The transmission is a vital part of your car that allows the engine, with a very narrow range of speeds it can operate in, to control your car, which might need to move at anywhere from one to one hundred miles per hour. It can also be an expensive and troublesome part of your car to repair if something goes wrong. Educating yourself on proper transmission maintenance and care can save a huge headache, and a huge bill, down the road.
As with many aspects of car upkeep, checking your transmission fluid and tending to it regularly is probably the simplest task with the most reward you can perform. The transmission fluid in an automatic transmission is vital for cooling, lubrication, and power conveyance. Usually there will be a dipstick for easy checking of your fluid level. You can also consider adding a friction modifier to your transmission fluid. They can be difficult to locate in your local parts store, as it is often considered a specialty product and thus available predominantly at professional transmission centers, but additives have been shown to add life and reliability to a transmission.
The greatest enemy of a transmission is heat, understandable when temperatures can exceed 300 degrees Fahrenheit: seals can harden, fluid breaks down, and clutches burn. An auxiliary cooler can help alleviate some of these heat issues, especially on vehicles that regularly carry heavy loads or tow. In the same vein, installing an in-line filter in transmission cooler lines can significantly reduce particles that find their way into the transmission fluid. Your transmission fluid is also cooled by your car’s overall cooling system via a heat exchanger in the radiator tank. Ensure your cooling system is working properly to avoid problems that may extend to the transmission (and guard against engine problems as well).
Transmission problems, like so many others, start small but grow significantly worse the longer you avoid addressing them. Pay attention to indicators such as a check engine light on the dashboard or a few drops of fluid you notice on your driveway as you pull out. If you notice any unusual noises or bumps during gear shifts, take your vehicle to a repair center for a diagnosis so you can pay for a minor repair instead of a major one. An annual service of your transmission has a similar preventative effect, including a complete transmission fluid and filter change.
The relationship between the engine and the transmission means that care of your engine extends to care of your transmission. Any problems with engine performance can put unnecessary strain on the transmission. Keeping your engine properly tuned means less stress on the transmission and better performance overall.
You can also actively try and help the transmission during shifts: pay close attention to what speed your gears shift at in your vehicle, and just before they do, back up off the accelerator. This forces the shift and reduces the load on the clutches, improving your transmission life in a satisfyingly active way. Always be sure to come to a complete stop before putting your car in reverse (or switching back to drive), as changing while your car is in motion can cause significant harm. Engage the brake pedal and the parking brake before putting your car in park, and only change from park to drive when the engine is totally idle.
Always remember that transmission care depends heavily on what you do with your car. If you regularly carry heavy loads, tow a trailer or other vehicle, or are constantly crossing uneven terrain, consider taking extra preventative steps and making more frequent checkups.
This article was written on behalf of Mr Clutch, Northwest Washington's leading clutch repair and transmission specialists.