Transmission repair? Dealer vs Specialty shop

Two questions: my '99 Mazda 626 (automatic) seems to be a bit reluctant to change gears, especially when cold; some times starting up at a stop sign it will just ‘spin’ for a few seconds at low revs before catching. I assume this means: time to get the transmission fixed, and probably pretty soon. Y/N? If you agree, is it better to go to the dealers to get it fixed or to a specialty shop (or just donate it to NPR and start over…)? Thanks-

I use a trusted independent (not a chain franchise) shop, because cost is generally lower. Some dealerships also do not do in house trans rebuilds, so they add their additional costs on, anyway.

The issue for most folks is to find such a trusted shop in their area. Most of us do not offer these shops an overwhelming amount of business and do not get trans rebuilds with any great frequency.

I would call around, see if friends have had work done, etc and set some estimates from at least three shops. If I had time, I would visit the shops to see if I think their work environment is OK. I feel a clean & organized shop is generally an indicator of a business who cares.

Dep[ending on the car’s overall condition, I would not necessarily junk the car until I got some estimates.

Skip the dealer in this case with an out of warranty repair.

Look for a shop that looks like it is at least as old as you are… Make sure it does not have a name you recognize and NOT a CHAIN.

Thanks. Any ballpark figure idea what transmission repair should cost?

I would like to hold on to the car as long as I can, until it dissolves into rust molecules. I really like the car… when do you know when you reach the point that it’s time to move on?

All my friends have better cars than me, so it may be hard to find someone who has had the work done. Is there any reliable info on the internet that would help in finding a reputable shop?

Which of these names jump out at you as being likely good transmission shops?

Off Campus Auto Repair

Precision Transmission

Fountain Transmission Specialists

All Iowa Transmissions & Repair

Spenler Tire & Transmission

AAMCO Transmissions & Auto Service

AAMCO: oh no! (All Automatics Must Come Out)

I think Precision is a chain. If so, then they’re out of the running.

Go to Car Talk home page and find the mechanics files. Put in your zip code and see what recommendations are there, looking especially for transmission repair issues. See if any of them match your list.

Based on your list, I would talk to Precision (may also be a franchise chain–not sure), Fountain and All Iowa first. AAMCO is iffy because each franchise operates differently and they are generally more willing to do full replacements than to repair. Spenler may job out their transmission work and only do the installs. However, depending on who they use for rebuilds and their warranty, I would not rule them out.

Give each the same discussion of symptoms and ask them what their worst case scenario cost is. That will give you some level of comparison. I would also ask them who actually does their rebuilds. You can discuss pros and cons with them. If you have time, visit the shops to see how busy they are and how they are operated.

Also discuss guarantee. I accept nothing less than 12 mos/12K miles parts and labor. By then you truly know if the repair is good, or not.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of anyone in Iowa who does this kind of work, so all of this is a shot in the dark.

One final thought: if you live near an auto technology school, they may be able to do a rebuild as a class project, at cost. However, you may not be able to choose the timing if your AT fails in the meantime.

I don’t think Precision is a chain, although Google turns up a slew of them - but all apparently unrelated. A lot of folks seem to have just liked the name.

I checked the Mechanics files - Precision and Fountain had good review (All Iowa was not listed). I’ll give them a try.

I would look for one that is an ATRA member. I have used the Kennedy shop in Bloomington, MN with good success. They have always done quality work at a reasonable price. Remember that a warranty is only as good as the place giving it. I went to one place that gave a one year warrenty, and it took them 7 weeks to get my car back after keeping after them. About 6 months later the trans went out again but no way would I take it back there again.

The first step should be checking the fluid level. If the fluid level is fine and the fluid is not burnt then have a good ind. transmission shop scan the car for any codes and pray that it’s a peripheral issue with the transmission.

Anything that requires removal of the transmission and any disassembly on a 12+ year old car with ? miles can safely mean you could be looking at a transmission rebuild. A trans with this kind of age should not get a piecemeal repair.

Are there any shops on the Mechanix Files that have a BAD review? Frankly I don’t think they publish bad reviews. Too much possibility of a lawsuit for slander.

Some of the dealers around here send their transmission work out to a Transmission shop.