Helpful Links

Helpful links for the technically minded Helpful links for the rest of us
Wikipedia Consumer Reports
How Stuff Works Kelly Blue Book How a transmission is made

Consumer Information

What consumers fear most
Debunking myths
The first two things to check
Transmission brain surgery
How long should a transmission last?
Unintentional technical mistakes or just incompetence?
How much for a transmission?
I think I'll just do it myself
What to look for
Accurate, Pinpoint Diagnosis
Written estimates
Finally - The bottom line


When experiencing transmission problems, the greatest problem the average consumer has is FEAR. Research has shown that the average consumer experiences a transmission problem only once every 8 years. This is why most consumers have very little experience with transmission repairs. They don't know what to do or who to ask. Historically, there has been a lack of readily available information. Consumers fear the unknown the most. The unknown is mostly in the form of lack of knowledge. Our purpose is to remove the FEAR by demystifying transmission problems and repair, which will make you a smarter consumer.



Due to the historically mysterious nature of what makes a transmission tick, many myths, misconceptions, and outright fantasies were hatched over the years. Through the years, inaccuracies slowly became perverted distortions of the truth. Additionally, technological advances further fueled the distance between the truth and myth. Over several decades, consumer misinformation of the workings of a transmission take on a life of their own much in the same way urban legends do; more fiction than fact.

  • Band Adjustment Myth: Adjusting the bands is, by far, the biggest myth of all. It is classified as somewhere between a cruel joke because it gives false hope, and a hoax. There hasn't been a transmission produced in the last half-century that would have a band wear to the point where it was thought of to be something comparable to adjusting brakes. Many transmissions don't have bands. The ones that do, the lining when brand new is no thicker than 10 sheets of copy paper. The hydraulic system that applies bands can compensate for all normal wear. If it can't, the transmission has a lot more wrong with it than just a worn out band.
  • LISTEN UP: All friction materials (clutch and band linings) inside a transmission will last the life of the vehicle unless there is a malfunction elsewhere. Clutch and band linings don't wear out on their own.

  • Male-Female Myths: Transmission problems are to be handled by a male because females don't know about transmissions is the second biggest myth. Actually, just the opposite is true. Females by nature are safety and security seeking. They might not know what is wrong with their vehicle, but they are actually more perceptive to changes in the sounds or operation of their vehicle. In most cases, they will bring their vehicle in to find out what's going on much more readily than a male.

  • Taking Advantage of Women Myth: Women sometimes think they are taken advantage of simply because they are female. This is fear-based thinking. Such thinking processes are entirely normal because the safety and security-seeking female is dealing with the unknown and that's scary. We've found that when females are given or shown enough information to satisfy their needs, fear evaporates. Historically, females make up almost 50% (and continues to grow) of the first initial contact we make with new customers. Additionally, substantially over 50% of our customers who bring a vehicle in for the first time are female. The shift from a once male dominated task, to a female task, has been taking place during the past 2 decades and the trend is expected to continue. Males are slowly becoming the minority when it comes to automotive concerns in general. Shops that cater to males and discount the females are losing well over half the business.
  • Dishonest Shop Myth: The good news is there are very few dishonest shops left. The bad news is, the dishonest shops, and many of the honest shops have been replaced by incompetent ones. The biggest problem the automotive repair industry faces today is finding competent technicians. We have as difficult a time finding good technicians as you do finding a reliable shop. REMEMBER THIS: Misdiagnosis or incompetence is almost always perceived as dishonesty. Why? The end result is the same. The consumer either buys something they didn't need because the problem isn't fixed (misdiagnosis), or the repair doesn't last (incompetent repair), or both. Isn't that what happens when a shop is dishonest? (Did they really do what they said they did?)


1.      If you are experiencing transmission problems, the very first thing to do is to check the fluid level and condition. Check the fluid level when your vehicle is fully warmed up and parked on a flat surface. Unlike checking your motor oil, the transmission fluid level is checked with the engine running, unless it's a Honda or Acura. The transmission should be in Park. Many transmission malfunctions and even failures are caused by low fluid level. Transmissions don't "use" fluid. If it's low, you probably have a leak.

The fluid condition is a little harder to determine. The fluid should be red and have a petroleum product smell, much like motor oil. Dark fluid that smells burnt can simply be from lack of service. Just because the fluid is dark and smells burnt does not necessarily mean the transmission is about to fail. This is one of the oldest "wive's tales" in the business. If you haven't changed your fluid and filter in a long time, it':s not unusual for it to be discolored and smell slightly burnt.

2.      When was the last time you had your transmission fluid and filter changed? We recommend every year or 12,000 miles. A restricted filter can cause slipping, delayed engagement when shifting into gear, even noise and no movement conditions. Here in our shop, our experience has been that either low fluid or a restricted filter causes almost half of the transmission problems we see. As a matter of fact, it is not uncommon for us to find the cause of a transmission failure being traceable to what was originally a low fluid or restricted filter condition that went unattended!

The very first major repair bill with almost all vehicles today, will be a transmission failure. As a matter of fact, most vehicles on today's roads will see between 2 and 3 transmissions before that same vehicle needs a new motor. Why is this? The main reason is lack of maintenance and repair. We estimate that over 50% of the major transmission jobs we see are due to either lack of maintenance, or postponing a minor transmission repair, such as a leak, or some other repair, that could have been repaired for much less than a new transmission. Proper maintenance is the key to avoiding costly transmission problems.

In our next section, "Transmission Brain Surgery" we will cover one of the most common minor transmission problems that can easily appear to be a major transmission problem.



In our previous section, "The First Two Things To Check" we covered the very first two things a consumer can check themselves when experiencing transmission problems. Those two things account for over 50% of the transmission malfunctions seen today. In today's article, we will cover one of the most common minor transmission problems that can easily appear to be a major transmission problem.

An automatic transmission has to have a brain, or it wouldn't be automatic would it? Some shifting problems can be caused by a confused brain. In an automatic transmission, this brain is called a valve body.

If the valve body doesn't know how fast the vehicle is going, or perhaps it thinks you have your foot to the floor all the time, when in fact you don't; late or no upshifts are the results. This is especially true in the higher gears for the complaint we see most often is a late or no 3rd or 4th gear condition. In most vehicles, the valve body is accessible without having to remove the transmission from the vehicle.

Most vehicles made in the last decade have computer controlled valve bodies, which are like giving a hydraulic brain (the valve body), a second brain (the vehicle's computer and electrical system). With these vehicles, it's not uncommon to have an electrical problem cause a transmission malfunction! It is very easy to have a "brain problem" mis-diagnosed as a major transmission problem.

No transmission technician likes unintentional diagnostic mistakes, but they do occur. It takes an expert with proper diagnostic equipment and experience to tell the difference. Make sure you deal with a reputable shop that you know and trust is the secret.



In our last section, "Transmission Brain Surgery", we discussed one of the most common minor transmission problems that can easily appear to be a major transmission problem. In this article, we will discuss the top two reasons automatic transmissions don't last as long as they should.

If you ask around, you will see that it is a common scenario to have a vehicle's first transmission go 80 to 100 thousand miles. But after that, the transmissions don't seem to last very long at all. There are 2 reasons for this:

  • The first reason is the root cause of the failure was not diagnosed.
  • The second reason is more subtle; it's paying too little.

Let's talk about the first reason a transmission would not last very long.



Technology is exploding and it takes an experienced expert to know what's really wrong with today's transmissions. The transmission technology explosion began about the same time the as the personal computer, the1980s. The 80s flushed out almost all the intentionally dishonest transmission technicians and they shops they work for. However, the scandalous rumors live on. We have found that the biggest risk or threat that consumers are faced with today is INCOMPETENCE. From a consumer's perspective, there isn't any difference between a unintentional technical mistake and incompetence; the end results are the same. You buy something you don't need. Incompetence is most commonly manifested in the transmission shop that performs a major transmission repair or replacement, only to find out the same problem exists. Or, sometimes the problem is temporarily cured until the 2nd transmission fails for the same un-diagnosed reason the first one did. It is the responsibility of every transmission shop to find out the root cause of a transmission failure and correct it. If not, you're guaranteed to have the same problem later, if not immediately. Cure the cause and not the symptom is the way to go. However, even if the root cause of the failure is diagnosed, and repaired, you're not out of the woods yet. How about the 2nd reason a transmission doesn't last very long? Read on.



When a transmission fails, it almost always is substantial, unexpected, unplanned sum of money that stresses out most households. In our 35 years in the transmission industry, we have yet to see the first planned breakdown. Naturally, most consumers get on the phone and start calling around asking "How much?" This is the fatal assumption. This is where the problem snowballs and here's why:

  • If the consumer gets the best price they can find on the phone, and goes to that shop, guess what? They buy a transmission. Consumers all over the country needlessly purchase many, many transmissions and they never ever know it. Sometimes they had low fluid, restricted filter, or some minor problem that could have been corrected without removing the transmission from the vehicle. Let alone buying a new transmission! But they got what they asked for when they asked "How Much?" ... a transmission whether they needed it or not. In addition, it's never what they tell you over the phone unless they have a crystal ball or X-ray glasses.

  • If the consumer truly needs a transmission, there's another problem. It is a perfectly natural reaction to shop around because of the sudden, unexpected expense. This is especially true when the vehicle is already in a transmission shop. You can always get a lower price on the phone when your vehicle is already in a transmission shop. When transmission shops are confronted with the consumer's price objections, most shops naturally react and try to shave corners to lower the price. Maybe a part that was half-bad becomes half-good. Maybe they won't put all the labor into the transmission by not completely disassembling the transmission. Maybe they will buy cheap imported parts, or even used parts cannibalized out of another junkyard transmission. Who knows? This situation is usually characterized by short warranties, or warranties that are only good at that shop. Not much fun if you breakdown out of town on your family vacation.

The buying public has unknowingly created a situation where these types of shops don't have the resources available to invest in the latest diagnostic equipment or hire competent technicians. This only aggravates the chance of misdiagnosis and incompetence. It also increases the chance of another transmission problem after your money and your warranty has evaporated.

Consumers that have some mechanical knowledge sometimes get so frustrated with these types of situations, they give up. they feel compelled to either find a friend to fix the transmission, or fix it themselves. This will be covered in our next section, "I Think I'll Just Do It Myself".



In our last section, "How Much For A Transmission?" we discussed reasons that would compel a consumer to either find a friend to fix their transmission problem or fix it themselves. Here's a true story:

We had a customer once that in an effort to save money bought a new transmission and installed it himself. 15 months later (3 months after the warranty expired) the transmission failed again. Over a 3-year period, the customer replaced 3 transmissions because the original cause of failure was not diagnosed. He was out almost $5,000! He was blaming the car for being a lemon. It turned out to be an electrical problem on the vehicle that affected the electronically controlled oil pressure inside the transmission.

So what's a consumer to do? How do you win? The way you win is by choosing the right shop and being involved in the repair. The right shop is competent, professional, and above all, trustworthy. Price, speed, and competence are meaningless if you don't have a feeling of trust. Use your gut instinct. If you don't feel comfortable, there's usually a reason why. You don't have to know a thing about transmissions to have a gut instinct.

In our next section, "What To Look For", we will cover what a consumer should look for when choosing a transmission repair facility.



In our last section, "I Think I'll Just Do It Myself", we discussed why consumers are sometimes compelled to either have a friend, or themselves, try to fix their own transmission problem. For those that are not so inclined, we have a list of things to look for when choosing a transmission shop to take care of your transmission problem. Here are some important tips on what to look for and how to do it:

Accurate, Pinpoint Diagnosis - Go on the initial road test with the technician. Do they use any diagnostic equipment? Do they have a diagnostic checklist? Do they write anything down during the road test? How do they convey your problem to other technicians in the shop? Or, do they do a seat-of-the-pants diagnosis on the road test and try to sell you something on the road test? While diagnosis is part of most repairs, be prepared for a nominal shop charge if you choose not to do business with the shop. Most shops charge anywhere from a half hour to an hour labor for the preliminary diagnosis; if you don't authorize the recommendation. However, if you authorize the recommendation, most shops will waive any such charge(s).

Quality - We have yet to meet a transmission shop that does not claim to do good work. Who's going to say "We do a mediocre job that you can get done anywhere else in town." Talking quality is cheap and meaningless. Have them prove it. This will always be reflected in the standard warranty. Not an extended warranty that you pay for; the regular standard warranty the shop offers. If you plan on keeping your car this is important because nobody wants to pay twice for the same repairs. It is equally important if you are selling your car because you don't want a buyer to come back on you claiming you sold them a lemon.

Written Estimates - One thing we have found to be true of EVERY transmission shop on the face of the planet: Phone quotes are never accurate. If you doubt this and have some money to burn, experiment and see what happens. The only accurate (and legal) way is to get a written estimate. If the shop doesn't offer written estimates, buyer beware!

Trust - Go with your gut instinct here. Look for consumer-oriented brochures or other items provided for free. Some shops have made customers so happy, they will write a note or letter of thanks. Look for those in the customer waiting room. One of the best ways we know is for you to ask others. Ask someone who has recently had a transmission problem. Ask your regular auto repair shop who they use or recommend. Call a local school with an automotive program and ask the automotive instructor. These people are "in the know".


FINALLY - The bottom line

The bottom line is this: The less you participate in being proactive in transmission maintenance and repair, the better the chances of you having needless transmission problems and ones that cost too much money. Be smart; take an active roll.

  • The best offense is a good defense. Take care of your transmission by having it serviced annually by a transmission specialist.
  • Take your vehicle at the first sign of trouble. You know your vehicle better than anybody. If you are suspicious something is not right, chances are you're correct.
  • If and when you do experience serious transmission problems, be active in the repair process. Good shops just love customers that take an active roll. However, just like not all consumers want to take an active roll, some shops don't welcome consumer to be an active participant in the diagnosis and repair. It is these last two groups that generate the majority of horror stories and needless fear of the transmission industry.

We hope this information has been helpful in educating you a little bit about Transmissions and what to look for when choosing a transmission shop.Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about your transmission, or any question you have about our shop and the services we provide. Cordrays Performance Transmission 1017 East 1st Albany,Oregon 541-926-7312