Why is a Transmission Overhaul so Expensive

If you had your transmission overhauled in the 70s or 80s you could be in for sticker shock should you need this service on a more modern automobile. Find out why a transmission overhaul is so expensive and what you can do to control costs.

Average Cost of a Transmission Overhaul

Automotive consumers ask a common question when their transmission is showing signs and symptoms of malfunction. The general question is how much a transmission overhaul is going to cost them. If posting on an Internet message board they might ask an even broader question like, what is the average price of an automatic transmission overhaul. On modern automobiles, this is almost impossible to answer. Nevertheless, with a few extra steps you can obtain an accurate answer to these questions and use the information to make an educated decision on how you’ll proceed.

Estimating Transmission Repair Costs

The year, make and model are critical when it comes to both parts and labor estimates. Generally speaking a three speed automatic is cheaper to repair than a six speed. The more forward gears, the more intricate the internal design which can also lead to more expensive parts and labor charges. Another thing preventing an accurate answer to the estimated cost of repairs is knowing what caused the internal malfunction. Although you can search down a price for a standard overhaul kit this will not include any other failed parts. Providing a customer with an accurate price for an automatic transmission repair starts with a comprehensive diagnosis. Mechanics connect pressure gauges to different areas of the transmission and compare the readings with factory specifications, technical service bulletins and symptom charts. Most shops will apply these diagnostic charges as a credit towards the total repair bill.

Transmission Overhaul Parts

From the mid-1980s to present day, transmissions are controlled by computer modules that operate solenoids and switches. These parts can be expensive and it may be necessary to replace them. Another thing to consider is the cost of additional hard parts required to complete the procedure. In an effort to reduce the vehicle’s total weight to increase fuel economy, many transmission components are not as heavy duty as they used to be.When the mechanic begins to disassemble the transmission they could find a broken sun shell, planetary gears with missing teeth or stripped overrunning clutches. Then you have high mileage original equipment components that might not be bad at the time of service, but should be replaced to increase the longevity of this expensive investment. As an example, it’s recommended to replace the torque converter and front pump assembly on transmissions with over 100,000 miles. Failure to do so in an effort to save money up front can actually cost more in the long run if the vehicle remains in the family.

The Labor to Overhaul Transmission

A transmission overhaul is a labor intensive operation from the initial diagnosis to the final road test. After receiving written authorization to proceed with the repairs the transmission has to be removed from the vehicle. This is not an easy operation on any automobile, but on some models the level of difficulty can be mind blowing. It’s often harder to remove the transmission from a front-wheel-drive car than a rear wheel drive one. The difficulty only increases if the vehicle is a 4 wheel drive or all-wheel drive model. In the end the longer it takes to get the transmission out the more expensive the labor to the consumer.Now that the transmission is on the bench the real work can get underway. Each clutch pack will have to be disassembled inspected, cleaned and then re-sealed. The more forward speeds the transmission has the longer the labor involved with all of these intricate steps. When everything is back together on the bench a mechanic will have a few more procedures before reinstalling the unit. The automatic transmission cooler lines will have to be flushed along with the cooler to make sure no metal debris finds its way back into the overhauled unit. Finally installation and a road test to verify proper operation round out the procedure.

Transmission Overhaul Warranty

When the customer picks up the vehicle they should perform a road test of their own with the service manager or mechanic to make sure the vehicle performs up to their expectations. They should also have a conversation with management about the warranty and recommended automatic transmission services going forward. Some repair centers will require these services be performed at their shop in a specified amount of time or mileage or they will not honor the warranty. Finally car owners shouldn’t hesitate to bring the automobile back in for a recheck if they hear or feel any unusual vibrations, rattles or squeaks.