Things to know about your car’s trans­mis­sion

The Punch - - AUTO -

Main­tain­ing the gear­box is im­por­tant—and of­ten over­looked. tak­ing care of your car or truck’s trans­mis­sion is im­por­tant for its long-term health. But all too of­ten, car own­ers mis­un­der­stand the ba­sic main­te­nance that’s needed to keep a gear­box run­ning smoothly.

Do you need to have the trans­mis­sion fluid changed?

the sim­ple an­swer is yes. But ser­vice in­ter­vals for new ve­hi­cles can ex­ceed 100,000 miles be­fore this needs to be done. that makes this seem­ingly clear-cut ad­vice some­thing of a co­nun­drum for car own­ers. those who do not hold onto a new ve­hi­cle for very long may never have to have the trans­mis­sion fluid changed. What­ever the price might be, it’s nec­es­sary work. Get­ting the fluid re­placed is cer­tainly go­ing to cost you less than re­plac­ing a trans­mis­sion that has been left in the lurch by skimp­ing on ser­vice re­quire­ments. Fail­ing to prop­erly main­tain your car’s trans­mis­sion could leave you stranded and with a big re­pair bill.

Sim­ple on­line tools can be in­valu­able when it comes to know­ing whether your car or truck has been sub­ject to any re­calls. Other than reg­u­lar ser­vice, your trans­mis­sion might be due for some im­por­tant re­pairs—or have an ex­tended war­ranty—be­cause of a past re­call.

How of­ten do you need to have the trans­mis­sion fluid changed?

the best ad­vice is to know your car and the man­u­fac­turer’s rec­om­mended ser­vice in­ter­vals. it’s worth not­ing that in­ter­vals for chang­ing trans­mis­sion fluid vary widely. For some cars and trucks, it can range from as lit­tle as 30,000 miles to more than 100,000 miles. Some new ve­hi­cles, es­pe­cially those fit­ted with au­to­matic gear­boxes, have trans­mis­sions that are al­most sealed shut, with fluid that’s meant to last the life­time of the car.

Most Cvts (con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sions) need in­spec­tions and/or fluid changes. We ad­vise own­ers to re­fer to the owner’s man­ual for spe­cific guid­ance and to keep records of re­lated ser­vices.

Re­mem­ber that un­like en­gine oil, trans­mis­sion fluid should never burn off. and a tell-tale sign of a trans­mis­sion leak is a pud­dle of red liq­uid on the ground, usu­ally un­der the mid­dle or front of the car.

Should your me­chanic flush the trans­mis­sion fluid?

First, it’s help­ful to un­der­stand the role trans­mis­sion fluid plays in a car’s op­er­a­tion. Trans­mis­sion fluid helps keep me­chan­i­cal com­po­nents cool and lu­bri­cated, whether the gear­box is au­to­matic or man­ual. Over time, the trans­mis­sion’s in­te­rior com­po­nents wear down, and tiny par­ti­cles con­tam­i­nate the fluid. This could po­ten­tially lead to dam­age. Get­ting rid of this dirty fluid makes sense, right? if it’s called for in the ser­vice man­ual, go ahead and let your me­chanic do the job.

“This shouldn’t be a fre­quent oc­cur­rence, since a gear­box in good work­ing or­der would not have metal shav­ings pol­lut­ing the fluid over a short pe­riod of time,” Ib­bot­son says. “If that’s the case, it’s likely a sign of a big­ger and more com­pli­cated prob­lem.”

“There is also a dis­tinc­tion be­tween sim­ply drain­ing and re­fill­ing a trans­mis­sion vs. power-flush­ing the sys­tem,” he says. “In a high-mileage car, power-flush­ing the trans­mis­sion fluid can dis­lodge sludge and other par­ti­cles, lead­ing to clogs even af­ter the clean fluid has been added.”

again, the best ad­vice is to re­search your ve­hi­cle and know ex­actly when a trans­mis­sion drain (or flush) is rec­om­mended. Do­ing ei­ther op­tion too of­ten is a waste of time and money.

Does a man­ual trans­mis­sion need fluid, too?

Yes, even a man­ual needs trans­mis­sion fluid. The type of fluid can vary from car to car, how­ever. Some man­u­als re­quire con­ven­tional en­gine oil, and oth­ers func­tion best with au­to­matic trans­mis­sion fluid. So make sure you’re putting in the fluid that’s spec­i­fied for your car. Fail­ing to do so can rapidly af­fect its per­for­mance and the gear­box’s longevity.

Car own­ers with a CVT will also want to pay spe­cial at­ten­tion to the needs of their ve­hi­cle. Un­like a tra­di­tional au­to­matic that has a set num­ber of gears, a CVT of­ten re­lies on a belt or pul­ley sys­tem to op­er­ate an in­fi­nite num­ber of gear ra­tios. Make sure you use a Cvt-spe­cific fluid or you’ll risk big headaches (and re­pair bills) down the road.

How do you know whether the trans­mis­sion fluid needs to be changed?

Check­ing trans­mis­sion fluid isn’t al­ways easy. In many cases, it’s nec­es­sary to have a me­chanic put your car on a lift for ex­am­i­na­tion. Some cars have a trans­mis­sion dip­stick or reser­voir in the en­gine bay, so check un­der the hood first.

Even though fluid lev­els might look fine, it could be more dif­fi­cult to dis­cern whether there are pol­lu­tants or small metal par­ti­cles in the fluid. “If your car is in for rou­tine main­te­nance, ask your me­chanic to check the trans­mis­sion fluid,” an ex­pert says.

Sep­a­rat­ing trans­mis­sion main­te­nance from break­downs is trick­ier. in a mal­func­tion­ing au­to­matic, gearshifts might be­come more abrupt and oc­cur at awk­ward in­ter­vals. For a car with a man­ual gear­box, the feel and ac­tion of the gear lever could be­come stiffer and more balky in reg­u­lar daily op­er­a­tion. these types of prob­lems prob­a­bly in­di­cate an is­sue with the gear­box it­self. if you ex­pe­ri­ence any of them, let your me­chanic know right away.

it can be a com­pli­cated and messy task for the av­er­age car owner. “Ac­cess­ing the trans­mis­sion re­quires ramps, jack stands, or a lift,” Ib­bot­son says. “Even then, get­ting to the fill plug can re­quire a higher de­gree of pa­tience and dex­ter­ity than what’s re­quired for a typ­i­cal change of en­gine oil.”

Many mod­ern cars have trans­mis­sions that are ba­si­cally sealed tight or re­quire a dealer’s ser­vice com­puter to read tem­per­a­ture or other pa­ram­e­ters, mak­ing them all but im­pos­si­ble to work on for the av­er­age do-it-your­selfer.

Parts of this piece were culled from the in­ter­net.

Is chang­ing the trans­mis­sion fluid an easy DIY job?

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