CASE STUDY: Toyota Rav4

The customers initial phone call was from her brother inquiring about the cost of a transmission for her 2002 Toyota RAV 4, 4WD. He was adamant about getting a price on a transmission over the phone. I told him I would be happy to give him one once we had a chance to take a look at it. He then said, my sister was already told that she needed a transmission, so how much is yours!?

Here is how the story ends……

Customer Concern / Symptoms: The vehicle feels sluggish, and it sometimes feels like the engine won’t connect with the tires when leaving a stop light. When your rolling along and you punch it to accelerate, it won’t down shift.

Test Data & Diagnosis: Diagnostic trouble codes (DTC’s) on arrival: P0750 – Shift Solenoid “A” Fault. Transmission fluid condition on arrival: Black in color, with a burnt odor. The fluid level level was full.
The transmission started in the wrong gear and would bind up from time to time. Vehicle driveability was horrendous. The scan data and light bar test showed power going to the wrong solenoids in the transmission which were applying opposing clutches. This pointed us in the direction of a failed sequence of operation from the computer. Research from the known problem data base shows a technical service bulletin from Toyota for these exact symptom that we verified. The computer is faulty.

Recommendation & Resolution: Replace the computer as a first step in the repair process, follow by a road test of the vehicle to verify if the transmission operates properly. The transmission may have already been damaged from the faulty computer. However, this transmission is pretty tough and could still be a viable unit.  If the transmission works properly after replacing the computer, then a service of the transmission including a complete fluid exchange to remove the oxidized fluid, a filter replacement and verification there is no evidence of transmission debris lying in the transmission pan would properly complete the job.

Tri-City Transmission Comments for this Repair: We learned this one the hard way several years ago. We sold a transmission to a customer with this same vintage Rav 4 and when we removed it from the vehicle, dis-assembly of the transmission did not indicate that there was anything wrong with the transmission. Just like our case study, the transmission fluid on this one did look badly discollored as well, but it was more from a lack of maintenance than anything else. We ended up resealing this transmission at no expense to the customer and selling them a computer. This was an expensive mistake for us, and our customer was fortunate that we didn’t just sell them a remanufactured transmission or we wouldn’t have discovered the error of our ways.

In this particular case study, this customer left our shop for the price of a transmission service and engine control module. She was told by XYZ transmission shop that she needed a transmission for $6000. This price may or may not have included a computer. At Tri-City Transmission, we have now done this repair enough times and we have seen this transmission survive for several years after we replaced the computer and not the transmission. Guess what? They still work great to this day.

We have seen this same type of problem to be more common in the Toyota lines. This particular transmission is referred to as a U140E or U140F depending on if it is 2WD or 4WD. This transmission is common to many of the front wheel drive cars for Toyota and Lexus. Here’s a few other U140E & U140F equipped models: Lexus ES300, RX300 or the Toyota Rav4, Highlander, and Camry.

Customer’s Final Comments Posted on Dex:
Best in the Southwest by Ragmop - 05/27/2011 - Tri-City Transmission is the Best in the Southwest. I have never had such an awesome experience with such a First Rate, First Class group of auto professionals. I was told my car had to have the transmission replaced ... to the tune of $6000! ... that first quote nearly gave me a heart attack. Thankfully my good friends and several associates advised me to get a seccond option from .....Tri-City Transmission. I now know, there is no transmission they cannot fix. Listen to their ad on the radio, KTAR-FM, it sums up how they are up front and honest. It was ...refreshing to have a BIG company go that extra mile. They wanted to find out really what was going on with my car, … and they didn’t buy into the lie I was being told about needing 6k in repairs. They are very good at communicating with you EVERY step of the repair and they even had a loaner car for me at no cost. I did not need a new transmission as Tri-City determined my car needed a faulty computer replaced to correct the problem ... Call them they are #1.

Industry Comments & Insight: Our industry is programmed to think that transmissions only last 100k miles. This is partly because 1 in 3 transmissions are rebuilt or replaced unnecessarily, and because the installing shop never sees the inside of the transmission. They never find out what the root cause of the problem was, unless the rebuilt unit does not solve the problem in which case they now have to call back the customer and somehow justify a PCM or TCM replacement along with the additional cost of repair.

We have found that 2/3rd of the time at our shop; the relationship with the customer generally follows this same path as described above. Customers need to be aware that if you call a shop for a price on a transmission, some will be happy to sell you one, whether you need it or not. It wouldn’t be because they are dishonest. The process started out on the wrong foot. Especially if it falls into the incorrect expectation that transmission only last 100k miles. This particular car above has 130,000 miles on it. We find this particular transmission to regularly last 200,000 miles.

In our industry, we are often rushed by the customer and the first pieces of the repair process to get short cut are the “Sales Labor” and the “due diligence” needed to make an accurate diagnosis. Sales discipline is greatly lacking and is needed. It is easier to just sell a transmission then take the necessary steps to correct the customers’ wrong expectations and spend the customer’s money unwisely. Frankly, often the customer is as much to blame for having these unrealistic expectations.

When I think of how long it takes my family to set aside $3,200, I realize that in the scheme of 365 days a year, that I drive my car, I could hold out for an accurate diagnosis, and spend a little money on a rental car if needed. Also, if a customer would realize how much money is spent “right or wrong” on an auto repair, they would not choose an auto repair professional simply based on convenience. Your car can be your second biggest investment. Don’t trust it to just anybody. Consumers need to be honest with themselves and do their homework before picking an automotive professional.