Transfer case repair cost
Repair costs can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars
The transfer case is a key part of almost any four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive system. These complicated components are built to take a beating, but the combination of their sturdy construction and complex designs make them expensive to repair or replace.
We surveyed mechanics from around the country to get real-world estimates for how much fixing your transfer case might cost you, and the results varied considerably. While a simple repair may only set you back a few hundred dollars, a transfer case replacement is likely going to cost you thousands.
Keep reading to learn what a transfer case does, how much it costs to repair or replace one and whether it’s covered under most warranties.
- Transfer cases are built for extreme use and don’t typically fail unless they are abused or poorly maintained.
- Repairing a transfer case is generally more affordable than a replacement, but it’s hard to pinpoint an average cost because there are so many different kinds of repairs.
- Replacing a transfer case is expensive, ranging between roughly $2,000 and $8,000 for our sample vehicles.
- In the estimates we received, the majority of the replacement cost was due to the price of the transfer case itself, not labor.
- Purpose-built off-road transfer cases, like those on Jeep Wranglers, generally cost more than those on standard pickup trucks or SUVs.
What is a transfer case?
A transfer case is designed to transfer engine power from the transmission to the front and rear axles, powering all four wheels for optimum traction in rough conditions. Some transfer cases equally split engine power, while others vary the application of power depending on the situation.
Transfer cases are extremely complicated and durable components. They’re usually made of cast iron or high-strength steel and have a complex set of gears, chains or belts inside that help keep things moving.
If you don’t have an AWD or 4WD vehicle, you don’t have a transfer case.
The exact function of the transfer case in your vehicle depends on whether you have an all-wheel-drive (AWD) system or a four-wheel-drive (4WD) system.
There are various types of AWD systems. Subaru vehicles, for example, use a full-time AWD system that sends power to all four wheels. Once a tire slips, the system sends more or less power to that wheel to help it gain traction. On Subaru vehicles, the transfer case is integrated into the transaxle and is not a separate component.
More off-road-focused vehicles often use selectable, “true” 4WD systems that require drivers to manually engage them with a lever or switch in the cabin. These vehicles normally only send power to two wheels, but once the 4WD system is engaged, all four wheels receive engine power.
What happens when a transfer case goes bad?
There are a few common signs you can look for to see if your transfer case is what’s giving you problems:
- Won’t shift between low and high gears: True four-wheel-drive systems can engage a “low range” gear that allows the vehicle to creep along at slow speeds for optimum off-road performance. If your vehicle won’t move between these gear speeds, you’re probably dealing with a broken transfer case.
- Won’t stay in four-wheel drive: If you put your vehicle in four-wheel-drive mode but it does not stay there, it could be the transfer case malfunctioning.
- Fluid pooling under your vehicle: Running out of fluid is the most common reason why transfer cases eventually fail. Transfer cases need fluid to operate properly. If your transfer case is losing fluid, it will eventually cease working and require a full replacement.
- Strange sounds: Growling, grinding or whirring sounds coming from under your vehicle could be caused by a transfer case that’s starting to fail.
It’s worth mentioning that these symptoms may not be caused by your transfer case, so it’s important to consult a mechanic for a definitive diagnosis before you make any decisions. (Many components on your vehicle can leak fluid or cause grinding sounds.)
How much does it cost to repair a transfer case?
Transfer case repairs can range from relatively simple services, like replacing an output shaft seal (which costs around $350), to complex repairs, like total rebuilds that cost several thousand dollars. Most of the time, repairs are cheaper than replacements, but in some situations, it’s actually less expensive to just replace the whole transfer case instead.
Tom Bonfe, the owner of Bonfe's Auto Service & Body Repair in Saint Paul, Minnesota, gave us a mechanic’s perspective on repairing transfer cases: “You know up here in the North, lots of folks have 4x4 vehicles, so we see a lot of transfer case issues.”
He continued: “We always try to save the customer's money by doing a thorough examination of the transfer case and repairing broken or worn-out components. This usually saves the customer a lot of money but sometimes the transfer case is so damaged that full replacement is the better option.”
How much does it cost to replace a transfer case?
Replacing a transfer case is an expensive proposition. We got multiple quotes for replacing the transfer cases in three sample vehicles, and the average results ranged from $2,077.20 to $7,714. That’s a significant cost difference, highlighting how much your expected costs can vary depending on what kind of vehicle you have.
Of the three sample vehicles, the Ford F-150 had the lowest transfer case replacement costs (at around $2,100 on average), while replacing the transfer case in a Jeep Wrangler was nearly twice as much (roughly $3,900). Our sample Range Rover’s transfer case replacement cost was nearly double that number ($7,714), making it almost four times as expensive as the F-150 replacement cost.
The largest share of the cost came from the price of the transfer case itself, which made up roughly 80% to 90% of the total cost. Labor costs made up just 10% to 20% of the average transfer case replacement costs.
|Vehicle||Average parts cost||Average labor cost||Average total cost|
|2017 Jeep Wrangler Sport||$3,451.50 (89.46% of total cost)||$406.80 (10.54% of total cost)||$3,858.30|
|2017 F-150 Lariat 4x4||$1,721.20 (82.86%)||$356.00 (17.14%)||$2,077.20|
|2018 Land Rover Range Rover||$6,368.20 (82.55%)||$1,345.80 (17.45%)||$7,714|
What if you have a warranty?
If your vehicle is still under the manufacturer's powertrain warranty, fixing your transfer case should be covered. (Powertrain warranties often last longer than bumper-to-bumper warranties.) Check your warranty info to see what coverage you have and how it might help pay for transfer case repairs.
If you’re outside of your manufacturer's warranty period, an extended auto warranty can help you avoid a massive repair bill. You’ll have to buy your extended warranty ahead of time, but if your transfer case breaks, you can potentially end up ahead financially — the cost of a transfer case replacement is often more than the cost of an extended warranty.
One downside is that the cost of a transfer case replacement may be more than some coverage maximums, which are often based on the appraised value of your vehicle. Robert, a ConsumerAffairs reviewer from Minnesota, got an extended warranty but was unhappy with the low coverage limit they received:
“They're only going to offer me $3,000 in repairs, if anything goes wrong. That doesn't cover anything. If the motor blows in it, that's $7,000 right there. If the transfer case goes bad, that's $4,000. … It's not worth spending $100 a month on something that's not gonna pay out.”
Also, make sure you keep up with your scheduled maintenance. Otherwise, you may void your warranty coverage.
Is it worth fixing a transfer case?
Whether or not fixing your transfer case is worth it can be a difficult decision that depends on your situation:
- If your transfer case is broken but your vehicle is still drivable, then it’s up to you to decide whether the current symptoms are worrisome or inconvenient enough to warrant a repair bill.
- If you can’t drive your vehicle at all anymore, you’ll need to balance how much your vehicle is worth versus how much a repair or replacement will cost you.
If your mechanic has estimated that fixing your transfer case will only cost a few hundred dollars, then your decision should be easy. However, things get more complicated when your repair bill is measured in the thousands, especially if you have an older vehicle.
Before you make a decision one way or another, consider:
- Getting repair quotes from other mechanics
- Whether you can safely continue to drive your vehicle with the transfer case the way it is
- Checking your vehicle’s current market value
- Whether there’s anything else wrong with your vehicle that might make investing in it less appealing
Bear in mind that driving with a broken transfer case can cause additional damage, so you could end up with a larger repair bill if you ignore the problem now.
Frequently asked questions
- How do transfer cases work?
A transfer case receives power from the transmission and, if necessary, sends it to the front and rear axles. Transfer cases accomplish this using a series of internal gears, belts or chains that redirect the rotational power from the transmission to the front and rear output shafts.
- How long do transfer cases last?
Transfer cases are theoretically designed to last the life of your vehicle, but abuse and lack of proper maintenance can shorten a transfer case’s life span.
- Can you drive with a broken transfer case?
While you theoretically could drive with a broken transfer case (depending on the extent of the malfunction), it’s not advisable. Continuing to drive with a broken transfer case could further damage it and hurt the other components of your drivetrain, like your transmission or drive shafts.
- Can a bad transfer case damage your transmission?
A bad transfer case can damage your transmission, so you shouldn’t drive with a faulty transfer case if you can avoid it. Transmission repairs are expensive, and you don’t want to turn one repair bill into two.
- Do extended car warranties cover transfer cases?
Extended auto warranties that offer drivetrain or powertrain coverage should help you pay to fix a transfer case. Just make sure you keep up with scheduled maintenance and treat your transfer case well — neglect or abuse may void your warranty.
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