Transmission overhaul or used transmission? Maybe neither...

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 1992

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1986 2.8 liter Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck with an automatic transmission with overdrive. I recently had a major tune-up service done and they discovered some fifteen or so small brass shavings while changing the transmission fluid. They said it would cost $1,500 plus hard parts to rectify the situation. I hear a clanging noise when in Park and Neutral. At first, I thought my muffler was a little loose. And while not even qualified as a backyard mechanic's assistant, I determined that the noise is coming from my transmission. At present time, the truck runs fine and overall it's in excellent condition. I'd like to keep it another three years. Should I go ahead and have the transmission overhauled at a price of $1,500 plus parts, or should I swap it for a used transmission which would cost a maximum of $1,000? The warranties are the same. I'm getting conflicting advice. Your unbiased opinion would be very much appreciated.
PS. Enclosed are a few of the largest brass shavings for your examination.

TOM: We sent these shavings down to our lab at the Smithsonian, Ron. And through extensive analysis, carbon dating, and spectrophotometry, we've been able to conclude that these shavings came from a seven year old can of King Oscar Sardines.

RAY: Seriously, Ron, it's not clear what these things are that you sent us. It's possible that they came from your transmission--perhaps a bushing. But nonetheless, my opinion is that you shouldn't do anything right now. Just sit tight.

TOM: First of all, I'm not entirely convinced that the noise you hear IS coming from the transmission. You say you're not even qualified to be a backyard mechanic's assistant (that's what I say about my brother, by the way), so what makes you so sure you know where the noise is coming from? There are a lot of things underneath the car, and unless you really know what you're looking at, it's easy to make a misdiagnosis.

RAY: Second, you say the truck is running fine right now. All the more reason to do nothing. If you do nothing, and the transmission lasts another three years, you've saved yourself a whole lot of money. If it does poop out at some point, it won't cost you any more to fix it then. And you won't do any damage to any other part of the truck by continuing to drive it.

TOM: So keep driving. And if the transmission does start to misbehave at some point, you have several options. One is to buy a transmission that's been rebuilt at the factory. That'll cost about $1,500 INCLUDING parts and labor, and that's the best rebuilt transmission you can get.

RAY: If you're not willing to spring for that kind of money, then ask your mechanic to put in a used transmission from a junkyard. That's a little riskier, but it'll cost you about half as much.

TOM: And whatever you do, stay away from those guys who want $1,500 PLUS parts for a rebuild. That's a very steep price. Even with the free brass shavings they threw in!

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