Automatic transmission problems on a '94 Buick Park Avenue

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Hello--I've got a '94 Buick Park Avenue with 116,000 miles on it. For the past 2 weeks, the automatic transmission has been shifting very hard when put into reverse and drive. (Transmission was serviced last
by the dealership at 102,000 miles). We took the car in to the dealership--they told us that the tranny is "gone", has an internal problem, and stated that the whole transmission would have to be replaced for $2,860 (includes tax, labor, tranny and a 3 year/36,000 mile warranty).
I then took the car to Mr. Transmission. Mechanic there states problem is with the torque converter, and that there is an internal problem, but he believes we caught the problem early, and that there has not been any damage to "hard parts". His plan is to pull the transmission ($400), find the internal problem, replace the torque converter. He uses Transtech aftermarket parts, not GM. He could not give me an estimate on how much this would cost--anywhere between $1000 and $2800. Warranty is 1 year, 12,000 miles.
I want to keep this car for another 3 years, and am leaning on biting the bullet and having the dealer replace this tranny with a remanufactured one from the factory. This transmission has been problematic in the past (when car was new--torque converter was replaced under original car warranty).
My questions are as follows: 1) Are aftermarket transmission parts (transtech) as reliable as the GM? 2) Are factory rebuilt transmissions (GM) reliable, and worth the extra money? 3) We've had problems with the car shaking while at speeds of 55--65 mph. Could this be caused by the transmission? (A year ago the dealership stated the shaking problem was caused by a bad harmonic balancer, which was replaced).
Thank you for your time-- Best regards--r3
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I had the dealer replace the transmission in my 1994 Chevy Z34. It has the 4T60E transmission that yours most likely does. They charged me $1600.00 for the reconditioned unit and $400.00 for labor, fluids etc. The warranty was the same as what you've been quoted. This year I had to take it back as there was a loud whining noise coming from the transmission. There was a Torrington bearing that went bad. They replaced the entire unit again at no charge what so ever. So I can't complain, I'm not so sure that I would have gotten that good of warranty service from an independent shop.
My two cents.
Brian
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What's put in by the dealer:
Is the same thing that they pull out! The aftermarket transmission shops, on the corners add: all the aftermarket updates, which the factory doesn't. (Because in doing so, it would be admitting they made a design flaw, and open themselves to a liability)
Aftermarket converters are just as good as GM remanufactured converters. Someone remanufactures them for GM, most likely the company the local transmission shop buys from.
The dealer's transmission tech might do two or three transmissions a month. The local transmission shop does them every day. Who do you want diagnosing your transmission?
I hope this helps?
Refinish King

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Hello r3, I have had the same experience with my 96 Regal. At 95K my tranny was gone due to wear (!) internal clutches (its all about original GM transmission). I was planning to keep this car for at least 4-5 years, so I've chosen Mr.Transmission (in London, Ontario). In did some research and in fact they provide the best possible service. They are using aftermarket parts. I'm a quality engineer and have good understanding in materials. They showed me these new aftermarket parts (torque converter and clutches) and used GM parts. There is a big difference! Aftermarket parts are maid from stronger heavier steel with better strength characteristics which have direct positive impact to reliability overall. I've chosen to replace completely all internal parts including converter. It was done within 2 days. I've paid C$2450 including everything. After 6K (some break in period), as good preventive maintenance, I've replaced 100% ATF to Mobil1 synthetic ATF and (it was a difference!) and additional transmission cooler (very easy to install)... So far so good. I'm driving a lot and have now 180K. After ~90K rebuilt transmission is performing perfectly well. I'd recommend you to do the same thing as I did if you're going to keep this car for 3 years. Mr.Transmission is very good shop with good experience(!) and reputation here in Canada. If they didn't, they wouldn't provide warranty for 3 years and 60K. Any more questions? Fell free to ask... Cheers Igor

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Why not buy a used transmission from a salvage yard? You should be able to have it done for less than $800 USD total labor and parts.
Patrick
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What happens if that goes in a month?
Refinish King

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First of all, thank you to everyone who responded--you gave me a lot to think about.
Since I hope to keep this car for another 3+ years, warranty on this repair is very important, so, I don't think I will go to a salvage yard (been that road before with another car, and, let's just say things did not go well...lol). For the folks who recommended aftermarket--technician at Mr. Transmission states they use Trans Tech (sp?) parts. Do any of you know whether or not this particular brand of after market parts is reliable? (I've heard that using after market parts for crucial auto components is risky, as these parts may vary slightly from GM parts in tolerances, etc.)
--r3

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They vary in tolerances in a favorable way!
Remember, these are transmissions with inherent problems, and the dealers just rebuild them with new Gm parts, not the aftermarket upgrades, which the corner shops have to stand behind. Out of pocket if there would be a failure.
Aftermarket always use upgraded friction materials, add more frictions to a clutch drum for added longevity, and make hardened parts, where the original parts were just porous cast parts.
The choice is yours, but I'd choose aftermarket every time!
Refinish King

For
last
not
biting
the
55--65
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Completely agree with RK's statement! Igor

very
internal
year/36,000
internal
there
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Good suggestion, Patrick, I would do the same if I'd be thinking to sell the car right away. If r3 is considering to keep the vehicle for a while - it's probably a wrong choice... Igor

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GM parts are constantly being upgraded. Do not believe that crap that they can't change a part because it admits fault in the original part. They reassess parts constantly. When a trans is first made, it will have some problems. As they see what fails over time and what doesn't, they adjust the production to match. Aftermarket is OK but you put yourself at the mercy of the person rebuilding it. He may not change all the hard parts like GM does when they build a SRTA, They have factories dedicated to this only. You may get a great rebuilder at an independant or you can get a lazy person. You could say yeah but the guy in the GM rebuilding plant could be lazy or bad. Well these are production line rebuilds with tolerances that are checked at several points in the process. And if you use the independant and travel then have a problem, they better have a chain of that independant where you are. It's pretty easy to find a GM dealer anywhere. It does not have to be the same make as your car if they are the only one around. My 1 1/2 cents.

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Why don't they have an upgrade for:
4L60E valve body, like the aftermarket does yet? Rear planetary sun gear for the 4L60E like the aftermarket does already? Extra clutch plates for first, and third gear clutch drums, like the aftermarket does for the 700R4 and 4L60E which are the same transmission, except the 4L60E is electronically controlled?
Refinish King

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And this is just GM. Try Chrysler's A604/41TE. They took over a decade of screwing around with different part designs and different firmware versions, they completely redid the valve controller and the computer, before they got the thing to last on average past 50,000 miles.
Ted
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transmission,
of
versions,
the
A friend of mine specializes in Chrysler FWD vehicles from 1988 to 1996. I can not count the number of junk 604's he has replaced in the last few years. Even dealer rebuilds of that transmission do not last very long. Charles
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Because the dealer won't use the aftermarket upgrades!
It's like an admission: "yes, we build shit, and someone else had to come in and clean up our act for us!"
Especially with aftermarket alignment kits, that's subject hits a really sore spot with me. I helped design a lot of those kits in the late 80's and early to mid 90's for a few of the aftermarket companies.
Refinish King

already?
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Naw, Chrysler now has a whole series of upgrades to that trans.
The root problem seems to be that the updated transes now only last a long time if you follow the Severe maintainence schedule in the owners manual. Which requires that the trans fluid be completely changed periodically. Some people even go as low as 20,000 miles, I do 30,000 on mine. Most owners of course, don't change fluid at all, or use Dexron which is the wrong fluid for this trans. And most trans rebuild shops out there only do the A604 every once in a great while, and so aren't familiar with the tricks of it. (such as the computer updates are required because the old computer firmware is wrong and will cause the trans to shred itself, and also that an external trans oil cooler is a requirement, not an option like the factory seems to think) It also doesen't help that a lot of people use these minivans for towing (which they aren't designed for)
All in all, a very finicky trans and one that's demands are much different than most transes. A big disappointment in a passenger car trans. It's a shame that manual stickshifts aren't an option in most of the vehicles that got that trans.
Ted
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Again--thanks for all of the advice.
I got this car at 82,000 miles--the original owner had never had the transmission serviced (servicing the tranny was the first thing I did when getting the car). In all fairness to the first owner, however, is that the Buick owner's manual states that tranny doesn't need to be serviced before 100,000 miles. Does this sound right? Seems like the fluids would break down long before then.--r3

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An all wheel drive Caravan:
With a 6 speed manual would be nice!
Versatility, and no old man syndrome while driving it.
Refinish King

for
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My dodge FWD buddy has one. He drove to NY to get it. Has a broken housing for the rear prop shaft, where it bolts to the extension of the 604 transmission.
The problem with it is, no transfer case. Just a geared output shaft that is in a extension case. From there you have a pinion on a prop shaft that goes back to the rear wheels.
I have been trying to convince him he should lift it, and put some off highway tires on it. Then it would atleast be cool. Charles
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On Fri, 30 Jul 2004 02:41:14 -0700, "Ted Mittelstaedt"

Before the present Windstar we drove a 3.3 Caravan over 150 thousand miles on the original tranny. But, like is mentioned earlier. We changed the fluid 2x and... Tranny cooler plus NO trailer hitch. Cool fresh fluid keeps these things alive. (wish there was something that could be done for flimsy build quality of the rest of the unit though).
Me
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