Rebuild, Repair, and Replace: The Average Costs
Transmission replacement is one of the most expensive jobs done by any mechanic, ranging on average from $1,800 to $3,500. Rebuilds can cost just as much as a replacement, depending on the extent of the damage. The upper end of the range is typically for the replacement of a high end vehicle’s transmission or a complete rebuild after a major mechanical failure. Basic repair jobs are on the lower side, from $1,000 to $2,000. For example, fixing a manual transmission often only requires a new clutch, a $1,000-$1,500 job.
Two ways you can save some money are: buying a used/remanufactured transmission instead of a new one and rebuilding the transmission yourself. These topics are outside the scope of this article and will be covered in a future post.
Visit our what people are paying page to see what people like you have paid or been quoted recently to have their transmission fixed. You might find an example from your area or with a similar problem!
Factors that Affect the Cost
The cost of transmission repair varies widely based on a number of factors, the most important of which is the type and extent of the repairs being performed by the mechanic. If the transmission needs to be completely replaced or rebuilt, drivers can expect to pay several thousand dollars for parts and skilled labor, while a few minor repairs and a fluid change will only be a couple hundred dollars.
It also depends on the make and model of the vehicle, with domestic/standard models costing quite a bit less than high-end or imported vehicles such as BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen.
Extent of the damage. What the car has been through can also affect the price as newer cars that have been well maintained will cost less than those that have been through tough times.
Considerably older or rarer cars are harder to find parts for, which also increases the cost.
Manual transmissions cost less to repair/replace than automatic transmissions.
Some shops charge higher prices than others for the same work (due to marketing, location, reputation, etc.)
Finally, the driver’s location will contribute a great deal to the overall cost of the procedure. Areas with higher costs of living, higher demand of services and/or lower availability of skilled technicians will charge higher labor costs, escalating the overall price.
As mentioned previously, when deciding whether to rebuild or replace a transmission it is important to know that either option can be more cost effective, depending on how complex and extensive the issues are (it can take a long time to troubleshoot and repair some problems, in which case a replacement would save you money). Making this decision is difficult for the average consumer, which is why it’s so important to find a trustworthy mechanic.
Symptoms of a Problem
There are a number of symptoms of a damaged or worn out transmission to watch for, some of which are listed below. Many problems can be solved/avoided by regularly changing a car’s transmission fluid or getting the transmission flushed on a regular basis as recommended by the owner’s manual (recommendations are typically between every 30-50,000 miles). A single mechanical failure can cause the car’s engine to shut down and disable it entirely, so it is important to watch for these signs and get your car inspected at the first sign of trouble.
Transmission is slipping between gears while driving or popping back to neutral
Unusual grinding/clunking/humming noises – especially when in neutral
Fluid smells like it is burned
Clutch is dragging – clutch stays engaged and causes grinding noises when trying to shift
Grinding or thumping when gear changes instead of smooth transitions
Lag/delay between gear changes and/or higher than normal RPMs for a given speed or gear change
In the event that a transmission does begin to fail in some way (or fails completely), mechanics will often recommend a replacement, a rebuilding process, or other smaller repairs to ensure that the car will function properly and reliably. Each type of repair has different procedures and costs associated with it.
A full transmission replacement is one of the most expensive procedures a mechanic can perform on a vehicle. The cost of the other option – getting a transmission rebuilt – can be significantly less if the problem(s) can be fixed by simple procedures that deal with easy-to-replace parts. However, it can also cost just as much or more than replacement in cases when there are major issues that need to be addressed. It all depends on how comprehensive the repairs are: from installing a few new parts to a complete overhaul.
Rebuilding involves removing the transmission, opening the case, inspecting and cleaning all the components and replacing the “soft” parts that are damaged or worn out. Some of these parts include seals, O-rings, bands, gaskets, valves, clutch components and filters. Drums, shafts, pumps, converters, the casing and gears are referred to as the “hard parts” and rarely break because they are much more durable and rarely break. This process takes no more than 3 days in most cases.
If problems are caught early on, minor repairs are far more budget-friendly as they do not require complete removal/disassembling or replacement of “hard” parts, though the costs vary depending on the make and model of the vehicle and several other factors discussed below. When it’s time to get a car’s transmission fixed, there are a few things to keep in mind in order to ensure high value, great work, and long-lasting results.
The Process: How a Transmission is Rebuilt
The process of rebuilding a transmission is rather lengthy and labor-intensive. Mechanics must disassemble the transmission to look for problems and replace the parts that are causing it to not function properly. Through this process, the part(s) causing the mechanical failure are eventually found and replaced instead of having to install a brand new transmission.
Generally speaking, there are three different aspects that must be checked before any transmission rebuild. The first is probably the easiest, and definitely the most affordable: changing the transmission fluid. The cause of many problems is low or dirty transmission fluid, which can also cause the vehicle’s fuel economy decrease. This causes shifting to become noticeably “stickier” and, in some cases, the car will change gears and stay stuck in neutral. This “fix” often costs less than $100, though many vehicle owners find that they can do it themselves.
Next, the mechanic checks the vehicle’s computer system that controls automatic shifting (for automatics). Transmission slipping and hard shifts can actually be caused by the computer if it is not reading the RPM correctly. Sensors can be easily replaced without disassembling a transmission, so this is the second easiest (and cheapest) repair that can fix the problem(s).
After a number of diagnostic tests including test driving the vehicle and a comprehensive inspection, the technician will remove the transmission from the vehicle and disassemble it. Each part is inspected, cleaned and replaced if necessary (especially if it is outdated). Parts such as seals and gaskets are replaced anyway. The electrical system is tested and any required repairs are made. If the problem was found and none of the “hard” components require attention, the unit is assembled and reinstalled into the engine. After another test drive to ensure everything is working properly, the car is returned to its owner.
Check if the Warranty is Still Valid
This might seem obvious to some, but if your vehicle is still relatively new/low mileage you should call the dealership or check the owner’s manual to see if your transmission’s problem is still covered by your powertrain warranty before calling a mechanic.
A typical powertrain warranty is for 10 years or 100,000 miles (whichever comes first), but they vary widely depending on the manufacturer and can range anywhere from 4-10 years and 50,000-100,000 miles. The following components are typically covered: transmission case and all internal parts, torque converter, converter housing, automatic control module, transfer case and all internal parts, seals, gaskets.
A warranty will cover the cost of repairs (parts and labor) if the damage was caused by poor workmanship or a manufacturer defect. However, if the vehicle’s maintenance schedule was not followed then the warranty might be void and not be honored.
Parts that experience significant wear-and-tear and are expected to be replaced at regular intervals such as CV joints and boots and clutches are excluded from most warranties. Certain components may or may not be covered depending upon the manufacturer of your vehicle. Refer to your owner’s manual for a complete list of what is and is not covered.