Northwest powertrain resources provide perspectives on industry and remanufacturing

Portland, Ore.; Kent, Wash.—With vehicle system technology expanding at a rapid pace over the past 15 years, powertrains have seen dramatic changes in design, function, and output. With CAFE and other government requirements demanding that light-, medium-, and heavy-duty vehicles provide better fuel economy, automakers have had to re-think how engines, transmissions, torque converters, drivelines, and other systems provide plentiful power and still yield decent fuel ratings.

For those who remanufacture powertrain products, including transmissions, keeping up with technology and providing quality units to their customers is an ongoing process that entails trained staff, extensive rebuilding equipment, and a commitment to quality. Two Northwest remanufacturers provided Parts & People with insights on what their companies are experiencing.  For more than six decades, family-owned Transmission Exchange Co. in Portland has been providing its large automotive, truck and industrial customer base with transmissions, transfer cases, torque converters, transmission parts, overhaul kits, and other products.

Father and son team Greg and Spencer Hodes said that the most popular transmissions they sell include the General Motors 4L60E and 4L65E automatic units that were designed for longitudinal engine configurations. Other top sellers include the 4R100 Ford four-speed automatic found on several years of Ford trucks with a Power Stroke Diesel, the 47RE and 48RE Dodge RAM Cummins automatics used for some 13 years on 2500 and 3500 Series, Ford’s 5R110 five-speed transmission, Jeep and RAM 45RFE transmissions, the NV4500 five-speed manual used in GM and RAM applications, plus other GM and Ford units, as well as the Toyota five-speed transaxle.

While the majority of transmissions remanufactured at Transmission Exchange are light-duty, the Hodes said they do provide some medium- and heavy-duty units up to 550 Series trucks. The company provides heavy-duty utility automatic transmission and torque converter packages for hard use street vehicles, as well as Tow Matrix transmissions for extreme-duty applications.

A wide variety of overhaul kits are top sellers at Transmission Exchange, the Hodes team said. Like the rebuilt transmissions, the GM 4L60E/4l65E heavy-duty super kits are popular, as are those for Fords, RAM trucks, Honda Accord and others.

“A quality (remanufactured) product requires quality people, quality parts, and quality technology information,” the Hodes said. “Of course, all this doesn’t matter without a company-wide focus on quality and commitment. The biggest challenge is finding quality people and keeping them committed to our high standards; after that everything else falls into place.”

The Hodes said that there are many levels of rebuilt/remanufactured transmissions available today. “All Transmission Exchange transmissions are remanufactured to the highest quality standards with no corners cut,” they said.

Another Northwest family-owned and operated transmission remanufacturer is Transmission Rebuild Center (TRC), headquartered in Kent, Wash. Founded by Jeff and Sue DeMeerleer, most company operations today are handled by sons Ben and Jared DeMeerler.

“Across the country by volume, I think we still see mostly transmission from GM, Ford, and Chrysler (now FCA U.S.), but in the Northwest we definitely see more Asian and German imports,” said Jared DeMeerleer. “And we’re getting more calls for six-speed transmissions. The trend toward more complicated transmissions seems to be channeling all new inquiries into the reman market.”.

While automatics comprise 95 percent of TRC’s business, DeMeerleer said the company still provides a variety of manuals, mainly for trucks. “We sell anything driveline related, including transfer cases, differential, parts, torque converters, valve bodies, and some engines,” he said.

“We have our own torque converter company, Premier Torque Converters Inc., and in addition to supplying ourselves we supply a good portion of the rebuilders up and down the West Coast,” DeMeerleer said, adding that the mixture of domestic and import units remains high. “We get lots of requests for performance builds, high/low stall, and we sell a lot of heavy-duty billet converters.”

TRC’s biggest challenges, DeMeerleer said, is finding quality staff and keeping up with technology. Though the company’s HR department receives large quantities of resumes each week, and the have community college automotive students tour the plant regularly, plus belong to all the trade associations, it’s “just not enough” to find good people.

“CAN technology has been a challenge to the industry and we’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in new dynos, valve body testers, and scanners,” DeMeerleer said.

Customer education is also an important issue, he said. “Not every shop has the specialized equipment to flash the vehicle’s computer, so our technical support department gets more and more calls each day. Consequently, our quality manager travels to meetings and conferences around the country to meet with other production remanufacturers to learn about technology issues and improvements to the remanufacturing process.”

DeMeerleer said he values their extensive customer base and “by and large they do a terrific job installing our transmissions, but there remains a need for good attendance at training seminars and expos to keep the pipeline full of talent and experienced installers.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.