Tag Archives: Transmission Basics

The Best Ways to Destroy Your Transmission

Bad habits are hard to break but just being aware of some of the ways you can avoid destroying your transmission can help immensely down the road.

The automatic transmission is a very important module of your vehicle. It allows your vehicle to cruise at highway speed without blowing up the motor. It multiplies the torque of your engine to aid in propelling the weight of your vehicle. It makes driving in traffic less stressful as it eliminates the clutch and shifts itself. While vital to the proper operation of your vehicle, many people take their automatic transmission for granted. Even worse, they contribute to its failure via bad habits. Let’s take a look at some of the bad habits that can destroy your transmission, presented in a tongue-in-cheek manner to help emphasize their significance.

1. Overheat your vehicle as often as possible.

Most automatic transmissions are designed to operate at a maximum temperature of 200 degrees. For every 20 degrees you go above this limit, you risk cutting the expected lifespan of the transmission by a factor of two. To put that in a better perspective, by the time your transmission reaches 300 degrees its life span will be reduced to 1/32nd of what is considered normal. You should also note that at temperature as low as 240 degrees your organic oil based transmission fluid can turn to varnish, leaving it unable to properly lubricate the moving parts inside your transmission.

2. Maintain improper fluid levels.

Letting the transmission run out of fluid or operating it with a low fluid level is a guaranteed way to have a transmission breakdown. The fluid keeps the transmission’s internal components cool and lubricated. When the fluid level becomes low or runs completely out, the internal parts begin to grind and overheat which leads to failure.

3. Never change the fluid.

Another way to kill your transmission is failing to change the fluid according to the schedule in your automobile’s owner’s manual. Like the oil in your automobile’s engine, transmission fluid becomes dirty and eventually needs changing. Failure to change the fluid can lead to the seals and gaskets, as well as internal transmission components, beginning to overheat and break down.

4. Use the incorrect fluid type.

Adding the wrong type of transmission fluid can kill it. Manual and automatic transmissions use different fluids (see ‘Choosing the Right Transmission Fluid‘). These fluids cannot be mixed with other fluids or added on a temporary basis to “just get by.”

5. Drag race from light to light.

This causes the torque converter to produce a lot of heat. If you don’t give the transmission a chance to cool down between jack-rabbit starts, it will overheat quickly. We know what happens to a transmission when it overheats. Unless your vehicle was specifically designed for this purpose, it cannot sustain that form of abuse. You run the risk of damaging all driveline components.

6. Always stop abruptly.

Like fast starts, sudden stops can damage drivetrain components like engine and transmission mounts. These can lead to transmission damage. After any sudden emergency stop, it would be wise to have your mounts checked.

7. Leave the shift lever in park without the parking brake on.

If another vehicle were to even tap yours at the front or back while you’re parked, it could cause the parking pawl to break leaving your vehicle to roll down the street unattended.

8. Downshift to “brake” at traffic lights.

A forced downshift at high engine RPM is sure to cause excessive wear on transmission friction components (clutches and bands).

9. Place the shift lever in drive or reverse when engine is at “fast idle”.

This can cause abrupt transmission engagement leading to early failure of clutches, bands, gear sets, driveline components and engine or transmission mountings.

10. Use your shift lever instead of your brake.

Before reversing direction your car must be at a complete stop. Using the transmission to stop the vehicle will lead to premature transmission failure.

11. Start driving before the engine warms up.

For your transmission to perform properly, the fluid must be at operating temperature. (Give it a few minutes and it will give you better and longer service).

12. Tow your vehicle with the drive wheels on the ground, and/or tow over the factory recommended limit.

Rear wheel drive vehicles must be towed with the rear wheels off the ground. Front wheel drive with the front wheels in the air. All wheel or full time four-wheel drive vehicles should be flat towed (all four wheels off the ground) Not sure? Check your owner’s manual. Also, every vehicle comes from the factory with a recommended maximum towing limit. Unfortunately, few owners obey it. The bands and clutches can start slipping. This causes them to wear out very quickly. It also results in the transmission getting pumped full of debris as they start failing. Improper towing can cause serious damage!

13. Play transmission “doctor”.

Over the counter additives that are supposed to stop leaks or make the transmission shift better many times contain chemicals that may cause worn seals to swell. This can interfere with the function of these operating rubber parts and lead to severe damage.

14. Abuse the drivetrain.

By being stuck in sand, snow, mud or another substance, rocking will cause excessive heat which can burn out a transmission in a very short period of time. Instead, dig it out or have it towed. Both are less expensive than the damage you may cause by quick shifting between Reverse and Drive over and over again.

Driving in stop-and-go traffic for an extended period of time; idling the vehicle too long; driving off-road; or using your automobile as a snowplow will also kill your transmission. The engine and transmission is working, but nothing is happening because the wheels cannot move. This leads to the fluid in the transmission overheating and its internal components failing.

Avoiding these bad habits can do wonders for your transmission, not to mention your wallet!

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How Automatic Transmissions Work

Your vehicle’s automatic transmission is a remarkable piece of machinery. It may be complex to understand how it functions, but a little knowledge can go a long way toward preventing a breakdown

The most complex and intricate system in your car is its automatic transmission – understanding how it works can help save you time, hassle, and money. Comprised of a series of mechanical, hydraulic, and electrical components, they are all controlled by your car’s engine control unit, aka the powertrain control module.

A short drive to a nearby store means your transmission will likely shift about 25 to 30 times. Now imagine how many trips like that you make in a year and the impact they have on your transmission.

Shift Your Thinking about Your Automatic Transmission

Automatic transmission gear changes are monitored and executed by your vehicle’s internal computer. A torque converter uses the pressure and flow of transmission fluid to not only regulate the gear changes but also to allow the engine to continue running even when at a full stop. It also makes for a smoother shifting between gears.

When fluid levels in the transmission drop, so does the pressure that controls the shifting of gears. That can cause friction and less effective cooling, in turn leading to damage and potentially expensive repairs.

Recognizing Automatic Transmission Warning Signs

Preventing a breakdown from stranding you at the roadside requires insight into the warning signs your car will send if you’re on the cusp of experiencing a transmission-related problem. These warning signs include:

  • Grinding, rattling, or whining noises when changing gears or problems shifting gears
  • A delay in movement or your car jerks or shakes as it accelerates
  • Your transmission fluid is low, or you notice it pooling beneath the engine where you park
  • If you check your transmission fluid and see it’s not a reddish colour
  • You smell a burning odour while or after you drive

If you suspect your vehicle’s automatic transmission isn’t performing properly, or if you have questions about preventative transmission maintenance, contact us. Take advantage of our free 21-point multi-check inspection and avoid the cost and aggravation associated with a failing transmission.

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A Brief History of the Automatic Transmission

No more missed shift gates. No engine lugging or racing. No torn-stocking, high-heel clutch-pedaling dramas. None of that. Just press the gas and go.

 

The introduction of the automatic transmission did this by offering a “no-muss, no-fuss” form of shifting. The earliest automobiles offered only manual transmissions, which were similar in principle to today’s stick-shift vehicles. These cars sported two forward gears and one reverse, coupled to the engine via a series of pedals. But as cars grew larger and traffic got worse, engineers began searching for a way to have the car “automatically” shift from one gear to another. Designers spent decades perfecting the modern automatic transmission. Here we offer a brief introduction and overview of the history of the automatic transmission.

The First Automatic Transmissions

The first automatic transmission was invented in 1921 by a Canadian steam engineer, Alfred Horner Munro. Munro designed his device to use compressed air rather than hydraulic fluid so it lacked power and never became sold commercially. General Motors then developed the first automatic transmission using hydraulic fluid in the 1930’s, and introduced the “Hydra-Matic” transmission in 1940.

The 1948 Oldsmobile was the first model to use a true automatic transmission. The Hyrda-Matic, developed by GM engineer, Earl Thompson, was advertised as: “The greatest advance since the self-starter.” The Hydra-Matic went through continual upgrading and refinements through 1955, but the basic design and theory used were consistent throughout its remarkably long life span. General Motors replaced the Hydra-Matic in 1956 with the Jetaway. The “Jet” was not a roaring success and quickly gave way to the Turbo Hydra-Matic in 1969.

The Hydra-Matic Transmission

The original Hydra-Matic transmission was one of the most important innovations in the history of the automobile. It wasn’t the first automatic transmission, but it was the first one that really worked and its resounding commercial success paved the way for every subsequent autoshifter.

The technology came along at an opportune time in history as North America was abundant with victory from World War II and building up steam for the post-war boom. Scads of babies and cars were produced (not necessarily in that order). Into those cars they dropped thousands of automatic transmissions. With its simplicity and ease of use, the automatic transmission offered up the automobile to the masses, fulfilling the promise of President Hoover, whom a generation earlier had promised “a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot.” At the very least it widened the perspective of an increasingly mobile workforce, fed the flow of migration to the suburbs, and welcomed women back into the economy following the war effort.

The most significant changes/improvements in automatic transmission design to date are the number of forward gears transmissions now have and the switch from mechanically controlled to electronically controlled transmission operations. Mechanically controlled automatic transmissions have reached their limit in terms of future improvements while electronically (or computer) controlled automatic gearboxes have only touched the surface of the possibilities.

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