THERE are a lot of cars with automatic transmissions that are reaching the 15-year old mark. At that age, reliability issues are become a main concern. A car with a manual transmission is a bit easier to maintain because the clutch assembly, master clutch assembly and secondary cylinder are easy to replace. But if an automatic transmission (AT) breaks down, then that’s a different story. You hear stories of motorists spending close to P50,000 to repair the AT of their vehicle and it still doesn’t work properly. In all honesty, it is very hard to look for a dependable technician who knows how to service an AT.

Is it really expensive to have an auto tranny rebuilt? Well, that depends. If the components that broke down are available with the repair kit, then it is not. A normal rebuild will set you back between P35,000 to P45,000. But if other components need replacing, then the cost goes up exponentially. An auto tranny can last up to 150,000 kilometers if used and maintained properly. A common mistake drivers make is when the car is at a stand still and the gear is left in Drive.  When the car is stopped, the brake is engaged and the gear is in Drive, there is pressure on all three components. Sooner or later, one or more of these three components are bound to give way.   Most of the time, the most expensive component to repair is what gives, and this is the automatic transmission.

Knowing when the transmission needs to be rebuilt
If you begin to experience sluggish or delayed shifting, there is too much debris present in the automatic transmission fluid (ATF) that will lead to a burned or discolored fluid. Does changing your ATF regularly help? Yes, it does. As you use your car, the oil in the transmission heats up and in time, it breaks down too. Oil additives will help the ATF keep its hydraulic characteristics. But if you have worn-out components, then even the best additives won’t be able to do much. One sign of a faulty AT is when your car’s fuel consumption suddenly shoots up. Another warning sign is when you are driving at speed and you tap the throttle, your engine’s speed follows but your vehicle doesn’t—it will feel as if you’re driving a car with a manual transmission and the clutch slides.

Is it worth the cost?
I think it is. The convenience provided by an automatic transmission is well worth it. I have had my vehicle’s automatic transmission rebuilt. It would have been a lot cheaper had I heeded the warnings of my technician and did not damage the tranny. But after it was installed, my car worked properly and even got better response and improved mileage (Thanks for the help, mom!).

If you think about it, the transmission is a part of the car that at some point will need to be repaired. I think we just don’t want to face that reality. Some car owners are just too egotistical and in deep denial that this sort of problem will ever befall their beloved cars. Sad to say, it is inevitable and will happen, someday. If you plan to keep your car with an AT for the long haul, practice shifting to neutral when in a complete stop.  But when your tranny already has its quirks, I think it would be best to look into a possible rebuild since the symptoms are already there. I can tell you it is a pain when an auto tranny breaks down, especially if you saw the signs earlier.

For owners of vehicles with a manual transmission, do take care also and don’t wait for the clutch to breakdown. If you allow the clutch to break down, there is a chance that you could also damage the flywheel. Make sure the clutch cable or the hydraulic system is always in good working order. We sometimes forget these parts also need servicing. Changing the fluid in the system regularly can help prolong the life of the rubber components. Avoid keeping your left foot on the clutch pedal even after you have shifted gears (this is called ‘clutch driving’). Doing so is a sure way of shortening the life of your vehicle’s clutch components.

If you do decide to have a transmission rebuilt, don’t cut corners. If it needs to be replaced, do it. Because if you don’t, it will bite you later.

What about surplus parts? Yes, they are a lot cheaper. But the problem is you don’t know what exactly you are going to get whenever you buy surplus parts. You could come out lucky and still get good surplus units. Just make sure you bring a reputable mechanic to check the surplus unit out before purchasing it.  One more thing when buying surplus parts – don’t lose your cool if it doesn’t work. Remember, it’s a used part and there’s a chance that it will break down again.


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