Are you finding your options becoming more and more limited when one of your light-duty vehicles has transmission troubles? You're not alone. As fuel-efficient--and technologically-complex--six-speed transmissions saturate the light-duty market, fleet maintenance managers may have to re-adjust their repair philosophies.
According to Wayne Colonna, president of Miami, FL-based Automatic Transmission Service Group (ATSG), technical information is quickly becoming a scarce commodity. "The manufacturers are not as forthcoming with the information as they used to be," he explains. "First of all, there are more transmissions coming out now than ever before--we have such a wide variety. And the technology involved has increased dramatically."
REPAIR OR REPLACE?
Colonna has been president of ATSG, an employee-owned technical support service, since only 2001, but in that short time he has seen epic changes in this part of the industry.
"What we're seeing is that the manufacturers are trying to get it to a place where they just want the transmission changed," he says. "They can't find the right--or enough--technical guys to actually support repairs at their own dealerships, so it's much easier for them to just pull the transmission out, put another one in, change the computer, whatever they've got to do."
As a result, very little information is provided by the OEMS about the internal components of the transmission. It is becoming, essentially, a mystery box that technicians open at their own peril. And when they do open it, they find more and more that they can no longer simply replace the faulty component.
Colonna points out the valve body as a particular trouble spot. "The valve body is the component inside the transmission that shifts the transmission through the gears, and it's usually via solenoids that the computer controls," he explains. "The valve body has the shift solenoids, the pressure control solenoids, but the (OEMs) don't really give you a breakdown. They prefer just selling you a whole valve body with the solenoids instead of doing individual component sales.
"More and more of these transmissions are actually putting the computer inside the transmission, and it's usually mounted on the valve body," he continues. "So now, if you need a solenoid, you pretty much have to buy the computer, the valve body assembly and the solenoid. They don't sell it individually.
"So again, we're getting into subcomponent parts replacement instead of being able to replace individual components," he says.
RIGHT TO REBUILD
Colonna has a beef with the "Right to Repair" movement, but not because he thinks it's a bad idea; he just thinks it's distraction from the real issue. Technicians already have a right to repair, he claims, but the OEMs have defined "repairing" as "replacing entire systems."
"It's just a smokescreen, as far as I'm concerned," he says. "For me, what's really happening is, they're taking away the right to rebuild. Sure, you can repair it; change the transmission and you've repaired the car. Sure, you can repair the transmission; change the whole clutch drum assembly for $800--we don't sell the individual components, so buy the whole drum assembly, or the whole pump, or the whole valve body.
"So, they're taking away our right to rebuild, and the prices to try to make those repairs are challenging, especially when the manufacturers provide remanufactured transmissions at a much lower price than you could repair them or rebuild them for, because of the way they price up these subcomponent parts," he says. "So we rely very heavily on aftermarket companies coming out with different repairs and parts to try to get around this problem, as well as any used parts that we call ‘good experienced parts.'"
THE REAL CHALLENGE
If you can get past the problem of being forced to replace entire subcomponents and transmissions instead of actually repairing them, Colonna says that the real challenge for a transmission technician is knowing the ins and outs of transmission fluid.