Three Ways To Check The Automatic Transmission During A Private Car Sale

Purchasing a used car from a private seller rather than a dealership can often save you time and money. However, all the potential savings will be for nothing if it turns out to need significant repair down the road. Before you seal the deal, follow these three tips to make sure the automatic transmission is in good working order.

Check the Fluid

While checking the fluid levels won't tell you everything you need to know about the transmission's health, it does offer a window into the way the car has been treated over the years.

Automatic transmission fluid (ATF) should be checked when the car is running. Put it in park and let it warm up for a few minutes, then pull out the dipstick and wipe it clean with a paper towel or light colored cloth – this will make it easier to see the color and condition of the ATF.

Fresh out of the bottle, ATF should be a clear red color; however, if it's been a while since the last transmission flush or change, the fluid can appear brown. While some variation of color is acceptable, there should never be any metal flakes or shavings in the fluid.

Transmissions can easily overheat if they're not taken care of—in fact, overheating is the cause of 90% of transmission failures. Take a whiff of the fluid. If the ATF smells burnt, it's a good indication that the car's transmission has overheated. If this is the case, pass on the car.

Take a Road Test

Head out on the open road for a test drive. Pay close attention to the way the transmission feels and sounds. There should never be hesitation when the automatic transmission switches gears; all transitions should be smooth and quiet.

If the car seems to "shake" a bit when it switches gears, it means that the transmission is not engaging properly. You may also hear whining, whistling, or clunking noises caused by various failures in the system.

Since the average cost to rebuild an automatic transmission hovers around $3,000, any noise or hesitation during the road test should result in a pleasant "no, thank you."

Get a Professional Opinion

Aside from the engine, the transmission is the most important component to a car. If you're not completely sure whether it's in good working condition, it makes sense to take it to a professional, such as Pro Transmission.

Ask the seller if they'd be willing to let your mechanic check out the car. An honest seller shouldn't have  a problem with this, provided you cover the cost of the service. If they balk at the suggestion or offer to knock some cash off of the selling price instead, they've probably already got a good idea that there's an issue.

A certified transmission repair shop should be able to quickly let you know whether this is a deal worth pursuing.

When you buy a car from a private party, you won't get the same warranties that a used car dealership may offer. If something goes wrong, you're on your own. Pay special attention to the look, sound and feel of the transmission and get a professional opinion before you hand over the cash.