The Guide to Automatic Transmission Maintenance. The automatic transmission initially appeared in manufacturing cars in the 1940s. Automatic transmissions were slow to shift and prone to failure at the time. As a result, automatic gearboxes didn’t really take off until the technology advanced to a usable level in the 1970s.
Since then, automatic transmissions have dominated the consumer automobile business, displacing the earlier, more complicated manual transmissions. By 2022, 96 percent of Americans will be driving automatic-equipped automobiles, a figure that is certain to rise further as the technology improves.
While automatic gearboxes have reduced the stress of daily driving, there are a few drawbacks. Automatic transmissions, in general, are more prone to failure than traditional manual transmissions. This is due to the absurdly large amount of moving components required for an automatic transmission to function. Because of their complexity, automatic transmissions are frequently more expensive to repair. As a result, it is critical to keep up with automatic transmission servicing and maintenance.
This guide will provide important information on automatic transmissions as well as detail the best strategies for ensuring that your automatic transmission lasts as long as possible without any serious troubles or servicing.
Maintenance of an Automatic Transmission- What is an Automatic Transmission?
Before delving into the area of automated transmissions, let’s first discuss transmissions in general. The transmission of a vehicle has a single, very particular purpose: it regulates the rotational speed of an internal combustion engine. Without a transmission, combustion inside an engine would be uncontrolled, eventually leading to structural engine failure due to internal components moving too quickly and releasing too much heat.
What Is the Process of Transmission?
The speed of an engine is controlled by a gearbox by engaging different sized gears, which only allow the engine to function at specified speeds. Transmissions engage gears with a clutch or clutches. Clutches work by gripping and releasing a specific gear based on how fast you’re driving. During gear changes or when the engine is stopped, the clutch is disengaged and the engine is removed from the engine. This enables the transmission to select a fresh set of gears independent of the rotation of the engine.
The driver manually picks the ideal gear in a manual transmission by engaging the clutch pedal and sliding the gear selector into the desired gear position. The entire procedure is mechanized using an automatic gearbox, thanks to hydraulic actuators, sensors, and engine management software.
In general, all transmissions adhere to this fundamental formula. Transmissions all use clutches, run on hydraulic fluid, and contain a series of gears for different engine speeds.
What Is the Difference Between a Manual and an Automatic Transmission?
While the overall operation of an automatic and manual transmission is quite similar, their structure is not. Manual transmissions are relatively simple technological devices. They are made up of a few interconnected elements that can be repaired and replaced separately if they break.
Automatic transmissions have many more parts than manual transmissions and are more difficult to fix because the majority of the complicated systems are tightly interrelated.
A manual transmission typically has a single, manually actuated clutch for shifting gears. Multiple clutches are used in an automatic transmission to choose different “planetary gears,” which include a central driving gear and similar gears that orbit it.
To operate the clutch in a manual car, a clutch pedal is used. There is no third pedal in an automated gearbox because the vehicle automatically activates the clutch packs and selects a gear based on engine speed.
Automatic Transmission Maintenance -Automatic Transmission Types
Other types of automatic transmissions have emerged as automatic transmissions have advanced and changed through time. Many firms who focus on producing high-performance automatic vehicles opt for semi-automatic transmissions, which provide the driver more control over the vehicle’s gear selection.
CVT (Continuous Variable Transmission)
A CVT, or Continuously Variable Transmission, is a one-of-a-kind automatic transmission system that operates by altering the diameter of the “drive pulley” to change gear ratios. CVT transmissions are made up of two pulleys with a steel belt running between them. The engine receives its own pulley in the form of a “drive pulley,” which converts engine torque. The “driven pulley” transforms torque from the drive pulley to wheel power.
A CVT gearbox may modify engine speed indefinitely by adjusting the diameter of each pulley that the steel belt runs across. This differs from a standard automatic gearbox in that there are no set gears that limit the gearing ratios of the transmission.
On paper, the CVT transmission appears to be a good option. CVT gearboxes, in general, improve fuel economy and smooth down jerky automated shifts. However, CVT technology has certain serious downsides. CVTs are slow to accelerate from a stop, have a low torque limit, and take longer to engage programmed “stepped” gears.
Automatic Transmission DCT
DCT, or Dual Clutch Transmissions, are widely regarded as the greatest semi-automatic transmission available today. The primary feature of a DCT transmission is obvious from the name: it has two clutches. This has a clear advantage when it comes to shifting gears. Each clutch in a DCT operates separately and controls a different set of gears. One clutch controls the even gears, while the other controls the odd gears.
A DCT functions in many ways like two distinct gears together. Each clutch is in charge of running its own set of gears. Each clutch has its own gear selection. This allows for smoother and faster gear changes than practically any other type of automatic transmission on the market. DCTs are also significantly more efficient than other types of automatic gearboxes due to the dual-clutch configuration, which ensures that power is never interrupted between the engine and the transmission.
For a variety of reasons, most enthusiasts think that DCTs are the best type of automatic transmission. Shifts are fluid and smooth since DCTs might have the next gear already picked. DCTs are also the most fuel-efficient automatic transmissions.
AMT stands for Automated Manual Transmission.
The least desirable automatic transmission alternative on this list is the AMT, or automated manual transmission. While it is one of the most prevalent types of automatic transmission, it is also the least reliable, least responsive, and least efficient transmission on this list.
An AMT operates by automatically selecting the best gear for a particular speed using a mix of sensors, hydraulic actuators, and ECU programming. Preset shift patterns are programmed into ECUs. These determine the right gear by detecting the engine speed of the vehicle. The ECU then activates actuators, which control the clutch and gearbox.
The biggest disadvantage of the AMT system is its pre-programmed gearing, which is exceedingly unintuitive and frequently results in incorrect shifts. An AMT will frequently select an incorrect gear, which can overexert the engine or make acceleration feel sluggish.
Maintenance of Automatic Transmissions
An automatic transmission, like every other component of a vehicle, requires maintenance to preserve its longevity. Transmission maintenance is more necessary on an automatic transmission than on a manual transmission because automatics rely on certain fluids to function properly.
What exactly is Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF)?
Transmission fluid is one of the most critical components for transmission safety and reliability. It is even more important in the operation of an automatic transmission than in the operation of a manual transmission.
Transmission fluid has two key functions in an automatic transmission: it lubricates the transmission’s internal components and it creates hydraulic pressure within the system. Transmissions, like engines, require a viscous liquid to prevent metal surfaces from rubbing against each other directly. Without fluid, the transmission’s internal heat would cause parts to seize or meld together.
Hydraulic actuators are used to operate automatic transmissions. Transmission fluid permits fluid pressure to build up, allowing these hydraulic functions to perform effectively. An automatic transmission would not function without transmission fluid. As a result, it is critical to ensure that your transmission fluid is at an optimal level.
Selecting the Best Automatic Transmission Fluid
It is also critical to use only the automatic transmission fluid recommended by the manufacturer of your car. There are five main varieties of automatic transmission fluids on the market today, each with its own distinct characteristics.
ATF+4 / Dexron VI / Mercon V
While these three types of automatic transmission fluids are not identical, they do have a common design and composition. Each of the three is produced by its own parent firm, which includes GM, Ford, and Chrysler. Transmission fluids of this type are ideally suited for the most recent automatic transmission technology and are used in everything from domestic, American vehicles to foreign vehicles with automatic transmissions.
Friction reducers are included in all three, reducing the amount of heat created within the transmission itself. Check your owner’s manual to ensure that these are the correct fluids to use with your car.
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Synthetic Transmission Fluid for Multiple Vehicles
MVSF, or multi-vehicle synthetic transmission fluid, is not created by a single manufacturer or for a single brand. Instead, it is a universal fluid that may be used in a variety of automatic gearbox designs. The majority of MVSFs are highly developed, employing the most cutting-edge addictive technology to generate a particular fluid composition. Multi-vehicle synthetic transmission fluid, as the name implies, is based on a synthetic oil formula. Not all automatic transmissions are compatible with multi-vehicle synthetic fluid. Consult your owner’s manual before using MVSF in your car.
Automatic Fluid CVT
CVT automatic transmissions have a different fluid formula than other types of automatic gearboxes. Because of its design, CVTs require a less viscous fluid. In your CVT transmission, avoid using regular automatic transmission maintenance fluid. Most CVT-equipped vehicle manufacturers provide specially formulated CVT transmission fluid. If this is the case, it is preferable to keep to the manufacturer’s recommended recipe.
When Should You Replace Automatic Transmission Fluid?
Automatic transmission vehicles require transmission fluid changes less frequently than manual transmission ones. Automatic transmission maintenance should be performed every 60,000-100,000 miles.
This interval is determined by a number of things. If you often drive long distances, you may need to flush or change your automatic transmission fluid at shorter intervals. It never hurts to replace the fluid early, and it is best to err on the side of caution to ensure that your automatic gearbox lasts a long time.
Checking Automatic Transmission Fluid
Check the fluid in your automatic transmission at least once a month, if not more frequently. If your transmission fluid level falls below a certain level, overheating may occur. Transmission fluid loses lubricity after about 60,000 miles. Checking your transmission fluid is a simple and uncomplicated process. If you’ve ever checked your car’s engine oil, the procedure is pretty identical, with a few exceptions.
The first step is to park your automobile while the engine is still running. Place the car on a level surface. Parking on an incline or descent can cause the results to be skewed.
Open the hood once the vehicle is parked and running. The vehicle must be turned on because transmission fluid swells as it warms. When the fluid is heated, read the fluid dipstick. When reading it while the engine is cold, the result will be erroneous.
Once the engine is heated and the hood is open, locate the gearbox fluid dipstick. Fluid dipsticks are brightly colored and clearly labeled. The majority of TF dipsticks are situated towards the front of the engine in front-wheel-drive vehicles and near the rear of the engine in rear-wheel-drive vehicles.
Remove the transmission fluid dipstick and wipe the fluid away using a clean towel. Replace the dipstick. Remove the dipstick once more and look for the “low” and “full” level indicators on the dipstick. The transmission fluid is at the right level if it reaches the “full” mark on the stick. If the fluid only reaches the “low” mark or just above it, add more.
Checking Automatic Transmission Fluid: What to Look For
additional than the level, there are a few additional things to look for while inspecting your transmission fluid. The color and smell of the fluid are also important factors in automatic transmission maintenance.
The Transmission Fluid’s Viscosity
The viscosity of the fluid can reveal a lot about the condition of the transmission fluid. By lightly contacting the wet end of the transmission dipstick and rubbing the fluid between your fingertips, you may check this. The first, and possibly most essential, thing to look for in the fluid is metal shavings or metallic flecks. Metal shavings in the fluid indicate that the transmission has been damaged. If there find metal particles in the fluid, have the transmission inspected right away.
Transmission fluid typically thickens with age, which is not cause for concern. If the fluid feels sticky or is difficult to spread, it is time for a transmission fluid flush or replacement. Fluid that is bubbly or sudsy is also a red flag. Using the incorrect fluid or overfilling can result in a frothy consistency.
Smell of Transmission Fluid
Most new automatic transmission fluid has a slightly sweet, but not overbearing or harsh, aroma. A burnt odor is immediately evident and powerful in bad transmission fluid. If there is a strong burnt odor, it could indicate that the automatic transmission has internal problems. If the fluid smells weird, get the transmission inspected.
Color of Transmission Fluid
Another important indicator of the health of your automatic transmission fluid is its color. New transmission fluid is typically bright crimson in color. The color of automatic transmission fluid darkens as it ages. Old transmission fluid is usually a rich burgundy or brown hue, indicating that it needs to be changed soon.
If the fluid in your automatic transmission is exceptionally dark brown or black, it could imply that the fluid and internal components are overheating. If your fluid is extremely dark in color, get the transmission inspected.
Tips for Extending the Life of Your Automatic Transmission
As with most car equipment, you may extend the life of your automatic transmission by taking precautionary actions. Obviously, regular automatic transmission service and ensuring that the fluid is in good condition and at an acceptable level are the greatest ways to ensure a long life for your transmission. However, there are a few lesser-known measures that will help you extend the life of your transmission even further.
Before shifting gears, come to a complete stop.
When you’re in a rush, it’s easy to overlook the dangers of changing into park, drive, or reverse without coming to a complete stop. Automatic gearboxes are made of delicate components that do not tolerate unpredictable or abrupt shifting, especially when moving even slightly. Shifting into park while the car is in motion can cause internal gear damage in an automatic, therefore avoid doing so.
Do not drive on mismatched wheels for long periods of time.
Driving for long durations on a “donut” or “space saver” is never a good idea. It is less well-known that driving on mismatched wheels can potentially cause drivetrain damage. Because the rotational speeds of various sized wheels fluctuate, the discrepancy in wheel rotation can be taxing on an automatic transmission.
It is never a good idea to drive longer than the manufacturer’s recommended distance on a space-saver tire. It is not only risky from the aspect of tire firmness, but it can also be detrimental to your automatic transmission.
While driving, make sure your foot is completely off the brake pedal.
Many drivers consider the brake pedal to be a free footrest when driving. While it may be more comfortable, resting your foot on the brake pedal while driving can be exceedingly taxing on both your engine and automatic transmission. Avoiding resting your foot on the brake pedal reduces stress on your transmission, parking linkage, and engine, extending their life.
Summary of the Automatic Transmission Guide
The transmission is one of the most critical parts of a car. An engine would not be able to propel your automobile if it did not have a transmission to convert combustion energy into rotational energy. Transmissions have improved to the point where they do all of the heavy work for us in this day and age. While automated transmissions relieve the driver of some of the work, they are more difficult and sophisticated than manual gearboxes.
As a result, automatic transmission maintenance is critical in order to avoid future issues. Checking the fluid in your automatic gearbox will give you a decent idea of its health and volume. It is also critical to utilize the proper type of automatic transmission fluid in your vehicle.
While regular service is the greatest method to extend the life of your automatic gearbox, there are other things you can do. Coming to a complete stop before shifting, not driving on mismatched wheels for extended periods of time, and not resting your foot on the brake pedal while moving are just a few tips for getting more miles out of your automatic.
Automatic transmissions have come a long way since their slow and sleepy beginnings. It is critical to treat them properly now that they can compete with manual gearboxes in terms of fun.