Choose a used car by its transmission
Timothy Boyer's picture

Used Car Transmission Problem Options You Need To Know

Are you buying, have already bought, or are hanging onto a used car to save money only to discover it has developed transmission problems? Here are three options you need to know about and why only one is the correct choice for most used car buyers.
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Used Car Demand is Up

National news of late has been focused on how that used and new car buying has changed due to last year’s pandemic. Torque News writer Marc Stern recently explained how that used cars with 100,000 miles or more on the odometer that were once largely ignored by dealers and buyers, are now becoming hot items for both parties.

He writes that, “…a 150,000-mile Toyota Camry brings serious money. Trucks have also risen hugely. For example, a 10-year-old RAM pickup with 100,000 miles or more on the odometer can still bring $20,000.”

Couple that with crazy markups on new cars due to the influences of a shortage of computer chips and foam rubber, and there is sound reasoning behind fixing up that old clunker rather than going into debt.

Biggest Common Repair Expense

One of the biggest expenses you can run into with a used car is when transmission problems develop out of the blue. Why “out of the blue”? Because for most transmissions you can expect a reasonable lifespan of 100,00 to 250,000 miles. Unfortunately, however, not all car owners are reasonable when it comes to a car and how he or she may have shortened its transmission life by:

• Having the habit of shifting gears before a car completely stops such as when backing up and shifting forward when in a hurry.

• Driving a vehicle before it has had time to warm up adequately.

• Overly aggressive driving in traffic or racing that causes severe heat buildup.

• Not servicing your transmission regularly or at least having its fluid levels checked occasionally.

• Towing more weight than your vehicle was designed to handle.

• Hiring an inexperienced mechanic.

Therefore, unless you are the original owner of a used car, you really have no guarantee that the transmission was serviced throughout its life or that it has not been mishandled in some way by a previous owner. This is an important point to bear in mind considering that the average cost of transmission replacement ranges from $1800 to $3400.

Three Transmission Options

When it comes to dealing with some serious transmission problems, the owner typically has three options:

1. Buy a used or salvaged transmission for anywhere between $800 to $1500.

2. Buy a rebuilt transmission or paying a mechanic to rebuild your transmission ranging in cost between $1100 and $2800.

3. Buy a remanufactured transmission for $1300 to $3300.

Plus, sink another $500 to $1200 for the 4-10 hours it takes in labor to remove the old transmission and install the new-used transmission.

Pros and Cons of the Three Options

The Junkyard Deal---Buying a used transmission salvaged from a junkyard is attractive in that it appears to be the best way to save money, providing the salvaged vehicle was not junked due to transmission-related problems. While some salvage services do provide a limited warranty (30-90 days) or guarantee that the transmission is operational, they are usually very limited in protection and ends once a vehicle is put into gear and demonstrates that the transmission is not dead.

Another consideration is that if the transmission from the salvage yard proves to be dead, you will already have invested lost funds toward the original transmission removal, installation and re-removal of the junkyard deal; and then installation of yet another transmission. In other words, you are gambling on getting lucky with a junkyard find.

Paying Your Mechanic to Rebuild/Buying a Rebuilt----Hiring a mechanic to rebuild your transmission or buying a rebuilt one off the shelf is less of a gamble, but has its problems:

• Transmission repair requires a specialist. Unless a mechanic does this regularly the chances of a failed repair are high or will take an inordinate amount of time to complete.

• Only some worn out or broken parts get replaced using a rebuild kit. Other factors such as design problem issues with a particular transmission will likely not be addressed and could lead to a repeat breakdown later on.

• Warping, cracks and other defects may be missed by an otherwise capable mechanic.

• Repeat visits or adjustments during break-in are typically needed.

• Limited warranty of only 1-2 years.

Remanufactured Transmission---Yes, it costs more, but buying a remanufactured transmission increases your chances significantly of not ever having to deal with the expense of a transmission for the remainder of the life of your used car. A remanufactured transmission includes:

• Work performed by experienced transmission specialists on your model of transmission armed with the right tools.

• All parts will be inspected and replaced if worn.

• Quality control measures are in place to ensure the rebuild is as good as new.

• In-garage Dyno testing will break-in your transmission, test its performance, and provide no further repair shop visits once the transmission is installed.

• A 3-year warranty (100K or unlimited miles) is typical and usually transferable to the next owner if you wind up selling your used car.

Used Cars to Look For: A transmission perspective

Aside from the economics behind your used car-buying decision, the choice of which used car to buy can be approached from an almost purely transmission point of view, which fortunately is not as limiting as you might think.

For example, one good transmission type is the GM 6L80 that has stood the test of time and performance for many years as a good, solid 6-speed transmission that can be found in a wide range of vehicles between 2005 and 2017 in models such as Camaros and Corvettes, Cadillacs, Hummers and some of the older editions of the more popular models of Chevrolets.

Once, you’ve narrowed your models to choose from, then you will want to read past reviews on the brands from such websites as Torque News using their search engine on particular models; and, take the time to consult other online resources like Reman Transmission to get further info on a car model you are considering with advice on how well that model’s transmission has performed and what to look for and expect when it comes to repairs.

In addition, a transmission specialized service will typically be able to recommend upgrades to the transmission of the used car you are considering that would make sense and not cost much more since the transmission is being disassembled anyways.

Still Not Convinced?

By no means is choosing a remanufactured transmission always the best option for everyone. In fact, for jobs I cannot (and should not) attempt myself (although I have a checkered history of doing so in the past), I sometimes go the route of hiring an experienced mechanic to do my transmission rebuilds. However, and this is a big HOWEVER, you need to do your research before deciding on a mechanic. Ask questions, get multiple referrals, have whoever is offering to do the job provide a customer referral---if the mechanic is truly experienced, he should be able to provide one easily.

You Get What You Pay For

As an example of just how complex used car transmissions can be and why you would want an experienced mechanic on the job, here’s an informative YouTube video of the aforementioned GM 6L80 transmission as it is being inspected and repaired to give you a good feel of just where your dollars are going

6L80/6L90 transmission ITS NOT LOOKING GOOD...

For more about used cars and their reviews, be sure to check our search engine on TorqueNews.com for the most recent and past used car model news and reviews.

Timothy Boyer is Torque News Tesla and EV reporter based in Cincinnati. Experienced with early car restorations, he regularly restores older vehicles with engine modifications for improved performance. Follow Tim on Twitter at @TimBoyerWrites for daily Tesla and electric vehicle news.


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Comments

Thank you for taking the time to educate people by writing this article. The average person does not know much about this stuff, so it is good that someone is taking the time to put high quality material out there to inform and educate. You did a wonderful job. Keep up the good work!
Thank you for the kind words---much appreciated.
Thank you for the kind words---much appreciated.