Why does automatic transmission fluid vary so much in price?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 1999

Dear Tom and Ray:

Enclosed are some ads for automatic transmission fluid changes. Why is there such a wide array of costs? And why should I change the transmission fluid anyway? --

RAY: Good questions, Cliff. I see you've attached three expertly clipped ads for transmission services. And I'm guessing by amount of time you spent on this that you
could probably use another hobby in your retirement.

TOM: But let's look at the ads. The first ad offers "Transmission Service for $29.95." But underneath, in small print, it says "fluid, filter, and gasket at extra cost."
Think about that. For $29.95, they'll drain out your old fluid, hand you back your keys and say, "Here, pal. TRY driving away from our shop now." So we're going to
throw out this ad on the grounds of deception and sleaziness.

RAY: Here's another one that advertises "Transmission Service: $49.95 -- Most Cars." That's a good sale price for a traditional transmission service. And, in fact, down
below, it says "fluid and filter included." So if you called in advance and confirmed that "most cars" doesn't really mean "most three-wheeled Argentinian scooters" (and,
more importantly, "most cars" includes YOUR car), then that sounds like a good deal to me.

TOM: Be aware, however, that "specials" or "sales" are often designed to lure you in so the shop can sell you other services you may not want or need.

RAY: Finally, you've got an ad here for a "Automatic Transmission Fluid Exchange for $69.99." That's actually a better service, in my opinion. It uses a machine that
hooks up to the transmission cooler lines, and it sucks out the old fluid and then pumps in new fluid. And the advantage of the "exchange" is that it replaces all of your
fluid, including the fluid in the transmission torque converter -- a separate compartment--which the traditional fluid and filter change can't reach.

TOM: The exchange folks claim that when you use this method, you don't need to change the filter. That may be true, but we don't know. So if you really wanted to be
fastidious, you'd do both -- the exchange and a new filter.

RAY: So if you're looking for general recommendations, Cliff, I'd say that you should have the transmission serviced every couple of years. And if you go to an honest
mechanic who's not trying to lure you in just so he can find $300 worth of other stuff wrong with your car, you should expect to spend between 50 and 100 bucks on a
transmission service. Any less or more than that, and you'd be advised to keep your guard up.


If it ain't broke, you won?-t have to fix it! Order Tom and Ray's pamphlet Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It! Send $3 and a stamped
(55 cents), self-addressed, No. 10 envelope to Ruin, PO Box 6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420.


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?(C) 1999 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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