Is Servicing an Automatic Transmission Necessary?


Apr 26th, 2022

Is Servicing an Automatic Transmission Necessary?

Cars have thousands of parts, from the tiniest to the heaviest. With so many components, it can be mind-boggling to remember which ones require regular servicing. A perfect example of that is the automatic transmission.

Yes, automatic transmissions require regular servicing once a year or every 20,000 kilometres. If the transmission is routinely under stress—using it to tow boats or trailers every weekend or frequent accelerating/decelerating as you would when racing—you should service it more often. 

The servicing involves taking the transmission apart for cleaning while replacing the filter, gaskets, and fluids.

Below, you’ll discover why automatic transmissions require servicing, how they’re serviced, and how to know when an auto transmission requires immediate servicing.

Let’s get started.

Do You Have to Service an Automatic Transmission?

Yes, you should get your car’s automatic transmission serviced, just as you would other parts of your vehicle. Regular automatic transmission servicing is necessary to keep your transmission working effectively while maximising its lifespan.

Most importantly, servicing will help you identify any minor issues affecting the transmission and prevent them from becoming major problems later on.

These days, there are several different types of automatic transmissions available. Most cars on the road rely on a hydraulic automatic transmission, though you’ll often hear of continuously variable transmissions (CVT), dual-clutch transmissions (DCT) and several others.

Regardless of which type you have in your vehicle, these car parts are all very complex. So, be sure to get any servicing or repairs for them performed only by an automatic transmission specialist.

What Is Included in Automatic Transmission Servicing?

The term ‘auto transmission servicing’ is quite vague, considering that it includes any task that a mechanic might perform for the upkeep of your automatic transmission.

The cost of an automatic transmission servicing will include labour costs for dismantling, cleaning, and putting the transmission back together. On top of that, there's the cost of a new automatic transmission fluid (ATF), a new filter, and new gaskets.

Automatic Transmission Servicing Process 

Here’s what a typical automatic transmission servicing process will look like:

  1. Drain fluid: The process starts with the mechanic draining all automatic transmission fluid from your car’s transmission. The fluid is somewhat like engine oil because it’s there to lubricate and clean the transmission internally.
  2. Inspect fluid: Next, the mechanic will inspect the transmission fluid that they’ve finished draining. What they’re looking for are signs of internal transmission problems. For example, metal particles in the fluid indicate excess friction between the transmission’s metal parts.
  3. Remove and clean fluid pan: With the transmission wholly drained, it’s now safe to remove its fluid pan. The mechanic will clean the fluid pan thoroughly to remove any leftover fluid, sludge, or anything else.
  4. Remove and replace transmission filter: The transmission also relies on a filter to clean its fluid. So, the old filter must also be removed and replaced with a brand new one.
  5. Reattach pan: Next, the cleaned fluid pan is reattached to the automatic transmission.
  6. Install new gaskets: The mechanic will also install new gaskets during the fluid pan reattachment. Brand new gaskets will ensure a tight seal between the automatic transmission’s parts and prevent fluid leaks.
  7. Fill with new fluid (ATF): Now that the automatic transmission is completely sealed, it’s time to fill it with fresh automatic transmission fluid (ATF).
  8. Check for leaks: From this point forward, it’s all about testing and inspections. Firstly, the mechanic will inspect the entire automatic transmission for leaks or possible issues. 
  9. Perform road test: Finally, a road test will be performed. The mechanic must take your car out on the road, so they can test your transmission and look out for any potential problems.

How Often Should an Auto Transmission Be Serviced?

Your vehicle’s manufacturer will have unique recommendations for how often you should service its automatic transmission. So, your first reference should be the car owner’s manual.

Suppose you can't find that information for whatever reason, you can always stick to the rule of thumb for servicing an automatic transmission. Typically, it’s best to service an automatic transmission at least once a year or after every 20,000 kilometres driven.

Naturally, cars and other vehicles dealing with heavy loads on a regular basis will require more frequent servicing. That’s because the automatic transmissions in those vehicles experience a much higher level of daily wear than other cars.

Causes of Premature Wear in an Automatic Transmission

Activities that can cause excess wear on your automatic transmission include heavy towing (e.g., towing a boat or trailer) and aggressive driving with lots of accelerating and decelerating (e.g., car racing).

So, if your car fits that description, be sure to get your automatic transmission looked at more often than just once a year. It’s best to find an automatic transmission specialist and seek advice for the best service interval based on how you use your car.

Signs that Your Car Immediately Needs an Automatic Transmission Service

Servicing your automatic transmission on a regular schedule is always best. However, a few tell-tale signs indicate that the transmission needs attention immediately.

You can tell that the transmission is failing by a change in vehicle performance or through sounds and smells like:

  1. The transmission might slip or shift abruptly.
  2. You find the engine stalling, particularly at low speeds.
  3. There’s a lack of drive engagement, both in forward and reverse gears
  4. The transmission operates noisily.
  5. You can detect a burning smell coming from the transmission.
  6. Your car leaks transmission fluid under the hood or onto the ground where you park your vehicle.

When you notice one or more of these signs, it’s best to take your car to your preferred mechanic immediately. However, it’s crucial not to delay taking it to the workshop because a failed automatic transmission will immobilise your vehicle and prevent you from driving.

Where Can I Get My Automatic Transmission Serviced?

Your preferred mechanic or workshop should be able to service standard automatic transmissions. 

However, if you're driving a car with more sophisticated auto transmission (like CVT or DCT), you should consider finding an automatic transmission specialist.

If you’re not sure where to begin looking, start with the Directory at CarpartAU. You can locate automotive businesses in your area and filter them according to the service you’re looking for.

By Ray Hasbollah