Rebuilt units are not all equal

All men are created equal but rebuilt units are not, at least not yet.

By Joe Rivera ProTorque

The Declaration of Independence proclaims, "all men are created equal." Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for rebuilt torque converters and transmissions.  Good ole American capitalism ensures that the consumer can make an informed choice between a variety of prices and quality levels. And the rebuilt transmission industry is no different. The average car owner can choose between transmission shop A and transmission shop B, both located on Main Street , Any Town, U.S.A. But does Mr. Average Owner make a truly informed decision between A and B? Does he know what the difference is, aside from price, between the shops? Does he know what kinds of parts are being placed in his automobile? Does he know some of his transmission parts have a separate warranty? If he is choosing only by price, isn't he being denied his god given right to choose better quality?

Whose fault is it that Mr. Average Owner doesn't know the difference?  Is it his fault because he didn't pay attention in shop class? Or is it the fault of the industry? As a board member of the Torque Converter Rebuilders Association (TCRA), I believe it is our fault. Do we, as proprietors in the rebuilt transmission aftermarket, educate the consumer about the difference between a quality remanufactured transmission and one that will be back in the shop in six months? We are all feeling the change in our industry. Consumers now believe it is easier to buy a new vehicle rather then do costly transmission repairs that often times leave their with driveability concerns or back in the shop within a year. Customer education and communication is the only line of defense our industry has against the gro wing trend of throwaway cars. We need to educate the consumer so when they choose between shop A and B, they are choosing not only on monetary quantity but also on quality.

Taking that theory one step further, how does Mr. Average Owner know what kind of quality he is getting from his transmission's replacement parts?  More importantly, how do you, the transmission repairman? Often, you don't and that is where the real problem occurs. 

At transmission repair facilities, there is only a perceived quality of the parts purchased.  Much of that perception is based on real life experience.  You have used a certain part for years with limited problems, so you feel your supplier is providing you with "quality" parts. However, as the rebuilt transmission industry evolves, the replacement parts market must as well. The more complex a transmission becomes in operation, the more complex the parts become. Although perceived as an industry separate from the transmission industry, the rebuilt torque converter market has faced many of the same problems. The more complex transmissions become, the more complex torque converters become. The reality is that it is not two separate industries. We are one industry, facing the same challenges. 

Traditionally, torque converter companies have always had an offence/defense relationship with the transmission repair industry.  There has been much discussion about the quality of torque converters and their affect on the performance and durability of the transmission. Some of this has been warranted and some of it hasn't. 

All rebuilt torque converters are NOT created equal. But how are you, the transmission repairman, supposed to know that?  When you open the box, you perceive a level of performance, the same as when you open a box of oil or container of bolts. Do you know what has been done, or in some cases, not done, to the part about to put into your carefully rebuilt transmission?

Again ask the question, whose fault is that?  As a torque converter rebuilder the simple answer is mine.  As a supplier, I have not done everything I can to educate my customers about the actual differences between my rebuilt units and my competitor's. As an industry, torque converter rebuilders are taking action. The TCRA has stepped up to try and solve some of these problems. TCRA's goals are to institute, in conjunction with industry leaders, two key components to improve the situation.

First, the TCRA board has been filled with industry leaders. Ed Lee of Sonnax, Corky and Carole Myers of TCRS, Mike Mignosa of FNA Trans, Don Randolph of Dacco, Steve Jaussaud of ATC, Dennis Sneath of Midwest, Dick Lewis of Midwest Converter Supply, Ron nie Hartman of Art Carr, Ken Cluck of Oregon Converter and myself, Joe Rivera of ProTorque. We have also enlisted the help of the transmission industry from Tom Fortune , Dennis Madden , Glenn Troub, Wayne Russell , Mike Souza and Wayne Colona.

This group of highly skilled people is working on recommended minimum standard requirements for a rebuilt torque converter.  This is not something that will come quickly or easily, however we feel confident that it will come. Imagine putting 100 transmission builders in a room and asking them to agree on the right way to build an E40D. You will most likely get 100 different answers. The same goes for torque converter builders.  However we believe we can come to a consensus, we believe we have no choice but to come to a consensus.

Our first goal is to create a comprehensive list of definitions and measurement guidelines. This is critical to setting up a standard.  If the way I measure TIR (total indicated run out) is different than my competitor's, how do you, the transmission repair shop, know which one is right. Ideally, TCRA will be able to provide the final answer for you.

The next goal of the TCRA is to "Communicate and Educate" through several means. Along with this article, TCRA will be publishing future articles in order to educate both the torque converter and transmission rebuilder to improve the flow of information technology to the industry. To this end, we feel an important tool will be the TCRA website, www.tcraonline.com . This website will allow members to access important information in order to provide the best possible rebuilt parts. There will be torque converter related technical bulletins and recommended rebuilding procedures.

Some may ask why does a transmission builder need to know this information.  The answer is accountability.  And we believe accountability is a two way street.  If you are having a problem, you will be able to better asses the cause of the issue by using an official TCRA checklist. If through TCRA guidelines you determine it is a torque converter problem, your supplier now can not play the "are you sure it is the TC game."  The same is true in reverse. No longer can the converter be blamed for problems caused by transmission related issues. It will take a lot of the guesswork and wasted time out of the repair process, making more profit for both the torque converter and transmission rebuilders.

The bottom line is that as an industry we need to change the way we view this relationship. No more offense/defense. No more blaming. No more pointing fingers.  Together we need to be accountable to the end user, Mr. Average Owner. Together we need to be accountable for the continued success of the transmission aftermarket

What TCRA and several of the industry leaders are trying to do is to bridge the gap of communication for both parties and to bring a level of communication and education that has never been seen before. Why? The answer is simply for the benefit of the customer, yours and ours. What worked for our industry ten years ago, will not work for us today and it will not work for us tomorrow. TCRA realizes and respects that the future of the whole industry is dependent upon the success of the independent transmission shop.

Appeared in Gears 10-2004