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If you’re just learning how to drive with a manual transmission, you might be used to hearing some clunking and shaking when shifting gears, but for everyone else those are signs of a problem brewing. Your transmission, manual, automatic, or other, shouldn’t cause shaking or give off a burning odor while you’re driving down the road.

If you notice these things happening, it might be time for transmission maintenance, up to and including a full rebuild. If you’re thinking that a rebuild sounds expensive, you’re right, but you might be able to do the work yourself if you’re up for the challenge. Car Bibles’ editors have been on the bad side of more than a few transmissions and can help you get started off on the right foot – or gear.

Let’s dive in.

How Do Transmission Rebuilds Work?

A transmission rebuild is exactly what it sounds like. The process involves removing the transmission, which also usually includes separating the engine. Once out of the vehicle and isolated from any connected drivetrain bits, the transmission must be disassembled, and any damaged parts need to be replaced. Everything else gets a thorough cleaning and inspection and then the unit is reassembled. It sounds simple, but it’s far from it.

How Hard Is It To Rebuild A Transmission At Home?

Let’s just say that it’s significantly more involved than changing your oil. Removing the transmission is a mighty big task for an at-home amatuer mechanic. Once that step is complete, you’ll need to carefully disassemble the unit, which is where the second big challenge comes into play. Several of the small parts inside the transmission look awfully similar to other parts, so you’ll need to either label the bits as you remove them, or be very aware of what you’re doing so that you can reverse the process later on.

The good news is that several companies make rebuild kits, which have all the tools and even directions you’ll need to rebuild a transmission at home. They won’t help you with any of the heavy lifting, but a kit can help make the rebuilding process much easier.

How Will I Know It’s Time For A Transmission Rebuild?

You don’t need to be a mechanic to notice the signs of a transmission in need of a rebuild. Any one of the signs below is an indication that you need transmission work, but you’ll need to have that confirmed by a mechanic before you rip out the gearbox for work.

Shaking Or Vibration

If you’re noticing a vibration or a shimmying when your car shifts gears, it’s probably time for transmission work.

Unusual Noises

If you hear a grinding noise or whining sound when driving, it may be a sign of transmission issues.

Burning Smell

You should not smell burning fluid or anything else while the vehicle is in motion.

Leaking Fluid

Pink, red, or even brown fluid under your car can be an indication of a transmission problem.

Should an Amateur Home Mechanic Do a Transmission Rebuild?

It’s absolutely possible to successfully rebuild a transmission in the comfort of your home garage, but it’s far from the easiest DIY repair. It’s not just that you’ll need to know your way around a toolbox, but also have the right equipment necessary to safely remove the transmission and/or engine to do the rebuild. And those tools, that engine/transmission hoist, isn’t cheap or easy to use for the average at-home mechanic. If you’re new to working on your cars yourself, we’d suggest you be scared away for the moment, especially if you rely on the car for daily transportation. If you feel confident in your skills and have done engine-out jobs before, then by all means, attempt away. But don’t say we didn’t warn you.

The Car Bibles Exhaust Leak Glossary

Automatic Transmission

An automatic transmission is capable of shifting gears up and down to match the vehicle speed without any input from the driver, other than to engage the gearbox from park or neutral.

Manual Transmission

Manual transmissions require input from the driver, which comes in the form of shifting gears as the vehicle accelerates or decelerates. This includes entering reverse and neutral. To actuate a manual transmission, you must learn to use a clutch pedal with your left foot while shifting gears.

Clutch

A clutch is a component that manages the engagement and disengagement of engine power to the drive wheels. In vehicles with manual transmissions, the clutch is controlled by the driver’s left foot, but automatic transmissions use a torque converter that performs similar functions.

Transmission Fluid

Transmission fluid is the liquid used in transmissions that provides the hydraulic pressure necessary for gear shifts.

Your Questions, Our Answers on Transmission Rebuild

How Much Will A Rebuild Cost At A Shop?

You should expect to pay somewhere around $2,000 for a professional transmission rebuild, but that cost can go as high as $3,000 or more, depending on the vehicle and the transmission.

Can I Drive With A Bad Transmission?

While it may be possible to drive with a failing transmission, it’s far from a good idea. If your gearbox is unable to reach or hold a gear, you could see big losses in power, a harder time controlling the vehicle, and damage to your engine or other components.

Do Manual Transmissions Need To Be Rebuilt?

Yes, manual transmissions can fail as well. If you’re noticing that it’s extremely hard to get the car into gear or to shift between gears, it’s time to have the gearbox and/or clutchchecked out.

The Transmission Rebuild Video Tutorial

The Tools and Parts to Buy

We can’t be there to help you rebuild your transmission, but we can help you get started with a handful of our favorite products. They include Mechanix Work Gloves, Pro-Lift Jack Stands, and the Innova CarScan OBD2 Scanner.

 

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