How to Take Care of Your Gearbox
Whether you drive an automatic or a manual car, the gearbox/transmission is undoubtedly one of the most critical parts. Of course, your vehicle won’t work properly if virtually any part is faulty, but the transmission remains among the most fundamental systems, along with the engine, and the wheels!
So, the key to a healthy car is taking good care of the gearbox, but how should that be done? Whether you drive automatics or manuals, the following tips should help you keep a healthy transmission at all times:
Tip #1: Regular Servicing and Maintenance
Get your transmission properly and regularly serviced and maintained. You might have heard this a million times from your mechanic, as well as from other car blogs, but that’s because it’s the most important and undeniably true factor behind good transmission health — as well as good car health in general.
Your OEM-issued owner’s manual should contain within its pages a maintenance schedule which will advise you on milestones at which you should certainly do various things such as a transmission service, changing the transmission fluid, replacement of certain parts and components, and so on. While there may be some need to perform some tasks earlier than scheduled, depending on your own driving and mileage, the given schedule for the most part offers an authoritative time frame for maintenance. If you want to keep the warranty valid on a new car, too, then you’ll also need to stick to this schedule.
A full transmission flush and service is typically required every 30,000 miles, or every 2-3 years depending on your annual mileage. You should also have it checked over at your annual service just to make sure all the components are working properly and nothing looks amiss. Spotting something early on can save you thousands of pounds down the road, and ensure that whatever fault it is can be fixed more easily.
Tip #2: Checking the Transmission Fluid
Just like oil is the lifeblood of the engine, transmission fluid is the lifeblood of your automatic transmission. Many cars — though not all — provide you with an extra dipstick under the bonnet that allows you to check the current colour and condition of the transmission fluid. If you’re not sure about how to check and understand these things, then read on. Checking the fluid helps you to know for sure when you’ll need a transmission service, and can indicate the causes of small short-term problems with your transmission, too.
When fresh and new, transmission fluid is typically either a rich red or pink colour. It will also be glossy and smooth, much like fresh engine oil. Over time, as it works within the transmission both cooling and lubricating the main components, it also gathers dirt, grit and other contaminants until it starts to change to a darker orange/brown colour, getting thicker and less able to perform its functions. It’s at that point that it needs to be changed. So, checking the fuel yourself can help make sure you never make that change too late.
Tip #3: Monitor Your Engine Cooling System
The way the engine cools affects everything around it, including the transmission. The term “overheat” is a universally bad one in the automotive world. When things are overheating, they are marching towards catastrophic failure. Therefore, keeping your engine’s cooling system in good order is another good way to ensure that your transmission remains in good condition.
When the transmission does start to overheat, you can often feel the excess heat through the gear shift. If you get to that point, either the engine cooling system isn’t working (in which case you’ll see the engine temperature gauge rising, too) or it might just be time for a service. Either way, avoiding a failing cooling system remains the best way to ensure the optimum operating temperature for your transmission.
Tip #4: Watch for Warning Lights and Listen for Strange Noises
Too many people ignore the many warning lights that a car uses to try and inform owners that something is wrong. The “Check Engine” light in particular gets dismissed as the car “just being too sensitive” or “having a sensor on the fritz.” First of all, if your system is too sensitive, or if you do have a faulty sensor, these are also reasons to have your car checked out by an experienced and professional mechanic.
Warning lights to do with the transmission also need to be properly heeded and never ignored. It might be the “Check Engine” light, or another depending on the make and model of your car and how many individual warning lights it has. If and when these lights appear, seek a mechanic’s help. You can also reinforce your suspicions that there might be something wrong with the transmission by listening for strange noises.
Grinding, knocking, whining, whistling, and squeaking are all noises that could emanate from your transmission — as well as your wheels, or engine and many other areas — but you should always remember that these sounds are never good news. No competent OEM allows a car with a naturally squeaking brake, grinding gearbox, or knocking engine to leave its factory. If you hear strange noises coming from your transmission, then you should have it checked.
Tip #5: Practise Good Driving Habits
Finally, if you want to keep your gearbox in good order, manual or automatic, then you have to drive in a way that is conducive to keeping it that way. For instance, don’t engage in the extreme style of driving that involves harsh presses on the accelerator to build up speed, followed by equally harsh last-minute braking to slow down. These put strain on the transmission and strain means premature wear and tear.
Another good example is knowing when to make gear shifts. Don’t attempt to shift gears in manual without pressing the clutch down properly, and don’t shift between “D” and “R” before first coming to a complete stop in your car. You also shouldn’t rest your hand on the gear shift as that can cause additional wear and tear that just speeds up the need for a mechanic to repair and replace things.
Drive sensibly, follow good habits, adhere to your maintenance schedule and remain vigilant for too much heat, bad noises, and warning lights — do these things right and you’ll likely have a transmission that lasts the entire time you have a certain car.