Most people understand the importance of vehicle maintenance. They know that to get the maximum mileage out of their vehicle they need to keep up on all of their required maintenance. Maintenance consists of many things like changing their engine oil, tune ups, tires and filters at appropriate times, but very few people take the time to read their vehicle manufacturers maintenance schedules and actually perform them. This generally equates to needing pricey repairs that could have been avoided.
Most people will get their engine oil changed, but have no idea that they also need to service their transmissions. This lack of general understanding, as well as misguidance from vehicle manufacturers can lead to clients needing transmission overhauls prematurely, sometimes by as many as 100,000 miles. That’s hard to believe, but we have seen vehicles with 300,000 miles running smoothly on their original transmission, and we have seen vehicles with fried transmissions with as little as 90,000 miles on the odometer. The difference? One client services their transmission correctly and the other does not.
Vehicles need their transmissions serviced every 60,000 to 80,000 miles, regardless of what the manufacturers states. We have seen clients with blown transmissions that have never serviced their vehicles because the manufacturer states that their transmission has life-time oil in it. That advice is generally a ruse, since manufacturers sometimes define lifetime as the milage that their warranty expires. Not under warranty means repairs are not their problem, so why not advertise that their transmissions have life-time oil?
Now that we understand that transmissions always require servicing, lets discuss what an actual service entails. Here is a simple question that will help most consumers understand: Would you change your engine oil without also changing the filter? Most drivers would certainly not. In this scenario the engine oil would be instantly contaminated after the oil change, not to mention that an old filter would not keep the engine oil clean as long as possible. A transmission service should not only entail new fluid, but also a new filter and pan gasket, a transmission pan cleaning and a thorough inspection.
That being said, one of the worst things you can do to your vehicle is get your transmission flushed at a quick lube shop. They will only change the fluid, usually with improper or very low quality fluid. This is simply a waste of time and money, and will not significantly extend the service life of your transmission.
So what happens when you don’t properly service your transmission? The first thing that will happen is that your filter will get clogged up with metal shavings and loose clutch material. Once the filter is clogged, it will cause problems with the circulation of the transmission fluid, possibly damaging the pump and causing low quality shifts. After the filter is clogged there will be nothing to remove debris from the fluid and these particles and shavings will make their way through the moving parts of the transmission causing failure. Heavily contaminated fluid will also not absorb heat from the friction of the moving parts, causing the transmission to overheat and burn up.
The key take away from this article is to keep up on your transmission maintenance and ensuring you are getting it properly done for a long transmission life. Who would you rather be, the client with 300,000 miles on their truck buying a transmission service, or the client with 100,000 miles buying a new transmission?
Overhauled vs. Used Transmissions – Which is better?
One of the things we sometimes see is clients requesting for us to install used transmissions in lieu of having us overhaul their failed transmission. This always comes down to budget, as a used transmission is almost always cheaper. This can be a very bad idea though. Simply think of it this way: Why would you want to install a used transmission, when you already have one?
The main issue with installing a used transmission instead of overhauling one is the condition and expected service life of the units. An overhauled transmission has zero miles on it, updated parts, and a generous nationwide warranty on both parts and labor. When we overhaul a transmission you know exactly what you’re getting: a guaranteed high performing unit. A used unit? Not so much.
Where does a used transmission come from? They are generally salvaged from unserviceable vehicles at junk yards. If a vehicle is wrecked in a crash that completely destroys the engine, but the transmission appears intact, scrap yards will simply remove the transmission and sell it with little to no knowledge of its performance. Herein lies the problem, as you cannot test a transmission outside of a vehicle, and inspecting the interior of the transmission would practically require an overhaul.
These transmission units will also come with questionable warranties depending on their source, such as only warrantying the unit and not the labor, or having very small warranty coverage miles and time windows. Why would you replace a transmission with a unit that already has 80,000 miles on it without even confirming its mechanical condition?
Sometimes clients are simply not in a financial position to buy an overhaul, but if you’re thinking about a used transmission with the ability to purchase an overhaul, we advice you to get an overhaul and save yourself a possible headache down the line.
The fastest way to destroy your transmission, aside from improper towing of a vehicle, is running it with low or no fluid. Transmissions with low fluid will overheat and burn up within a very short driving distance. A leak that can be remedied with something as simple as a gasket can potentially lead to a destroyed transmission unit. So what should you do it you notice a leak coming from your vehicle in your driveway?
The first thing you should do is try to identify what is leaking. The easiest way is to look at the oil puddle left behind. Most transmissions will use automatic transmission fluid (ATF), which is red in color. Some transmissions, such as CVT types, use a clear or gold colored fluid. If your leak is red, we have found the culprit. If it is not, you will need to try to find the source of the leak.
If your vehicle has a dipstick, check the level. If it is only a little low, you can top it off and cautiously drive to your local shop to have an expert take a look at it. If it is very low, or has a massive leak, you should get it towed, as driving it in this condition can damage or destroy the transmission on your drive up to the shop.
Low fluid can cause a variety of symptoms, that should prompt you to check the fluid level and inspect for leaks before you see fluid on the ground. Falling out of gear, slamming into gear, harsh shifts, check engine lights and transmission overheating indicators are issues you shouldn’t ignore that could be caused by low transmission fluid. If you experience these symptoms, check your fluid level immediately and inspect for leaks before your transmission becomes damaged!
Getting water inside of your transmission will destroy it within 500 miles and causes a very specific set of problems and symptoms. We see it all the time, someone submerges their transmission by driving through rivers, flooded areas or backing their boat too far into a dock. If you do this, you will need to service your transmission immediately to avoid damage to your transmission.
Water boils at a lot lower temperature than transmission fluid, causing pressure issues within the unit. It also does not absorb heat as efficiently as transmission fluid causing overheating issues. The clutches within the unit are made using a steel saucer with friction material essentially glued to it. Once water gets in the transmission it will degrade the adhesive and cause the clutches to start coming apart, filling the unit with clutch material and causing jams within the clutch baskets. Water also washes away the grease required by bearings to spin smoothly, causing them to fail and oxidizing the synchronizers. Water will also cause rubber gaskets to swell up and cause a myriad of issues within the transmission core.
You will immediately notice grinding noises through your gears as the synchronizers start failing. The more you drive with water inside of your transmission, the more damage it will cause and the higher the cost of repair will be. We recommend avoiding water at all costs, whether you own a Jeep or a sedan, there are no exceptions to this rule. Once water gets inside you’re in a heap of trouble.
If you do flood your transmission by accident, the best course of action is to tow your vehicle to a transmission specialist shop and have them service the transmission and transfer case. If caught fast enough, you might be able to avoid a costly repair bill. Always remember, your vehicle is not a boat!