Transmission Wrestling
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If you don't have a lift handy and have to work under vehicles on jack stands, removing and installing transmissions ranks right up near the top on the list of "worst automotive repair jobs you can think of". Space is limited under the vehicle, transmission are heavy greasy things, and most of the common tools you have don't help you do the job you need to do - safely lifting or lowering the transmission and holding it where you want it. As a result of wrestling many transmissions in and out of various vehicles, I have come up with a few tools that make this job much easier. Hopefully this information will help others get their transmissions removed and installed without trouble.


Hydraulic Floor Jack

The first and most basic thing you need is a roll-around hydraulic floor jack. You need this for most any repair you'll attempt that requires getting the vehicle jacked up, so if you don't have one - go get one. I got mine at Costco years ago for around $70 and it's served me very well. You want to make sure the "saddle" - the cup-=shaped part that touches whatever you're lifting - is replaceable.


Small Fixed Jacks

You will also need a couple of smaller "fixed" jacks to help hold things in place, hold up stuff while you reposition the main jack, and various other small tasks. I have two scissors style jacks that came with various import cars so you can do emergency tire replacements. They're small, hold a decent amount of weight, lift pretty high, are easy to operate by hand under the vehicle, and easy to get - just grab a couple next time you're at the junkyard.

These jacks are also great to hold up the front of a transmission if you are removing an engine and leaving the transmission still in the vehicle. You can leave them sitting out under the vehicle for a while with little concerns for them getting stolen since they're so cheap.


Transmission Cradle

I bought mine from Jegs - the one I have is TCI part number 896500 and it's called a "transmission cradle" in the tool description. (NOTE: The links to other sites go stale over time, so you may need to search for it yourself on It's a simple square place of metal with a small lip on three sides and it has a post on the bottom to allow it to be installed in place of the saddle on a typical hydraulic floor jack. This works great as-is for automatic transmissions - you put the transmission pan right onto the plate and the small lips help hold it in place. The transmission ill usually balance pretty well sitting on the pan, so this usually helps you jack the transmission up and into the vehicle - or remove it - by yourself.


Custom Transmission Cradle

I creating this to re-install a manual transmission into a 1989 Ford F150. The problem I had was that the transmission cradle (above) that works so well for automatic transmissions doesn't work so well for manual transmissions. A manual transmission typically doesn't have a flat bottom to sit flat on the cradle and allow the transmission to stay put. The rounded case of a manual transmission allows it to roll sideways very easily - a rather dangerous thing when you are under the vehicle with no place to go and a 100lb transmission decides to roll off the jack and directly at your face.

The basic idea for this is to take two short lengths of 4x4 wood and cut them to fit into the metal transmission cradle (above). Then you cut out a roughly V-shaped section in the center of each one so that they fit snugly around the bottom of your transmission. When you place the wood on the transmission cradle from above and lift the transmission from underneath the wood holds the transmissions snug and secure on top of the transmission cradle. They prevent it from rolling to either side and keep it in place rather nicely. Using this, I was able to install the transmission in about 30 minutes once I had the wood blocks cut.

To make the wood blocks, I started with some scraps I had laying around from a fence replacement project - that's why it's pressure treated lumber. Pressure treated wood is not required, it's just what I had laying around when I needed it. That's also why one block is shorter than the other - it's just what I had laying around to start with. To make the cuts, I used a Sawzall with a long wood cutting blade on it. I started with a basic V-shaped notch and kept test fitting them to the underside of the transmission and cutting away the wood where it touched the transmission. After a few test fits and cuts, I had a roughly shaped cut-out that fit reasonably well to the bottom of the transmission. The depth and shape of the V-shaped notch are what matters here. Spend some time getting the wood cut right and you will find this works amazingly well. The lumber can be picked up at your local lumberyard for a few bucks - they often have a "cull lumber" bin of short scraps leftover from custom cutting that sell for dirt cheap. Or just get a single 6' long 4x4 and cut what you need out of it - again, they are just a few bucks.

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Transmission Lifting Bar

I built a simple lifting bar to help me get the transmission jacked up high enough to get it into my 1975 GMC Suburban. The problem here was that I had to wheel the transmission under the car on the floor jack with it all the way down so it would clear the engine crossmember (by less than an inch!), but the jack didn't have enough lift to get the transmission up high enough to get it into the truck without putting some wood spacers between the jack and the transmission. This bar allowed me to do the job without having to lift the transmission up into place on the jack + wood blocks. It also allowed me to roll the transmission under the vehicle while it was sitting on the jack instead of dragging it across the driveway to get it under there. It's a simple piece of angle iron with two holes drilled in it that match the two lower from mounting holes on the transmission face and a pair of appropriately sized bolts and nuts is used to secure the bar to the transmission.

Here's how it works. You wheel the transmission under the vehicle on the jack normally and get it under the vehicle in the rough space where it needs to go. Then you turn it sideways and jack it up as far as it will go. Place a jack stand under the tail end and a small jack of your choice under the lifting bar at the front. Lower the main jack, insert enough wood spacers to get the total height you need, then lift the transmission off the lifting bar and jack stand. Remove the lifting bar, jack stand, and second jack from under the vehicle, turn the transmission back to it's proper orientation, then jack it up into place. It turns a two man transmission wrestling job into a single man piece of cake. The sideways twisting of the transmission allows the small jacks to sit beside the main jack so you can get the main jack sitting in a front-to-back orientation. This allows you to easily roll the entire unit towards the engine to make the final mating of the transmission to the engine. It's one of those "small but important while you're under the vehicle doing the work" things that you need to think about early in the process

If you don't have room to turn the transmission sideways, just make the lifting bar longer and use supports at each side at the front and hold it up that way. Be creative as needed, just make sure that whatever you use has enough strength to support the weight of your transmission!

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Page last updated 01/02/2009 01:51:39 PM