How Often Should I Check and Service My Automatic Gearbox?
When it comes to car maintenance, it’s easy to make everything about the engine. With all attention focused on the engine, other parts that need your care and investment can fall by the wayside. One such system actually happens to be just as critical as the engine, not to mention just as intricate (if not moreso), and that’s the transmission, and in particular the automatic transmission.
For some, the question of how often to get a proper transmission service remains something of a mystery. So, in today’s blog, we’re going to reveal the best approach when it comes to checking and servicing your automatic gearbox.
What Does a Full Transmission Service Include?
During your car’s more general annual inspection or service, checks on the transmission will likely take place, but not necessarily a full service. But what are the main tasks involved in a transmission service? A full transmission service will typically involve the following tasks:
• Flushing out old transmission fluid and replacing it with new fluid
• Checking the sump pump
• Checking the fluid pan and cleaning if required
• Replacing or cleaning the transmission fluid filter
• Installing a new pan gasket
How Often Should I Check and Service My Automatic Transmission?
Every time your car goes in for its annual inspection or service, the transmission should be checked for any signs of problems or faults. Chances are, however, that many checks that you do will reveal nothing major is wrong, and that your transmission fluid is still in good working condition.
How long your transmission fluid is designed to last depends on the make of car you drive. Volkswagen, for example, recommends that manual transmissions are serviced every 30,000-60,000 miles, while automatic transmissions need servicing every 60,000-100,000 miles. For automatics, then, at the low end, that’s about once every 5-6 years, or even once every 10 years in some cases.
However, it’s never a good idea to push a transmission fluid change back further and further. Regular inspections each year should help to reveal any sudden problems, or any factors that have negatively affected the fluid ahead of the scheduled or recommended service interval. Excess heat, for example, can cause the fluid to debilitate faster, and the typical automatic runs hotter than the typical manual anyway.
Therefore, maintain a policy where you listen to your mechanic if they warn you that your transmission would benefit greatly from a service that year. If you have a mechanic who is telling you that you need to flush it every 6 months, however, then perhaps consider switching to a more professional service!
Look for the Signs
Outside of these recommended intervals, it’s also critical that you look out for the key signs that your transmission is in need of repair or servicing. These could happen at any time in between services because someone failed to spot something in a previous check, or because something happened suddenly in the meantime that sent the transmission on a negative trajectory.
A working automatic transmission should be smooth and seamless, but if instead you’re hearing grinding, whining, squeaking or other noises as your car is accelerating and rising through the gear ratios, you should probably make an appointment to see your mechanic and get it checked out. Such noises are invariably indicative of problems somewhere in your car, be they in the engine, the transmission, the front axle, the suspension or elsewhere.
Don’t let noises go on for long. If you hear them once and never again, perhaps it was a fluke, but if they emerge as regular noises, or more than 2-3 times in a single day, then something serious might be wrong with the transmission.
As we mentioned above, an automatic transmission typically runs hotter than a manual one does, but you still shouldn’t be able to detect it through your gear shift. If you feel heat coming through around the gear shift area, it’s possible that there’s a problem with the transmission fluid and thus excess friction is being created in there. That can quickly cause damage to your gearbox, possibly even permanent damage that could cost many thousands of pounds to repair. You might even end up needing an entirely new transmission.
Problems in shifting are most keenly and obviously felt in a manual transmission car where there will inevitably be grinding, and physical difficulty getting the car into the gear ratio you want with your hand. For automatics, the signs are somewhat more subtle, but if you’ve driven the car in question for a while, you should notice when they happen..
If you notice, for instance, that when accelerating, the car becomes sluggish and there appears to be a lot of lag all of a sudden, that’s one kind of shifting problem. On the other hand, it might be that when you’re driving at speed, the gears slip down even when you’re in the right “Drive” setting. In any and all of these cases, you should get the gearbox checked and serviced.
“Check Engine” Light
The “Check Engine” light can come on for literally dozens of reasons, so don’t consider its emergence to automatically mean you have a huge repair bill coming your way. However, if you get the light coming on while you’re experiencing any of the other problems in this list, then you might indeed have a transmission problem that needs solving sooner rather than later.
Transmission Fluid Leak
Finally, another urgent sign that your car needs a transmission service is if you notice a leak of transmission fluid, even a small one. Transmission fluid is typically a deep red or pink colour when it goes into your car, but will become increasingly orange/brown over time. If you spot even a small amount pooled under your car, or on the floor of our garage, or on the driveway of your home, then you must attend to it immediately.