Transmission Comparison

Here, we’ll compare our Stage II 4L80E to the closest equivalent from other vendors. We know that we have an advantage over many other builders because we don’t “follow the herd.” We have tested our products, we have seen other companies builds come across our build tables, and we don’t BS the customer by telling them they need whatever the fancy part of the week is. We also have some logistical advantages other companies don’t have. We have low overhead due to our location and we don’t spend thousands a month in advertising fees because word of mouth has served us well. We have several core suppliers locally, we have in-house machining capabilities, and our parts suppliers are mostly local to the DFW area. That said we also have more experience and time studying the hydraulics. Jake is an inquisitive gearhead by nature… or freak of nature… we’re not sure which 😉 He spends quite a bit of time studying the hydraulic and mechanical aspects of OEM and aftermarket transmission parts. This has led to the development of several of our own components or upgrades, and improvements of some other vendors products.

Click on a tab to select a transmission and see Jake’s comparison notes

Jake's PerformancePerformabuiltPATCMad Dog

Our Stage II 4L80E starts with a year appropriate core. Some vendors use only the later model cores because they are typically cleaner, are less likely to have worn bushings and parts, and allows them to save time on cleaning, bushing replacement, and possible worn hard parts. This is not a bad practice, however many will also try to tell you that they use the late model core because of improvements made by GM. GM did make some design changes along the way to the 4L80E. Most significantly in 1997 they went to the “center lube” style. This routed the cooler return to the center support area of the transmission instead of the front. The theory was that returning the lube oil from the cooler back to the center of the transmission instead of to the front would allow better lube flow and longer planetary life. In our experience there was no significant improvement with this redesign. Both styles have been in service long enough that we are seeing both come in with high mileage. We actually see more planetary failures in the late model 4L80Es and almost all are lube related. Keeping in mind that these transmissions were installed in heavy vehicles for towing and heavy duty use, failures of this type aren’t surprising, and with a proper rebuild either style works fine, our point is that there isn’t any inherent flaw in the early design that precludes it use. It’s essentially the same rear geartrain as a TH400 that has proven itself for almost a half a century.

Another “improvement” made by GM was the overdrive section was revised for a smaller overdrive sprag (roller clutch). We actually prefer the early style overdrive sprag for high performance use. It is more robust and seems to hold up better, although a failure of either style is rare and is usually lube related. We are working on a different design OD sprag setup for the really high powered cars. There were some other minor changes made on the later model units that we feel are improvements but not worth any additional core charge in most applications.

Next, all of our 4L80E builds get all new frictions, steels, bands, shift solenoids, pressure manifold switch, internal harness, boost valve, seals, gaskets, low roller clutch, intermediate sprag, heavy intermediate snap ring, etc. We aren’t skimping on parts to give you a better price. It is not cost effective for us to re-use steel plates like many builders do, we don’t feel you should pay for a rebuild and get used friction components, we don’t want to entrust our rebuild or your satisfaction to a used shift solenoid. Internal harnesses get old and brittle, so we like to replace them, again for reliability. The boost valve is a common wear item within the pump of a 4L80E, we replace them as a matter of course because the transmission pressures depend on it. We replace the valve body separator plate on almost all builds so we can control the consistency of shift quality.

We always rollerize the rear thrust location of the 4L80E, similar to the TH400’s we do. This a common modification that doesn’t require machining and we feel it should be done on any build, even a stock replacement. We machine the forward hub and install a torrington bearing between it and the direct drum on all 4L80E builds. This is another small improvement but the rpm differential between these two drums can be profound, so it’s a worthwhile modification.

All 4L80Es get a 34 element sprag. Some vendors claim this is an “extreme duty” part or otherwise “talk it up”. This is an OEM part made by the SPX division of Borg Warner, early model 4L80Es got the 16 element version and need to be updated, later models already have this “extreme duty”component so we replace it with a new one.

Frictions

You’ll often see vendors talk about the special “racing” frictions used in their 4L80E builds. The later model 4L80Es came with some of the best friction material that can be bought stock from GM. High-Energy material that is carbon based. We use this same friction material in most of our 4L80E builds. It has proven itself very reliable and capable up to the 1200 HP level. No reason to fix what isn’t broke or charge more for something that sounds sexy. We just use what WORKS!

Steels

Same story as above. We’ve tested the Kolene steels. We prefer stock untreated steels. The Kolene steel is a heat treated nitrided steel. Excellent process just absolutely unnecessary in an automatic transmission. The steels ride against the friction material. Friction material is typically based on a paper matrix bonded to a steel backing. The paper can only handle so much heat and is only so hard. Regular untreated steel can handle more heat and is harder than any friction and will withstand more heat. Once again, we are selling you what you need, and not hype.

Valve Body Kits

We don’t use any pre-packaged valve body kit on our 4L80E builds. We have spent extensive time and effort studying the 4L80E. We have our own transbrake valve body design and multiple units living reliably at over 1000 RWHP. This is proof enough that what we do works. Many other builders will use a packaged kit such as the TransGo HD-2. The TransGo kit is an excellent product and it works, but the knowledgeable builder can build the transmission without using any kit and save money. We do this and pass the savings along. Another reason we are able to offer a superior product for less. However when we see a performance builder using this kit, it tells us they are “following the herd”. Do you want to follow the herd or do you want to lead it?

Now that we have explained some common details, let’s look at the competitor’s builds!

Let’s look at Performabuilt’s 4L80E. They advertise:

This is our strongest transmission offering to date. We start with only late model cores for our performance line and application based core for our heavy duty line (Heavy Hauler). Each of these units features all the latest upgrades and high quality materials for assembly. Below is the breakdown of the builds. Note the differences between the HD and Performance versions. The Heavy Duty line is available in both 2 and 4WD. The Performance and Heavy duty 4L80E.

The unit is disassembled, each part carefully inspected and clearances are measured to meet our specifications not just the maximum clearance allowed by GM.

The case is carefully inspected, cleaned and re-inspected. Then it is coated with a special heat and oil resistant paint making for a very tough finish and a clean look.

Bushings are replaced and sized as needed to performance specifications.

The intermediate clutch sprag consists of an extreme duty 34 element sprag and roller assembly with specially prepared race and spiral ring, to prevent high RPM snap ring release.

The Forward and Direct clutch frictions are replaced with heavy duty performance frictions. The drums are then modified to accept additional frictions and the apply area it self is altered to allow use of the entire piston area for apply in the forward drum. “Dished” cushion plates in these units are replaced with the TH400 style plates for additional reliability. These modifications will also result in a much firmer apply into gear from neutral/park to reverse/drive. But durability is significantly increased.

For the Intermediate, Direct and overdrive clutches we use the Raybestos Stage 1 Performance Frictions. These frictions exceed anything on the market for Performance Street/Strip and Heavy Duty applications and are more than suitable for any application.

The intermediate overrun band is replaced with a heavy duty unit. This is mostly valuable in heavy duty truck applications, since this band is used to hold back when the transmission is manually put into 2nd gear while descending steep grades, etc. It will hold up significantly better to engine braking.

The low sprag is replaced with a heavy duty type and the LOW/REVERSE band is replaced with either a Performance band, or a heavy duty band for our heavy hauler applications.

The Pump is carefully inspected and reconditioned for maximum durability and pressure. Special modifications are made to increase cooling and planetary lubrication.

Our own PerformaBuilt shift kit is installed in the valve body. This kit is custom set to the type of unit purchased. The Heavy Duty setup is for maximum hold with minimal “shift shock”, while Performance units are set for a more aggressive race feel, while maintaining a progressive shift that increases in firmness as you add more throttle.

This sounds like a “blueprinted” stock build, with an aftermarket clutch material, and some minor mods made to the shift plate and/or pressure regulator for firmer shifts.

I don’t see any reference to rollerizing any components, adding hydraulic capacity to the stock failure prone direct clutch, or other real improvement.

While I’m sure it’s a good unit, unless they take care of the direct clutch hydraulics, it won’t have a chance comparing to a Jake’s Performance build.

There’s is priced at $3295 with free shipping, a cooler, and cooler flush. Our equivalent transmission with equal product is Stage II using a late model core at $3250. Shipping is $200, cooler and flush is $75. $3475 for our 4L80E with rollerized rear thrust, forward hub, new boost valve, and a 3 month warranty no matter who’s converter you use. Add a transbrake and see how much we can save you… We will price match Performabuilt and if you can use an early style core we will save you money.

Let’s look at PATC’s Level One + 4L80E.

This transmission has automatic shifts and a heavy duty lock-up torque converter. Starting with one of the strongest transmissions on the planet we added a Transgo stage two shift kit. Rated up to 700 horse power with the Red clutch and torque converter upgrade. Every level one stock plus transmission is tested in our test truck. Now you can afford a pre-tested 4L80E transmission for only $2249.00. As an added bonus you can receive a $100.00 discount on a Compushift Electronic Control Module if you buy this package deal. This would bring the total price of the test driven 4L80E transmission, torque converter and electronic control module to $3348.00. This transmission will take the place of a 4L60E transmission with the use of #10X below (LS1 type computer only). For years now people have been looking for a way to replace the weaker 4L60E transmission with the stronger 4L80E transmission, well the time has come.

You can upgrade to all 5 sets of Red clutches for $159.00 making this a very strong transmission. If you have over 400 horse power you need the #L80-LU torque converter upgrade for $159.00. The freight will run from $110.00 to $175.00 in the lower 48 states. There is a core charge of $450.00 on 1996 back transmissions or $600.00 on 1997 up transmissions if you don’t have a trade-in.

It is $2249 plus a $450 core for early style, plus $159 upgrade for Red Alto clutches for them to rate it at 700 HP.
That makes their equivalent unit $2858 to our Stage II early core at $2550 and no mention of warranty.
No rollerized components either. I guess they need the Alto Red clutches and Transgo kit as well. Follow the herd!

Let’s look at Mad Dog’s Transmissions 4L80E. We have to go to Ebay to get his build list below.

SUPER HEAVY DUTY 4L80E – Rated up to 1200 HP !
DIRECT REPLACEMENT TRANSMISSION, VERY STREET FRIENDLY & RELIABLE. GREAT FOR DAILY DRIVING, WORKS EXCELLENT BEHIND FACTORY ENGINES!!!
• All new lip seals
• All new gaskets
• All new Teflon rings
• New filter
• TCC Sonnax update sleeve and valve to eliminate common 1870 code
• New TCC Solenoid
• All new steels
• All new bushings
• All new Raybestos Clutch Disks
• All new 34 element sprag with hardened outer intermediate race
• All new shift solenoids
• New Round Cam Direct Drum
• New Center Support
• New Sonnax Boost Valve
• All new wiring harness
• New EPC Solenoid
• New Pressure Manifold

THIS TRANSMISSION CAN HANDLE 1200 HP and can PULL A HOUSE DOWN!!!

This MAD DOG TRANSMISSION is designed for lots of abuse, excellent for RACING or TOWING heavy weight. This transmissions will not take away any horsepower from your engine. As a matter of fact, this transmission will deliver more rear wheel horsepower than the factory 4L80E!! The reason being is that we run roller bearings instead of thrust washers which drag inside the transmission and create more heat. The most common problem on the 4L80E is loosing reverse and 3rd gear due to the aluminum pressure regulator valve binding up and sticking at wide open pressure. We put a steel pressure regulator valve to eliminate that common problem. Another common problem is damaged accumulator bores. We use the updated Sonnax sleeve and piston to eliminate that problem. Over 26 years of building experience is put into each transmission to ensure that the pressure and clearances are to specifications. It will come with a Full Manual Valve Body that will eliminate the on-board computer. This package includes transmission with free shipping in the United States. NOTE: Let us know what type of shift you want. We can custom build each valve body for your application.

Again, I see a “blueprinted” stock build, likely using a TransGo HD-3 kit for full manual control, and a decent parts list. However I don’t see the billet input shaft, forward hub, and intermediate shaft that we install for our “1200 HP” capable builds. I’ve personally seen the stock inputs fail with less than 800 HP, so I would highly discourage using one at 1200 HP/TQ, but I guess some feel they can overcome the OEM materials with marketing. So we’ll match this build with our Stage II.

No mention of warranty. $2750 with shipping included for the Mad Dog 4L80E. Our equivalent trans is $2550 (full manual control), plus shipping. $2700 total. Do you really believe it’s good for 1200 HP without any hard parts improvements? The 4L80E is a rugged transmission but the input shaft is doomed at 1200 HP in our experience.

Want a comparison vs. your favorite transmission company? Email the build list or call us. We’ll tell you what we think.

*Prices may not be current*