When is rebuilding a transmission worth it?
February 5, 2016 6:41 AM   Subscribe

I had my transmission diagnosed as needing a rebuild and they quoted about $2800 in the northern Virginia area. The shop is well reviewed and recommended by another shop that I trust so I'm not concerned that I'm being scammed, but I'm having trouble weighing out whether I should just start looking at a new to me car or if we should have the transmission rebuilt.

2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo
about 150k miles
I drive maaaaybe 200 miles a week and don't generally take this car on long road trips
I've heard that Jeeps, once they start having transmission issues, tend to continue having them even after repair.

Are there other parts of the car I should consider the condition of to see if this would be worth it? I don't really know if there are other questions I should be asking. Right now I'm inclined to pay for the rebuild and hope it sticks out at least another 8 months since it seems like that would be the break even versus buying a different car.
posted by brilliantine to Shopping (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I did have a transmission rebuilt for a Plymouth minivan 20 years or so ago. I had no troubles with the tranny thereafter. I think it was an AAMCO shop. I did get a good price because I knew the manager of the shop, and they charged me what they would have charged a dealership that passed the car along to them, i.e. the "industry price." I don't have knowledge of recent prices, but $2800 sounds like full retail.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:53 AM on February 5, 2016

A rough blue book value says your Jeep is worth $2300 on trade-in value, almost $3,000 if you sell outright. If you have the 8-cylinder vs. the 6-cylinder it's worth more than that - I ran the value off the 6-cyl in "good" condition.

Aside from a new engine, a transmission rebuild is about the worst repair you're going to encounter not caused by an accident.

If you like it, and haven't had many other problems with it, there's no reason not to spend the money and get the rebuild and keep it for another 100,000 miles. It will definitely last that long with regular maintenance. This is just one of those big-ticket items that come up. It really depends on what your priorities are. Yes, the repair equals a significant part of the value, but a car is not an appreciating asset, so what you really have to consider is the value of the life-extension. $2800 is pretty cheap to get significant life out of what that car already offers you.

Honestly, if the body is straight and doesn't have much if any rust, I'd consider the rebuild. You might also ask if replacing your transmission with a rebuilt one from another vehicle is less expensive.

If you don't like that idea, ditch it and get something else.
posted by Thistledown at 6:55 AM on February 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yes, Jeep transmission and drive-train repairs are a gift that just keeps on giving. And Jeeps (of that vintage) that make it past 150K are rare, in my experience at least.

I looked it up. You would be lucky to get $5K for that Jeep in good condition with that mileage. IMHO it would be nuts to sink $2800 even if it weren't the case, which it is, that this will only be the beginning of expensive heartaches for you over the coming few years if my various experiences with Jeep-owning friends are any guide. Sell if for $2500, and put that and the money you save not fixing the transmission into a reliable smaller car unless you need AWD for some crazy reason in Northern Virginia driving 200 miles a week. Unless you have an irrational love for this vehicle, the only reason to do the repair would be to sell the car for $5K, and you come out even.

I know lots of people who own or have owned modern-era Jeeps. You couldn't get me interested in owning one if you paid me.
posted by spitbull at 6:59 AM on February 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, in an AWD Jeep, there is plenty else expensive that can (and will) go wrong besides engine and transmission. And likely will soon if the transmission is going. You have two expensive differentials, and if your transmission is going what are the odds those are in good shape? The same forces acting to wear out the transmission are operating on the rest of the drive train. And it was all engineered and built by the same halfwits at pre-bailout Chrysler. Ugh.

At least have a complete inspection of the rest of the drive train so you know where you stand in terms of future repairs. You could easily sink about $5K into keeping this thing running within the next 50K miles.

I'm biased by a limited sample, but I've known quite a few Jeep owners in my life. Very few of them would ever buy another one. Back in November I was hanging out in a mechanic friend's shop in Alaska as he tore down the drive train a Jeep Liberty of about this vintage and (Alaska, much harder) mileage. This was an Alaska bush mechanic -- seen everything, fix anything, knows everything -- and the stream of vitriol about the engineering of that vehicle that emerged from under that truck was prodigious. If I didn't already have the opinion I do about Jeep "quality" this guy would have convinced me right there and then.

Oh and you haven't had electrical system problems . . . yet.
posted by spitbull at 7:31 AM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I like to think in terms of car payments assuming that you don't have a loan on this vehicle. $2800 is a bit more than a year of payments @ $200/month. How does that compare to payments on new (to you) vehicle on which you would have a loan?
posted by SemiSalt at 7:34 AM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would look at whether or not I had already done repairs or replacements on many of the "peripheral" components, e.g. brakes, fuel pumps, drive chain/belts, starter, etc., etc. If not, you will almost certainly have those coming up after 150,00+ miles which will significantly affect the economic benefit of extending the usable life.

Also, selling a Jeep with a bad transmission will probably prove challenging.
posted by uncaken at 7:38 AM on February 5, 2016

If the choice is not overwhelmingly dictated by other factors, I try to choose the option that uses more human/renewable resources (usually, fixing a thing) than non-renewable/environmentally damaging resources (usually, getting a new thing that costs a lot of fossil fuels/water/etc. to produce).

So, of course you have to do what's right for you, but maybe take this kind of thing into account if you can.
posted by amtho at 7:41 AM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you're paying full retail for the labour and parts, I find it pretty hard to justify rebuilding a transmission over just buying and installing a remanufactured or replacement trans. Even a junk yard transmission (which looks to be only between $150 and $400!) is a better gamble. For 2,800 you can install three or four junkyard transmissions which gives you an extremely high chance of getting through at least another year or two.

On an older car, it just doesn't make sense to rebuild complex components like engines and gearboxes to me. Either get a remanufactured part or a pick and pull type junkyard replacement. It's well worth the gamble, for the cost savings.
posted by Brockles at 9:25 AM on February 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: A bit more info for anyone who is curious:

Already had plenty of electrical issues, though they've been pretty calm the past couple of years. Thankfully my husband figured out he can heat shrink the wires to my door, so that addressed the most common things. The catalytic converter also failed relatively early on, though thankfully the replacement was covered under warranty.

Mine is optional 4WD, not AWD, though it seems like that would mean MORE opportunities to break since it has to be able to change back and forth.

There was a decent amount of rust when I replaced the pads and rotors on my rear wheels, but I don't think I would say there's a lot of rust damage on the car as a whole.

I have affection for my car but had already decided that I have no interest ever owning another Jeep after what a pain this one has been over the years.

Thanks so much for all your perspectives, they've been really helpful!
posted by brilliantine at 10:26 AM on February 5, 2016

I would say that if the above quote of 2300 for trade in value is correct then there is no point in fixing it for 2800. Put the 2800 towards a newer car is the rational answer however I HATE car shopping so I tend to fix things in an irrational manner. But if you are normal don't fix it.
posted by Pembquist at 7:19 PM on February 5, 2016

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