The transmission control unit (TCU), is also referred to as a transmission control module (TCM), or gearbox control unit (GCU). It is a type of automotive ECU that controls electronic automatic transmissions. You’ll probably never have to replace or repair the TCM over the lifespan of your car. However, in some rare cases, your TCM, just like any other component in your car, will fail. In case of a faulty TCM, it’s essential to contact a mechanic for immediate transmission control module repair cost.
A vehicle’s Transmission Control Module is a vital component of any road-going vehicle that runs on an automatic transmission system. Most modern automobiles come with a TCM unit, which is handy compared to relying on mechanical or hydraulic control.
Similar systems work in conjunction with various semi-automatic transmissions, purely for clutch automation and actuation. A TCU in a modern automatic transmission generally uses sensors from the vehicle. It also uses data provided by the engine control unit (ECU), to calculate how and when to change gears in the vehicle. This is for optimum performance, fuel economy, and shift quality.
In this article we discuss:
What Is A Transmission Control Module?
Your vehicle’s transmission control module works alongside the engine and the transmission to keep you and your passengers moving forward.
This is the part that’s responsible for calculating the right time and conditions to change the current gear. Additionally, it makes your driving experience the best it can be.
Aside from this primary responsibility, this control module may also send OBD2 codes to your car’s computer. The OBD2 codes will be sent if it happens to detect any malfunction or other issues with your car’s transmission. These codes appear in the form of the check engine light on your dash. It effectively alerts you that something may not be quite right under the hood.
Transmission Control Module (TCM) Location
The transmission control module is usually located under the center console inside your car. It can also be located on the transmission itself.
This is very different depending on which car you have. The transmission control module can be located anywhere inside your car.
To find the transmission control module’s exact location for your particular car model, you should check the repair manual. You can also ask your authorized dealer about its specific location.
Transmission control modules can sometimes even be installed inside of the gearbox.
Why It’s Important
Because it provides a vital link between your transmission system and your engine, the control module is a vital part of your driving experience. Without a properly working module, your car would be unable to change gears when needed.
This could ultimately lead to not only a subpar driving experience but also serious mechanical issues. Such issues, if ignored, may require expensive repairs. These timely changes also help to improve the overall efficiency of your vehicle. Eventually, you’re able to get a better mile out of each gallon of fuel you add to your vehicle’s fuel tank.
These parts are also designed to improve the shift quality of your transmission system. This means shifting between gears is a smoother, and more efficient process that is easier on the gears. Your gears won’t experience as much wear and tear, keeping your transmission in better shape for a longer lifespan.
Furthermore, the part’s ability to send codes to the car’s computer serves as an excellent way to identify transmission problems before something goes wrong under the hood. This, too, can help to prevent serious damage and expensive, time-intensive repairs in your car’s future.
How Does The Transmission Control Module Work?
In a nutshell, a transmission control module is a collection of circuit boards and microprocessors. It’s responsible for activating solenoids, which then direct the flow of pressurized hydraulic fluid (transmission fluid) down the right channel to engage a clutch, lock, or unlock a planetary gear set.
The transmission control unit may be located outside the transmission in line with the wiring harness. Or it could be located inside the transmission next to the valve body. To decide what gear ratio is appropriate, the TCM has to interpret data from several sensors, including;
Throttle Position Sensor (TPS)
The TPS sensor provides one of the most important data sources to the transmission control module. The signal coming from the throttle position sensor tells the TCM how much load is on the engine.
This information can help the TCM determine if an upshift or downshift will be necessary. The TCM can also compare this data to the vehicle speed sensor data, to determine which shift program would best suit the situation.
Vehicle Speed Sensor (VSS)
The transmission control module uses this VSS sensor to determine how fast the vehicle is going, so it will know when it’s time to change gears. If this sensor goes bad, the TCM may select the wrong gear ratio, and the transmission may slip.
Wheel Speed Sensor (WSS)
The WSS sensor data can help the transmission control module to understand what the vehicle is currently doing, so it can adjust the shift program accordingly. It can also help the TCM to control the function of the torque converter.
Turbine Speed Sensor Or Input Speed Sensor
The ISS sensor helps the transmission control module to calculate the correct amount of slippage to apply to the transmission clutches, bands, and torque converter clutch.
Transmission Fluid Temperature Sensor
The TFT sensor is often used by older transmission control units to monitor the health of the transmission. If an overheating event was detected, the transmission control unit may activate a limp mode to protect the transmission from further damage.
Newer transmission control modules can use the data from the sensor to modify the operation of the torque converter lockup clutch or the line pressure.
Brake Light Switch
Modern transmission control modules that are programmed with an engine braking algorithm will use the data from this sensor to decide if a downshift is needed for the braking effect.
Cruise Control Module
The transmission control module can receive inputs from the cruise control system, so it can modify shifting behavior to maintain the desired speed.
Traction Control System
The traction control system may signal the transmission control module to modify shifting behavior (prevent torque converter lockup, 1st gear starts, etc.) If the road conditions warrant.
Once the appropriate gear ratio has been determined, the transmission control module can send signals/commands to various transmission-related components. These include:
A shift solenoid is a little plunger-like device that is used to direct the flow of pressurized hydraulic fluid/ATF. If the transmission control module sends an electric charge through the wire that wraps around the plunger mechanism, it will move to block or allow fluid to flow into the appropriate passage.
Pressure Control Solenoids
Since an automatic transmission requires pressurized hydraulic fluid to operate, the transmission control module has to precisely control that pressure.
A pressure control solenoid allows the TCM to regulate that pressure for the clutches or bands. If one of the solenoids fails, the transmission could slip, experience rough shifts, or overheat.
Torque Converter Clutch Solenoids
When the torque converter clutch is in lockup position, the engine and the transmission spin at the same speed. Torque converter clutch slip means that only a particular degree of lockup is being applied.
The transmission control module can control the torque converter clutch function by sending a signal to the torque converter clutch solenoid/TCC.
The engine control unit/ECU and transmission control module/TCM have to work together for the vehicle to go down the road. Some of the many things that the TCM may talk to the ECU about include triggering the check engine light, storing error codes related to the transmission, and temporarily adjusting the engine RPM to accommodate a gear change.
NOTE: Since the transmission control module is an electronic component with circuit boards and processors, it can store several shifting programs.
These algorithms allow the TCM to compare the data sent from the various sensors against several pre-set parameters. It can then adjust the transmission shift points by commanding particular solenoids on/off to best suit the driving situation.
Symptoms Of A Faulty Transmission Control Module
There are several signs that the TCM is failing. If you detect any of these, it is best to have it checked by a professional before there is damage to your transmission. Repairing or replacing the transmission can be very expensive.
1. Transmission Overheating
Transmissions can overheat for several reasons, including a defective TCM. Pulling heavy loads, heavy acceleration, the transmission stuck in a lower gear while accelerating to higher speeds.
Once a transmission overheats, the components and the transmission oil are less efficient, which may cause further problems. Have the TCM checked by a qualified transmission technician as well as have the transmission oil changed.
2. Shift Lock In The Same Gear
A sure sign that the TCM is malfunctioning is when the transmission is stuck in the same gear and will not shift up or down as engine speed changes. For example, if the transmission is stuck in high gear, you may not be able to accelerate from a standstill position due to the high torque required.
Transmission stuck in 1st gear will limit the maximum speed you can attain even with the engine revving at a high RPM. The transmission should downshift as the car decelerates.
3. Gear Is Stuck In Neutral
Another example of a malfunctioning TCM is when the transmission is stuck in the neutral gear. Regardless of which position the gear shift is placed in, the car will not move since the transmission is stuck in the neutral position.
Your car is not driveable in this situation and must be repaired. Car owners will have to arrange for their vehicle to be transported to a garage for possible repairs to the transmission and TCM module replacement.
4. Cannot Shift Properly Into Higher Gears
The TCM is responsible for shifting gears as your car gradually increases speed. Each gear has a top-end speed, and the transmission should shift to the next gear as this speed is reached.
When the shift does not occur, your engine continues to revolve at a high RPM, without the corresponding increase in ground speed. Your vehicle may never allow you to reach highways speeds under these conditions, which could be dangerous to yourself and other high-speed traffic.
5. Gear Shift Have Problems Downshifting
The TCM (Transmission Control Module) is also responsible for downshifting the transmission as the ground speed gradually declines. Once you come to a stop at a stop sign or stoplight, the TCM should have shifted the transmission into 1st gear.
The transmission should be ready to accelerate. If the downshift does not take place, the transmission may still be in a higher hear, making it very difficult to accelerate from a stopped position. In some situations, the high gear position may prevent the car from moving at all from a stationary position.
6. Delayed Shifting
Your car’s TCM and transmission are designed to shift gears within specific parameters of engine RPM and ground speed. If the transmission shifts gears slowly, there is a loss of momentum, and the car can even slow down during gear changes.
If delayed shifting occurs while climbing a grade, the impact will be even worse. A bad TCM can cause the gears to change slowly and have a dramatic effect on the performance of the vehicle.
7. Poor Fuel Economy
The TCM, transmission, and engine are designed to work in unison to deliver maximum power at maximum fuel efficiency. Any time the TCM is not performing properly, the fuel economy can be impacted.
For example, a transmission that shifts too late or not at all causes the engine to work harder at a less than the optimal degree. In most cases, more fuel is consumed, lowering the miles per gallon efficiency usually delivered by your car.
8. Check Engine Light
The check engine light can be illuminated for many reasons, and drivers should have their vehicles checked by a registered mechanic.
Often there is a problem with the TCM module if the check engine light is on, and your transmission displays some of the above-mentioned symptoms.
A mechanic may use a scan tool to check the diagnostic trouble codes for an indication of what is causing the problem. A P0700 error code usually indicates a problem with the TCU (Transmission Control Unit).
9. Low Transmission Fluid
Low transmission fluid can cause erratic shifting. Symptoms include spikes in RPM levels during shifts, grinding noises, slipping in and out of gears, and erratic shifts. If you have these symptoms, the transmission fluid may be low.
Check for telltale signs of fluid leaks under your car. You may also notice the transmission overheating, such as a burning smell since it must work harder with less fluid. Always pull over and avoid serious damage to the internal transmission components.
10. Transmission Gear Slipping
As your transmission changes gears while accelerating, the transmission may fall back to the lower gear, which indicates gear or transmission slippage. Low transmission oil or a faulty transmission control module could be the cause.
Avoid driving the vehicle long distances and under heavy loads or up steep grades. With gears slipping, acceleration to highway speeds may not be possible, which could cause a dangerous situation on the highway with other high-speed traffic. The transmission internal components could also be damaged.
Transmission Control Module Repair Cost
The average transmission control module (TCM) repair cost is $300. This is slightly lower than the replacement cost. In this case, the TCM (Transmission Control Module) may just need resetting if it is not damaged.
A damaged TCM must be replaced. It is worth a try, since you may be able to save a significant amount of your transmission repair costs. A faulty transmission or engine repair is among the most significant repair on a car.
But sometimes, the TCM may have been completely damaged and need a replacement. The replacement cost is between $250 and $1250, depending on the car model and labor costs.
The average cost of the transmission control module is between $200 and $750, depending on the type of parts to be used. Aftermarket parts can be much cheaper than OEM parts. The labor cost may range between $50 and $500.
The costs associated with repairing or replacing the transmission control module in your vehicle depend on many factors, such as your vehicle’s design and type, the brand, and the parts to be replaced.
In some vehicles, the transmission control module is even installed inside the transmission. This creates the problem that you have to take it apart and this can be very costly.
The other thing to consider is that after the transmission control module replacement, it needs to be programmed by a diagnostic tool. You most often need to do this at a workshop, and nothing you can do yourself with basic knowledge.
Transmission Control Module Replacement Cost: Reliability
One important thing is that you will not have transmission control module repair cost quite often. This vehicle component is designed to last for a car’s lifetime. You won’t always scratch your head and dig deep into your pocket for transmission control module repair cost.
But one thing that’s for sure is, there isn’t a 100% guarantee that the transmission control module will work effectively for all those years. Once in a while, you may have to repair or replace a TCM that has become ineffective.
In most cases, this happens when a car hits 75,000 mileage and above. You should always look forward to such a possibility and know that a transmission control module repair cost may come your way at a certain point.
The good news is that if a replacement is done by fixing a new one, especially the OEM ones, then you won’t have to worry again if it’s a possible failure anytime soon. The case may be a little different from the aftermarket one unless you find a genuine dealer.
Is It Safe Driving On A Faulty Transmission Control Module?
Generally, it is not safe at all to drive a car with a bad TCM (Transmission Control Module). Acceleration, deceleration, erratic gear changes, and more that come as a result of a bad TCM will make it difficult to navigate in traffic.
In addition, the risk is high for further damage to the transmission, which can drive up the cost of repairs significantly. Replaced transmission control modules can be expensive, and a damaged transmission is much more expensive.
Is A Collision Center The Best For My TCM Inspection?
A failed transmission control module causes your transmission to change gears slowly, erratically, or not at all. Insufficient transmission fluid can also cause transmission overheating as well as slow gear changes and slippage. Avoid additional damage to your transmission.
Your transmission should be checked by an ASE Certified professional mechanic. It is always better to ask a mechanic because they can get the transmission module located fast without the need for repair manuals. Call a local repair shop if you are not able to shift your transmission gear.
Transmission Control Module Repair Cost: Summary
Car owners may want to schedule transmission maintenance, and general car maintenance such as changing the engine oil, check the brakes for brake repair needs, check your battery for car battery replacement, tire repairs, safety recalls, and general car maintenance.
Poor car maintenance can cause warranty cancellation, affect your car worth and lease deals. Many people attempt to trade in a car with a defective transmission or sell 2nd hand cars with TCM problems. Buyers should beware.
If you own a heavy, super-duty car like the Ford Escape or Dodge Ram, we recommend going to a collision center whenever you notice a transmission solenoid or TCM problem.
Also, rethink and evaluate your options if the repair that your vehicle needs are too expensive and your insurance claim submission does not approve of the repair. Sometimes auto owners can be better off by exchanging their cars.
Ask the dealer’s sales department for a car comparison of the current pre-owned inventory they have. They usually have a sell us your car type of deal for customers that are in your situation.