Maintenance Tips for Automatic Transmissions

Technical

Jul 06th, 2021

Maintenance Tips for Automatic Transmissions

About 70 per cent of cars on Australian roads run on automatic transmission system. Even top sports cars like Ferrari 458 Italia seem to be affected by this trend, and why not? Automatic dual-clutch systems are noted for impressive fuel economy and nimbler shift between gears. 

While the engine often takes all the credit, the transmission system is the backbone on which a car's performance hinges. Here’s one important thing to remember about automatic transmissions. Due to its complexity and computer-driven system, it’s usually more expensive to repair than the engine. 

For this reason, it’s crucial to pay attention to the symptoms I’m going to discuss below. You should act on them as soon as you notice them because, trust me, they won’t magically disappear. What they’ll do is become worse and eventually cost you more than if you fixed them right away. 

Symptoms of a Bad Automatic Transmission

Let me forewarn you that ignoring these symptoms may lead to severely damaging your car’s automatic transmission system.

Slow response when shifting to Drive

If you notice a slower response when you put your car into Drive or Reverse, it can be a problem with the transmission fluid. Over time, these fluids become thicker, and their protective properties degrade. That should be fair warning to you that it’s time to change the transmission fluid and filter.

Other times, it can be a minor computer system problem, which a TCU (transmission control unit) resetting can easily address. However, it is not the same way for all makes, so you should find a qualified technician to fix the issue. 

Grinding or shaking in Drive mode

Your automatic transmission should smoothly operate when shifting gears, and you shouldn't feel anything unusual, such as slipping, shaking or grinding. These symptoms often signify larger and costlier problems. As you may already know, damaged gears can only get worse, so it's best to get your car to an automatic transmission specialist before it's too late.

Humming, whining, or making noise in neutral 

When you hear whining or humming from underneath, it’s likely an automatic transmission problem. The automatic transmission fluid does a big job keeping mechanical gears and components lubricated the whole time. 

As mentioned earlier, fluids lose their protective properties over time, and that’s why you should never miss regular automatic transmission servicing. However, clunking noises mean something else. The riot you hear could come from worn-out internal parts, and that is an urgent call for automatic transmission maintenance. 

In that case, waste no time – find a qualified automatic transmission specialist immediately.

Burning smell

A burning smell could also come from overheated transmission fluid. If so, it will fail at lubricating the moving parts in your automatic transmission system and result in sludge buildup. This otherwise minor issue eventually leads to more complicated automatic transmission problems. 

The root cause may be as simple as low transmission fluid levels, usually caused by a leak. Changing the gasket and tightening the bolts are quick, cheap, and effective fixes. 

Leaking transmission fluid

Have you ever noticed bright red or orange droplets on the driveway or garage floor? Trust your senses to detect the first signs of trouble on this one. I’ll bet it’s your car’s automatic transmission fluid leaking. If not resolved quickly, this could lead to a breakdown of the entire automatic transmission system. Yes, that serious!

So never ignore those telltale signs. And even if you don't see red blobs on the driveway, you should always check fluid levels. Leaving them low will create so much friction in your transmission and have dire results. 

Gear slipping

It's the TCU that decides when to shift between gears, but for gear slipping, we can't blame the TCU. Slipping of gears, which is a serious safety issue, is primarily due to worn-out transmission bands caused by inadequate transmission fluids. So be sure to check the transmission fluid levels regularly to keep you out of trouble.

Check engine light

The ‘Check Engine’ light is there to warn you of any present or upcoming problem in your car. It can light up due to many issues from many different systems. The automatic transmission system contains multiple sensors that can pick up anything unusual in your car's drive train. These sensors alert the TCU that something is wrong, and the TCU fires up the check engine light to let you know of this problem. 

In short, the Check Engine light is the early detection system that saves you a lot of unnecessary grief and money. You may check our other article discussing symptoms of a faulty transmission at length.

Don’t Do These Things to Your Automatic Transmission Car

If you own an automatic transmission car, whether old or new, avoid making these mistakes. These tips can save your vehicle from severe automatic transmission problems and costly automatic transmission repairs.

Changing gear positions while driving

This is a common mistake in driving automatic transmission cars, and many drivers learn it the hard and costly way. In case you didn’t know, there are steel bands wrapping your car’s gear train. Shifting gears quickly before the gear train has come to a stop will wear out those bands, which cost a lot to replace. This is the same reason you shouldn’t rev in Neutral right before you shift to Drive.

Switching to Park before the car is in full stop

When you switch to Park mode, a locking pin inserts into the transmission to prevent any further rotation of the parking gear. If you engage the parking gear before the car has come to a complete halt, it will either break the locking pin or damage the parking gears. 

Using both feet when driving

One foot for acceleration and another for braking is not the safe way to drive a car with automatic transmission. Your transmission will work so hard when you drive with a foot on the brake pedal, and this bad habit will damage the drive train eventually.

Driving downhill on Neutral

Going downhill on neutral will be detrimental to you and your car. Your automatic car can automatically cut off the fuel when going downhill (in what is called engine braking. It will also take full control of your vehicle, and you might not be able to manoeuver it in case of an emergency.

Using the parking gear instead of the parking brake

An automatic transmission comes with a parking gear. So, what’s the parking brake for? Well, the park gear prevents the gear shaft from rotating and provides a fair grip, while the parking brake engages the brake on the rear wheels to prevent a vehicle from moving an inch even when fully loaded and parked on a slope. 

Towing massive loads

Towing heavy loads with an automatic transmission system in hot conditions can cause the transmission fluid to oxidise or burn, resulting in wear and tear of the multi-plate clutch system and other components in the drive train.

Do These Things to Keep Your Car’s Automatic Transmission Healthy

Start learning these driving habits to ensure you automatic car’s health.

Halting before shifting gears 

Bring the vehicle to a halt before shifting between ‘drive’, ‘reverse’, 'neutral' and 'park'. Otherwise, it can damage the transmission bands, locking pins, and other parts of your automatic transmission system.

Warming up your car before driving off

OK, you’re in a hurry most of the time, but those precisely cut metal parts in your transmission system need an oil bath to work efficiently. So, give your car a few moments to pump up the oil to where it is required.

Regularly inspecting the cooling system 

The cooling system prevents your engine and transmission system from overheating. An inefficient cooling system can damage many parts of your car. Therefore, always ensure that the cooling system is running efficiently.

Tuning the engine

The transmission system takes a lot of strain if the engine isn't tuned correctly. Many transmission problems arise from this, so it goes without saying that a finely tuned engine lightens the work of the transmission. You may read about how to perform basic engine tune up here.

Keeping an eye on transmission fluid levels

It’s as easy as 1-2-3 really. Put the engine in idling, pull out the dipstick, wipe it with a cloth, insert it again, and then pull it out to see the fluid level. If it’s too low, check for any leaks. Now check the fluid quality; the colour should be bright red and translucent. Always refer to the car owner’s manual for the right type of transmission fluid for your vehicle.

Conclusion

Major problems often arise out of minor issues that you ignore over time. Something as easy as fixing gasket leakages the moment you notice them will not cost you much and may even save you from enormous bills in the future. 

Replacing worn gaskets is fine, but you should never attempt to DIY repairs, unless you are an auto mechanic or automatic transmission specialist yourself. Find the nearest car professionals in your city using our Directory. If you need car parts and accessories, feel free to search our listing or request us to find the parts for you here


By Sooraj Sj