How To Get The Longest Life Out Of Your Automatic Transmission

Posted by on Friday, June 21st, 2013

Did you know that an astonishing 91% of cars built in 2009 came with an automatic transmission? It’s pretty obvious that most new car buyers prefer cars with automatic transmissions over those that are equipped with manual transmissions.  When the first automatic transmissions were produced by General Motors in the 1930s, they were fairly simple devices. Over the years, the automatic transmission has become more complex. Today’s automatic transmissions are full of electronics, they have as many as eight forward gears and are designed to handle the stress and strain of stop and go traffic that seems to get worse every passing year.  With the complexity of the modern automatic comes a steep price to pay if you abuse them or don’t take care of them. Let’s take a look at what you can do to get the maximum life span from your automatic transmission.

The modern automatic is very complex


1) Change the transmission fluid, and change it often. Some new cars come with “lifetime fluid”, meaning that the fluid never needs to be changed.  I think you would be foolish to believe that. Your transmission fluid goes though many heating and cooling cycles. Over time it breaks down and loses its ability to lubricate properly. It also becomes contaminated with debris associated with normal transmission wear. I recommend you change the fluid every 20,000 miles and ignore the factory’s advice of extending the time intervals between fluid changes.

2) Change the transmission filter every time you change the fluid. It will cost a little more but it’s well worth it.  There are some exceptions to this rule. Some transmissions do not have a filter that is easily changed. These transmissions would require you to remove them from your vehicle and completely disassemble them.  Not much you can do in these rare cases.

transmission fluid will start to fail under extreme temperatures


3) Adjust the bands every time you have the fluid changed. The bands in your transmission, unlike the clutches, do not self-adjust to compensate for wear of the friction material. Over time the bands will wear and come out of adjustment. When this happens it accelerates the wear of the bands, polluting the transmission with debris and ending the transmissions life prematurely.

4) Upgrade to synthetic transmission fluid. Synthetic fluids have much better heat and wear properties than organic, oil based fluids. Organic fluid will start turning to varnish at transmission temperatures as low as 230 degrees while synthetic fluid will require a much higher temperature (260 – 280) for the same thing to happen. Synthetic transmission fluid is more expensive than organic transmission fluid, but well worth the extra expense.

Using synthetic fluid in your automatic transmission is well worth the extra expense


5) Invest in an aftermarket transmission cooler. Excessive heat is by far the number one killer of automatic transmissions. Ideally you want to keep your transmission temperature under 200 degree. For every 20 degrees you go over 200 you cut the life span of the transmission by two.

Follow my advice and increase the chances of your transmission lasting a lot longer. You’ll save a lot of money in the long run! Unfortunately, automatic transmissions are not designed to last forever. Sooner or later you will be faced with a decision to replace your transmission.

I highly recommend you do so with a re-manufactured transmission over one that was simply rebuilt.  I give you this advice for two very good reasons. First, a re-manufactured transmission will include modifications and upgrades designed to fix common problems (that the factory should have fixed in the first place), make it more durable and last longer.  A rebuilt transmission will not. Second, a re-manufactured transmission will include a much better warranty;  three years compared to an average of only 90 days for a rebuilt transmission.

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