Simplified car transmission maintenance checklist.

A lot of costs can result from poor car transmission maintenance. We’re going to venture into both manual transmission and automatic transmission maintenance.

Both of them share a common car transmission maintenance checklist. Therefore, the things we are about to discuss will apply for both of them.

Pay close attention especially if you have a commercial vehicle that carries heavy loads. Because, the transmission alongside suspension system parts, gets more straining from carrying such heavy loads.

How do you know if transmission is working?

Transmission is an important part of your vehicle. Therefore, not maintaining it well, results in a check engine warning light on your dashboard.

Transmission inspection is part of other routine maintenance activities. Damage to the transmission may result to a replacement rather than a transmission repair.

Though transmission damage isn’t a common occurrence. Especially for those who undertake routine inspection and maintenance to avoid transmission problems.

These are some of the things that will indicate whether your transmission is working;

a]. Smooth gear shifting.

Whether you’re using an automatic transmission or manual transmission vehicle, this is a very important point. Every driver knows that gears shifts according to vehicle speed.

A fully functional transmission should demonstrate timely gear shifting in relation to vehicle speed. This allows for more power output and better engine performance.

b]. Lack of leakage.

Transmission fluid is essential in the operation of the transmission. It’s usually reddish or brownish in color. Look under the car in order to check whether there is a transmission fluid leakage. Functional car transmissions will not have a transmission fluid leak.

If you notice a colored fluid puddle under your car, perform the white cloth test on it. Gently swipe the fluid with the white cloth without touching the ground. This will show the color of the fluid clearly rather than when its on the ground.

c]. No warning lights.

When something is wrong within the transmission you will observe two dashboard warning lights. These are the check engine light and the transmission temperature warning light.

However, non of these lights will show up when your transmission is fully functional. Use an OBD2 Scanner to read the code from the warning lights. This will help you to diagnose the specific issue.

d]. Lack of transmission noise.

Unusual noise from the vehicle is an alarming issue. Noises in relation to mechanical issues can’t be prevented by using noise deadening materials. An investigation will be necessary in such cases.

Transmission noise is something you experience during gear shifting especially for a manual vehicle. The gear box could be making noise during shifting. However, there is no noise from a car transmission that’s fully functional.

e]. Transmission fluid color and levels.

Lets say that you just topped up your transmission fluid. Then you notice a significant fluid level reduction during your next inspection. Additionally, you may notice that the fluid color appears to be discolored.

These both indicate that there is a problem with the transmission. However, a functional transmission maintains the transmission fluid color and levels for a long time.

Functions of the transmission.

The reason it’s called a transmission is because it transfers power from the engine to the drive train which makes the car to move.

Further, it regulates the amount of power as per the engaged gear and the car’s drive train (all-WD, 4-WD, Front-WD and Rear-WD). That’s why a faulty transmission is one of the causes of reduced engine power.

Additionally, the drive train is responsible for changing power from reverse to forward movement and from acceleration, deceleration and stopping.

A good maintenance checklist for your car transmission system caters for keeping the moving parts well lubricated. This reduces the effects of friction which include wear and tear or overheating.

Further the transmission cooler keeps the temperatures at an average level hence avoiding any overheating. The transmission fluid is responsible for these two roles of temperature regulation and Lubrication.

The requirements for a car transmission maintenance does not matter whether it is manual or automatic. Though the two are totally different, they observe the same requirements in terms of maintenance.

Something to note is that the automatic car transmission fluid is exposed to much more heat when compared to the manual transmission car.

What are the first signs of a transmission going bad?

  1. Cherry red liquid under the car when you have parked it.
  2. Shaky and sluggish shifting from one gear to the next.
  3. Transmission noise when the vehicle shifts gears.
  4. Dashboard warning light.
  5. Slipping gears inconsistently from one gear to another when driving.
  6. High engine revs without acceleration power.
  7. Increased fuel consumption or poor fuel economy.
  8. Car jerks during transmission shifting and acceleration.
  9. Transmission fluid discoloration.
  10. Frequent transmission overheating.

Transmission fluid.

Transmission fluid usually lubricates the moving parts within the car’s transmission. Most people have the opinion that automatic transmission parts are exposed to more friction in comparison to manual transmission.

Therefore, the manual transmission fluid varies from automatic transmission fluid. Transmission fluid lubricant properties counter the effects of friction. Which include heat dissipation in automatic transmission.

Functions of transmission fluid within the transmission system.

Transmission fluid effectiveness serves a number of purposes within the transmission system. These are inclusive of;

a]. Cooling.

Transmission fluid circulates through the transmission and absorbs the heat which comes from friction. It carries this heat to the transmission cooler or radiator.

Next the radiator which is a part of the engine cooling system cools the fluid before it circulates back through the transmission. Therefore, it prevents transmission overheating.

b]. Lubrication.

This is a very important role of the transmission fluid because it minimizes the effects of friction. Hence prolonging the transmission’s lifespan by reducing wear and tear.

c]. Cleaning.

The vehicle transmission system needs cleaning because of dirt particles, metallic debris and other elements. Transmission fluid additives help with the elimination of sludge build-up.

Once the transmission fluid runs through the transmission system, it goes to the transmission filter. The transmission filter then removes the contaminants from the transmission fluid. Once it’s clean, it recirculates back to the transmission system.

d]. Hydraulic system functionality.

Transmission fluid facilitates the functionality of hydraulic system. This is a function that is very common in the automatic cars. Generally, hydraulic system components consists of clutch packs and valves amongst other parts.

e]. Protection.

Transmission fluid plays a key role in relation to protection of the gaskets and seals within the transmission system. It creates a seal of protection which ensures flexibility of the seals therefore preventing seal breakage. Further, this helps to minimize the risk of transmission fluid leakage.

Causes of reduced transmission fluid effectiveness.

There are a number of things that are hindrances to the proper functionality of transmission fluid. They are inclusive of the following;

a]. Transmission fluid contamination.

The reason why you undertake a transmission flush is to eliminate the contamination found in transmission fluid. Accumulation of dirt, metallic particles and moisture may contaminate the transmission fluid. Therefore, transmission fluid change is necessary to maintain proper functionality.

b]. Overheating.

An overheated engine should be avoided at all costs. Because it posses a number of risks which are costly. Heat causes a reduction in the effectiveness of the transmission fluid.

Because heat breaks down the transmission fluid properties hence interfering with its functionality. Some of the causes of overheating include;

  • Failure of the cooling system components.
  • Low levels of engine fluids.
  • Extreme weather temperatures.

c]. Cases of fluid leakage.

It is important to perform regular checks that ensure your transmission fluid does not leak. Ensure that you assess the condition of seals and transmission cooler lines involved in transferring transmission fluid.

In case of any leakage, the fluid levels reduce significantly over time. Therefore, hindering the normal functionality of transmission fluid which may lead to transmission damage.

d]. Transmission fluid age.

The transmission fluid could last for an infinite lifespan. However, the effects of time, contamination and constant use will cause a degradation of its properties. Therefore, in order to counter the effects of aging do the following things;

  • Maintain proper driving conditions.
  • Undertake regular transmission system maintenance.
  • Purchase high quality transmission fluid.

Another reason for a reduction in transmission fluid functionality include;

  1. More mileage causes the transmission fluid to oxidize and to turn brown

What are the signs of dirty transmission fluid?

You can tell when the transmission fluid becomes dirty by observing its color. If it changes from a bright color to a dull color, it’s because of contaminants.

The fact that it has a long lifespan, doesn’t mean that it will maintain the normal operating conditions. Especially after you use it for a prolonged period of time. After which you need a transmission fluid change. To identify a dirty transmission fluid, spot the following signs.

a]. Discoloration.

Different transmission fluid manufacturers make them in unique colors. However, the common transmission fluid colors are pink or red. They appear brightly colored. After using it for a number of miles, the color changes from bright to a dull color.

b]. Odor.

Transmission fluid naturally has a sweet fruity smell. However, the smell changes after using it for a long period. This is a result of a brake down of the fluid’s components. Alternatively, it could result from contaminants that get into the fluid.

c]. Transmission slipping.

Transmission system counts on the transmission fluid to get proper lubrication. However, contamination of the transmission fluid hinders proper lubrication.

This results into the slipping of the clutch plates. Further, transmission slipping causes loss of engine power, a high engine RPM without increase in speed and delayed or irregular shifting.

d]. Rough shifting.

This is a case where you experience jerky gear shifts. It results from the contamination of transmission fluid. Whereby, the contamination hinders proper generation of hydraulic pressure by the transmission fluid.

e]. Overheating.

The transmission is responsible for heat dissipation. Heat is a result of friction within the moving parts of the transmission system.

Contamination of the transmission fluid prevents reduces its lubrication capacity. Therefore this increases the levels of friction and it results to transmission overheating.

How many years does transmission fluid last?

There are several things that play a role in determining how long the transmission fluid lasts. It has an infinite lifespan which is dependent on several factors. These also determine how often you can undertake transmission fluid change.

a]. Owner’s manual.

The car maintenance section within the owners manual states how often you need to change transmission fluid. Observing the provided directions will help to lengthen your vehicle’s transmission lifespan.

b]. Transmission fluid quality.

There are transmission fluids for manual cars and automatic cars. This is beacuase these two types of transmissions require different transmission fluid properties.

Manufacturers are aware of this and create transmission fluids that are of varying quality. The quality determines fluid properties which determine how long it will serve you.

c]. Mileage.

High mileage vehicles need special transmission fluid whose specifications suit that engine. Further, there are general suggestions as to how many miles someone can use their transmission fluid.

The general assumption is that transmission fluid is effective for 60,000 to 100,000 miles. However this depends on your driving conditions.

d]. Driving conditions.

Your driving conditions vary from someone else. Some of the things that make up driving conditions are inclusive of the following;

  • Weather conditions and temperatures.
  • Load carrying capacity of the vehicle.
  • Exposure to dust particles.

They will determine how long the transmission fluid will work for you. Different driving conditions affect the transmission fluid properties in relation to viscosity, fluid components and functionality. They also determine the rate of transmission fluid degradation.

e]. Overall maintenance history.

Car service should cater for transmission service meaning that it should be included. If you perform regular service, it will prolong the lifespan of your transmission fluid. Because it will minimize the chances of transmission fluid degradation.

What happens when you don’t change transmission fluid?

Performing regular engine checks is essential for determining when to change the transmission fluid. Because you will observe changes in transmission fluid color and levels.

If you ignore the signs that indicate it’s time to change the transmission fluid, the following is going to happen.

a]. Poor lubrication.

The longer you use transmission fluid, the more it cleans the transmission system. Therefore, it accumulates some fine metallic and dirt particles. Their accumulation reduces the lubrication properties of the transmission fluid.

b]. Sludge accumulation.

Transmission fluid cleans the transmission system and eliminates any unnecessary elements. This is possible because of its detergent additives. These additives give it the ability to clean the transmission system and self cleaning properties.

However, not changing the transmission fluid for a long time interferes with the detergent additives. Therefore, it is unable to clean itself at the transmission filter. Meaning that it carries the dirt back into the transmission system.

c]. Transmission overheating.

Contamination takes place after using transmission fluid for a long period. This interferes with the fluid’s heat dissipation ability. Because, contaminants break down its chemical properties that are responsible for heat resistance and dissipation.

Therefore, it may cause the transmission to overheat. Further, accumulation of sludge also interferes with the fluid’s capacity of heat dissipation. This may cause damage to the transmission system parts.

How do you maintain car transmission?

Car Transmission Maintenance

a]. Check transmission fluid.

It is checked the same way you check for engine oil. That is by using a dipstick. Turn on the engine and let it idle. Remove the dipstick and wipe it clean then insert it once more. Wait a few minutes before removing it once more.

Because transmission fluid is meant to last more than 30,000 it should not be low unless there is a leak. Further, if the color appears dull then oxidation has probably taken place. This means it’s time to change the fluid.

b]. Cater for the engine coolant levels.

The transmission depends on the engine coolant and transmission fluid to keep temperatures at a manageable level. How does this relate? Well, if the engine is functioning properly, it supplies power that pumps transmission fluid through out the transmission system.

If the engine’s coolant is insufficient, the engine will overheat hence increasing the transmission’s temperatures. In case the transmission overheats before the engine, there will be bigger and more costly problems.

c]. Use the right transmission fluid.

There are various types of transmission fluids in the market. They are meant to serve different types of Vehicles. Basically because each drive train will function differently depending on whether it’s an all-WD, 4-WD or 2-WD. Ensure that the one you’re using is the right one for your type of drive train.

d]. Regular servicing.

Transmission service includes changing transmission fluid, transmission filter and transmission inspection. According to the Vehicle’s manufacturers, there is a maintenance schedule you’re supposed to follow.

The servicing days are usually subdivided according to mileage. The transmission fluid is effective for a given mileage and the manufacturers are aware of that.

For that reason, they have considered all the areas that need service after a specific mileage. Make sure that you adhere to the stipulated terms. Otherwise, if you are using a second hand car, consult the dealer about the service per mileage stipulations.

How often should car transmission be serviced?

The vehicle’s manufacturer has some recommendations as to how often your transmission needs service. Your owner’s manual contains that information under maintenance.

Transmission within a commercial vehicle will require service within shorter intervals. However, luxury vehicles and small cars will be okay with longer transmission service intervals.

Several things are taken into consideration including;

  • The load capacity of the vehicle. Towing heavy loads can increase transmission fluid use and wear.
  • Extreme weather temperature.
  • Frequent and intense stop and go traffic.
  • Driving environment in relation to off-road and all-weather roads.
  • Vehicle mileage accumulation.
  • Type of car transmission.

a]. Automatic transmission.

The automatic transmission is commonly used by a lot of people. Most automatic car manufacturers recommend that transmission services should be done within a number of years.

Further, their recommendation also takes into consideration the number of miles. Automatic transmission service should take place between 60,000 to 100,000 miles.

Additionally, it can take place in between 5 to 10 years depending on driving conditions, load capacity, car make and model. The choice is based on your discretion and the manufacturer’s recommendations.

b]. Manual transmission.

Manual transmission doesn’t require more servicing in comparison to automatic transmission. This means that the number of miles between which transmission service takes place will be more. It also applies to the number of years between every transmission service.

How do you know when your transmission needs to be serviced?

You don’t have to wait until you start experiencing transmission problems before you undertake transmission service. Frequent inspection is necessary to ensure that the car transmission components are in a good condition. This will save you from undertaking expensive transmission repair as well as occasions of car break down.

a]. Poor performance.

When you notice that the engine RPM doesn’t match the acceleration, there might be a problem within the transmission. Some vehicle’s transmission control module is programmed to shine the reduced engine power warning light on the dashboard.

b]. Transmission fluid levels and color.

Perform frequent transmission inspection to assess the condition of the transmission fluid. Because, its appearance will inform you about the health of your transmission.

If the transmission fluid bears a dark color appearance, you may undertake a transmission flush. This is in order to perform transmission fluid change.

Further, a transmission fluid leak will lower the levels of transmission fluid. Therefore, causing transmission problems like transmission overheating because of inadequate transmission cooler fluid. Ensure there are no leaks and perform transmission fluid top up.

c]. Gear slippage.

If there’s a transmission problem, it affects the gear box and its capacity to engage the right gear. Transmission slipping causes the vehicle engine to rev higher than usual.

However, the vehicle’s speed does not increase despite higher engine revs. It happens when the car transmission is not able to maintain a gear consistently.

d]. Transmission noise.

There are occasions when the vehicle shakes and produces grinding, clunking or buzzing sounds. Investigate this situation because there could be some transmission problems that need fixing.

How do I test my transmission?

Transmission tests can take various forms. Some of which will require a professional’s input. However, you can comfortably perform other transmission tests by yourself.

a]. Road test.

A road test involves taking the vehicle for a drive. It will require you to pay close attention to a few things in order to determine the transmission’s condition.

  • Transmission shifting. Ensure that the car transitions from one gear to the next very smoothly.
  • Transmission noises. Observe whether there are some noises during shifting.
  • Acceleration. The car should accelerate smoothly without jerking while shifting gears or loss of power.
  • Deceleration. Smooth downshifting is something you need to observe when slowing down.
  • Transmission performance in a heavily loaded car. Put the vehicle to the test by going up-hill.

b]. Transmission fluid pressure test.

This is best done by a professional. Because it requires the use of special equipment that you may not have access to. A reduction in transmission fluid pressure will lead to transmission overheating and other transmission problems.

c] Visual inspection.

This is one of the easiest things to do during transmission testing. It involves looking at the various transmission components and drawing a conclusion. Ensure there are no transmission fluid leaks, seals, transmission cooler lines and all the connections.

How do you know your transmission is slipping?

Transmission slipping refers to a situation in which there is a loss of power transfer from the engine to the wheels. There are various causes for this which we will list below.

The transmission is responsible for transferring the power from the car engine to the wheels. Therefore, transmission slipping will result to the engine having high revs which do not result to high acceleration.

  • Reduced acceleration power and engine performance.
  • Higher car engine revs in comparison to power output.
  • Problems with gear upshifting and downshifting.
  • Car jerking during acceleration and gear shifting.

Reasons for transmission slipping.

No one wants a vehicle that has low performance capacity. However, there are situations when this happens. Therefore, the first step towards correction is realizing the source of the problem. The following is a list of what causes transmission slipping;

  • Damaged or worn out clutch pads, plates and other components.
  • Low transmission fluid levels.
  • Contamination of the transmission fluid.
  • Faulty torque converter.
  • Problematic transmission solenoid.

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