Based on your description, it sounds like the bendix is bad on the starter and not fully engaging with the flywheel. Have the starter removed and bench tested. Most parts stores will check it for free.
Let me know what you find. As far as the trans shop, my hat is off to them. If they don't want to remove the trans until the engine is running and they are sure the trans needs removed, it sounds like they are honest.
Wednesday, December 1st, 2010 AT 5:50 PM