How to Extend the Lifespan of Parts in Your Automatic Gearbox
You probably know already that getting a replacement gearbox is a very expensive thing to do. It can cost thousands of pounds depending on the brand, style and how advanced the unit is. It’s important, therefore, to do everything that you can to prolong the lifespan of all the critical parts in your automatic gearbox.
What are the most important components and parts of an automatic gearbox? They range from the planetary gear set, the torque converter (if it’s that style), the valve body, transmission fluid, pumps, stator, brake hands, clutches and more. When properly maintained and looked after, the typical automatic gearbox should last 150,000 miles or more.
In today’s blog, we are going to be talking about how to get the most out of your automatic gearbox, and how to ensure that it reaches the top-end estimates of lifespan, getting to 150,000 miles or even more.
Extending Life of Automatic Gearbox: Tips
1. Regular Checks on the Transmission Fluid
You should check on the state of your transmission fluid every 6 months or so, and perform a flush on the transmission fluid every 30,000 miles or so (see below for more on servicing). You can check it in the interim by taking a look at the colour and condition of your transmission fluid on the appropriate dipstick.
Withdraw the dipstick and inspect the level, colour and condition of the transmission fluid. When new and fresh, it’s a deep, clean and rich red colour. After a long time being used and being contaminated, it becomes more orange, and then eventually brown and dirty. When it’s looking brown in colour, and clearly contains dirt, grit and other contaminants, it’s time to change it. It’s similar to checking oil.
Not every car model includes a dipstick for the transmission fluid. If you don’t have one, the only way to inspect the fluid is by lifting the car up on jack stands or on a hydraulic lift and taking a look at the transmission itself.
2. Servicing at Least Every 30,000 Miles
You’ll keep an eye on the transmission fluid every 6 months or so, and you’ll always be on the lookout for signs of other problems with the transmission (see point 9 for more), you’ll need to be sure to get a full and proper transmission servicing every 30,000 miles or so. For most drivers, that’s about once every three years, but could be more frequent if you cover more mileage in a year than the average.
It’s essential that you have the gearbox looked at by professionals, and very often the best place is the dealership because they have more knowledge of the transmission in your particular brand of car. A service will reveal any signs of damage or disrepair and you can get them quickly fixed before they become more serious defects.
3. Install an External Filter
Keeping the transmission filter clean is one thing, but adding an external filter to the cooler lines will also add a layer of protection that keeps contaminants away from your transmission fluid. This will help keep each batch of fluid healthier for longer.
Even if you still have the transmission fluid flushed every 30,000 miles, which is still good practice, throughout all that time it will be able to do its job of lubricating and cooling the transmission more effectively. All the filtering power you can add is helpful to your gearbox.
4. Look After the Cooling System
Besides contaminants and excessive friction, overheating is the other great enemy of the transmission and gearbox. The gearbox has transmission fluid, but still relies heavily on the general cooling system to keep excess heat away. Therefore, ensuring that you have the proper level of coolant and that there are no leaks that could seep into the transmission directly are both important tasks.
5. Don’t Develop Bad Driving Habits
Most unnecessary damage to the automatic transmission isn’t caused by mechanical failure or any manufacturer defect, but rather by improper driving on the part of the car’s owner. For example, there are many drivers who throw an automatic transmission into reverse while the car is still moving in a forward direction. This is one of the worst things you can do to the gearbox.
Another bad habit is taxing your car to the limit, pushing the accelerator as hard as possible, followed by sharp braking (see next point for more on braking), and running the vehicle in a kind of extreme acceleration-braking cycle. This is very unhealthy for the transmission, not to mention other parts of the car, too. Drive properly and steadily to prolong the gearbox’s life.
6. Use the Brakes Properly
As we touched on above, being too aggressive with the brakes is a sure-fire way to reduce the lifespan of an automatic gearbox. Another bad habit with the brakes, however, is when you ride the brake instead of just coasting or driving normally. Riding the brake downhill, for instance, is not a good thing to do, even if the pressure you’re exerting isn’t huge.
One more thing to watch out for when it comes to braking is failing to use the parking brake. Some drivers just put their car into park and leave it. It’s always best to engage the parking brake on your automatic car, whatever form it takes either a manual-pull hand brake or as an electronic one. Take the strain off your brakes and transmission by making use of these tools.
Conclusion: In the End, Inspection Matters Most
Overall, the most effective and useful thing you can do to extend the lifespan of your automatic gearbox is to inspect it for defects regularly. In doing so, you can ensure that any and all problems are dealt with when they are still minor issues, and you can avoid much more costly and lengthy repairs, even replacement of the entire thing.
Most important of all, never ignore signs that something is wrong — bad noises, grinding sounds, difficulty in shifting, clutch slippage (rpms increase but no speed increase), and so on. A small problem is easy to fix and is a sound investment with your local mechanic. Leaving things unattended only makes problems worse (and more expensive).