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Should I Consider Buying a Used Transmission?

Transmission repair is an expensive endeavor, and a damaged transmission is often the cause of an otherwise good car going to the junkyard before its time. Yet the untimely demise of someone else’s transmission could be good news for you if you have the time and inclination to replace the damaged transmission with a used or rebuilt (or refurbished) transmission.

But is it wise to buy a used transmission? By definition, a used transmission is used. A portion (or perhaps a majority) of the transmission’s life is gone, isn’t it? How do you know when to buy a used transmission and when not to?

used rebuilt refurbished transmission advice

Is a rebuilt or refurbished transmission worth it? Image copyright Flickr user Brownpau (click for details)

Here are a few tips to help you determine whether a used transmission is right for you, and how to find a good one.

1. Do your homework. First, the importance of doing your homework cannot be overstated. If you spend the money on a used transmission without knowing what you’re getting into, you will be sorely disappointed. Shop mercilessly online to find the best price from an accredited seller. Shipping won’t be cheap on such a heavy item, so if you can find a seller near you, you might go pick your transmission up yourself to save a few bucks. If not, take the shipping costs into account when doing price comparisons. More times than not, what looks like the “best” deal will come with exorbitant shipping fees.

2. Know exactly what you need. This could also fall under the category of doing your homework, but you need to know precisely what you are looking for. On newer vehicles (say newer than 1992), you can usually match the transmission you need by knowing your vehicle’s engine, year, make, and model. However, that’s not always the case. SO, before you spend big money, make sure you find out the exact model number you need, or at least get the seller to guarantee it’s the right transmission (they can usually figure it out with your vehicle’s VIN number).

3. Get a guarantee. Don’t even think about buying a used transmission without an insurance policy or a product warranty. This will protect you from damage during freight, installation, and use. A warranty will refund or replace your transmission if it doesn’t work for any reason. Because of the relative anonymity of shopping online, you may feel you’re taking a leap of faith. The warranty is there to guarantee you are getting the best quality for your money. A good seller will have customer reviews available for you to read as well, so take advantage of these to help you decide. If you are satisfied with your purchase, do the next guy a favor and leave a detailed review. After you install the transmission, keep up with the maintenance to make sure you get the most life from your purchase.

4. Manual transmissions are easier. Manual transmissions are far simpler to work with than automatic. In most cases, even among seasoned professionals, damaged transmissions are considered a lost cause. Replacing a manual transmission is a more approachable task. So, if you have a dead manual transmission on your hands, take heart: buying a used or refurbished or recycled transmission is going to be easier for you than for someone with an automatic.

NOTE: That’s not to say that you can’t replace an automatic transmission with a used or rebuilt unit. It’s just harder sometimes, depending on the make and model.

Bottom Line: Used transmissions, or transmissions built from recycled or salvaged parts, are typically as reliable as their new counterparts and a good deal less expensive. Shopping online gives you the option to comparison shop, and even though you cannot thoroughly examine the transmission, you will be able to get a product warranty. Compared to hunting for a transmission at the local salvage yard – and then doing the dirty work of removing the transmission you find and rebuilding it – buying a used/refurbished/rebuilt/recycled transmission online makes a heck of a lot of sense.

Author Lawrence Reaves writes about Used Ford engine from Woodfins and Used Transmissions from Woodfins

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mike T #

    Despite what is claimed by the person you buy the transmission from, you don’t really know how it was used or cared for. The previous owner may have engaged in driving practices that are known to cause transmission damage. Similarly, they may have neglected to keep the fluid changed or topped off, which can cause the unit to wear out more quickly and can cause gears to slip.

    April 29, 2013
  2. Will #

    There is also a strong risk that you’ll end up with a transmission completely different from the model you need since most of these units look the same to the untrained eye. If you get a transmission that isn’t the correct model, the best case scenario is that it won’t fit into your vehicle. In the worst case scenario, you’ll get it installed and it will cause massive damage to other parts of the car and you’ll lose out on a lot of money.

    April 29, 2013

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