Automatic transmissions are great.. until something goes wrong, that is. They are the most complex mechanical item on a vehicle and the costs associated with repairing them match that fact.
The term "transmission service" can mean one of two things: a regular inspection service or a maintenance service. Most of a time, a qualified mechanic will do an inspection service while performing routine maintenance on the tranny.
Routine Auto Trans Service
Most manufacturers have recommended service intervals for routine maintenance on the transmission. Most service stations and dealerships can do this and no special qualifications or specialization certifications are needed. A competent home mechanic can likely do this as well, though he or she may not be as familiar with what to look for during an inspection (see below).
Routine maintenance usually consists of fluid quality and quantity checks. Most manufacturers have recommended flush and replacement intervals (generally coinciding with recommended timing belt replacements, or about every 50,000-75,000 miles). Although special machinery is needed to do a proper flush and replacement (see our article on the Automatic Transmission Flush), this is standard equipment at most shops.
Routine maintenance costs will depend on where it's being done and what type of vehicle it is, but is usually $100 or less.
Auto Trans Inspection Service
Often included as part of routine maintenance, this can also be offered separately as part of a comprehensive vehicle inspection or diagnosis. This will involve the mechanic doing:
- A fluid level check.
- A test drive.
- A manual linkage check.
- Oil and/or transmission pan removal and inspection.
- Band adjustment and screen cleaning or other filter replacements.
- Diagnosis (via computer) of any electronic problems present.
- Report on suspected problems or possible upcoming issues the owner should be aware of.
Be aware that while these inspection services can be offered free of charge, this is often done as a "fishing expedition" to find customers who can then be sold on further service. ALWAYS get a second opinion on any repairs recommended before proceeding.
Not all inspections are fishing expeditions, however, and most mechanics are likely honest folks. Still, it's a buyer beware market, so be sure to double-check any opinions given - especially the expensive ones.
You should know, though, that there are plenty of transmissions problems that can be averted before they get serious if the tell-tale signs are recognized. So the $100 repair that's recommended now could save a $1,200 repair later.
Expect to pay about $75 or more for a good inspection.