American Transmission Centers, Virginia Beach area - Transmission Digest

American Transmission Centers, Virginia Beach area

American Transmission Centers, a company with four transmission shops, capitalizes on the big metro area of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake and other cities where more than 1.5 million people live.

American Transmission Centers, a company with four transmission shops, capitalizes on the big metro area of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake and other cities where more than 1.5 million people live.

Will Robinson owns outright two of the shops, the Virginia Beach and Chesapeake locations, and he has entered into partnerships with Steve Ashley and Rick Baker. Steve is at the helm at the Lynnhaven site; Rick at Norfolk. Both are co-owners.

The shops are spaced roughly 10 miles apart, providing convenience for their customer base. The shops are much the same in services, with a few exceptions for technicians’ specialties.

In early years, Will was involved in franchises in Atlanta, then he moved to coastal Virginia where he moved into independent shops.


All shops are equipped with everything needed to rebuild transmissions. Two stores have five lifts, the others have four. The facilities are similar in size, 32,000-3500 sq. ft. The breakdown of activity is 85% transmission, 10% engine and 5% other such as air conditioning service for an extra item during the summer.

The shops work on all kinds of imports and domestics and any kinds of transmissions.

“There’s not much that we would shy away from,” Will said.

The shops work on vans such as E-250s and E-350s. Because of the size of the shops, they avoid big vehicles such as motor homes or large trucks.

While most customers come to the shops, two outside sales specialists come to them.

“They are in the streets every day, five days a week. We have great relationships with other shops that do not do transmission work,” Will said. “We take care of that for them, in some cases to where we’d do a bench job for some shops. Other shops don’t want anything to do with it, and they refer their customers to us.”

Will said the outside sales may be wholesale, but they also may be retail referrals. “Much of the outside sales is retail. About 10% is wholesale. We do some fleets, but smaller fleets – 20-25 vehicles, and we just do their transmission work.”

“Occasionally we see a performance transmission, or guys who want to beef up their transmissions because they’ve added horsepower due to their cars. It’s a very small segment,” he said.

“We do R&R work for customers, for instance, bringing a transmission they may have bought, let’s say a high-performance unit or something of that nature. We’ve installed a unit, and of course we flag that as ‘no warranty!’” Will said they don’t look for this kind of work.

Most of the business involves rebuilding. “Everything that comes out of the vehicle we rebuild in house, if possible. If a unit is too far gone, will replace with another unit.”

“We have customers who come in thinking they have a transmission problem when it’s actually the engine,” Will said. Depending on the diagnosis, technicians are ready to perform some kinds of engine and general repair.

“In this day and time, with the vehicles that we’re working on, it could be anything from electronics to ABS brake problems causing issues that seem to be a transmission failure.

“We see a lot of work come into our shops that is non-transmission. A lot of it we send to other shops that do business with us. We don’t want to get into the ABS work and things of that nature. It’s not our cup of tea. A lot of the electrical issues, computer problems and things like that we refer to other electrical shops where they specialize and have the right diagnostic tools.”

Customer service

However, simple problems are worth addressing as gestures of goodwill, such as check engine light, loose gas cap or 02 sensor. Motorists can drive in and get a scan usually on the spot.

“Most people may have a transmission failure once in a lifetime,” Will said. So small favors may pay off in the future. “If they do have a transmission failure, they’ll remember they came to our shop, and we checked their vehicle out for free and got good service.”

As for customer service, they try to be outstanding – keeping regular customers and seeking new ones, he said. In addition, acquire the best quality parts for rebuilding and minimizing comebacks due to parts failures.


Three decades ago, Will was working with a partner with franchise transmission shops in Atlanta. They found that the fees charged by the franchisor to the franchisee caused two types of difficulty: they could not perform services for some customers, or they could set prices that would cut too much into the profit.

In response, they began to work on an alterative for those situations, using the American Transmission name.

“We developed that name for the sake of sending some of our customers who couldn’t afford to get service through the franchise shop to an independent shop,” Will said. “So rather losing the business we developed something that we could maintain the business.”

Later, Will sold off his franchise shops and, under a non-compete agreement, moved to coastal Virginia and redeveloped the American Transmission name. He has been operating in the area since 1998.

Looking ahead

Will’s goals include developing co-owners in the two shops he owns. In a few years, he’ll be looking to retire.

“The people who’ve been with me and interested in being an entrepreneur, then I want to work with them, putting them in a shop, helping them along the way, and hopefully the business will continue to grow and flourish with younger people,” he said.

Any consideration of expanding the company is up to the co-owners. Will said he’s not interested in starting another shop, but he’d coach them in the venture.

“Seeing the company go on without me is very important,” he said. “A lot of these guys have been with me for a lot of years. We want to see them continue to prosper and carry on our good name.”

Continuously Unavoidable

One of the recent innovations in the field is the continuous variable transmission. Some shops avoid the CVT. Will has a different view.

“We believe it’s unavoidable. The CVT market is growing rapidly, and I don’t think they’re going away. I don’t think it’s a flash in a pan. We work on keeping our guys educated on the CVT transmissions.

“A lot of the guys came to it naturally. They’ve dealt with the CVTs in snowmobiles from years and years ago. So they’ve been around for quite a while.

“And they’re really not that complicated when it comes to it. There’s a lot more complicated transmissions on the market now than the average CVT.
“We’re not afraid of them, in other words.”

You May Also Like

How to fix GM 6T70/Ford 6F50 rattling noise with transmission in gear

A rattling noise is coming from the transmission whenever the engine is running and the transmission is in gear.


The complaint

A rattling noise is coming from the transmission whenever the engine is running and the transmission is in gear.

The cause

Too much clearance develops between the pinion bearing and the park gear—refer to figure 1, above—which causes the park gear to rattle against the differential pinion gear.

The importance of the follow-up road test after transmission replacement

A 2002 Lexus RX300 equipped with a 3.0-liter V6 engine and U140F transmission was brought into our facility with a few concerns. The customer said that “it has a leak, a grinding noise when taking off from a stop, and it just doesn’t seem to shift right.” Related Articles – Manual transmission sourcebook 2023 –

RR Tech Feature Oct
Tips and tricks for Chrysler switch valve plug testing

As technicians, we are often faced with build issues that can sometimes be frustrating at first. But with a little ingenuity, these frustrations can be turned around and made simple. Related Articles – GM 8L90 #7 Check-ball: The overheat that saved the day – ETE Reman: Ever expanding – Shift Pointers: Nissan’s no throttle response

GM 8L90 #7 Check-ball: The overheat that saved the day

Beginning in October of 2015, GM removed the #7 Check-ball from the solenoid valve control body in the 8L90 transmission (see Figure 1). This was done in conjunction with the elimination of the Lube Override Enable Valve from the upper valve body as shown in Figure 2. Related Articles – Jatco/Nissan JF011E critical wear areas

ETE Reman: Ever expanding

With a history and reputation dating back to the 1980s, growth is a continuous pattern at Milwaukee’s ETE Reman. CEO Noah Rickun says that ETE is ready to meet the ever-expanding demand for remanufactured transmissions. He points to a combination of available capital to invest in the facilities, equipment, technical capabilities, and the well-trained workforce

Other Posts

Podcast: Talking CVTs with Transtar, part 2

Following part one of Andrew Markel’s discussion of the ins and outs of continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) with Dave Hritsko of Transtar, part two of Andrew and Dave’s conversation gets more in depth on the topic, including a discussion on programming transmission modules for CVTs. Tune in to their conversation in the video above. Related

Podcast: Talking CVTs with Transtar, part 1

CVTs, or continuously variable transmissions, have long been a hot topic in the transmission repair industry, but we can safely say they’re here to stay. So what do you do when one shows up at your shop? In this podcast, with Dave Hritsko of Transtar as featured guest, we dive in to the ins and

Back to square one: When a transmission replacement doesn’t fix the problem

The subject of this article is a 2002 Ford Ranger with a 3.0L V6 engine and 5R44E transmission. There were 191,622 miles on the vehicle when it arrived at our shop. The owner said that the transmission was not shifting correctly and the OD lamp was flashing. Related Articles – Watch: Replacing a transmission and

Tips for success with the GM transmission fast learn process

This article is about failure, something we all experience from time to time. If you are attempting to perform a fast learn process on a GM eight-, nine-, or 10-speed transmission, you may have that temporary feeling of failure, as this process can bring on frustration quickly. Let’s talk about what the fast learn process