Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2007   by Jim Anderton, Technical Editor

Rock solid “Re and Re”

Mister Transmission's Colin Rock knows how to get a transmission in and out of a vehicle both quickly and carefully. Rock shares his secrets to "fast and good" with SSGM readers.

Engines get the glory. But let’s face it: more good cars and light trucks go to the wrecker because of bad transmissions than almost any other cause. Why? Because most transmission trouble is internal and unlike the rest of the power train, it generally has to come out for bench repair or rebuilding.

Repair or rebuild, it’s relatively expensive, and by the time the vehicle is in the shop, it’s usually not a discretionary purchase. Getting the business means pricing the job at levels realistic enough to justify the repair on an older vehicle while still making a decent return. For most shops, the rebuilt unit is a fixed-price input. But what about the removal and replacement? Done right, it’s fast and efficient; done poorly and costs can escalate to “Junk it” proportions.

What makes an excellent, profitable installation? SSGM accepted the invitation of Mister Transmission (Whitby, Ont.) owner Allen Wensink and service manager Jason Bugden, who claim to work with “the best re and re tech in the country.” That tech is 33-year old Colin Rock, who carries both “Class A” credentials and transmission specialty skills sufficient to rebuild what he removes and replaces. Rock has been at it for 11 years and in that time has developed a methodical approach to “Re and Re” that makes it look simple.

Economy of motion is one strategy that’s obvious when watching Rock work. Nobody’s running around and you don’t hear the crash of falling parts or the ring of dropped tools. It’s steady, almost stately motion where everything’s within reach without taking eyes off the task at hand.

“Some guys have nuts and bolts everywhere,” said Rock simply. “I like a clean work area.”

The Whitby, Ont.-based Mister Transmission uses the Mitchell tech database, but Rock operates by his own system: “I can usually beat the book by a long time. I’ve seen a book time for ‘Re and Re’ of eight hours and I’ve done it in an hour.”

Rock achieves speed without rushing by a methodical approach that doesn’t seem fast to the outside observer. Much of his technique comes from a tactical rearrangement of the book procedure to eliminate needless movement of the vehicle. Rock considers how many times the car needs to be worked on over and under, then plans to raise and lower the lift the minimum number of times necessary. This often requires a mental re-write of the book procedure.

Rock takes the additional step of replacing his tools before the reinstallation, then drawing just what he needs onto his roller cart and approaching the vehicle with a clean work area.

At the reinstallation, you rarely see Rock in the manuals. “I do it all in my head. I know what I like to have in my cart. You just need a handful of tools,” he said.

Rock’s technique makes extensive use of stands to support everything from the engine block to the exhaust system during the replacement. Watching him work, it’s clear that this has two benefits: the work area is clear overhead, with nothing drooping down to get in the way or get snagged and it braces the engine tightly for straightforward bell housing alignment. An additional benefit is reduced strain on engine mounts. Mating faces of both bell housing and block are scrubbed shiny-clean and Rock notes the location (and presence) of dowels before he rolls in the new unit.

“It’s very important to check for dowels. I see lots of missing dowels from previous jobs. Bolts don’t locate the transmission to the block; they just clamp it in place,” Rock said.

Rock uses little force and not much side-to-side action in mating the transmission to the block’s rear face and does an initial spin-up of mating bolts carefully to check alignment. He also manually spins the converter before bolting it up to check that important fit. A clean trans case to block fit doesn’t tell you about the converter/flex plate mate, so the manual spin up lets Rock check for smoothness and compare the converter flange to flex plate mounting holes for consistency. And at the last “nuts and bolts” task, Rock torques wheels with the correct torque stick, eliminating the risk of warped rotors, damaged wheels and the damage to a shop’s reputation that can result.

Troubles? Rock feels that today’s complex transmissions are more sensitive to owner abuse, and advises a good rebuilt unit over a factory new unit, citing the ability of the aftermarket to address design flaws like the famous Chrysler diff pin issue. Getting a quality reman unit performing well, however, takes more than strong fingers.

“It’s not the nuts and bolts, it’s the sensors,” emphasized Rock, and added, “With the wiring harnesses today, you can think you’ve cleared it all, then crush one with a socket. Some models look the same over a few (model) years, but they add or take away a sensor. The manufacturers throw a curve ball at you. And some of these sensors are $600 to replace.”

After hooking everything up, it’s not “fill and forget” at Allen Wensink’s shop. “We do a full run on the hoist before the road test. I like to see shift action before it’s off the hoist. Then, it is up again for a visual leak check and inspection for loose bolts, brackets and lines, etc.”, stated Rock, who added a small hint about the shop’s very low comeback rate: “Nobody’s too proud here. We cross check each other’s work.”

Rock also takes care to flush the transmission cooling system with the shop’s hot flush machine. He uses the hot technique because many new vehicles use thermostatically controlled in-rad coolers, so a cold flush won’t dislodge the shrapnel that results from a blown transmission, debris which can destroy a new unit in no time.

After Rock is satisfied about his workmanship, the vehicle gets three tests. After an initial “around the block” run, the vehicle sits and is leak checked again, and then gets a “cold drive” of at least ten kilometers, including top gear driving. Relearn procedures are also performed here for vehicles like Chryslers with the A604 and A606 transmissions. All vehicles are then scanned for codes before release to the customer.

Can you duplicate the speed and accuracy of Colin Rock? A lot of his skill comes from experience, but some of his techniques can be applied by anyone, including an apprentice. Pause for a moment and think about the job before diving in, and like Rock, arrange removed components like tires and axles neatly and well out of the way of both you and other techs moving around the bays. Rock does a “Re and Re” as two discrete tasks, and approaches each as a unique job. Consider and lay out your tools ahead of time and use plenty of light, especially when inspecting and mating bell housings. Of course, it helps to work in a clean, well-lit and orderly shop like Wensink’s, but Rock’s surgery-like methods should be even more beneficial in a spaced-challenged environment. And don’t forget teamwork. The cross-check and don’t-be-afraid-to-ask-a-co-worker humility of Mister Transmission Whitby minimizes errors and keeps the shop running smoothly. Often the tech who’s first to ask for advice or a double check is the one that needs it the least, like Colin Rock.