WHAT DOES A TRANSMISSION DO AND HOW DO I KEEP IT RUNNING?

Of all the systems in your car, your transmission is second in importance only to the engine. After all, it takes the power created by the engine and “transmits” it out to the wheels to move your car forward (or backward).

Given its role, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that replacing or rebuilding the transmission is one of the most expensive repairs you could face. In fact, according to CarMD, it ranked in the top 5 on their 2015 list of the Top 10 Most Expensive Repairs.

At Auto Lab, we want to help you maintain your transmission so it runs reliably for the life of the car. That’s why we want to take the time to answer some important FAQs:

What Maintenance Does an Automatic Transmission Need?

Image showing the difference between red transmission fluid and coffee, which simulates dirty transmission fluid.The key to smooth shifting is clean fluid, making a transmission fluid service or flush an absolute must. This removes dirty, contaminated fluid and replaces it with clean fluid.

Why is this so important? Because this fluid has three important jobs:

  1. Lubricating the internal moving parts.
  2. Building hydraulic pressure, which is needed to shift gears.
  3. Cooling the internal parts, keeping them from overheating and self-destructing.

In addition to flushing the fluid, some vehicles also have a transmission filter that needs to be changed. This functions like an oil filter, keeping dirt, debris and metal particles from circulating inside and causing problems or premature wear on the gears and other components.

How often should you have your trans fluid change? Every 60,000 miles is a basic rule of thumb, but the needs for your vehicle will vary by make and model, driving conditions and your driving habits. We recommend consulting your owner’s manual, as well as your auto repair shop.

At Auto Lab, we evaluate the condition of your trans fluid as part of our routine vehicle inspection. If the fluid is no longer clear and red, but instead looks like coffee, we’ll recommend a transmission service.

In some cases, we may see metal particles in the transmission fluid. This can be a sign of a bigger problem. In cases like this, we often recommend removing the transmission pan for further inspection.

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What Maintenance Does a Manual Transmission Need?

For all you lone wolves who enjoying driving a stick shift, you’ll be glad to know the maintenance needs are minimal. We recommend changing the fluid in the manual transmission and transaxle every 60,000 to 90,000 miles. This is an easier procedure than flushing an automatic trans, and as a result, costs a bit less.

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Should Anything Else Be Done During a Fluid Service?

Depending on your vehicle, we may recommend these related services at the same time as a fluid flush:

  • Replacing the trans filter.
  • Changing the transaxle fluid.
  • Changing the differential fluid (four-wheel drive vehicles).
  • Inspecting the tires (four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicles). If your tire tread is wearing unevenly, your vehicle may have trouble going into four-wheel or all-wheel drive. This can ruin the four-wheel drive unit, which is an extremely expensive repair.

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Signs of a Transmission Problem

If your automatic transmission is low on fluid, has dirty fluid or is developing a problem, you may notice your vehicle:

  • Failing to shift into one or more gears, including reverse.
  • Shifting harshly or clunking when going into gear.
  • Hesitating or engine RPMs racing before shifting into gear.
  • Showing metal particles on the transmission dipstick or in the fluid.
  • Emitting a burning smell.
  • Leaking a reddish brown or black fluid.
  • Illuminating a dashboard warning light.

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Why Choose Auto Lab for Maintenance or Repairs?

When it comes to flushing the fluid, we have the equipment that is needed to thoroughly evacuate your transmission and remove most of the old fluid. On many vehicles, if you only drain the dirty fluid from the the transmission pan, you still leave loads of dirty fluid floating around inside the trans, diluting the positive effects of your maintenance efforts.

In addition, when it comes to diagnosing a shifting problem or a fluid leak, our ASE-Certified Master Technicians have decades of experience to get to the heart of the matter quickly and correctly. Where an inexperienced technician might mistakenly condemn the entire unit, we know how to diagnose and replace individual components before prescribing a costly rebuild or replacement.

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