Why Diagnosis Costs?

For years, auto diagnosis was fairly straightforward.  If the car wasn’t running right, you gave it a tune-up.  When the brakes wore down, you replaced them.  The transmission stopped shifting?  You rebuilt it.  Simple.

Today’s transmissions operate based on signals from dozens of sensors, sending signals through miles of wiring, to as many as 10 different computers.  And if that’s not enough, those computers then have to share information with one another, or the whole system collapses.

How has this changed automotive diagnosis?  Consider this: About half the cars that come in with “transmission” problems don’t have anything wrong with their transmissions.  The problem is being caused by a computer system failure.

There are three tiers for diagnostic fees:

  • Tier 1 – Verifying the Complaint
    During the first tier, we go over the details of your complaint, and try to verify them under actual operation.  This may include a basic visual examination, checking the fluid level and condition, and a thorough road test, if possible.
    First tier diagnosis is always totally free, regardless of the problem.
  • Tier 2 – Isolating the Source
    The second tier is to determine whether the problem is inside the transmission, or in one of the external systems that affect its operation.
    You won’t be charged for second tier diagnosis if (a) the problem is inside the transmission, and (b) you agree to have us perform the repairs.
    Any other conditions involve billable diagnosis.
    Second tier diagnostics usually take between 30 minutes and one hour.
  • Tier 3 – Pinpoint Diagnosis
    In most cases, third tier diagnosis only takes place if the condition is being caused by the computer system, or one of the external systems affecting transmission operation. Because of this, almost all third tier diagnosis is billable.
    Third tier diagnosis usually takes between 45 minutes and two hours, but can go longer depending on the problem.

No one likes to spend money on diagnosis. But a well-planned diagnosis can actually save you money.

Why does transmission repair cost so much?

There’s no doubt about it: transmission repairs can be expensive.  But it’s not so much money when you consider what’s involved in the repairs.

Today’s automatic transmissions consist of thousands of individual components.  During a major repair, each one is removed, cleaned, and inspected to exacting tolerances.  Any worn or damaged parts are repaired or replaced.

Then each part is put together into one of many subassemblies.  Each subassembly must be adjusted, and tested for proper operation.  Then the subassemblies must be assembled into the transmission case, where the adjustment and testing procedure begins all over again.

Finally, once the transmission is completely assembled, it has to be reinstalled.

If that’s not enough to justify the cost, there’s something else to consider: Virtually all of today’s automatic transmissions are computer controlled.  This means that the transmissions ability to operate depends on much more than the condition of the transmission itself.  Engine problems now can have a dramatic effect on how the transmission operates.

All of which boils down to one, inescapable conclusion: Sure, transmission work can be expensive…but, dollar for dollar, it’s one of the best values around.

Why can't you give me a price over the phone?

20-or-so years ago, there were only maybe a dozen different transmissions on the road.

Every transmission repair shop had a good stock of rebuilt units on hand.  There were almost no updates necessary, and even if something unusual failed, most shops had a good supply of used parts on hand to replace it.

Today there are more than ten times that many transmissions in use, with new ones showing up all the time.  Many of those transmissions have several different variations or calibrations, with as many as a dozen modifications necessary.

What’s more, today’s transmissions are computer controlled, which means even though your transmission may not be working properly, there’s a good chance the root cause of the problem doesn’t have anything to do with the transmission itself.

To provide you with an accurate assessment of your transmission’s condition, and give you an honest estimate for repairs, technicians must perform a series of rigorous tests.

They must identify which transmission is in your car, and which version of the transmission it is.  Then they have to identify the specific problem, and isolate whether it’s in the transmission or the computer system.  Finally, they have to determine the likely causes for the problem, based on a logical diagnostic process.

Once they have that information, the shop is able to give you a more accurate explanation of your car’s condition, and put together an accurate estimate of the costs to repair it.  There’s just no way to do all that over the phone.

How can I make sure the shop has qualified technicians?

One of the first things you can look for is technician certification.  These are certificates indicating that the technicians have passed tests to prove a level of competence in one or more areas of automotive repair.

The most common certifications are provided by the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).  These certifications cover theory, diagnosis, and repair procedures in virtually every area of the vehicle.

In addition, many manufacturers and organizations offer some type of certification program.  And while certification is no guarantee of competence, it does indicate a certain level of pride and professionalism.

But no one offers a more detailed or extensive certification program than the one that ATRA offers its members.  There are three types of ATRA certification: R&R Technician, Rebuilder, and Diagnostician.

ATRA’s tests are extremely demanding: You can be certain that any technician holding an ATRA certification is qualified to work on your car or truck.

How can I be sure I can trust this shop?

There are a number of ways you can learn if a repair shop is trustworthy or not.  One way is to ask for references from people who have been there before.  Another is to check with your local consumer protection agency, to see whether they have any records of misconduct by the shop.

In the case of a transmission shop, you can also ask for recommendations from your general repair shop: They’ll usually know a nearby transmission shop they can recommend.

One of the best ways to make sure you trust the right shop with your transmission repairs is to take your car to an ATRA-member repair center.  The ATRA logo is a symbol of excellence and professionalism in the transmission repair industry.

ATRA members are required to maintain an ethical standard unsurpassed in any service industry.  These standards require ATRA members to provide honest diagnoses and repairs at a fair price.  And ATRA backs that up by providing an arbitration process, to assure you of the highest level of ethical treatment.

What’s more, when you have your transmission repaired in an ATRA-member repair center, your repairs are eligible for protection under ATRA’s “Golden Rule” warranty.  With this warranty protection, your transmission is covered for up to two years or 24,000 miles from the original repair, at any participating ATRA-member repair center, anywhere in the U.S. or Canada.

And ATRA has nearly 2000 members, coast to coast – over three times the number of centers in the next largest organization.  So wherever you go, anywhere in the U.S. or Canada, there’s an ATRA-member repair center nearby.

It’s always important to understand the details of any warranty.  Ask your local ATRA member to explain the specific conditions of this warranty program and how it applies to the work you need on your automatic transmission.

Sure, transmission problems can cause a lot of anxiety.  But now you can rest easy, because you know you’re going to receive fair, competent service when you take your automatic transmission repairs to an ATRA member repair center.

Why does my vehicle need an Automatic Transmission Service?

An Automatic Transmission Cleaning Service will remove the sludge and varnish build-up in your vehicle’s transmission.  This buildup could clog the passageways and valves in your transmission system – causing significant damage.

Your automotive technician will chemically clean your vehicle’s transmission with Automatic Transmission Cleaner.  Then they will replace the old deteriorated transmission fluid with fresh transmission fluid.  As well, as part of a full service, the technician will add Automatic Transmission Treatment which will protect and revitalize your transmission.  This treatment will increase the transmission’s ability to prevent sludge and varnish from building up in the future.

Ask your service advisor about an Automatic Transmission Cleaning Service today.

Fix or Replace?

For many people, a major repair bill is just the kick they need to trade in their old car for a new model.  But before you take the plunge, make sure you’re doing it for all the right reasons.

These days, an average car costs at least $20,000 to $25,000.  Add in the taxes, title transfer, delivery fees, and the assorted extras and you’re well over $30,000.  The payments for that car could easily exceed $400 every month, for at least 4 or 5 years.  And that doesn’t count your down-payment.

So, just looking at the monthly payments, you’ll spend $2400 in the first 6 months…not including all the money you dropped for a down-payment.  Even if your car needs a $2000 repair, you’ll break even in just 5 months!  And by the sixth month, you’ll actually have saved money.

So, even with a $2000 price tag, it’s still much cheaper to fix your car than it is to replace it.

Buying or leasing a new car saves money…

Nope.  Not unless you believe all that nonsense in those new car ads.  They toss around hefty rebates and low financing rates, and show you how you’re going to save a bundle.  Yeah, right…over their regular price you’ll save.  But you’re still going to spend a lot more than if you just pay for the repairs to keep your present car running.

And don’t forget to add in the higher insurance rates you’re going to pay for a new car.  If the car’s worth more, it’s probably going to cost you more to insure.

The fact is, if you compare apples to apples, a new car will nearly always cost you a lot more than if you just had your present car fixed.

It’s gonna nickel-and-dime me to death

Not necessarily.  This line of reasoning assumes everything on the car is roughly the same age, with about the same amount of wear, so that once something big wears out, everything else will be right behind it.

Makes sense.  Except it doesn’t account for the dozens of variables that affect how components wear…and fail.  Conditions such as maintenance, abuse, temperature – all affect whether one component lasts while another one fails.

The best way to make sure that your car is worth fixing is to have it checked thoroughly by a qualified technician (expect to pay for this service, but rest assured, it’s worth it).  While no one can tell for certain what condition your car’s in, a good examination should reveal most items that are likely to fail in the near future.

As long as your car checks out okay, and you’ve maintained it properly over the years, you can be fairly confident that it won’t “nickel-and-dime” you after the repair.

Newer cars are cheaper to operate…

Don’t count on it.  Sure, you’ll probably save a few bucks each week in gas, and some of the familiar maintenance requirements have been reduced, so you might notice a slight savings there.

But those maintenance items have been replaced with other services.  For example, to keep that fuel mileage high, plan on servicing the fuel and induction system about once a year.  And that antilock brake system requires the brake fluid to be flushed and replaced every year or two.  One manufacturer is even recommending flushing the power steering fluid regularly.

Emissions inspection requirements are a lot tougher for new cars, so there’s a good chance you’ll have to spend more to keep your car street legal than you did before.  And don’t forget the higher price for insuring a new car.

Of course, you’ll still have to replace the tires occasionally…and the tires on today’s cars can cost five times as much as your old car’s tires.  And you’ll have to spring for a 4-wheel alignment at the same time.

Yeah, you’ll save a few bucks on gas…but don’t believe that a new car will cost less to operate than your present car.  It ain’t happening.

Transmission Fluid Exchange Service: Yes it's a Real Service

You just took your car in for its regular transmission services.  You have the transmission services about every two years, because you’d like to avoid having to spend money on a rebuild.  The service writer asks, “Would you like a complete fluid exchange service at the same time?”  You smile.  You know that’s a scam.  If it weren’t, it’d be recommended in your owner’s manual.  They’re just looking for a way to charge you more money, right?

Not even close.  A transmission fluid exchange is more than just a real service.  It’s a worthwhile addition to your regular maintenance routine.  Here’s why: During the more familiar transmission service, the technician removes the pan and replaces the filter.  Then he reinstalls the pan and refills the transmission.

That type of service is valuable and worthwhile, but it only replaces part of the transmission fluid.  In some cases, less than half of the fluid is replaced.  The rest of the old, worn out fluid remains in the transmission.  That’s important, because transmission fluid does more than just lubricate the transmission parts.  It also cools the transmission, and even provides the connection between the engine and the wheels.

When automatic transmission fluid is squeezed between the clutch plates in the transmission, the fluid takes on a new characteristic.  It acts like little “Velcro” hooks, to help the clutches grab onto one another.  That holding characteristic is critical for the transmission to operate properly.

Over time, the little “hooks” in the oil wear out, through a process known as shear.  When shear occurs, the transmission will begin to slip and generate huge amounts of heat.  It won’t be long before the transmission is damaged from excessive temperatures.

When you have the transmission serviced normally, it replaces only a part of the worn out fluid.  The rest is left in, which can allow the transmission to slip and wear.  A fluid exchange service replaces nearly all of the fluid in the transmission, which helps the transmission clutches hold tighter.  This reduces heat, and can keep the transmission working for years to come.

The best type of transmission service includes both the basic filter replacement and a fluid exchange service.  The filter replacement service allows the technician to examine the material in the sump, to identify potential problems and make educated recommendations for your transmission.  Then the fluid exchange replaces the worn fluid, so your transmission can have a reasonable chance to last for many years.

In fact, most technicians will readily admit that if you have your cars automatic transmission serviced every two years or so, you’ll probably never need the transmission rebuilt, as long as you own your car.  That’s a worthwhile service investment by any standard!

Rebuild or Reman?

Many general repair shops are getting into the transmission repair business by offering to install “reman” transmissions.

What is a reman?  A reman is a transmission that’s been remanufactured in a factory setting, and shipped to the repair shop to be installed as a complete unit.

Is it okay to buy a reman?  That’s a pretty broad question.  The answer depends on the quality of the reman itself.  Some are very high quality; others less so.

More important than the reman itself, however, is the shop or technician performing the diagnosis.  Remember: Many cars with transmission problems don’t actually need a new transmission.  And, if your car doesn’t need a new transmission, you shouldn’t pay for one.

If the technician performing a diagnosis doesn’t have the skill or experience with your car’s transmission, you might easily find yourself paying for a new transmission…whether you need one or not.

If the reman transmission still doesn’t work, the reman companies have technicians on staff to help the shop work through the actual problem.  So your car will probably shift just fine when you get it back.  The only then is:

Was the problem you had really in the transmission?  Or did you pay for a transmission you didn’t really need?

Only a qualified, professional transmission technician can diagnose your car reliably, and tell you for certain whether you actually need a rebuilt transmission, or whether a much less expensive repair will take care of the problem.

A Service Can Extend the Life of Your Transmission

Servicing your car’s automatic transmission regularly can dramatically extend its life, saving you money in the long run.  That’s because the oil – or ATF – does more than just lubricate.  It also helps drive the transmission.  Damage to the fluid, such as oxidization and shear, will reduce the holding power of the clutches.  This allows the clutches to slip and overheat, and quickly causes them to fail.

New fluid restores the holding power between the clutches, reducing slip and heat production.

At the same time, flushing the old fluid washes away tiny particles of clutch material and metal shavings.  Those particles clog passages and wedge between moving parts, causing wear throughout the transmission.  Changing the fluid eliminates those particles and the wear they cause.

The net result of changing the fluid is to provide better lubrication, improve the holding ability of the friction components, and reduce heat.  So your transmission works better for years longer, which means you’re less likely to face a major transmission repair.

A complete transmission service should include:

  • removing and examining the sump or pan (where possible)
  • replacing or cleaning the screen or filter
  • cleaning the pan
  • reinstalling the pan with a new pan gasket
  • pumping out the rest of the old fluid and replacing it with new, high quality ATF
  • adding a friction modifier or additive package (model specific)

And, where possible, adding an external filter to the cooler line to remove any dirt particles that make it past the internal filter.

Get More Miles Out of Your Car's Transmission

There are a number of things you can do to keep your car’s transmission working properly for years to come.  Some involve maintenance; others involve changing your driving habits.

  1. Check the transmission fluid regularly – Few things will reduce transmission operation and longevity more than low or damaged fluid.  If your car has a transmission dipstick, you should check the transmission fluid level and condition at least once a month.
  2. Have the transmission services regularly – Regular fluid and filter changes can add years onto your transmission’s life.  In fact, it’s probably the most cost effective maintenance procedure available.
  3. Add an external filter in the cooler line – While the filter inside the transmission usually does a good job of removing dirt and particles from the fluid, an extra filter in the cooler is a great way to make sure of removing all the abrasive particles that can damage your car’s transmission.
  4. Check the air pressure in your tires – Believe it or not, low tire pressure can rob you of miles from your gas tank, your tires, and the rest of your car…especially the transmission.  The extra load caused by low tire pressure can seriously shorten your transmission’s life.  Check the tire pressures at least once a month, and keep them filled to the factory recommendation.

The most common cause of automatic transmission failure is heat.  You can get more miles out of your transmission by reducing the heat that builds up during normal operation.

Here are a few things you can do to help reduce heat, and keep your transmission working longer:

  1. Avoid jackrabbit starts – Hard acceleration creates a lot of friction and heat in the transmission.  Take it easy on the gas, and your transmission will live longer.
  2. Help the shift – Most of the friction and wear in the transmission takes place during the shifts.  Get to know when your transmission shifts normally.  Then, just before the shift, back off on the gas just a bit.  That’ll reduce the load on the clutches, and eliminate much of the friction during the shift.
  3. Keep the cooling system in good shape – Your car’s radiator also provides cooling for your transmission.  And heat damage will take place in the transmission long before the engine appears to overheat.  So regular cooling system service can help your transmission run cooler – and last longer.
  4. Add a transmission cooler – If you travel a lot in extremely high temperatures or carry a lot of weight in your car or truck, an auxiliary transmission cooler is a great way to reduce heat and add years to your transmission’s life.

Transmission Tips

  1. Check the fluid level – The fluid in an automatic transmission operates the clutches, provides cooling and lubrication, and even drives the vehicle.  So few things are more important than proper fluid operating level for keeping the transmission working.  Most automatic transmission have a dipstick for checking the fluid level.  If you’re not sure where yours is or how to check the transmission fluid level, refer to your owner’s manual, or stop in at First Klass Transmission.  We’ll be happy to show you.
  2. Check transmission problems promptly – Most transmission problems start out small.  They get worse over time.  Very often, you can eliminate major repairs simply by taking care of the problem early on.  Whether it’s a warning light on the dash, a few drops of fluid on the garage floor, or a change in the way the transmission operates, your best bet is to take your car in to First Klass Transmission for service right away.  In many cases you’ll be able to avoid a major repair simply by catching it while it’s still a minor one.
  3. Service your transmission regularly – Transmission fluids have a number of unique properties that can wear out over time.  And when they wear out, you can bet the transmission itself won’t be far behind.  One of the best ways to keep your transmission in good working order is to have it serviced annually.  A complete fluid and filter change every two years can add years to your transmission’s life, and in the end, save you money.  Call us today for your appointment.
  4. Add a friction modifier to the fluid – New fluid can really help your transmission last longer.  But there are a number of additives on the market that have demonstrated the ability to increase transmission life and reliability significantly, even beyond the extra miles you could expect from regular service.  In most cases, you won’t be able to find worthwhile additives in your supermarket or do-it-yourself parts store: The really effective additives are only available to the professional transmission centers.  Come into First Klass Transmission today for our recommendations.
  5. Install an auxiliary cooler – The number one reason for transmission failure is heat.  Transmission temperatures can quickly exceed 300F.  At that temperature, seals begin to harden, clutches begin to burn, and the fluid itself breaks down.  To help eliminate excess heat from the automatic transmission fluid, have an auxiliary cooler installed.  This is particularly important on vehicles that tow trailers, carry heavy loads, or travel over rough or mountainous terrain.  Come in and see us for the best transmission cooler that’s right for your vehicle.
  6. Install a cooler line filter – All automatic transmissions have some type of filter inside them.  But these filters vary in effectiveness.  Meanwhile, loose dirt and metal particles can quickly erode thrust washer and bushing surfaces, clog up passages, and reduce transmission life.  One of the best ways to eliminate these contaminants is to add an in-line filter to the transmission cooler lines.  These filters are inexpensive and highly effective in removing damaging particles from the transmission fluid.  Call us today for your appointment.
  7. Service the cooling system – You may not realize it, but your car’s cooling system does more than keep the engine running cool: It also cools the transmission fluid, through a heat exchanger built into the radiator tank.  So a faulty cooling system cannot only damage your engine; it can reduce transmission life as well.  In fact, transmission damage may occur long before the engine overheats.  To avoid both engine and transmission problems, keep your car’s cooling system both clean and in tip-top condition.
  8. Tune the engine – The engines and transmissions in today’s cars are linked far more closely than in the past.  A problem with engine performance can put much more strain on the transmission than one that’s running properly.  That’s another reason why it’s important to keep your car’s engine in good running order.  A good running engine reduces the stress on your transmission, so the transmission can last longer without requiring major repairs.
  9. Help the transmission shift – Virtually all transmission wear takes place during the shifts; almost none occurs between the shifts.  So one way to reduce transmission wear is to reduce the load during the shifts.  Pay attention to the speed when your transmission shifts normally.  Then, just before the normal shift speed, learn to back off the gas just a bit.  Easing off the gas will force the shift, while reducing the load on the clutches; A sure way to improve transmission life.
  10. Take your transmission to an ATRA Member Center – One of the best ways to get more life out of your transmission is to have it serviced regularly at an ATRA member repair center.  ATRA members receive access to the latest technical information and training, and must meet a rigid set of requirements to display the ATRA name.  The ATRA logo is your assurance that the shop you’ve selected provides quality service at a reasonable price.  Don’t trust your transmission work to just anyone…always look for the ATRA logo when choosing a transmission repair center.  First Klass Transmission is your local ATRA Automatic Transmission Rebuilders Association member.

Our best form of advertising is word of mouth, so ask about us…First Klass Transmission!