“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We are all familiar with this phrase and though it is applicable to many aspects in life in general, this should never be the case when it comes to owning a car or any vehicle. You should never wait for something to get broken before looking into it. Yes, we are all busy with work and family, but if you want to avoid bigger car problems that can ultimately ruin your plans then making sure your car is performing the way it should be, especially your car’s transmission, should be a priority. Having your car transmission service is a must for the long-term health of your vehicle.
You should make sure that the transmission of your vehicle is performing its best because it is one of the most important parts of the vehicle’s engine. When the transmission is not working on its optimum level or is faulty, the performance of the vehicle is compromised. When your transmission goes out, the handling and performance of your vehicle may be affected and may put you and your passengers at risk. The transmission is the one that controls the transfer of engine power to the drive wheels and it enables the driver to change gears and control speed.
Ideally, you should not wait for an apparent issue before having a transmission service. But here are the common signs that indicate that you are in urgent need of a transmission service.
- Transmission is not engaging or staying in gear – This happens when your transmission fluid is low because of a leak. You might also have a problem with the shifter and shifter cable. Another reason your transmission won’t engage is an issue with the valve body of your automatic transmission. Newer vehicle models rely on the computer to signal the transmission when to go into gear based on what you choose. In this case, you might have to get the computer system tested for trouble codes.
- A high revving engine or slipping gears – This happens when: your transmission is low, your transmission lacks maintenance, water intrusion, or wear and tear on the internal parts of your transmission. When the engine is revving high, your clutches might have worn out or the internal parts of your transmission are going bad.
- Leaking transmission fluid – If you have a reddish fluid under your vehicle, then you probably have a transmission fluid leak which comes from one of the cooler lines, a seal or a gasket. This is not only a simple transmission issue but it can also pose danger if the fluid leaks gets to a hot pipe or other surfaces. Use a dipstick to make sure you have the right fluid level and condition. However, this dipstick method is not applicable to all since not all transmission fluid is red.
- Check Engine Light is on – It is not limited to telling you there is something wrong with your engine. It also tells you if you have transmission issues such as overheating and slipping transmission.
- A burning smell – A fluid leak or a low fluid-transmission might cause a burning clutch smell. If you’re able to detect the fluid leak right away then you might have a chance to save the transmission from damage.
- Humming, buzzing, clunking sound – If you are noticing a roaring, buzzing, clicking, or a humming noise from inside the transmission then its bearing might already be bad or it may have damage on its planetary gears, or another internal issue. A buzzing noise may also be caused by low transmission fluid because of a leak, or a bad internal sealing surface.
- Transmission is taking time to go into gear – This is another sign that your transmission fluid is low due to a leak. It may also be contaminated because of lack of maintenance or water intrusion when driving off road or when there is flood. While this does not seem like a serious concern, you should still have it serviced since it can create overheating conditions that can cause issues with the internal parts of your transmission.
- Vehicle has little or no power when the engine is running properly – one of the reasons this may happen is internal transmission problems.
For Manual Transmissions:
- Clutch pedal engages very low or very high – When the clutch pedal grabs very low there must be an issue with the hydraulic system that operates the clutch. If there are no hydraulic leaks it can be fixed by a simple adjustment.
- Manual transmission is grinding when shifting gears – This problem is usually related to the broken or won shift synchronizer rings inside the transmission, the clutch not releasing, shifter adjustment or worn problem, low transmission oil/fluid, or wrong fluid.
The transmission has several moving parts that need maintenance for it to stay in good working order. While it is tempting to DIY, it is not the best way to go since many of today’s vehicles’ transmission can be challenging to perform maintenance on your own. To make sure that the transmission is running smoothly and working in order you need to have a certified mechanic serviced it.
Transmission Service and Maintenance
Now that you know the reasons you need to have your transmission serviced and the common signs of transmission issues, you might want to know what is involved in a transmission service.
What to expect during a transmission service
Every vehicle owner should know that a transmission service is just like replacement of their engine oil. It should be a part of your routine maintenance. A variety of assessments and procedures are performed during transmission service and maintenance. It mainly involves a multi-check inspection which includes: a road test, fluid check, a pan examination and a lift diagnostic. But when there are other transmission problems that cannot be addressed by easy fixes, further inspection services are required. It may involve the removal of the transmission from the body of the vehicle so it can be examined more closely. Here are the common transmission services:
Automatic Transmission Service
Changing Transmission Fluid:
Changing your transmission fluid regularly is not just an option; it is a must if you plan to keep your vehicle for a long time. It is also more important when owning used cars with high mileage. As stated earlier, letting your vehicle low on transmission fluid can cause several problems. Transmission gears provide power from the engine to the drive wheels. They shift automatically so as to deliver the best power and efficiency for the speed of your driving. These gears are cooled and lubricated by special transmission fluid. Through time, this transmission fluid eventually degrades and its lubricant properties diminish. Changing your transmission fluid at the right time will help prevent premature wear and damage on your transmission. Basically, it involves removal of old transmission fluid and replacing it with clean and brand new fluid. For new vehicles, changing transmission fluid service intervals can exceed 100,000 miles.
Drain and Fill Service:
Aside from cooling, lubricating and cleaning internal components of the transmission, automatic transmission also helps in maintaining the hydraulic pressure for the transmission to work properly. Over time, the additives in the transmission fluid diminishes. So three of the services needed for your transmission is the removal of the transmission fill/drain plug to get rid of the old transmission fluid, reinstallation of the transmission fill/drain plug and the refilling the transmission with new automatic transmission fluid to the correct level.
The transmission filter as the name suggests filters dirt and contaminants from the transmission fluid. Transmission filter replacement typically includes the removal of the transmission pan, removal of the old transmission filter and replacement with new filter, removal of the old gasket material, replacement of the pan gasket with a new one and reinstallation of the pan, and lastly, refilling the transmission with new fluid to the right level.
Manual Transmission Service
The transmission fluid lubricates the gears, shafts, bearings and other components of the manual transmission. Friction, heat and pressure can slowly deplete the additives in the manual transmission fluid. Moreover, small metal particles that come off from the gears can mix with the fluid. Water can also contaminate the transmission fluid. Hence, the old manual transmission fluid should be drained, and replaced with new transmission fluid that is recommended by the manufacturer. By doing these, your transmission gets better lubrication improving its holding ability of the friction components. It also reduces heat. Your transmission will work better and longer. Ultimately, it lessens the probability of you having a major transmission repair.
Basically, a complete transmission service involves removal and examination of the sump or pan, replacement/cleaning of the screen or filter, cleaning the pan and then the reinstallation of the pan with a new pan gasket.
Other Transmission Maintenance Tips
Ultimately, the best tip one can give when it comes to transmission maintenance is to have it regularly checked and serviced by a professional for transmission services. But there are things you can do before your scheduled service. One of them is to get your vehicle’s cooling system serviced. Transmission failure is usually caused by overheating. To prevent overheating, you should get your vehicle’s radiator and cooling systems checked.
Before your scheduled transmission service, you can check the levels of your transmission fluid on your own by using a dipstick. You can also check the quality. However, some vehicles would not allow you to do this since this part is sealed. It is important to check if the transmission fluid is at the proper level since you won’t actually know if your transmission is low until it is too late since it won’t give any indications.
Three Commonly Asked Questions about Transmission Service
How many times or on what intervals do I need to have my transmission fluid changed?
It varies per vehicle. The best thing to do is to know your vehicle and the manufacturer’s recommended service intervals. The good news for some of the latest vehicles is that they have transmissions that are almost completely sealed so that the transmission fluid is meant to last the lifetime of the vehicle. Keep in mind that transmission fluid should never reach a point where it is completely burned off.
How do I know when it is time to have my transmission fluid changed?
It isn’t always simple to check your transmission fluid. Oftentimes, it requires a mechanic to put your vehicle on a lift for inspection. Some cars, however, have a transmission dipstick which allows you to do the checking on your own. Having your transmission fluid on the right levels is not the only thing to look at. Even though your fluids are on the proper levels, the contaminants that are not easily visible are also indications that you need to have your transmission fluid changed. Always have your transmission fluid check if your vehicle is in for routine maintenance. Do not wait for your periodical transmission service.
Can I change transmission fluid on my own?
Yes, but you are better off letting a professional handle it. If you are no mechanic, then the task proves to be difficult and messy. You would need ramps, jack stands or even a lift to access the transmission of your vehicle. Even if you are able to access the transmission, you would still need tons of patience and dexterity to get to the fill plug. It is not as simple as changing your engine oil. Moreover, new vehicles have transmissions that are sealed tight and would require owners to go to a dealer and have their computer read temperature and other indicators. In this case, it is impossible to DIY.
Final Words of Advice
Prevention is always better than cure. You can prevent transmission failure by: periodically checking your transmission for leaks, manually checking or bringing your vehicle to a mechanic to check transmission levels, bringing in your car for regular repairs to have the fluid replaced when it becomes dark or cloudy, making sure you are using the right fluid for your vehicle (as specified by the manufacturer), and avoiding frequent stopping and starting when driving.