A d v a n c e d A u t o M a i n t e n a n c e
Automatic transmission dos and don’ts...
No component on your vehicle has the capacity to inflict as much financial pain and inconvenience on you if it fails as the automatic transmission does. Automatic transmissions are very expensive to repair and replace. A small amount of time and money spent on preventative maintenance will save you a mountain of inconvenience and expense later on. The following routine maintenance items and tips will enable you to avoid the horror scenario of your automatic transmission failing:
Wait until the vehicle is stationary before selecting ‘Drive’ or ‘Reverse’...
Always make sure the vehicle is at a complete stop before selecting ‘Drive’ or ‘Reverse’. This particularly applies to when one is selecting ‘Reverse’ after previously moving forward or selecting ‘Drive’ after previously moving backwards. Failure to do this can easily exacerbate wear inside the transmission and can lead to transmission problems which will require expensive repairs.
Put the automatic transmission into ‘Neutral’ when you’re stationary…
When stopped at traffic lights, if your vehicle has an automatic transmission, putting it into ‘Neutral’ will take the pressure off it until the traffic lights turn green, when you can put it back into ‘Drive’. When the automatic transmission is in ‘Drive’, it’s still driving the wheels even if you have your foot on the brake to keep the vehicle stationary at traffic lights, for example. If you were to take your foot off the brake, the vehicle would drive forward under power without you even pushing the accelerator since the engine is running at idle speed and is therefore driving the automatic transmission.
Considering how much time the vehicle spends at traffic lights at a standstill, it’s best for the automatic transmission to be in ‘Neutral’ while stationary. Automatic transmissions are highly complicated, sensitive pieces of machinery. Relieving the tension in it by putting it into ‘Neutral’ when you’re stationary and waiting around will go a long way to keeping it in the best possible condition and avoiding unnecessary wear and tear.
Check the automatic transmission fluid level every three months...
The automatic transmission fluid level should be checked every 3 months or 5,000 kilometres (3,000 miles), whichever comes first. Where a fluid leak is suspected or the vehicle is being driven more than usual, it should be checked more frequently. If the fluid level is found to be low at the automatic transmission dipstick, more fluid should be added through the transmission filler tube where the dipstick normally resides, since a low fluid level can lead to slipping and premature wear inside the transmission.
The automatic transmission does the very demanding job of transferring the power from the engine through to the differential on a continuous basis while the vehicle is being driven. It’s a very expensive and highly complex piece of equipment that’s manufactured to precise tolerances. Maintaining the automatic transmission fluid level at the correct level is critically important in order to ensure that the automatic transmission operates as it should and to avoid expensive problems and maximise its service life.
You can find out more about the procedure of checking the automatic transmission fluid level in the section titled, Checking the Automatic Transmission Fluid Level.
Install an external automatic transmission filter to keep the transmission fluid clean and to minimise wear inside the transmission...
Install an external automatic transmission filter with magnetic as well as paper filtration between the automatic transmission and the radiator on the transmission fluid hose going from the radiator to the transmission in order to capture even the smallest metal wear particles that would normally pass through paper filtration alone. Replace this filter every six months due to the extremely high workload of the automatic transmission to ensure that this filter never becomes clogged with contaminants.
The automatic transmission produces a significant amount of microscopic wear particles, both metallic and non-metallic, which contaminate the automatic transmission fluid and which the conventional strainer-type filter inside the pan of the automatic transmission is incapable of capturing. By installing an external filter with magnetic and paper filtration, you can capture all of these metallic wear particles and the majority of the non-metallic wear particles also, which will minimise the rate of wear inside the transmission and provide smoother performance.
You can find out more about installing an external automatic transmission fluid filter in the section titled, External Automatic Transmission Fluid Filtration.
Change the automatic transmission fluid at least once a year…
Change the automatic transmission fluid once every 12 months or 20,000 kilometres (12,000 miles), whichever comes first. Although many workshop manuals recommend changing the automatic transmission fluid once every 24 months or 50,000 kilometres (30,000 miles), whichever comes first, it is much better to simply change the fluid more frequently once every 12 months or 20,000 kilometres (12,000 miles), whichever comes first. An automatic transmission is an extremely hard-working component of your motor vehicle. The kind of intense activity that takes place inside the transmission takes its toll on the fluid, depleting it of its additives that were intended to protect the precision components inside the transmission. Considering how much work an automatic transmission does over the course of twelve months, it makes sense to change the fluid every 12 months or 20,000 kilometres (12,000 miles), whichever comes first.
For more information on changing the automatic transmission fluid, including important points to pay attention to, please see the section titled, Changing the Automatic Transmission Fluid.
Use a high-quality automatic transmission fluid additive…
Use a high-quality automatic transmission fluid additive such as Nulon Automatic Transmission Treatment after the fluid has been completely changed and when the fluid is therefore at its cleanest. This kind of additive reduces friction and wear inside the transmission, improves the operation of the transmission, keeps the seals in the transmission in good condition and will help to increase the service life of the transmission. My own automatic transmission operates noticeably more quietly and more smoothly soon after I add this Nulon product to my transmission. Nulon Automatic Transmission Treatment is an essential part of my strategy for minimising wear within the transmission, extending its service life, improving its performance and avoiding expensive repair bills.
Replace the internal automatic transmission fluid filter every 24 months…
Take the pan off the bottom of the automatic transmission every 24 months or 40,000 kilometres (24,000 miles), whichever comes first (i.e. every second change of the fluid), in order to inspect the inside of the transmission and to replace the relatively ineffective, internal, strainer-type, fluid filter. Note that this fluid filter inside the automatic transmission only needs to be replaced every twenty-four months as a result of the use of the high-quality, external, magnetic filter being replaced every six months. Because the external filter is capturing the majority of the particulate contaminants, the internal filter takes much longer to fill up with these contaminants.
You can find out more about replacing the internal fluid filter, as well as important points to observe when removing and refitting the transmission pan in the section titled, Replacing the Internal Automatic Transmission Fluid Filter.
Have an automatic transmission specialist check over and test your automatic transmission every 24 months…
Given the importance and the complexity of the automatic transmission in your vehicle, it makes sense to have an expert, qualified automatic transmission specialist, who has extensive experience in dealing with automatic transmissions, check over and test your automatic transmission every 24 months to determine whether its exhibiting any problems that need to be rectified or whether it needs any adjustments to be made to it. If your automatic transmission feels like its running smoothly and you’ve been carrying the required maintenance of annual fluid changes, there’s no reason to be paranoid and expect the transmission specialist to confront you with an expensive bill of work. Think of it as more of a routine checkup from a professional to provide you with peace of mind that all’s well with your automatic transmission. This is also the best way to potentially catch any small problems before they have the chance to grow into larger and more expensive ones.
Preventative maintenance is the key to minimising wear and avoiding expensive repairs...
The use of an external, magnetic filter on your automatic transmission, together with quarterly checks of the fluid level, replacement of the fluid every twelve months, replacement of the internal fluid filter every twenty-four months and a thorough checking over by an automatic transmission specialist every twenty-four months, will prevent major problems from developing with your automatic transmission. It’s not uncommon for such major problems to cost in excess of $2,000 to fix. This effectively delivers a knock-out punch to your cash flow when it occurs. It’s also very inconvenient because you have to take the vehicle off the road for several days so that it can be repaired. It’s much more sensible and cost-effective to prevent any major problems from occurring with the automatic transmission by following the inexpensive, maintenance procedures suggested above.
Copyright 2016 Andrew Mackinnon. All rights reserved.