Is Your Transmission Worth Rebuilding Or Should You Just Replace It?

By Max Anthony •  Updated: 08/19/21 •  7 min read

The transmission is one of the most critical parts of your vehicle’s powertrain for obvious reasons, the first being you can’t even drive down the road with one. As most of us already know, transmission problems can result in safety issues and even contribute to significant costly repairs. 

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When you first realize that you may have a transmission issue, it’s best to contact a technician to examine it, that way you will know if it is a serious problem or a minor hiccup. 

However, if the technician tells you that your transmission has a major problem that will require a complete transmission rebuilt or replacement, you will likely find yourself asking if it is better to have it repaired or replace the transmission with a used, rebuilt, or new one. Our goal is that by the end of this article you will be able to better understand which option is best for you! 

When is it worth repairing your transmission?

Repairing your transmission is a good option for you if your transmission has a problem that is relatively easily solved by yourself or a shop. However, a simple repair may not be a viable option for components that have experienced substantial wear and tear or damage. 

In particular, major repairs need considerable labor, expensive parts, and expert knowledge that most of the time only a mechanic will have access to. However, depending on the issue, transmission repair costs might exceed the replacement or rebuild costs. 

Another point to think about is why your transmission failed in the first place because if it was due to making too much power, you might want to invest in some performance upgrades.

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 Therefore, you need to obtain repair estimates and quotes on upgraded parts before deciding to repair, rebuild, or replace the transmission you have.

Transmission rebuilt

What is a transmission rebuild?

Rebuilding a transmission involves replacing damaged or worn-out transmission components without replacing the whole system. In most cases, the parts include bands, clutches, gaskets, and seals. 

It can also involve replacing the solenoid and using a new torque converter. The technicians will first need to disassemble the transmission, inspect the components and reassemble it.

When is it worth rebuilding a transmission?

Admittedly, if the transmission suffers from wear and tear to components such as gaskets, bands, clutches, and seals that you can easily replace, it can be cost-effective to rebuild it. The rebuilt transmission price can range between $1000 to $4000 depending on the vehicle.  

However, in other cases, the transmission might have such severe damage that the costs of paying for the technicians to rebuild it and replacing the faulty parts might exceed the price of a new one. Therefore, you need to consider the severity of the damage before deciding on having your transmission rebuilt.

What is transmission replacement?

Transmission replacement encompasses removing and replacing the whole system with a new one. Generally, it is expensive to buy a new transmission because its costs range between $2000 to $5000

However, with most transmission issues, technicians will not replace a brand-new system unless specifically asked for. Instead, the mechanic and the owner of the car will usually opt to install a refurbished or remanufactured transmission. Here is an example of a quality remanufactured 4L60E transmission

 transmission rebuilt

When to replace a transmission?

In some cases, transmission  rebuild can be impractical  because it is beyond repair. This is popular with more complex and newer CVT transmissions, but it can happen to others. 

When replacing the transmission, you have the option of looking for a matching used transmission in good condition or a remanufactured one (original parts replaced by the manufacturer to factory specifications). However, if you cannot find these options and want to spend more, you can buy a new transmission.

Replacement is considerably more costly than transmission rebuilds or repairs, and most people opt for it in the worst-case scenario. Apart from the cost, spending several hours in the garage rebuilding the transmission parts would be ideal for replacing them.

For instance, research indicates that automatic transmission tends to fail, covering between 80,000 to 150,000 miles. In contrast, manual transmission might fail before you cover such mileage, especially if you ignore routine maintenance. 

Therefore, if you have covered more than 80,000  miles, it can be cost-effective to buy a new one instead of spending a considerable amount of money every month.

You need to consider the repair history of your transmission before deciding whether to replace or repair it. If a chronic problem has plagued the transmission, it cannot make sense to continue spending money on such a transmission since you will end up in a repair shop after a few months. Also, if your transmission has experienced several issues in the past 12 months, it would be worth replacing it.

Do you need a repair, remanufactured, or new transmission

Transmission slipping

Transmission slipping is associated with regular and sudden changes of car gears. The features can make a humming noise, signaling that your transmission has a problem. It can happen because of lower fluid levels or lack of maintenance. 

If the issue continues, it indicates your transmission is almost breaking down. In particular, it can show that you have severe internal problems, including defective bearing or damaged gears. If you have a manual transmission, it can be a serious problem you need to solve immediately to avoid a complete system.

Problems with shifting gears

The car’s gears are a critical transmission component, meaning that it is almost sure to experience irregularities with shifting gears. The signs of abnormalities include:

If the transmission does not shift into gear, you might need a rebuild. The issue might arise from worn-out gear teeth that limit the transmission from engaging in such a case. Further, if your car is taking an extended time to shift gears, it can be due to a persistent transmission issue, especially fluid leakage.

Burning transmission odor

If you detect a burning odor that resembles a burning plastic, it can signify that you have a faulty transmission. Admittedly, the transmission fluid lubricates moving parts, and the smell can indicate that the fluid is overheating. 

The odd smell might suggest that you need to adjust or repair the clutch of your car. Therefore, you need to fix this issue to prevent the entire transmission from collapsing.

Leaking transmission fluid

It can be a precarious issue if you notice leakage of the transmission fluid. If you pull the transmission dipstick and notice a blackish fluid instead of the standard red color, your transmission might face cooling issues. 

Continuous leakage can result in low levels of the transmission fluid that can hinder the operation of this system. In a minimal leakage case, you can replace the seal before refilling with fluid. However, in a severe leakage, you will need a complete transmission rebuild.

A transmission rebuild is the best option in most cases because you will only replace the damaged parts. However, if the rebuilt transmission cost exceeds that of a new one, you can choose the replacement option.

Understandably, the best way to limit the necessity to replace or rebuild the transmission is to maintain it in good shape and pay attention to how your car shifts gears, turn, or any odd sounds. Also, pay attention to changes in the transmission fluid or smell. 

In summation, the best transmission option will depend on your needs, but it is ideal to carefully analyze every case and consult your mechanic before investing in one.

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Max Anthony

Max is a gizmo-savvy guy, who has a tendency to get pulled into the nitty gritty details of technology and cars. He attended UT Austin, where he studied Information Science. He’s married and has three kids, one dog and a GMC truck and a Porsche 911. With a large family, he still finds time to share tips and tricks on cars, trucks and more.

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