Transmission dilemma on a Chevy Express 1500

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I’m thinking if you have no problem now,just run it. Unless the guy you know or someone he highly recommends, I personally wouldn’t trust any shop unless you have a really good recommendation. Too many ripoff artist and too many that do more damage then you go in for. I have a recall on my truck that I’ve been putting off because I’m worried they’ll screw something else up while they fix the recall.
Wish I could give you some encouragement, but I can't really. I do have a question: Have you pulled the codes? (Mine showed a P0478 some time ago, but it cleared and never reappeared.)

The 3rd gear went out on our '96 Express 1500 at 110,278. Our daughter was out of town with it at the time, limped to a transmission shop, left the keys and rented a car. After they rebuilt it, we picked it up (2 weeks later). About 3 months later, it developed a shudder from 1st to 2nd. It was in the local branch of that shop for about two weeks. A month down the road, the (somewhat diminished) shudder remained, and it developed a hard shift between 2nd and 3rd. Back to the shop for two more weeks. Five months later, we took it back for a very hard shift into 2nd. It was there for three weeks. (In each instance, they told us they would be able to "get to it" in 2-3 days.) Having read a ton of reviews for shops in the area, the time in the shop seems to be par.

The hard shift became intermittent, and, oddly, could sometimes be cleared by cycling the ignition. (Could be an electronic issue.) It has since been shifting flawlessly several trips, so who knows? (Clutch debris? Actuator was in a bad mood?)

I'm telling you this so you won't count on a "one and done" scenario. I strongly suggest not putting all your eggs in one basket trip-planning wise--transmission issues or no.

Also, it may be helpful to recognize there is a difference between replacing transmission fluid (it does break down) and "flushing" the system (which doesn't seem wise with an older vehicle). If you choose to have it serviced, they may be able to tell you how much metal was on the magnet in the bottom of the pan--although what you actually do with that information is still a question.

I am a big fan of proactive maintenance/repair. With an old van, I walk a line between "do it now, under more or less controlled circumstances" and "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Hearing something new or "wrong", has saved me lots of trouble. (My husband doesn't hear those things either, but has learned to trust my ear.)

Best wishes for the two of you on all your journeys!
CrabbyJerry: (love the username btw): You expressed my husbands exact feelings perfectly! He doesn't even trust the ATRA accredited shops since he ran a healthcare facility and dealt with meaningless accreditation organizations. And he especially distrusts transmission shops.

HappyCamper: THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! (and thanks to Tx2Sturgis for the direct link) I had seen this matter mentioned but could only find the bulletin for earlier Expresses and couldn't verify if it was for the 2005 because, along with @tradesman experience with his Silverado, it gave us hope that the thudding isn't too serious

VanFan: No, hubby has an OBDII tool and is not getting any codes but we've read that some of the P-codes only show up on more sophisticated tools. We found someone who can check tho. And.....Yikes! Those are the kind of stories that make us wary of transmission problems and shops. Thanks for sharing and words of wisdom. I am by no means a transmission guru but from the vast amount of reading it sounds like you hit the jackpot on everything that could go wrong on a failed 4L60E from reading this article when researching . As for your intermittent hard shift problem, I stumbled across this video early on that shows an inexpensive fix for 4L60e with hard shifting that may you may want for future reference if the problem reoccurs. And, lastly.... flushing... we both said that if any shop recommended a flush, we would never return to that shop ever again for any service whatsoever. Thanks for the well wishes and here's to no more shifting problems for both of us. 🥂🤞
Our van does not have a drain plug. Not sure if Chevy added them in later years---if we do have transmission serviced, we were thinking of having a pan installed with a drain plug included. But for now, we would have to drop the pan at every change. <-------->
Old school mechanics know that when you change trans fluid you change the filter as well, so no need for a drain plug on the trans. You simply loosen all trans pan bolts with a catch pan underneath and change fluid and filter at the same time.
A little update:

  • the oil was checked again and there is absolutely no hint of a burnt smell...just a very faint whiff of petroleum product. I looked at the paper towel again today and the oil spot is now a large (it spread very well on the paper, so thin viscosity) clear, diluted tea-colored spot with absolutely no debris or particles seen.
  • I am fairly anal when it comes to documenting car maintenance/repairs/improvements and went back to our very fat van file last night because I can't believe the oil would look this good if the oil hadn't been changed in 100K+ miles. I had completely forgotten that I made a note after buying van that the prev.owner had mentioned that he had the transmission serviced at 97K but we didn't have written proof. The carfax (still in file) only mentioned the transmission was "checked" at AAMCO. Trying to jar our memories, hubby *thinks* he remembers the transmission oil looked really good (a good red color). With the smell, color, and translucency of the oil looking now like it should at about 60K, we decided to get it changed at a trans shop.
  • Made an appt for Wednesday at a local trans shop. They stated upfront, when asking for our mileage and before hearing our backstory, that they will first inspect the oil and will not touch it if it looks bad. They, understandably, do not want any liability for future failure.
  • The shop will give it a free diagnostic scan while there to see if any electronic data pops up.
Piney, that's a good idea. One thing I would do is kinda hang out on the outside of the bay and engage in simple conversation while they are checking it.

There are some not so great places that will "check" something for free or a small charge, and will seem very above board. But they might "adjust" something while down there that'll be attention. So why wouldn't you take it to that trustworthy shop?

There are other shops that are amazing and you can absolutely trust.

But for the cost of a conversation, you don't have to wonder which one you're dealing with.
Old school mechanics know that when you change trans fluid you change the filter as well, so no need for a drain plug on the trans. You simply loosen all trans pan bolts with a catch pan underneath and change fluid and filter at the same time.
Hubs likes to do it himself so the drain plug would have made it less messy to drain first before taking off pan. Also, if he were to try the slow exchange method, it makes things much more challenging. Not impossible, but challenging.
Ugh, I hadn't thought of that. Good point, HC.

I had a friend when we first moved to the area 20 yrs ago who swore by the owner of this very same trans-shop, stating that he was the most honest mechanic they had been to. We took a vehicle there shortly thereafter and met with the owner but we decided not to leave car there. We can't remember why exactly but think it had something to do with being a bit suspicious of upselling (since hubs dabbles in cars and is suspicious by nature it may have been misguided suspicion?). Well, tshe same guy is still in business and even answered the phone and the majority of reviews are about how "honest" this guy is. Again, we take online reviews with grain of salt but thought what damage could they cause with a simple oil change?

And now, I read your post. lol
...everything that could go wrong on a failed 4L60E from reading this article when researching . ...stumbled across this video early on that shows an inexpensive fix for 4L60e with hard shifting that you may want for future reference if the problem reoccurs.
Thank you! I've filed those away. Speaking of files, wonder if mine is fatter than yours? Probably so, after 15 years. I recently tabulated maintenance and repair expenses for our van from purchase (used) in 2007 to date. Purchase price, maintenance and repairs total $19K. Repairs include upholstery and body work (recreating a fiberglass flare and replacing a front grill when someone ran into it). Not included are safety inspection and registration fees or liability insurance.

Memories? Priceless.
We bought a 2005 Chevrolet Express 1500 4.3L with 102K miles in 2017. To be certain it was in tip-top shaped, we replaced/serviced a lot of parts--alternator, plugs, water pump, belts, etc--and changed all fluids and oils, except the transmission. We were advised by a trusted transmission guy not to change the transmission oil since we were not certain of the service history and took this advice.

We converted the van ourselves for long-term living and it has since taken us on 55,000 (mostly carefree) miles, going coast to coast and across the Rockies 4x and to Newfoundland this past summer. It is a workhorse and it is only lately that I’ve noticed just a tad bit of a “thud” (not anything too jolting) at times when going up steeper grades.

We are now planning a trip to Alaska this summer and, since we live in NJ, will be putting the transmission to the test.

We realized quite some time ago that it would always be more cost effective to simply have anything serviced/replaced on it than to purchase a new vehicle and start from scratch so, after much deliberation, we decided to swap out the transmission now since we planned on doing it eventually anyway. And, to be certain it was done correctly, get a remanufactured one installed at a Chevy dealership despite the cost.

Now to get to the crux of the matter: There is a national backlog of reman transmissions on this vehicle and there is absolutely no assurance it will arrive in time before we leave for our trip the end of April.

The choices we can think of are:

  • Order the reman transmission – We have to pay for it up front in order to get on the waiting list and either hope there is one available and shipped well before April in order to have it installed and then have time to drive it to be certain everything is chipper before setting off across the country *OR* it doesn’t arrive and we have to cross our fingers that the tranny doesn’t blow out during our trip and have it done after we get back in September.
  • Have the transmission rebuilt at a local trans shop --- we are wary of rebuilts and the one guy we would have trusted with the job has since retire
  • Take the risk -- Wait until after the trip to order the reman and deal with any transmission problems as they happen
  • Slowly swap out the old transmission oil and if that does precipitate a bigger problem, have the tranny rebuilt– we have read that many people have success replacing small portions of their very old tranny oil a few oil changes at a time.
We do not want to postpone this trip because this could very well be the last trip my husband can take (his health has been slowly declining) and do not want to fly there and rent a car/van/RV.

Would greatly appreciate any input, advice, possible remedies we haven’t thought of, etc…if anyone out there has made it this far.

We have a 2000 1500 Express that had this issue @ 186k. The truck has been extremely well maintained and has also trailered boats it’s entire life. A 5 star shop ran a test and the van threw an error code. I just looked at the invoice but it dosent say what the code # was. Knowing we were going to keep the truck I opted for a remanufactured. Jasper offered a 3 year/ 100k nationwide warranty including LABOR, IMO if you head for the Rockies and use your transmission in L1 and L2 to assist in braking when going down the Mtns. you are heading for disaster and a super big towing and emergency repair bill. Total bill was $3200. Well worth the investment.
VanFan - we do sound like kindred spirits only I don't want to know how much we've put into this vehicle. Would love to see your van if you have a link to your build.

FlipperFL - ITA that a reman is a sound investment and have decided not to spend any $$ on a rebuilt unless we find ourselves in a situation where that is the only choice. I did see that the Jaspers give one of the better warranties and actually asked for a quote when Chevy told us there were no 4L60e's available. (honoring warranties is another issue for later discussions) How many miles have you put on the new trans? It comes at a cost, but we haven't seen anyone come close to Chevy's reman warranty of 10 yrs/100,000.

As for the downshifting....yes,we do drop down to lower gears on steep grades and am glad I saw your post before picking up our van at the shop so that I could ask the owner his opinion on this, out of curiosity. He recommended that we shift down to 3rd and try to go no lower. Hubs put on severe-duty rotors & brakes in 2020 before our 9mo trek out west and he just checked them before our trip this past summer and they still looked brand new so we think we are going to be using them a bit more on this trip to save our tranny.

  • We went in to the office to speak with the trans-shop owner when dropping off van to describe in more detail what my concerns were. He told us that he wouldn't be able to help us with that problem because what I described was inherent to that transmission (precisely what that bulletin said!) which made us both grin from ear to ear.
  • He said the old oil looked "really good" and absolutely no codes popped up. They took it for a test drive after changing the oil, gasket, and filter and even they thought it shifted perfectly.
  • The only recommendation made was that we should get new tires before our trip (already on our list!)
  • We found ourselves a new transmission guy! Loved him to death!
Thank you so much for all your input! Without it, I was so concerned about that thudding that we were about to spend thousands of dollars needlessly....and good thing Chevy did not have any 4L60e's. We know this transmission won't last forever but at least we don't have to worry about it now. THANKS ALL AGAIN!
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Please dont overheat your brakes trying to save wear on the transmission. You might end up with severe brake fade (overheated) and that won't end well on a long steep mountain descent.
Thanks for the caution. Believe me, I'm extremely paranoid about that and anytime I feel that 3rd gear and pumping periodically is NOT keeping speed down, I'll be putting it down to 2. The rotors hubs purchased are built to dissipate the brake heat but I certainly still don't feel comfortable riding them to any degree.

EDITED TO ADD: That's why the brakes look brand new because I'm the PITA (for anyone behind me) dropping to 2nd gear and going 35mph down anything >7% grade. I really do need to brake a bit more.
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"I really do need to brake a bit more."

No, you don't. On steep descents you are doing right by downshifting and using engine braking.

Never sacrifice your safety, and/or your equipment, for somebody else's convenience.

Another tip, if while ascending a steep grade your radiator temp gauge goes high, don't stop at the summit to try to cool your radiator. The temp gauge will continue to climb because air is not moving through the radiator and over the engine block.

Keep moving forward and the temp will drop quickly on the descent.
And while we're talking about shifting, on long and/or steep climbs, if you will manually downshift the lever, moving from D to 3 or 2 (if going quite slow) will help to keep the transmission from slipping as much when it hunts around, in and out of overdrive.

Keeping your speed down and the revs up will help keep the engine and transmission temps from overheating.
VanFan - we do sound like kindred spirits only I don't want to know how much we've put into this vehicle. Would love to see your van if you have a link to your build.
I don't normally choose to quantify things except in gross terms: not enough; enough; too much. Beyond that, it really doesn't matter to me. My spouse takes up where I leave off. He will quantify the cost per average bite of a burger given half a chance. Keeps him sharp, I think. So maybe I was goaded into it a bit, and there were a couple of icy days... It is surprising how much any vehicle costs to keep up.

We have only had two breakdowns on the road, plus a driveway failure and a couple of limp-homes (counting my daughter's trip). Not too bad really. Once, Mater (I'd swear) from Cars towed us. His driver said: "Not a fan of the blue oval. Bow tie man myself." We still laugh about that.

Pics? My past attempts to post them here have not been successful, but I will try again soon. I've got some great "morning after" shots on my phone.

Sounds like you are good to go, and I am very excited for you!