Transmission Fluid Service
If you’re like most people, you worry a lot about your car’s engine oil. This makes sense, considering oil bathes and lubricates the power plant of the vehicle. But it’s the job of the transmission to parcel out the engine’s power to the wheels, which means transmission fluid — the magenta-colored lifeblood that coats gears and torque converters — warrants just as much attention as engine oil.
Transmission fluid is a slippery liquid that acts as a lubricant for all of the moving parts inside your transmission. Transmission fluid lubricates, cools and cleans internal components of the transmission. It also helps to maintain the hydraulic pressure necessary for the transmission to function. The additives in the transmission fluid can be depleted over time. You may have heard something about how car manufacturers these days claiming that they provide “fill-for-life” transmissions and fluids. Despite the significant advancements in modern transmissions, automatic transmission experts say fluid should be periodically changed to ensure maximum transmission life. For most cars, checking the automatic transmission fluid consists of pulling the transmission dipstick out while the engine is warmed up and running and with the transmission in park. We suggest that you check your owner’s manual.
Why You Should Have Transmission Fluid Service
Most cars on the road today have automatic transmissions and automatic transmission fluid. Pressure changes within the automatic transmission fluid cause the transmission to switch gears. Even on a relatively simple drive, from your house to work, the transmission and the fluid do quite a bit of work. Fluid temperatures soar to 79 degrees Celsius, which seems hot to us but is perfectly normal for your transmission. In fact, if fluid temperatures remained at 79 degrees Celsius, your transmission fluid would and keep going for up to 160,000 kilometers or so. Unfortunately, fluid temperatures rarely stay in that optimal range. Various driving conditions such as stop-and-go driving, hauling heavy loads, driving long distances or up and down mountains — can heat your transmission fluid beyond acceptable limits. At these higher temperatures, your automatic transmission fluid begins to break down, and your transmission begins to shift gears roughly, slowly or both. Heat will also break down the fluid so its consistency becomes more like a varnish. The hydraulics are still there but the lubrication isn’t. It gets to be like a glaze and it becomes harder for the transmission to push it through the filter. When the transmission fluid breaks down this way, the seals and gaskets that help maintain fluid pressure will begin to harden, which can lead to leaks and loss of pressure. Keeping the transmission properly cooled helps to keep these soft and pliable and functioning correctly. Transmission fluid does not burn like oil in an engine, so if the levels drop, it means you have a leak. This should be taken care of immediately in order to avoid the loss of fluid and pressure and more damage to the transmission.
In a manual transmission, the problem is not so much the fluid degradation, but rather fluid contamination. This contamination occurs over time as the synchronizers, bearings and gears in the transmission wear out. The resulting metal particles then float around in the lubricant. And we all know that oil with microscopic particles of metal in it does not lubricate as well as clean oil. So if these contaminants are not drained out, they will shorten the life of your transmission.
When Should You Service Your Transmission Fluid?
Automatic Transmissions: Service intervals for an automatic transmission vary from every 48,000 kilometers … to never. The typical service interval is 96,000 to 161,000 kilometers, however changing it more often does no harm. Manual Transmissions: Most manufacturers recommend that manual transmission fluid be changed every 48,000 to 96,000 kilometers. Under heavy-duty use, some manufacturers suggest changing transmission fluid every 12,000 kilometers
If You Don’t Service Your Transmission Fluid
If you don’t change the transmission fluid according to the schedule suggested by your vehicle’s manufacturer, you’ll be lubricating your transmission with metal shavings and other contaminants, and this will shorten the transmission’s life. The result could be a hefty payment to your mechanic. In other words, changing your transmission fluid at the recommended intervals is a good investment.
Is There Any Maintenance Required Between Intervals?
Yes. It’s important to regularly check the transmission fluid level between service intervals. Letting your car run low on transmission fluid can cause the transmission to shift improperly — or not at all. It also can harm the internal parts of your transmission, which will not be properly lubricated. Unfortunately, you may not hear any noises or have other clues that your transmission is low on fluid, until it’s too late. So it’s important to get it checked.
Here’s how you can check your transmission fluid level:
Manual Transmission: Checking the transmission fluid in a vehicle with a manual transmission can be difficult. A few thoughtful manufacturers have included a dipstick, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. If you own a car with a manual transmission, we suggest that you ask your mechanic to check the fluid level when your car is up on the lift during an oil change. It takes just a minute. Automatic Transmission: If you own a car with an automatic transmission, your car will have a dipstick for this purpose. Be careful not to make the common mistake of confusing the transmission dipstick with the crankcase dipstick. Automakers have gotten better in recent years about labeling or color-coding dipsticks. In the picture on the left, the ring on the right is red to match the automatic transmission fluid, the level of which this dipstick measures. The yellow ring is marked “engine oil.” For most cars, checking the automatic transmission fluid consists of pulling the transmission dipstick out while the engine is warmed up and running and with the transmission in park. We suggest that you check your owner’s manual, however, since some manufacturers may have a different procedure. Of course, always check your fluid level if you notice a leak of any kind. If your fluid level is low and you suspect a leak, bring it in to us and we’ll take care of it for you.
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