How often should I service my transmission?


What do you think about the $9.95 transmission oil changes?

If I need major work,
what pitfalls can I avoid?

The rebuilding of an automatic transmission today will cost you from between $1000 to over $6,000. In today's automatic transmissions, there is often over 3,000 parts. You can't afford not to service your automatic transmission at least once a year. The fluid is the blood of an automatic transmission. Time and time again, we see well maintained automatic transmissions last well over 125,000 miles. However, we see many more die at 60,000 miles with the original fluid still in them. Here’s a chart that shows the life of new transmission fluid at different temperatures:

At 200 degrees, the transmission fluid will last 100,000 miles

At 220 degrees, the transmission fluid will last 50,000 miles

At 240 degrees, the transmission fluid will last 10,000 miles, varnish forms.

At 260 degrees, the transmission fluid will last 5,000 miles, seals harden.

At 295 degrees, the transmission fluid will last 1,500 miles, plates slip.

At 315 degrees, the transmission fluid will last 800 miles, fluid turns to tar.

The transmission sheds most of it’s internal metal during the first 25k miles. Therefore, the first transmission service should include replacing the filter and lost fluid. A visual check for leaks and a test drive if shifting concerns were noted, are two other items normally included in a transmission service.

The second transmission service should be a flush of the transmission. All of the old fluid is removed and all new fluid is installed. This flush is $200 =/- $25.

My cost for a medium priced quality filter, gasket and four quarts of fluid are in excess of $65. Add to that the cost of labor and overhead and you will understand why it makes no sense to expect a business to do a $95-125 job for $9.95. Make sure you are not sold another repair at an inflated price to make up for what they lost on the "loss leader". Recognize loss leaders for what they are. Understand that this is an easy way to get folks in, so they can inspect your car for other repairable, highly profitable concerns. If you cannot say "no!" with conviction, then do not use loss leader coupons.

Standard transmissions are different. Almost all have a drain plug and can simply be drained and refilled. The cost, depending on the fluid, should be $20 to $150. Standard transmissions that have not been abused or subjected to water contamination can be drained and refilled every other year or so.

Some of today’s cars now claim to have a lifetime fluid in them and the car manufacturer says you NEVER have to change the oil or filter. I am not an advocate of this schedule. Especially considering that three or four years ago the car manufacturers said their new cars could go 100k without a tune up and we know that is an exaggeration at best. Of course, if we let them redefine a tuneup to only speak to spark plug replacement . . .

I continue to recommend you have the fluid changed (at the very most) every 35-60k miles. In spite of what you are told, there is a way to pull and replace the transmission fluid on all cars.

WATCH OUT for "I need to take your transmission out, then I can tell you what it will cost to fix it."

Hello Mr. Salem.

I heard you say on your radio show that a good transmission shop don't have to tear down your transmission to diagnose the problem. I'm just writing you to make sure I heard that right. The dealer told me it may cost around $700 to determine what the failure is. My Allstate extended warranty requires that. I paid $55 for a transmission diagnosis and I was under the impression that they would find out the failure from that. They told me, it's an internal problem. The low/reverse clutch pack reading is too high indicating an internal defect. They said possible seal damage. By the way the car is a 94 Dodge Sprint with the 3.0L and 4 speed electronic automatic transmission. What should I do? Should I expect them to diagnose the failure without having to tear down the transmission?

Thank you.


Bad guys tell you they need you to spend $3-800 for a tear down to see what's wrong. Once they get your transmission apart, they know you won't leave. The Customer expects / thinks the $3-500 is the bulk of the repair, and all that will be needed when they get inside is a twist of this or a tighten of that, when in reality, it's going to need $12-1500 or $1500-6500 worth of transmission work.

Good guys give you a high and a low. They know what they are going to find when they get inside. EVERYONE knows at the start, they are going in to fix the problem.

The difference is, does the customer know the true range for the repair BEFORE the transmission is removed. If in doubt call another transmission shop and get a rebuild quote from them and see if the two quotes are close, before the tear down is authorized.  

Please check the BBB for the rating of the shop you are planning on using. Not too long ago, a married couple sued a Chandler Transmission shop and I looked the BBB page and they were rated an F.

Don't walk into any repair without knwoing what the worst case scenerio is.

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