The transmission is the most complex device in a vehicle and it needs really good care whether a person plans to keep the car for a few months or for many years. Automatic transmissions have an even more difficult design than manual ones, because besides the clutches and bands responsible for moving gear sets and friction devices, automatic ones have a valve body, which is like brain for the transmission that decides when and how to shift due to electronic and hydraulic signals.
Here are a few tips to keep the automatic clutch healthy:
1. Make a regular fluid check-up.
• The condition of the fluid has to be analyzed. For a better view, a vehicle owner has to take a drop of the fluid and apply it to a white surface (wash cloth or paper towel). Brand new fluid that just came from the bottle will look pink. After it has been in the transmission, the color will get darker. It is normal when the fluid is bright red and does not have any dark shades. Brown color is a sign of a “sick” transmission: there is a high possibility of burnt parts. This kind of clutch should be rebuilt or replaced as soon as possible.
• The level of the fluid should be watched. Low fluid ruins the transmission more than anything else. This is why it needs to be checked monthly. The majority of people will not even be able to recall the last time they looked at the level of their fluid.
• Hot transmissions require frequent check-ups. Hilly roads, frequent stops, hot weather and towing influence the condition of the fluid: it either evaporates or damages more quickly than in other conditions. An external cooler would usually be a wise investment for longer transmission life.
2. Watch the work of the transmission. A good clutch with no problems provides a smooth quiet ride and shifts gears without sound. Watch the tachometer and potential engine speed (RPM), which should go from higher to lower when the transmission shifts up. The transmission has a flaw if the RPM jumps up before going down. Another good way to check the clutch for proper operation is to analyze how quickly it shifts from park to drive or reverse. It should be done quickly, but if it takes several seconds, the car may need maintenance.
3. Reduce shifting. First of all, every time the transmission has to shift extra gas is used, so if a person does not want to be wasteful, he or she should be wise about shifting. Secondly, shifting is the #2 cause for transmission wear. Although, sometimes frequent shifting is necessary: most city driving requires “stop and go” every 300 feet or so, if not even more often. In this case check-ups should be done twice a month.
4. Have maintenance done regularly. Any part of the car that is in some way connected to the transmission can influence it, so it is important to check the performance of the engine, drive train and cooling system from time to time.
5. There are 10 things that all drivers should not do with their transmission:
• No sudden stops. As well as sudden acceleration, stops wear out the gears.
• No driving until the engine gets warm enough. The fluid needs to be warm enough to provide proper transmission work.
• No drag racing. Besides the fact it wears out all the components of the vehicle, drag racing is illegal if performed on everyday roads.
• No shift lever in Park (P) without parking brake on. If by some chance a parked car is pushed, the parking pawl (an important part of the transmission) might get broken.
• No downshifting for traffic light stops.
• No using the transmission instead of the brake.
• No frequent drive (D) to reverse (R) shifting when engine is at “fast idle”. It is cheaper to have the vehicle towed out of the snow or sand than it is to replace the transmission.
• No towing with drive wheels on the ground. A car with front-wheel drive should be towed with front wheels off the ground, likewise rear-wheel drive should be transported with the rear wheels in the air. If the vehicle has all-wheel drive, it should be towed on a flatbed. This is actually stated in every vehicle owner’s manual.
• No transmission self-repair. If there is a problem, the owner should go to an auto service instead of trying to fix it by themselves.