Richfield Transmission Center

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  1. How do I check the transmission fluid level?
  2. I have a leak. Can you tell me how much it will cost to repair it?
  3. Can I drive with a transmission leak?
  4. Can you tell me how much it will cost to overhaul my transmission?
  5. How long does a transmission normally last?
  6. How can I make my transmission last longer?
  7. What is a "shift kit?"
  8. Will it hurt to overfill the transmission?
  9. Will overfilling "blow" seals?
  10. If I tell you the symptoms, can you tell me what will repair my problem?
  11. I had repair work done, and now the transmission is acting up.
  12. I have a computer controlled transmission and it is acting up. What could it be?Do I need a new transmission?
  13. Can I tow in overdrive?
  14. What does "scanning" a transmission do?
  15. Is burnt fluid bad?
  16. How often should I have the transmission serviced?
  17. I have a GM front wheel drive 3 speed automatic transmission and occasionally the engine dies when I come to a stop.
  18. I have a transmission problem and I'm going to change the fluid and filter to see if that fixes it.
  19. My Dodge/Chrysler transmission has delayed engagement when I first start it in the morning.
  20. Should I drive in overdrive or normal drive?
  21. I'm looking for a cheap overhaul.
  22. I'm confused about transmission repair terms and definitions.
  23. My older Ford transmission shifts into reverse OK, but has a delay going into drive when cold
  24. My vehicle needs some expensive repair. Should I repair it or replace it?
  25. Should I have the transmission "flushed" or serviced conventionally?
  26. My transmission will not upshift for the first few miles when it's cold.
  27. How do I find a good repair facility?
  28. My question isn't on the list!

Q: How do I check the transmission fluid level?

A: Always check the fluid level with the engine running (except Honda), the transmission in "park" (except Chrysler products and some Mitsubishi transaxles which should be in "neutral" with the emergency brake applied), and with the engine at operating temperature. Remove the dipstick and wipe with a rag. Insert the stick fully and remove. Look at both sides of the stick to verify the same indication. Repeat the process.

(TIP) If you have added fluid, go through the same procedure, but repeat the process several times before you look for a reading. Some of the added fluid will adhere to the side of the filler tube and can give a false reading.

(TIP) If the fluid level is low, you have leak! Transmissions do not consume fluid. Have the leak diagnosed and repaired to prevent more serious problems.

After you have added fluid, drive the vehicle for a mile or two, then recheck the level. This is especially important in front wheel drive vehicles.

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Q: I have a leak. Can you tell me how much it will cost to repair it?

A: There are numerous places a transmission can leak. A few of the more common leak areas that we see are: the pump, shift lever seal(s), kickdown seal, electrical connection(s), governor cover, speedometer, rear output seal or axle seals, servo cover(s), filler tube, throttle cable, pan, side cover, cooler lines and differential cover.

The real questions is: What is/are the source(s) of the leak(s). Most people can only see the bottom of the unit, and therefore conclude that the bottom pan gasket is leaking when, in reality, the leak is from above and running down and around the pan. Therefore, it is imperative that the unit is visually inspected to evaluate the leak situation!

So, the answer to the question is: No, I can't without seeing the vehicle.

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Q: Can I drive with a transmission leak?

A: It depends on the rate of fluid loss. A minor or slow leak will allow you to drive as long as you maintain the level in the normal range. You will have to establish the rate of loss and replenish as necessary. It should be obvious that if fluid is running out as a stream, you won't get very far! A transmission will operate "normally" until the fluid loss is a quart or more. Then the unit will exhibit abnormal operating systems and internal damage is occurring. What started as only a leak can result in a major repair bill if ignored!

Also watch out for fluid leaking on hot exhaust or the catalytic converter. That situation can easily result in a fire and a total loss of your vehicle. Worse yet, someone could get hurt or killed in this situation. So, for safety's sake don't start or drive your vehicle if it has a fluid leak that may start a fire. Get it towed in for repairs. A tow bill is cheap compared to your life or your health.

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Q: Can you tell me how much it will cost to overhaul my transmission?

A: My first question back to you is: which model transmission do you have and how do you know it needs to be overhauled? Occasionally, a poorly running engine, restricted exhaust, computer or sensor, poor electrical ground or other problem not internal to the transmission will be the cause of abnormal operation. Tragically, we do see a vehicle once and a while that has had major work done on the transmission itself or the unti replaced, but the operation problem is still present. This usually turns out that the problem was never in the transmission, therefore never resolved. What a waste!

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Q: How long does a transmission normally last?

A: There is no accurate answer to that question. The mileage or time of use before major problems occur will vary greatly, and therefore, I don't see a direct correlation between mileage and expected transmission failure. It is not unusual that the first few years after a newly designed transmission hits the road, that early failures occur. But, in later years with updates to the original design, the units become more reliable. The four major factors in the life expectancy are original design, periodic maintenance, maintaining proper fluid level and driving habits.

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Q: How can I make my transmission last longer?

A: Just like the dentist tells you, "don't ignore them." Check the fluid level and condition periodically, repair any leaks or problems promptly, service the unit on a regular basis and add an auxiliary cooler if the vehicle is used for towing, commercial or high ambient temperature climates. Some units should have a shift kit installed. Synthetic fluid may benefit some applications. Check with your local ATRA shop for their advice on your specific applications and needs.

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Q: What is a "shift kit?"

A: The kit is an aftermarket service pack that has been researched and developed to compensate for design deficiencies discovered in a particular transmission. In most cases, the kit improves the quality of shifts, increases the internal pressure that operates the unit and provides better lubrication. Some shift kits are designed to correct specific weak areas that develop in a certain transmission. Installation of a kit in that instance will tend to greatly extend the life and the performance of that transmission.

NOTE: Not all transmissions need the kit.

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Q: Will it hurt to overfill the transmission?

A: No - although, it is possible that gross overfilling can cause the fluid to be subjected to moving parts and become aerated which could cause abnormal operation. You may also notice leaks that ordinarily would not occur.

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Q: Will overfilling "blow" seals?

A: In a word, no! The transmission case is vented preventing pressure build up in normally unpressurized areas. Severe overfilling can raise the fluid level such that the transmission may lose fluid through the vent or leak from seals that are above the normal fluid level, but the fact remains that the seals that are under pressure and those that are not will not change because of the fluid level.

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Q: If I tell you the symptoms, can you tell me what will repair my problem?

A: I wish it were that simple. Don't get me wrong, but rarely have I had such an accurate description from a customer covering all needed information that the conclusion reached from that description was the correct one. In most cases, if I performed the repair based solely on the customers perception, the problem would not have been resolved. Most people, including many general technicians, don't have the depth of knowledge to adequately diagnose transmission problems.

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Q: I had repair work done, and now the transmission is acting up.

A: If you notice problems with your transmission right after other repair work has been done, call it to the attention of the technician or facility that performed the repair. Occasionally, a problem may be inadvertently created during a repair. But, don't wait too long; this "unintended consequence" should be investigated as soon as it is practical. Logic dictates that if the transmission worked well before, it should after. Just remember to use some diplomacy.

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Q: I have a computer controlled transmission and it is acting up. What could it be? Do I need a new transmission?

A: If you notice problems with your transmission, don't automatically assume that the problem is actually in the transmission. Computers recieve information from numerous sensors, process the information and then signal/operate the transmission. Often, the problem is in one of the sensors, an electrical connection or system ground. In such a case, any work on the transmission will not resolve the problem. Equipment called scanners can "read" the codes stored in the computer and help pinpoint the source of most problems.

Therefore, it is imperative that the entire control system be diagnosed before the transmission is attacked. As the commercial says, "It's not your father's Oldsmobile."

The best I can do is give you information that might help you understand the problem, or symptom, and provide some insight into some of the possible solutions.

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Q: Can I tow in overdrive?

A: Most transmissions will not allow you to tow while using overdrive; you will be told to use the "normal" drive. However, there are some that will allow you to tow in overdrive. This is a chance to use the vehicle operating manual to find the answer to the overdrive question. While you have the manual out, check out the required service intervals, recommended tire pressure, etc. This is a book that is often ignored, but is filled with valuable information.

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Q: What does "scanning" a transmission do?

A: This procedure invloves attaching a small diagnostic computer to a terminal in your vehicle if your vehicle is computer controlled. This device is then used to address your computer to determine if any trouble codes are present and to "read" the output from numerous electrical sensors that feed information to the computer. All of this information is useful in determining the integrity of the electrical control system for the transmission. Scanners have become very important in the diagnistic process.

NOTE: Expect a nominal charge for this service.

Also note: When the computer "sees" any parameter from various sensors that do not fit established criteria, the computer will set a code for each error. However, there are some errors that will be present that the computer will not sense because they are within the normal range but are not necessarily valid. In that case, additional tests are often needed to determine if applicable sensors or other electrical components are performing incorrectly and creating an abnormal transmission operational reponse.

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Q: Is burnt fluid bad?

A: My first question is, what is "burnt"? That is often a judgement call by the person that is looking or smelling the fluid. You need to get an experienced opinion to start with.

Some fluids will become brown and start to smell burnt as a normal course of operation of the transmission. The rate at which it changes from its normal red color is a matter of the operating temperature of the transmission and time. You really should get the opinion of a qualified transmission shop to help you determine if there is anything to be worried about. We have seen quite a few cases where someone was told their transmissoin fluid looked or smelled burnt when it looked fine to us. If in doubt, get a second opinion before you do anything rash.

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Q: How often should I have the transmission serviced?

A: Service intervals can vary as a result of the use of the vehicle and the operating temperature of the transmission. When you check the fluid level periodically, note how it smells. You may notice an odd smell long before the color changes. If you notice any change in the color or odor of your transmission fluid, it is definitely time to have it changed. Even if that is before your recommended service interval.

We (and most transmission shops) recommend automatic trasmission fluid changes at least every 30,000 miles. On some heavy-duty vehicles, we will cut this in half and advise a change every 15,000 miles. Your owners' manual will often recommend a far longer service interval. We don't think it best to wait as long as some car manufacturers advise, however, for the longest transmission life.

Manual transmission fluid should be changed between 50,000 and 75,000 miles in my opinion. A good time to do it is at the 60,000 mile service interval. You may want to upgrade the fluid to synthetic at that time if OK with the original specifications.

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Q: I have a GM front wheel drive 3 speed automatic transmission and occasionally the engine dies when I come to a stop.

A: Occasionally, a GM front wheel drive equipped with a 3 speed automatic transmission will experience the engine dying when coming to a stop after the vehicle has reached operating temperature. This symptom can be caused by the lockup torque converter failing to disengage as it should. A few tests should be performed to try to pinpoint the actual cause of this symptom before the transmission is repaired.

If the tests point toward the lockup solenoid as the problem, we would proceed as follows:

We may disconnect the lockup solenoid wiring harness temporarily and have you drive the vehicle for a few days to see if the symptom goes away. The transmision pan would be removed to inspect for internal damage residue that could be contaminating the system. If the pan is relatively clean, the the TCC (Torque Converter Clutch) solenoid would be recommended as the most likely culprit.

In an emergency only, you can locate the wiring harness that routes to the transmission and disconnect it at the transmission. It is located on the front of the unit toward the drivers side and can be easily seen from the top. Once the harness is disconnected, the TCC should not engage. The harness allows other functions to occur, and you will probably see a "check engine" light after it is unplugged. Do not continue to drive the vehicle in this condition. This is just to allow you to drive the vehicle long enough to have it repaired!

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Q: I have a transmission problem and I'm going to change the fluid and filter to see if that fixes it.

A: Please don't! Changing the fluid and filter is a periodic maintenance operation that rarely "fixes" a problem. What is does is takes away some important clues that will help in the evaluation of the problem.

Any material in the pan will be lost as well as the actual condition of the fluid. Pan residue can provide important information on the type of internal problem that may exist. Do yourself and the technician a favor - don't disturb the evidence!

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Q: My Dodge/Chrysler transmission has delayed engagement when I first start it in the morning.

A: When the vehicle sits overnight, fluid from the torque converter drains back into the pan area. When the vehicle is started, it takes a few seconds for the fluid to refill the converter. This process will not fully occur until the unit is placed into any other gear position than park. This is a normal quirk of a torque flight transmission.

NOTE: There is a valve body kit that will minimize or eliminate this symptom.

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Q: Should I drive in overdrive or normal drive?

A: When overdrive equipped vehicles first came out, it was advised to not use the overdrive option while driving in town, rather only on highways. This recommendation has been dropped as the history of problems with these units showed no relationship with failures due to in-town use of overdrive. Therefore, you can use the overdrive position anytime. However, you may want to manually select the normal position when driving on highways in hilly terrain to avoid a "busy" shifting transmission - especially when using cruise control.

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Q: I'm looking for a cheap overhaul.

A: You can't be serious! I hope you realize that you're setting yourself up for a BIG disappointment. To me, the primary concerns that come before price are:

  • Is the work recommended necessary?
  • Does the facility have the necessary expertise?
  • Will they use quality parts in the repair?
  • Will they omit any necessary steps or procedures in the repair?
  • Will they honor the warranty?
  • Will they be around o handle a problem during the warranty period?

Now the question of cost comes into play. The facility better charge enough to be able to do a quality job. If parts and/or labor are cut, the entire job will be jeopardized and you may lose all of your investment as the following quote says:

"It is unwise to pay too much, but it is worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money...that's all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything because what you baought was incapable of doing what it was bought to do."

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Q: I'm confused about transmission repair terms and definitions.

A: Please see our Links page and go to the ATRA by-laws page for answers.

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Q: My older Ford transmission shifts into reverse OK, but has a delay going into drive when it's cold.

A: This symptom is very common in 3 speed real wheel drive Ford transmissions that are several (8+) years old with high (100k+) mileage. The symptom is caused by heat traveling from the torque converter through the input shaft to the forward clutch drum. The O-rings, specifically the inner, that seal the forward drum piston in the forward drum become hardened over time and mileage. They lose their ability to seal properly, so when the fluid pressure is applied to the drum, the piston doesn't move to apply the clutches.

The delayed engagement starts at several seconds and progresses to several minutes. If the inner O-ring breaks, there will be a sudden increase in delay. After the transmission comes up to operating temperature, it works well until it sits long enough for the symptom to re-occur. The C-4, C-6 and FMX transmissions are the units that will usually exhibit this symptom. Front wheel drive and overdrive units rarely exhibit this symptom.

The cure is to overhaul the unit. I do not recommend using an additive that will soften the seals. This may help in the short run, but cause other major problems in the long run. A transmission with the accumulation of miles and time for this symptom to occur will no doubt have significant wear in other areas.

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Q: My vehicle needs some expensive repair. Should I have it repaired or replace it?

A: There are several questions that you will need to answer:

  • Does the vehicle still meet your needs?
  • Do you like the vehicle?
  • What is the cost to replace the vehicle? New or used?
  • How many car payments does the repair cost equal?
  • Can you expect the vehicle to last throughout that time period?
  • If the replacement vehicle is used, what repairs will it likely need?

You know the history of your vehicle. The used replacement vehicle's history may not be clear.

If you're planning to buy a new vehicle, the sales tax and tags cost may cover the cost of the repair of your present vehicle. These two expenses are not "buying" anything with respect to the actual vehicle.

Certainly, I can't estimate the pride of ownership in a new vehicle, but that choice is usually the most expensive option to resolve a repair problem? Also, it is virtually impossible to predict the future repair problems that a vehicle may need.

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Q: Should I have the transmission "flushed" or serviced conventionally?

A: The total transmission flush involves hooking up a special unit to the cooler lines of a transmission and doing a complete exchange of fluid. The good news is that you can replace virtually all of the old fluid with new. The bad news is that occasionally there will be some material that is disturbed and contaminates the vavle body. Alos, the filter is not changed because the pan is not removed, nor are you able to "read" any wear material residue that has accumulated in the bottom of the pan.

Personally, I'm not a fan of the machine flush. I still believe that a conventional transmission service is the way to go. We test drive the vehicle, raise the car on a lift and inspect underneath, remove the pan, change the filter or clean the screen, reinstall the pan, and fill with fluid.

If you need or want a flush on the transmission we can do that for you at the same time that we perform your regular transmission service. You will get more bang for your buck than you will with a machine flush job. If you are unsure, we can advise you whether we think you need a flush when you come in for a normal service.

You may want to consider a service and flush if you are converting from conventional transmission to synthetic fluid. Synthetic fluid is good for many transmissions that are used under severe conditions such as commercial use, heavy loads or towing.

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Q: My transmission will not upshift for the first few miles when it's cold.

A: Sorry, this is not an easy question to answer. Unfortunately, there can be several causes for this symptom. It could be due to hardened internal rubber lip seals on servos or clutch drum piston, sticking valves or an electronic computer system problem on a newer vehicle.

When the transmission is cold, the lip seals can stick in their "at rest" positions. When fluid pressure is first applied, they will not move for a while, but when they finally do, they will function until the transmission cools down and the process is repeated. When the transmission reaches operating temerature, the seals are often softened enough to function properly. Invariably, this problem will get worse with age and colder temperatures.

Additives that are formulated to soften internal seals will usually do more harm than good for the transmission in the long run. There is no way to control the affect that additives have on seals, and therefore, the repair of the problem to is overhaul the transmission. The degree of "hardness" of the various seals in a transmission will vary greatly. The seals that are not hard will be softened to a gummy, swollen mush.

If the cause is sticking valves, you may have worn parts in the transmission depositing metallic debris in the transmission pan. This debris then gets sucked into the vavle body and the valves stick. The sticking valves can delay shifts and cause other strange problems.

Pressure tests, a pan inspection or other tests are usually necessary to find the actual cause of the symptom. If parts are wearing inside of the transmission, it will need to be taken apart to find worn parts and replace them. If the transmission has very many miles on it, or very much debris in it, that usually means an overhaul.

If your transmission is electronically controlled, the problem may also be due to a problem with a sensor, the computer system, wiring, connectors, solenoids, etc. Again, diagnostic tests would be necessary to pinpoint the cause of the problem and correct it. The good news is that you may not need an overhaul in this case. The bad news is that sometimes the cause of the problem can be difficult to pinpoint. Therefore the number of tests and the charges may be higher.

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Q: How do I find a good repair facility?

A: Maintaining your vehicles today can represent a major investment. Therefore it is financially important that you establish a relationship with a facility that you can trust and have confidence in. As far as transmission repair, I generally recommend an ATRA shop. They have promised to abide by a code of ethical repair, and most will issue a nationwide warranty of their work.

As far as general repair, we usually recommend an ASA member shop. These shops also agree to a code of ethics and most are very professional shops. If I am looking for a shop to repair my transmission and I find that they belong to ATRA and ASA, I kow that I have found the best shop to go to in the area.

Another very reliable approach is to ask friends, co-workers, or members of any organization that you may belong to, who they use. That's usually the best source to get reliable information about their experiences with local repair facilities.

When you drive into a facility, use common sense. Does the shop present a credible, profesional appearance? Does the shop look clean and organized? Do the employees appear to show pride and competence? Don't be afraid to use your gut feeling.

If you find a facility that you think will be right for you, have them perform a minor repair or periodicmaintenance service to see how they operate. Note whether the final bill matches the estimate, if they keep you informed about the progress of the job, and if the rpair was done in a timely manner. Did they push for more repairs than you felt were necessary? There is a fine line here so be careful. You want the shop to watch out for potential service problems. You just don't want to be oversold. It is a plus if they will prioritize the repairs for you if you can't afford to fix everything they find right then.

When you talk to the service writer, is he/she knowledgeable, concerned, listening to you with the indication that they care about you as a person and not a potential profit? Were all of your questions and concerns addressed to your satisfaction, or did you feel intimidated? Most good shops will be interested in helping you form a long lasting relationship, so tell then what your criteria is from the start, and see if their answers match your expectations.

A good relationship with a repair facility takes some investment of your time and money.

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Q: My question isn't on the list!

A: Contact Customer Service at 612-866-0009.

7444 Lyndale Ave S,
Richfield MN 55432
Tel: 612-866-0009

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