Should I Service My Automatic Transmission? (pic: viganhajdari / Pixabay)
Automatic transmissions can be a bit of a mystery to many people, including those in the automotive trade. Needless to say, it’s an aspect of your vehicle best left to professionals. But there are certain aspects of even this complicated component that you need to act on yourself. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering, “should I service my automatic transmission?”, then this post is for you.
Before we get into it, I just want to clarify, this is not a post on how to service an automatic transmission (although if you’re interested in that, you can find a detailed article on it right here). This post merely looks into whether it should be serviced. Whether you do it yourself or pay a professional is decision you’ll need to make.
How an Automatic Transmission Works
Don’t worry, this isn’t a technical document. But to properly answer the question, “should I service my automatic transmission”, a little understanding on how the gearbox works is needed.
Now, there are a few different kinds of automatic transmission, but in general there is one common feature; hydraulics. In most automatic transmissions, the oil is used in hydraulic circuits to control certain components. This differs from manual transmissions, where the oil is merely a lubricant.
This means that, while you could drive a manual transmission with no oil (though I would not recommend it), an automatic transmission will not operate at all with no oil. Further more, if it has some oil but not enough, it may be able to partially operate certain components. This is bad, as it will cause those components to burn out.
Imagine trying to stop a pedal bike by putting your foot on the ground. If you put your foot down hard (ignoring any potential injury) you should be able to stop the bike. If you just gently press your foot against the ground, it will take much longer to stop, and you will wear the sole of your shoe away. Broadly speaking, that’s kind of what happens in an automatic transmission when it doesn’t have enough oil.
What Can Go Wrong in my Automatic Transmission?
Well, sticking with the bike analogy, when you put your foot down to stop the bike, you’re losing some material from the sole of your shoe. Even with nice, firm contact, there’s still a wear and tear factor. Moving back to the transmission, this material is not simply left on the tarmac, but resides in the transmission, circulating with the transmission fluid.
There are a number of delicate components in an automatic transmission, so bits of debris floating around is not ideal. Fortunately, there’s a filter in there to prevent that very thing. This filter stops the aforementioned debris from recirculating, and causing problems in some of the finer workings of the transmission.
Unfortunately, over time, this filter can collect so much debris that it becomes blocked. A clogged up filter restricts the oil flow, causing the components to receive insufficient hydraulic pressure. This in turn causes them to wear down quicker, introducing more debris into the oil. From there it’s a remarkably fast track to a completely blocked filter. And probably a burnt out transmission, too.
So, Should I Service my Automatic Transmission?
If it’s not already apparent, the answer to “should I service my automatic transmission” is most definitely yes. Keeping your transmission oil (and filter where possible) clean and healthy will extend the regular life of your transmission. As for the interval, it varies from transmission to transmission, but a good standard interval is every 30,000 miles (48,000km). Don’t be fooled by the “lifetime oil” claims that some manufacturers make. There are exceptions, however, such as the DSG DQ200 transmission, which keeps the hydraulic oil and the regular oil separate to avoid this issue.
An eclectic range of occupations and interests, expect posts on guitars (because I like them), automatic transmissions (because I fix them), and a host of other interests including game development, science fiction and fantasy novels, music, and occasionally sports.