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The 4L60E 2-3 Shift Solenoid: A Common problem for GM vehicles

The 4L60E 2-3 Shift Solenoid: A Common problem for GM vehicles

The 4L60E transmission is one of the best on the market, and because of its solenoid failure, has been continuously improved throughout the years. This repair can cost up to $500 if you can do upgrades yourself. With a licensed mechanic, drivers should expect to pay up to $2000 or more.

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE

Depending on the severity of the solenoid failure, it may be worth sending the car to the junkyard if one more repair isn’t worth the investment.

Transmissions are composed of three different systems that work together: the mechanical system, hydraulic system, and electrical system. 

Together they help determine the power from the engine to the driveshaft, determine what part of the gears receive power, and control the transmission’s shift points. In other words, this is a very critical aspect of the car’s operation.

There are two basic types of transmissions: purpose-built electronic transmissions and retrofitted using electronic controls. The 4L60E is an automatic shift, four-speed transmission. There was an early and late version of this transmission, so it’s important to research which is in your vehicle.

Regardless of its overall impressive reliability, the 4L60E will not function any better than its solenoids. 

Solenoids can wear or break over time and need to be replaced. Depending on the severity, it could mean the car is stuck in neutral becoming completely undrivable.

This blog outlines what a shift solenoid is, what it does, and its common symptoms when broken. The 2021 cost estimates are given to repair the solenoids however these costs vary depending on the garage, location, and availability of parts.

What is a Shift Solenoid?

Modern automatic transmissions use pressurized fluid to change gears; each time a gear changes, the car’s computer activates a shift solenoid which directs the fluid so that the car engages in the correct gear. 

The shift solenoids within the 4L60E transmission receive instructions from the engine control unit to open and close. The E part of 4L60E means electronic; this transmission has electronic control.

If one of the solenoids fails, all sorts of transmission problems can occur. When a little glitch in the system occurs for the vehicle transmission system, the whole thing often shuts down, leading to a frustrating situation involving a stalled car, a tow truck, and (often expensive) repair bills.

What Does a Shift Solenoid Do?

The shift solenoid is a vital component to ensure you have a safe and reliable vehicle. When you are driving, the car’s computer analyzes all sorts of data. Based on this information, the engine control unit appropriately shifts using one of several shift solenoids.

These solenoids have a spring-loaded plunger wrapped with wire. When the wire receives an electrical charge from the engine control unit, the plunger opens and allows transmission fluid to flow into the correct areas. This all happens when the transmission changes gears and you continue down the road.

The car’s computer controls the shift solenoids in several ways including opening or closing the hydraulic circuit or controlling the plunger turning the circuit on and off. Depending on the car’s design, a shift solenoid can be used to control a single gear or multiple gears.

How do I Know if my Shift Solenoid has Gone Bad? 

If the 4L60E shift solenoid is bad, your vehicle could experience failure to downshift, delay in shifting gears, inconsistent shifting, or being stuck in neutral. In the 4L60E, shift solenoids can cause a lot of trouble.

The 4L60E transmission will often fail to downshift if one or more of the shift solenoids are stuck because transmission fluid cannot be rerouted to the transmission to move gears.

Sometimes there is a long delay in shifting and engagement which is often attributed to a bad shift solenoid. It could also mean that the transmission skips gears because it just can’t find the right one.

In the worst-case scenario, if the shift solenoid has completely failed, it is possible that the transmission will not work at all and remain stuck in neutral regardless of what gear you put it in.

What are the Symptoms of a Bad Shift Solenoid?

Luckily, a bad shift solenoid is normally not an emergency transmission repair and you could continue driving the car for a while, although you will notice certain symptoms while driving. These symptoms include:

  • Delayed or erratic gear shifting
  • Inability to downshift
  • The vehicle revs when braking
  • The transmission is stuck in neutral
  • The check engine light comes on

If you notice that your car is taking longer to shift into gears, it could be a failing solenoid. If the transmission fluid is dirty it could mean that the shift solenoid remains open or closed making it more difficult for the transmission to switch gears.

Additionally, if the transmission fluid is dirty and the solenoid is stuck open or closed, it could also mean you can’t downshift or that the car revs when braking. With contaminated transmission fluid, the car does not react to signals from the engine control unit telling it to slow down.

Also, your vehicle could completely be unable to carry out any required shifting and acts as if it is in neutral.

Finally, your check engine light may come on or the transmission may go into Fail Safe mode, making the car near undrivable. You will have limited power and only a few gears so there will be noticeable changes in how your car drives.

Some cars won’t even let the car get into first gear, so you won’t be going anywhere.

How do You Test a 4L60E Shift Solenoid?

Most of the issues with a 4L60E 2-3 shift solenoid are because the coil wire goes bad. The coil wire can go bad in a couple of ways and additionally, the plunger could also get stuck.

You can test shift solenoids using an OHM meter. If the solenoids have a resistance between 20 – 30 ohms, they are good. If the resistance is below 20 but still registers, the solenoid has probably melted. If there is no resistance, the solenoid is broken.

A lot of people don’t even have this type of measuring device. For this reason, dealing with solenoids is not a recommended DIY project. Dealing with the problem will be a less stressful experience if you pay for the tow to a professional mechanic who can do the work quickly and correctly.

If the solenoid is broken, it will no longer be able to create the proper magnetic field needed for the vehicle to run properly. There is going to be a lot of harsh vibration when the solenoid is broken.

If the solenoid is melted it will also display a harsh vibration but additionally will cause extreme temperatures within the transmission.

If the plunger is stuck, it is almost always caused by dirty transmission fluid or some type of debris. Luckily the plunger can be easily replaced and when that service is done, it would be wise to replace the transmission fluid and filter too, that way the dirty fluid is removed.

4L60E 2-3 Shift Solenoid Location and Replacement

In most cases, the shift solenoid is located inside the oil pan and connected to the valve body. 

Depending on your vehicle, a mechanic may be able to replace the broken shift solenoid but sometimes, solenoids come in multiple packs so if there is a problem with one, all must be replaced.

If done by a mechanic, it typically takes two to four hours to complete and shops bill around $60 to $100 per hour. The average total cost to diagnose and replace one shift solenoid ranges from $150 to $400.

The costs vary based on the car, but here is a simple breakdown:

  • A single solenoid costs $15-$100
  • A pack costs $50-$300
  • The labor ranges anywhere from $250 to $400

This brings the estimated repair cost to $250 to $600.

It should be mentioned here that sometimes transmission costs, solenoid replacement costs, and repairs in general are a sign that it’s time to send the vehicle to a junkyard. Cars are only built to last an average of 12 years. 

New car drivers can rely on their warranty or recalls to keep car repairs nice and affordable. However, as the car ages, the problems start piling up. Be careful buying a used car. If there are more problems than just the solenoid, it might be worth reconsidering junking the car and getting something more reliable.

It is normal that shift solenoids wear out over time; however, you can extend their life by making sure you change your transmission fluid when it is recommended by the manufacturer. That ensures all dirt, sludge, and contamination is cleaned out and that fresh fluid keeps the plungers from sticking.

Can I Drive with a Bad Shift Solenoid?

The short answer is yes, you can drive a vehicle with a bad shift solenoid

Although it may not change gears properly or even go past a particular gear, you can drive it for a short period without any serious damage. In some digitalized systems, however, the car may take you offline rending it undrivable. 

Fluid control should continue to function but avoid putting any serious stress on the transmission. Be careful about how you drive; don’t treat the street as your own personal drag race.

There are situations in which the broken solenoid means the car will not move from neutral making the car is undrivable. 

It is best to have it diagnosed by a mechanic before it gets to this point. If your car is already there, it may be better to send it to a junkyard than invest money dealing with this headache.

Note: Driving around a car with a transmission issue isn’t just annoying, it’s downright dangerous. If the car can’t get into gear when you’re on the road, your car may not be able to pick up speed or slow down, possibly leading to a collision. 

If you have a transmission problem while out on the road, you should consider seeking roadside assistance. Have the car towed to a local garage so a mechanic can take a look at it.

4L60E 2-3 Shift Solenoid Problems: Where do You Go from Here?

If you have a vehicle with a 4L60E transmission, you may have shift solenoid issues. Luckily, if caught early, they are easy and fairly inexpensive to replace. 

However, if you aren’t so lucky, you could end up with a car that won’t shift from neutral. You won’t be going anywhere anytime soon if that’s the case.

A final note: don’t assume your transmission problems are “just a sensor” or “just a solenoid.” Often mechanics throw this “good news” out there before delivering the bad news: you need serious transmission repair.

As car owners, we all deal with the headache of car repairs. We just have to be smart about how we proceed.

Depending on your vehicle, it may not be worth making this repair especially if the vehicle is old and has several other issues. In this situation, it is best to send the car to a junkyard and receive a cash payment that can be used towards a newer vehicle.

You have control over your finances and can decide what is best for you in your particular situation. Life is an open road before you, and to progress you either need to get your 4L60e 2-3 Shift Solenoid problem under control or choose a new route altogether.