Car Care Tips
Car Care Tips - Click question for answers
1- How do I check the transmission fluid level?
Always check the fluid level with the engine running (except Honda), the transmission in "park" (except Dodge products which should be in neutral with the emergency brake applied), and with the engine at operating temperature. Remove the dipstick and wipe with a rag. Insert the stick fully and remove. Look at both sides of the stick to verify the same indication. Repeat the process. The reason to check both sides of the dipstick is that after the fluid circulates through the transmission, it dumps back into the pan area and will cause an agitation of the fluid. This creates an uneven level and some fluid will "slosh" onto the stick and give a false reading. Some transmissions are worse than others are. Note: If you check the fluid level after the engine has been off for a long time, fluid from the torque converter will drain back into the pan area where the level is measured and give you a false high reading. When the engine is started, the fluid in the pan area is used to fully charge the transmission and torque converter. In addition, the difference of fluid temperature will affect the measurement. The fluid volume expands when heated to operating temperature. Another method of checking the fluid is to turn off the engine and immediately check the level. This will stop the agitation and give an accurate level (no agitation) before the fluid in the torque converter has had a chance to drain back into the pan area, which would give a false-high reading. Tip: If you have added fluid, go through the same procedure, but repeat the process several times before you look for a reading. Some of the added fluid will adhere to the side of the filler tube and can give a false reading. Tip: If the fluid level is low, you have a leak! Transmissions do not consume fluid. Have the leak diagnosed and repaired to prevent problems that are more serious. After you have added fluid, drive the vehicle for a mile or two, and then recheck the level. This is especially important in front wheel drive vehicles.
2- Can I drive with a transmission leak?
It depends on the rate of fluid loss. A minor or slow leak will allow you to drive as long as you maintain the level in the normal range. You will have to establish the rate of loss and replenish as necessary. It should be obvious that if fluid is running out as a stream that you won't go very far. A transmission will usually operate "normal" until the fluid loss is a quart or more. Then the unit will exhibit and internal damage is occurring. What started as only a leak can result in a major repair bill if ignored!
3- How long does a transmission normally last?
There is no accurate answer to that question. The mileage or time of use before major problems occur will vary greatly, and therefore, I don't see a correlation between mileage and expected transmission failure. It is not unusual that the first few years after a newly designed transmission hits the road that early failures occur. However, in later years with updates to the original design, the units become more reliable. The three major factors in the life expectancy are periodic maintenance, maintaining proper fluid level, and driving habits.
4- How can I make my transmission last longer?
Just like the dentist tells you, "Don't ignore them." Check the fluid level and condition periodically, repair any leaks/problems promptly, service the unit on a regular basis, and add an auxiliary cooler if the vehicle is used for towing, commercial, or high ambient temperature climates. Some units should have a shift kit installed. Synthetic fluid may benefit some applications by lowering operating temperature resulting in a longer life, but not all transmissions can use the synthetic fluid. Check with your local ATRA shop for their advice to your specific application and needs.
5- Will it hurt to overfill the transmission?
It is possible that overfilling can cause the fluid to be subjected to moving parts and become aerated, which could cause abnormal operation. You may also notice leaks or venting of the fluid that ordinarily would not occur. Will overfilling "blow" seals? No. The transmission case is vented preventing pressure buildup in normally unpressurized areas. Severe overfilling can raise the fluid level such that the transmission may lose fluid through the vent or leak from seals that are above the normal fluid level, but the fact remains that the seals that are under pressure and those that are not will not change because of the fluid level.
6- Should I have the transmission "flushed" or serviced conventionally?
A standard service involves dropping the pan and replacing only the fluid in the pan. Our total transmission flush involves dropping the pan and removing the filter and installing a special tool to the filter hole. This enables us to do a complete exchange of fluid as well as replace the filter and gasket. The good news is that this procedure will replace virtually all of the old fluid with new. The bad news is that occasionally there will be some material that is disturbed and contaminates the valve body.
7- I am considering the purchase of a used vehicle. How can I check the transmission?
I suggest you take the van to a local ATRA transmission shop where the transmission can be evaluated "hands-on" to determine the present condition of the transmission. They should be able to point out any problems relative to the operation of the unit, and by removing the transmission pan, they can check for an accumulation of material that would indicate impending problems. In addition, they can get an indication by checking the pan gasket whether the transmission has had previous maintenance. Some of the "clues" that a professional transmission technician can use to evaluate a transmission may not be obvious to the average person. In addition, a fresh pan gasket and new transmission fluid and filter may indicate an attempt to cover up signs of major wear in order to sell the vehicle. Few buyers will go to the trouble and relative inexpensive cost to have the transmission itself evaluated by a transmission professional resulting in a major expense shortly after their purchase.
8- How often should I have the transmission serviced?
Normal service intervals will vary because of the use of the vehicle and the operating temperature of the transmission. When you check the fluid level periodically, note how it smells. You will notice a burnt smell long before the color changes. In addition, when you notice the transmission fluid darkening, varnishing, and/or a slight odor, it is time to have the transmission fluid changed. The mileage from the last service to now becomes your service interval. In addition, if there are many small bubbles in the fluid on the dipstick, it's time to change it. The fluid life expectancy is directly related to the operating temperature of the transmission. Normal operating temperature is about 190 degrees Fahrenheit, but the cooling efficiency of you vehicle's cooling system and the type of driving you do will be the very determinate of its life expectancy. At 190 degrees, it should go for 100,000 miles, but for each additional 20 degrees, the mileage is cut in half.