmission problems have relatively minor causes and can often be resolved for a few hundred dollars. So how do you know when your problem won’t bankrupt you? Let us look at the problem in a practical way.
Below are some common symptoms that usually does not require you to replace a transmission or buy a new car:
Transmission is slipping:This is most commonly caused by dirty, or contaminated transmission fluid, and nine times out of ten, a simple fluid and filter replacement will cure the problem. However, avoid transmission flushes at all costs, since many manufacturers do not recommend it, and some actively prohibit the practice. Many salvageable transmissions have been rendered useless when dislodged sludge clogged fluid passages, or have become lodged in the valve body.
Transmission shifts harshly: Again, a simple filter and fluid replacement should be your first course of action, since old, degraded transmission fluid interferes with the smooth operation of small moveable parts in the transmission.
Transmission shifts erratically: In many cases, the problem is related to various speed sensors that supply the Transmission Control Module with incorrect, incomplete, or invalid signals. There may be other causes as well, but a simple diagnostic check will confirm, or eliminate speed sensors as the cause. A diagnostic check and sensor replacement can usually be performed for well under $1000 or so, but check the costs in your area. It is guaranteed to be more cost effective than buying a new transmission, or a new car.
Not all transmission problems are easily resolved. In some cases, it’s more cost effective to replace the transmission than to attempt repairs. Below are two examples of such issues.
Signs of Serious Transmission Problems
Some transmission problems are more serious, and if you drive an old clunker, it might well be worth your while to replace the entire car. Nonetheless, the question of simple economics come into play at this point, but the value of the car alone should never be the final, deciding factor when you have one of the following problems with your transmission.
Transmission is noisy: Any sort of mechanical noise from a transmission, and especially an automatic transmission is clear proof that something serious had gone wrong. Whining, grinding, knocking, or rumbling noises mean something is broken, worn excessively, or on the point of disintegrating, and in these cases, any money spent on repairs is wasted money. There are no simple fixes for this kind of problem, and a transmission replacement is the only viable option. However, whether the transmission or the car is replaced depends on the value and overall condition of the car, but also whether you are still making payments on it. If the transmission replacement is going to cost more than a year’s payments, it might be worth replacing the car, but then again, the money you lose on the trade-in because of the noisy transmission might make any deal unattractive, since you could very easily end up in a negative equity situation. The best option would be to replace the transmission with a remanufactured unit obtained from rebuilder that offers a substantial warranty against defects in parts and workmanship. A typical warranty on remanufactured transmissions is three years or 100,000 miles, which should make the decision a little easier.
Transmission does not engage any gear: Much of the previous section applies to this problem as well, but in these cases, the problem might not involve the transmission all. Some types of electronics/software failures can cause this issue in many applications, so the first course of action would be to have a comprehensive diagnostic check performed on the transmission before you pay several thousand dollars to replace a perfectly good transmission.
Watch Out of Transmission Scams
Every year, thousands of unsuspecting people are sweet-talked into buying new cars when they experience relatively simple transmission problems. The truth is that most transmission problems are easy and cheap to fix, so before you lose sleep over the question of whether to get new car, a new transmission, or just a transmission fluid replacement. Always make sure to get a second opinion if you’re feeling uneasy about your choice of repair shop.
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