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Transmission warranty warning: Know what you are getting

Complaint filed against U Transmission

A Local 10 News viewer says she was OK with spending $900 on a transmission rebuild for her '99 Ford Crown Victoria, only to have her car break down five months later.
A Local 10 News viewer says she was OK with spending $900 on a transmission rebuild for her '99 Ford Crown Victoria, only to have her car break down five months later.

OPA-LOCKA, Fla. – When Odessa Napper decided to invest more than $900 on a transmission rebuild for her '99 Ford Crown Victoria at U Transmission Specialists in Opa-Locka, she said she was OK with spending the money because of the 24-month warranty.

"That's two months of my rent," Napper said. "We don't have any problem with that. We get transmission, we got a two-year warranty, no problem. But we didn't know in five months the car was going to break down again."

When she brought the car back to U Transmission she said the transmission employee "added four more things that were wrong with the car."

One of those things was a transmission cooler, and the company told her if she didn't buy a new one there would be "no warranty."

Napper filed a complaint with the Miami-Dade County Office of Consumer Protection.

In its response to the county, "Junior" wrote: "We checked the car and the transmission was burnt out due to cooling system. We have to rebuilt the transmission again under warranty but customer was advised that the car need a transmission cooler or there was NO WARRANTY. We give it in writing and the customer sign it."

You can see on the top right-hand side of Napper's receipt, next to the promise of a 24-month warranty, is a handwritten notation that reads "transmission only." Napper said she believed that meant if anything went wrong with the transmission, or related components, it would be covered.

It would appear so did others who filed similar complaints with the Better Business Bureau, the Miami-Dade County of Consumer Protection and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The county inspector investigating Napper's complaint found the company didn't do anything wrong, that a transmission cooler is indeed a separate component.

In 2014 the county did not issue any citations to U Transmission Specialists and no one has filed a complaint with the county office so far this year.

At the time of Napper's complaints, U Transmission Specialists had a F rating with the BBB. At last check it stands at a D rating.

"There is a prime example of the red flag not being seen before you spend the money," said Mike Galvin of the BBB.

Galvin told Local 10 News had Napper checked the BBB website first, she would have spotted service and warranty complaints. One in particular is nearly identical to Napper's experience. That person told the BBB that U Transmission Specialists told them they had to buy a transmission cooler or they would void the warranty.

"There is a pattern and you feel bad for her because it can happen to anybody," Galvin said. 

"So now I know," Napper said. "Check them out first before you go spend your money with any mechanics because it is a big hassle, because if they do something wrong it is hard to prove it if you are not a mechanic."

What to do before you buy the service:

  • Get the warranty in writing so you know exactly what is covered.
  • Check with sites like the BBB to see what other customers had to say about their experience.

Local 10 checked in with the Automatic Transmission Rebuilders Association to better understand industry best practices when it comes to transmission repairs and rebuildings.

On a blog post entitled "What is a transmission service?," ATRA explains that "A transmission service is part of your routine maintenance, just like replacing your engine oil. A complete transmission service should include:

  • Removing and examining the sump or pan (where possible)
  • Replacing or cleaning the screen or filter
  • Cleaning the pan
  • Reinstalling the pan with a new pan gasket
  • Pumping out the rest of the old fluid and replacing it with new, high quality ATF
  • Adding a friction modifier or additive package (model specific)"

Click here to find ATRA shops that offer the association's "Golden Rule Warranty." To locate ATRA member shops type in your zip code in the search bar.

Local 10 asked CEO Dennis Madden if it is industry standard to check the transmission cooler during a transmission rebuild.

He explained:

"Yes, it is standard to check the cooler. However, there are cooler failures that can't be detected prior to failure, so it depends on how the cooler failed in order to answer your question.

"Let me see if I can clarify this. When a transmission fails it'll generally deposit debris (friction material and metal particles) in the cooler. It is absolutely mandatory that you get this debris out of the cooler so it doesn't contaminate the newly-rebuilt transmission.

"There are various methods for doing this. The best way is to attach a flushing machine to the cooler lines and flush the debris out. This too varies based on the type of machine being used. Nonetheless, it is the objective of any competent rebuilder to make certain the cooler is clean prior to reattaching the cooler to the transmission.

"A note here: in the event the transmission was purchased and then installed at a general-repair shop, they may not have a machine and they simply use air pressure to blow out the debris. This is unsatisfactory for ensuring the cooler is free from debris.

"There are other failures that can go undetected at the time of the rebuild. One such failure is a rupture of the cooler tank. The cooler tank is inside the radiator and is surrounded by coolant. The fluid from the transmission flows into (and then out of) the cooler tank and it's the coolant in the radiator that cools the transmission fluid. Sometimes the cooler tank ruptures and the coolant from the radiator flows into the cooler tank and gets into the transmission. This is devastating to the transmission and failure is eminent. There's no way to prevent this if the cooler tank is intact at the time of the rebuild. However, there are times where transmission failure is caused by a ruptured cooler tank, and unless it's detected during the rebuild you're looking at another failure down the road.

"Another failure is when the cooler check valve or bypass valve (not used on all applications) gets stuck. Here too, it may not have been a problem during the rebuild and then failed after the rebuild.

"Now, these types of failures (cooler tank rupture and check valve problems) are known to exist on some vehicles. For example: Nissan has had a terrible time with cooler tank problems and anyone paying attention would know this. If they were working on one of these and it had high mileage you'd expect them to test the transmission fluid for the presence of glycol (radiator coolant), or even suggest to the customer that they replace the radiator regardless. Dodge trucks also have known radiator failures (different type of failure). Some companies replace the radiator with every rebuild in order to prevent a failure."

U Transmission Specialists is not a member of the Automatic Transmission Rebuilders Association.

Follow Christina Vazquez on Twitter @CallChristinaTV

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