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Am I Being Ripped Off?

I put my 1998 4 cyl automatic in for a transmission rebuild with a local mechanic who seemed knowledgable and trustworthy. The day it was due to come back, he called stating it had a blown “Planetary Drum” and would now cost $500 more for the parts, which had to be shipped in. I’ve never heard of this part, and cannot find it in parts stores to compare prices. He claimed other parts were damaged when it blew, but did not name them.

Question: Is this a real scenario, or am I being ripped off?

History: I received the vehicle as a gift last year from my departed father. I know it was not properly maintained; for example, when I did a tune up, the wires came apart inside the cylinder. The vehicle is has a tow package, but I do not know if it is aftermarket or manufacturer. I received the vehicle in May, 2010.

At first, I did as he did, and left it in overdrive to do normal driving, so it would have every gear available, and it worked fine. I live in South Florida (think heat + distance + humidity). When he bought it in 2007, it had about 75k miles, when I received it, 110k, and it now has about 137k (mostly highway). He towed a very, very light boat and trailer probably about 1/2 the time. I’ve never towed anything.

By the end of June, it was hesitating before slamming harder into gear, and has progressively gotten worse, with the same pattern for each gear. By July, I had to take it off overdrive (into 3rd) to get it to start rolling since it shifted partially into gear, then finally fully into gear on its own. It got worse until I had to manually shift down into 2nd. In 3rd or 2nd, if I tried to shift up a gear before I reached normal speed for that shift, the engine would rev high and either not go into gear at all, or rev normal and shift in very, very hard.

I should clarify, once the vehicle had been shifted manually a few times, it would work on its own just fine, until I shut it off, and then the whole process starts over. Sometimes after starting over, it would shift on its own faster, sometimes not.

By August, a former mechanic friend told me to dump in Lucas Oil, which I did, to hold me over until I could get it fixed. It held thru till now, when I had a tax refund to get it worked on. The hesitation (up to almost two minutes at times) was so bad by the time I got it turned in for the rebuild, I was ready to start manually pushing it into 1st gear, then 2nd, then 3rd and finally overdrive, until it could do it on its own. It had also in the last two months developed a high pitched whine which changed with the gears and was worse when weight was added, such as my two teens who total about 320 pounds between them.

So, can anyone tell me, am I being ripped off for this part I’ve never heard of?

Thanks, everyone.

Run on down to the shop and have him point out the damaged parts, if he wants you to understand why you need the part he will find a way to show you why the part cannot be re- used. It is not at all uncommon for a automatic transmission teardown to reveal more than initaly expected, this is OK. Ask him if he thinks a rebuild is overkill for this car and if finding a unit from a junkyard will be good enough to get what is left in the rest of the car out. Listening to your description of use and maintianeance I would say getting another 50K will be about it (and that is being real generous). How would you feel if in 2 mths the engine needed 1k in work, think about all this stuff when putting this kind of money in a old, not so well maintained low end car. Sorry for your loss, at times it is hard to let go of something you get this way.

I appreciate your honesty, and thank you for your condolences. I am not overly sentimental about “things” - the biggest gift I got from him. If I were to get another 50k, that would be about a year, maybe two now that I am not driving as much, and that’s fine. Since I am a single mother working 3 jobs and barely making it, that actually means quite a bit.

The rebuild was recommended by him and my friend whom I trust implicitly, the ex-mechanic who no longer works on cars. I asked him about the possibility of a junk yard part, and he pointed out that he would have to tear down each transmission to find the sutiable part, which would be very expensive, and there would be no guarantee of finding it. This seems fair to me. I have no transportation until I have my truck back, so looking at the parts to see the damage is not possible. Thanks for your help.

Finally - is there such a part as a “Planetary Drum”? Thanks again.

I googled it since I know squat about automatics except expensive to fix at failure. I never owned one and hope I can avoid them.

The planetary drum is a major component apparently:

Wow. Thanks - I don’t feel so bad anymore. This guy seemed honest, looks like he probably is. At least I know I have to plan on getting another car in a year or two. Good thing my son will be graduating about the time I’ll need to do that! Then he can get a job, and I’ll have more money to live on. :>)