If you know your way around a car’s engine, then you’re better prepared than most drivers. For the average car owner, going to a mechanic is a stressful, often paranoia-inducing experience. And when a mechanic tells you that you need a thousand dollars of transmission work… many people are tempted to get a second opinion.

But while some car repair shops will tack on extra services and transmission work that you don’t really need, the truth is that a bad transmission is an absolute disaster waiting to happen. Simply put, a transmission transmits your car’s engine to its wheels. When you change gears, your transmission changes the amount of output torque and speed applied to the motor shaft. Without a working transmission, your car isn’t going anywhere.

So how do you choose a car repair shop that won’t rip you off? According to the Federal Trade Commission’s official consumer advice for car service and transmission repair, you should take a piece of advice from the Boy Scouts: be prepared.

Transmission Repair Basics
According to the FTC, “The best way to avoid auto repair rip-offs is to be prepared. Knowing how your vehicle works and how to identify common car problems is a good beginning. It’s also important to know how to choose a good mechanic, the kinds of questions to ask, and your consumer rights. This kind of information may help you keep a lid on mechanical mistakes.”

Remember to ask about pricing, parts, and labor costs before any work is performed. Not only that, be sure to demand a written estimate as well. This written estimate should include the problem that requires transmission repair, the parts needed, and the expected labor costs associated with that transmission work.

Simple problems, like repairing a common transmission leak, usually cost just $150 to $200 for most makes and models. More serious problems could require a new transmission altogether, which are typically more expensive than most auto repair jobs.

The Best Way To Avoid Expensive Transmission Repairs? Regular Maintenance
Auto repair experts estimate that neglecting vehicles and regular maintenance cost the economy more than $2 billion annually.

So if you want to avoid surprises the next time you visit a car repair shop, then it’s crucial that you invest in regular maintenance for your vehicle. For instance, for “severe use” vehicles, the best auto repair Knoxville has to offer usually includes changing transmission fluid and filters every 15,000 miles, with severe use typically defined as 50% of drive time in heavy city traffic or regular temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Even if severe use doesn’t apply to your car, don’t forget to regularly change bad transmission fluids just like you would your car’s oil.

Signs You Need Transmission Repair
So how do you know you have a bad transmission, and that an unscrupulous mechanic isn’t just telling you that you have a faulty transmission? Here are some warning signs to watch, listen, and feel for:

  • Remember: a red, oily stain under your car or on the floor of your garage usually signals a transmission leak.
  • A heavy knocking sound or a rhythmic pounding sound could mean you have a loose transmission torque converter.
  • If you’re having trouble shifting gears, or if there’s a delayed response when shifting gears, then your transmission could be in trouble. Alternatively, if you hear your engine speed up but the vehicle doesn’t respond with increased speed, then you likely need transmission repairs.

If you have any questions, feel free to share in the comments.

Red: A reddish color leaking from your car should sound an alarm. This is a sign of a bad transmission, which should be inspected by a mechanic. A simple leak might cost between $150 to $200 in transmission repairs, but replacing the entire failing transmission will cost you a lot more. Transmission work is common for a lot of cars that get heavy use; most experts recommend a transmission filter and fluid change once every 15,000 miles. Transmission fluid is what keeps the car lubricated — without it, you might burn out your shifting and steering completely.

Yellow to Brown: If the fluid is slick and slightly thick with a somewhat oily feel, it might be brake fluid. In this case, don’t even attempt to drive your car — you might not be able to stop! Have it looked at before you do anything else.

Other leaking fluids to watch out for include gasoline — easy to identify because of its smell — and orange or blue windshield wiper fluid. Neither of these is nearly as dangerous as leaking brake fluid or a failing transmission, but it’s important to get them fixed anyway. The neglect of fixable car repairs takes a toll not only on your vehicle, but the entire economy — some say by as much as $2 billion every year.

Don’t make your car a casualty. Be on the lookout for leaking fluids and know what to do if you see them.