It’s very easy to forget about servicing your transmission because it doesn’t need it very often, but when you change your transmission fluid it keeps your vehicle running smoothly and helps you avoid costly repairs down the road. Your transmission undergoes a lot of stress. The grit you see in used fluid is actually bits of clutch material. This grit flowing through your transmission under pressure eats away at seals and gaskets which can lead to leaks. The transmission operates at very high temperatures – much higher than engine temperatures. Those high temperatures eventually cause the transmission fluid to start to break down and loose efficiency. At best, your transmission won’t operate smoothly. At worst, it could lead to very costly damage. When you change your transmission fluid and it’s running properly, it transfers more power from your engine to the drive wheels and improves fuel economy. That’s why manufacturers have recommended changing your transmission fluid at regular intervals. Your owner’s manual has a schedule for transmission service and, of course, your Express Car Care service adviser can tell you what the manufacturer recommends. At Express Car Care, we are able to perform a transmission service while you wait and the cost is usually quite reasonable. When you think about how much a major transmission repair can cost, the cost to change your transmission fluid with our transmission service is downright cheap. Come on in or give us a call and let us know what we can do to help you keep your car on the road.
All-Wheel, Front-Wheel, Rear-Wheel – What’s The Difference?
Here in Colorado, we face a variety of driving experiences throughout the year.
Scorching hot days where the pavement seems to melt before your eyes? Check.
Frigid temperatures with ice and snow packed roads that make it difficult to drive? Check, we have those too.
All of that can make it difficult to decide which car to buy. Should you focus on purchasing an all-wheel, front-wheel, or rear-wheel design? What’s the difference? Is one suited better for Colorado driving?
What is front-wheel drive?
When it comes to selecting a family car to get you around the city, front-wheel drive vehicles remain a popular choice. One recent study showed that just over 40 percent of the vehicles on the road today have front-wheel drive. But what exactly does that mean?
With a front-wheel drivetrain, the power of the vehicle remains with the front two wheels. This setup gives the front wheels the responsibility of moving and steering the car where you desire it to go.
From a design perspective, this is a less complex model, therefore it is also the least expensive way of powering a car. Because the engine is already upfront, it’s easier to connect power to the front wheels via two shorter drive axles.
But cost and ease is only part of the reason front-wheel drive vehicles remain one of the most popular choices on the road. They are also one of the most fuel-efficient.
Back in 1975, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program was enacted. It was designed to improve fuel economy during the time of the Arab Oil Embargo. It sought standards to curtail fuel consumption as well as create jobs and cut global warming. As a part of that, automakers discovered that front-wheel drive vehicles was the quickest were to gain a few miles per gallon.
Having a more compact drivetrain, where the parts sit in front of the vehicle, reduces the weight. Less weight to move around on the road means a more fuel-efficient vehicle. It also works well here in Colorado because having the motor over the drivetrain also improves acceleration and traction. Whether roads are filled with water, ice, snow, sand, or gravel, a front-wheel drive vehicle will be easier to keep under control.
What is rear-wheel drive?
Everything we discussed above that comes equipped with a front-wheel drive car is reversed with a rear-wheel model.
You’ll find a variety of vehicles equipped with rear-wheel drive. Rear-wheel drive is a transmission system designed for a more even weight distribution and optimal handling in normal driving conditions. When the sun is shining and you’re ready to take your car for a drive, you’ll enjoy the performance of a rear wheel drive system. Punch the accelerator from a standing start, the weight transfers to the rear, and gives you a smoother transition as you pick up speed. No fishtailing.
However, that performance doesn’t convert well when ice and snow build up. With more power in the rear wheels, it increases the possibility of fishtailing and losing control as your back wheels try to maneuver.
What is all-wheel drive?
All-wheel drive is a type of four-wheel drive system. It automatically shifts power between the front and rear wheels, depending on the kind of driving conditions. It’s designed for lighter winter driving and off-pavement use. If you truly want to go four-wheeling, you’re better off selecting a four-wheel drive vehicle. But for most driving conditions here across the front-range, all-wheel drive is a good choice.
The concept of all-wheel drive has changed considerably since its inception. The split between all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive used to be more pronounced. To switch between the two, you would have to shift between them, selecting your driving preference. Thanks to technology, the difference is more automatic, with different types of vehicles moving seamlessly between the two, depending on the driving conditions. Vehicles like “crossovers” and others offer a wide variety of performance features. It’s easier to focus on the make and model, determining which is a good fit for your driving needs.
The role of the tires
While a vehicle’s drivetrain is important to how well your vehicle will perform in different situations, there’s another piece to the puzzle that can help make your car safer. The tires on your car are equally important to overall performance.
If you purchase a sporty vehicle, one that is designed for performance on dry roads, they are usually sold with summer tires designed with traction that can hug the open road. Dry conditions give you ease of handling, and can be quite fun to drive. However, the moment you add ice and snow to the mix, those tires won’t seem so impressive.
By adding snow tires to a front-wheel drive vehicle, you may see better performance than an all-wheel drive with summer tires. Again, the two pieces work in conjunction with each other to help you stay in control while you’re driving on the road.
Here in Colorado, we have both types of road conditions. And while all season tires can work well all year long, if you travel significant distances all year long and want the best performance possible in all conditions, combining snow tires with all-wheel drive is the way to go.
Problems with the drivetrain
No matter which type of vehicle you own, at some point in time, you may notice problems with the drivetrain.
- Vibrations or intense shaking from under the vehicle
- Difficulty making turns
- A loud clunking noise when shifting occurs as you drive
- A shuddering when stopping or starting
- A squeaking noise at low speeds
- A knocking noise as you drive
Any sound out of the ordinary is a reason for concern. If you notice something changes with the way your car drives, pay attention to where it’s coming from. This can help one of our mechanics pinpoint the problem.
Whether you have a front-wheel, rear-wheel, or all-wheel drive vehicle, the most important aspect of keeping them running well is to get them serviced regularly.
Help, I Think My Transmission May Be In Trouble
Car problems are often difficult to diagnose for the average driver.
It’s easy to see when you have a flat tire, or if the windshield wipers are no longer cleaning the windshield. But once the problem is tucked up under the hood, and your car starts making strange noises or emitting odorous smells, it’s hard to tell what’s the cause. Signs often can lead in multiple directions. What’s a driver to do?
Yet each system in your vehicle is essential in keeping you safe as you drive. Imagine driving down the mountains after a day of skiing without a brake system. Or driving on the coldest day of the year without a heating system. Not a good thought.
Likewise, the transmission system is essential to keeping you safe while you drive. It’s also one of the most complicated. Without a transmission system, power would never transfer from your engine to your wheels. When a problem starts somewhere in the transmission system, it can take a while for you to notice the issue. The more time passes with a part loose or missing, means more damage can occur internally. And that equates to a more expensive repair down the road.
When you have trouble with the transmission, several signs occur as warning signals. Catch it early, and you can repair the transmission long before it becomes a serious threat.
What is a transmission system?
Today’s cars operate with one of two types of transmissions: automatic or manual.
The automatic transmission is by far the most popular on new car models today. But the manual transmission is simpler to understand, and you’ll still find it a popular choice in sports cars or off-road vehicles that want more control over how they shift and drive.
A manual transmission is made up of a series of gears and an input and output shaft. The gears on the input shaft engage with the gears on the output shaft, which determines what gear the vehicle is in while it drives.
The driver controls what gear it’s in by moving a shift lever. They press down on the clutch pedal to disengage the gears, the move the levers to reengage the gears depending on what gear they prefer.
With an automatic transmission, the same essential process occurs, only in an automatic way. Instead of having a clutch, the automatic transmission uses a torque converter to move the gear set. An automatic transmission also uses a single concentric shaft instead of two, with the gears located inside and around each other in more planetary fashion. Instead of being controlled by a shift lever, the gears move through hydraulics, which are in turn, controlled by an electrical panel.
If the transmission system is working well, your car moves without a hitch. At the first sign of transmission failure, it’s important to bring your car in. What will your vehicle do?
Check Engine Light
Because your vehicle is more automated than ever, the tiny sensors watch for errors within the system. At the first sign of trouble, it will illuminate the check engine light. People often ignore it for a bit because the check engine light can mean many things. The sooner you get your car checked, the more you can avoid bigger problems. This trigger is often so sensitive it can pick up errors long before they turn into smells, noises, or vibrations as you start and stop. And that means you can solve the problem long before it migrates into something bigger.
When a car rolls off the assembly line, the transmission operates without flaw. But over the years, the shifting becomes a little more clumsy, cumbersome, often feel like it’s sticking as it’s moving from gear to gear.
If the transmission feels like it sticks before moving gears, it could be low on transmission fluid. It could have a leak somewhere in the system, or even contamination from a water intrusion. The more the vehicle is allowed to continue at these levels, the more likely your car will overheat, causing internal damage and transmission failure.
Sticking gears isn’t the only way a problem shows. In some cases, the reverse can occur, with the transmission slipping and revving the engine into high gear. This creates undue wear on the internal parts, possibly overheating the system and ultimately causing failure.
If it feels as if the gears struggle to engage at any stage of driving, it’s time to bring your vehicle in for a check up.
Fluid should never visibly leak from your vehicle at any time. And sort of a leak is a red flag it’s time to bring your vehicle in for an inspection.
Transmission fluid is typically red, and will have a sweet smell. You’ll notice the drip from underneath the vehicle in the middle of the car.
A leak is an indicator of a loose transmission pan, a drive shaft out of balance, or worn out seals or gaskets. It can also be a sign of damage somewhere within the system.
Within the transmission system, if the hydraulic fluid is ever low or starts to overheat, it will give off a burning smell. Because transmission fluid starts as a sweet smell, you’ll often notice that first, followed by the burning spell as it becomes too hot. This can often be serviced with a transmission flush and replacement. But if you wait too long, it can damage the entire system.
When you place your car in neutral, do you hear a grinding sound? Any noise you hear that’s out of the ordinary could be a sign of a problem within the system.
The source is usually something simple, like worn out bearings or low transmission fluid. Again, if you act quickly, chances are it will be a fairly easy fix.
Clutch Pedal Changes
If you do have a manual transmission, you can also watch for changes in the way the clutch pedal grabs. Does it engage very low or high in the process? That could signal a problem with engagement, or a hydraulic issue. A simple adjustment may solve the issue, or more likely replacing a worn clutch disk and pressure plate.
If you’re experiencing trouble with the transmission, it isn’t something you can put off indefinitely. The sooner you act, the quicker your car will return to normal, and the safer you’ll be as you move throughout your busy days.
Have a question about your transmission of any other problem with your car? We’re here to help. Give us a call.
Is Your Transmission Failing?
If you’ve ever driven a vehicle with a manual transmission, you became more aware of how much it shifts as you drive around. You shift into reverse to move out of garages and parking spaces. You move from first to second, to third and fourth gears as you speed up and slow down from stop signs and traffic lights.
When you move to an automatic transmission, it works in much the same way. The difference being that the internal workings of the car do the job for you. No pushing in the clutch and moving the gears into position.
The transmission system transfers power from the car engine to the wheels. It’s what gives your vehicle mobility. It’s what allows your car to move backward and forward.
As you can imagine, a lot of stress is put onto each of the components within the transmission system over the years. That’s why transmission failure is common; it’s not a matter of if, but when. The transmission will require repair work the older it gets.
The good news is there are warning signs.
If you pay attention to the signals, you can catch problems early. That can save you from being stranded, and prevent expensive repairs in the long run.
How do you know if your transmission is failing?
Your vehicle was designed to warn you well in advance of serious threats to your car’s systems. Pay attention to lights on your dashboard. A lit up check engine light can mean a variety of things. It can be a simple repair, or a sign of a bigger problem. Don’t ignore it. Instead, schedule an appointment with one of our technicians as soon as possible so we can diagnose the problem and get you back on the road without issue.
Struggles to switch gears
Sometimes, with an automatic transmission, you start to hear it struggle to find the right gear. If you have a manual transmission, shifting becomes more difficult, often feeling like you have to add force to move it between the various gears. This could be a signal your transmission fluid is low, or the mechanic you trusted your car with put in the wrong kind of fluid.
Another thing you might notice is that your vehicle’s transmission tends to impulsively slip in and out of place. This can be highly dangerous if you’re on a busy road and your gears slip. Imagine flying down the highway from a day up skiing, and your gears slip to neutral. If you feel this at any point, bring it in to have it evaluated as soon as possible.
This is more common in an automatic transmission, where a grinding or shaking occurs as you move between gears. This is one of the clearest indicators that your transmission is failing.
With a manual car, if the clutch fails to disengage the clutch disk from the flywheel as you press down on the clutch pedal, it’s a sign your transmission is having problems.
Always be conscious as you approach your car for visible signs of a problem. Transmission fluid is dyed red in color to help distinguish it from other fluids. It also has a sweet smell.
While your engine is running, if you ever smell a burning smell, it’s time to bring it in to be serviced immediately. It’s often an indicator that your transmission is overheating, which could be from something as simple as low transmission fluid. The faster you repair it, the less risk you have of causing further damage to the system.
In some cases, your car will refuse to respond to any attempt to change gears. If you can’t move from park to drive, it’s a problem with your transmission. Your only course of action may be to have it towed in for service.
How to properly maintain a transmission
Now that you’ve determined you may be experiencing problems with your transmission, how do you maintain it? How do you ensure you won’t run into trouble at the most inconvenient time?
First of all, remember regular maintenance is the key to your vehicle’s success. You should also pay attention to your car, and be alerted to any changes that may present a problem.
Check the level of your transmission fluid regularly, depending on your make and model. Some vehicles have a dipstick similar to your motor oil for easy access. Still others are closed systems, and require knowledge and a few tools, or bring it in and one of our mechanics can check the levels for you.
You should also schedule an automatic transmission fluid service change every 30,000 to 60,000 miles, depending on your vehicle’s requirements. The old transmission fluid will be flushed from the system, the fluid pan removed and cleaned, and a new filter will be installed to the correct amount.
Be aware of the way you drive. Slow down. You should never make quick switches from drive to reverse, or reverse to drive, especially if the car is still moving. In most cases, this will stall the engine, and possibly do a lot of damage to your transmission.
Be conscious of how you drive. Smooth acceleration helps to allow gears to change at the correct times, and provide you with the most fuel efficient behavior.
Take care of your transmission
You may have heard the horror stories of drivers facing expensive repair bills installing a new transmission. And we’re not going to lie, a replacement can be one of the most expensive auto repair bills you’ll ever receive.
Instead of waiting for that repair bill to come, commit to regular maintenance instead. By watching your vehicle and getting to know how it acts, you’re more likely to recognize when something goes amiss. That means you can drive it into our service station long before you have a seized transmission.
We’re here to help you keep your car running, no matter how old it is or how many miles you’ve put on. Let us give you a quote today.
What If Your Car Isn’t Shifting Right?
There are a few problematic issues with your car that are easy to diagnose. If you forget to put gas in the tank, you’ll recognize the familiar sputter as your car chugs to a stop on the last fumes. You’ll also see the warning sign blinking at you on your dashboard.
Other systems can be more difficult to diagnose. When your car isn’t shifting right, for example, it could be a number of problems. Most likely it’s a sign of a problem with your transmission system.
What happens when your transmission starts to fail
Wouldn’t it be nice if your car sent out warning signs as each piece began to fail? It does.
Let’s say you take your car out for a drive on the weekend. Maybe you head into the hills for a day of skiing, or just a short drive to the park to play a game of softball with a few friends.
Halfway there, your car starts making a whining noise, so you slow down. Or maybe you pick up speed to head up a hill and your car suddenly revs up and bucks.
Then you notice your car doesn’t shift quite right. Maybe it’s more difficult for you to put it into gear. Or maybe you hear a clunk or even a whir as the gears attempt to move as you drive.
What could it be?
If you’re like most drivers today, you head online and do a little research. That’s probably how you got here.
Very quickly, you start to build a picture of what could be wrong. Gears. Transmission. Very expensive … And your mind shifts to a variety of different questions.
- Could it be that my car has a blown transmission?
- How did it happen?
- Was there a way I could have prevented it?
- How much will it cost to repair my transmission?
- Is it worth it? Or is it time to look for another car?
- What are my options?
We’re here to point you in the right direction.
When an automatic transmission is working correctly
Before we get into the warning signs of why your car isn’t shifting right, let’s talk about how the transmission is designed for your vehicle.
Like other systems in your car, the automatic transmission uses a combination of mechanical, electrical, and hydraulics to make the system work.
The mechanical system is designed for functionality. It helps the high engine speed and the slower gear speed synchronize to give you a smooth drive. The electrical system provides sensors to ensure proper gear selection and position. The hydraulic system uses fluid to ensure proper gear positioning. They work together to ensure the automatic transmission flows efficiency every time you get behind the wheel.
What are the signs of transmission failure?
At the first sign of failure, you’ll find your car tries to warn you something is wrong. If you ignore it and the situation worsens, your repair bills rise, until finally, you might have to replace the transmission altogether. You should watch for:
The transmission warning light – luckily, today’s cars have dashboard lights for everything. Don’t ignore them when the little lights pop on. They give you ample time to make your way to a service station.
The car isn’t shifting right – when an automatic transmission transitions smoothly, you don’t pay any attention to how it operates as you speed up and slow down. That changes when it starts to have problems. You’ll notice the movement. You’ll hear it, feel it, sense it.
The gears change position for no reason – when you’re driving at a stable speed, you’ll notice the gear moves for no reason, causing a jolt in your driving patterns. It may slip from a gear to neutral, creating an unusual sound from your engine.
A fluid leak – the hydraulics in your transmission system need hydraulic fluid to operate correctly. This shouldn’t leak. If you notice a puddle of fluid underneath your vehicle, it can be a sign something is wrong with the transmission system. To distinguish it from other fluids your car uses, the transmission fluid is a clear red, sweet smelling liquid, though it may darken if it’s bad.
Delayed gear engagement – you press down on the accelerator and expect to go. Only it doesn’t, not right away. There’s a delay as the gears take extra time to move and connect. There’s a pause, your car lurches forward, bucks as it tries to respond.
What is the cost of fixing a transmission problem?
To fix your transmission, it boils down to parts and labor. That’s difficult to estimate without bringing your car in and having it evaluated.
Yet it’s important to note that for every day you continue to drive your car, ignoring the problem, the damage continues to worsen. What once was a simple fix may now be difficult – and expensive.
It may be as simple as replacing the fluid. Of course, if you wait until eventually, you’re stuck with a blown transmission, the repair bill can quickly add up.
Any indication that your vehicle isn’t shifting correctly should be dealt with quickly to avoid bigger problems.
While simple repairs like changing out the transmission fluid may only need a day in the shop, the act of replacing a transmission will take longer, allowing two full days or more.
Of course, the easiest way to budget your time and your costs for the project is to bring it in for an estimate. Only then can we provide you with all of your options.
Do you think your vehicle might have a problem with its transmission? Have you noticed your car doesn’t shift right, yet you aren’t quite sure what’s wrong?
Trust us to help diagnose the problem, and provide you with the best way to move forward with your car. We look forward to serving you with all of your car needs.
Do I Have a Blown Transmission?
What does the transmission do on your car?
The transmission has a very important job – it ensures there is enough power moving to the wheels to drive at the speeds you desire. The transmission is your car’s gear shifter, moving energy as you navigate your daily drive.
The best way to understand it is to think about your ten-speed bicycle. When you power up, add speed, or start climbing a hill, you shift to different gears. The chain moves from gear to gear, giving you the power to accomplish every need and desire.
The same applies to your vehicle. Different gear ratios allow you to do different things while driving your car. Want to go faster? Want to climb into the Rocky Mountains? Want to slow down for the changing stoplight? The gear ratios help control speed and RPMs for a smoother ride.
A manual transmission
There are two kinds of transmission systems: manual and automatic. With a manual transmission, you take charge of the gear changing process. Using a third foot pedal, the clutch pedal, you manually disengage the transmission from the flywheel and change gears. It works similarly to the bicycle chain process, without the chain. It temporarily disconnects the engine and the transmission, adjusts by moving the gear shift, and reengaging into the new gear you desire. Release the clutch pedal and drive.
An automatic transmission
An automatic transmission automates the gear shifting process. Instead of having to push in a clutch pedal and manually moving the gear shift to the appropriate gear, the automatic transmission does everything for you through a combination of fluid pressure and electronics. You put the car in drive and go; the automatic transmission ensures you are in the right gear.
Next to the engine, your transmission is one of the most complicated systems within your vehicle. Keeping it in good working condition is a must. Even one small problem can wreak havoc on your vehicle and turn into a very expensive repair.
How do you know if you blow a transmission?
Like all the major systems used to create your vehicle, your transmission will give you clues it’s not operating the way it should. The sooner you act, the greater the chance of lower repair bills.
Are there ways you can tell if you have a blown transmission?
The dashboard lights up with a transmission error – today’s vehicles are sensitive enough to notice basic problems. Don’t ignore warning lights as they may cost you a lot more when you finally drive it into the shop.
Your car won’t move in drive or reverse – you might have trouble moving the gear shift at all, it simply won’t move into drive or reverse. In some cases, you have the ability to move the gear shift, but your car won’t operate. No matter what you do, it just sits there.
You’ll notice vibrations or sounds as you’re driving – pay attention to what you feel and hear. You might notice strange vibrations while you drive, or hear a grinding or whining noise especially while your car is attempting to change gears.
The gears can slip – it creates a definite clunking noise. When you try and speed up, your car won’t accelerate because it can’t shift into the right gear. There might be a hesitation as it tries to react. You might even notice a sudden surge as it clicks and connects with the new gear. As you can imagine, both of these are of concern for safe driving; you should bring your car in for an inspection as quickly as you can.
Extreme heat – if you drive a rear wheel drive car, the transmission transfers energy from front to back to give the rear wheels their necessary power. If the transmission starts to overheat, you’ll feel it in the passenger compartment. It might impact the temperature gauge on your dashboard as well. Because the transmission fluid continues to heat up, you might notice a burning odor, some say it resembles burnt toast. If your transmission is overheating, it still might be a simple repair. The key is getting it into a mechanic to be checked immediately.
Some cars have poor design – not every make or model is built the same. If you do a search on Google, you’ll often find one make or model that stands out from the rest. Maybe they decided to use cheaper parts, or they simply didn’t pay attention to quality assurance during a certain production cycle. Whatever the case, if you chose to buy during that year, you’ll pay the price by having to repair or replace more frequently.
Poor maintenance – it doesn’t matter how poorly or how well a make or model is built if you don’t take care of it from the moment you drive it home. Your car needs regular maintenance to ensure it stays in good working condition. That means adding fluids when it’s necessary. It means having a mechanic check out how well your car is operating and making the necessary changes as needed. It means upgrading parts for normal wear and tear – from oil changes to adding new belts.
What about transmission fluid?
While your transmission fluid doesn’t need to be changed out regularly like motor oil, it is important to pay attention to it. Start by checking your owner’s manual; how often does it say it should be changed? Some manufacturers may suggest every 30,000 miles or so while others push it back to 100,000 miles or more. In most cases, you’ll need to follow guidelines to ensure your warranty remains valid.
You can check to ensure you have enough transmission fluid and that it’s still in good condition. It’s similar to checking your motor oil, but each vehicle has its own recommendations for how to check it. How you drive determines frequency too. Someone who drives up and down the mountain each day will have different needs than someone who drives urban conditions just a few miles.
Are there different kinds of transmission fluid?
Each make and model has its own requirements; it’s important to check your owner’s manual for guidance and to ensure best performance. Don’t forget that the wrong fluid can void your warranty.
If you have any questions about how your vehicle operates, or if you think you might have a blown transmission, give us a call today.
Answers About Transmission Service
Question: My friend just had a very expensive transmission repair, how can drivers like myself avoid transmission trouble?
Express Car Care Answer: Next to your engine, your transmission is the most important component in your vehicle – so you and your fellow drivers want to do all you can to avoid transmission repairs.
Drivers may have noticed a recent trend of engines becoming more and more powerful. At the same time, fuel economy has been improving in nearly every motor vehicle. More power and better economy have always been a high priority. Some of the improvement in fuel economy has been due to engine design, but more of the increases can be credited to advances in transmission technology.
Every engine has a sweet spot in which it most efficiently makes power. This is often referred to by technicians as the power band – the optimal engine speed ( measured in revolutions per minute, or RPM). The computers that control what gear your automatic transmission is in also try to keep it in the right gear in order to maintain optimal engine speed – whatever your driving conditions. Modern automatic transmissions have anywhere between four and ten speeds. The more “speeds” your transmission has, the more time your engine can operate at peak efficiency. Needless to say, transmissions have become more sophisticated.
Transmissions are cooled and lubricated by transmission fluid. This pressurized fluid is directed through small passages to effect gear changes. When transmission fluid gets old and contaminated, the small passages can become plugged, which adversely affects shifting. The dirty fluid circulating in the transmission can eat away at gaskets and seals, causing internal leaks that also hurt shifting. This is why it is recommended that transmissions be serviced from time to time. The interval varies by vehicle, so check your owner’s manual or speak with your friendly and knowledgeable Express Car Care service adviser about your transmission service recommendations.
Old, contaminated fluid is removed and new fluid is installed. Keeping up with the manufacturer’s recommended service schedule helps prevent internal damage that may result in a transmission rebuild. Let us help you extend the life of your vehicle and prevent repairs with recommended preventative maintenance service.
Understanding the Automatic Transmission
In order to drive a car, you need a transmission. And while cars come either with a manual or an automatic transmission, in today’s world (at least here in America), you’re far more likely to buy an automatic transmission than a manual.
What’s the difference? In simplest terms, with a manual, you control the movement of the gears. You shift from first to second to third and so on based on your needs and desires.
An automatic transmission handles everything for you.
In reality, it’s a little more complicated than that.
Why a vehicle needs a transmission
In order to understand why a vehicle needs a transmission, it’s important to discuss how a car engine works first. The engine is designed to create power. To move the car, the power generated by the engine must be transferred to the wheels. That’s what a drivetrain does, of which the transmission is a part of.
An engine only spins at a certain level of speed. If it spins too low, you won’t be able to get the car moving. Too quickly and the engine could self-destruct.
That’s why you need something to further the control of the power produced within the engine. That’s the transmission’s job.
The transmission makes sure your engine spins at the optimal rate while sending power to your wheels at the right amount to move your car. It sits between the engine and powertrain, and operates as a control box for moving your car.
With a manual transmission, you accomplish this by moving the gears yourself into place. You connect different sized gears with one another depending on how fast you want to go, and how fast the engine needs to perform. You control the engagement of the gears by pressing in the clutch and shifting the gears into place.
With an automatic transmission, this process is done for you. Through engineering, the gears are engaged at the appropriate time to make your car go no matter what speed you desire.
The parts of an automatic transmission
In order to fully understand the automatic transmission, you’ll have to start with the casing. It resembles a bell, which is why you’ll sometimes hear it referred to as a bell casing. It’s typically made of aluminum, and is designed to protect all of the moving parts of the transmission.
When you start your car, it doesn’t suddenly take off in a forward or backward lurch. That’s because of the torque converter. The power from the engine to the transmission remains disconnected until you tell it to engage. With a manual, you engage the clutch and put it into gear. With an automatic, you use a torque converter. With hydraulic fluid, it varies the vehicle’s ability to go and stop by producing the exact amount of power necessary to accomplish the goal. It spins independently from the transmission and engages as needed. If you ever feel erratic behavior while driving at different speeds, it’s a torque converter malfunction.
As your vehicle picks up speed, it needs additional gears to move to in order to accomplish its goal. With a manual transmission, the gear shift changes the gear ratios. With an automatic transmission, it uses a planetary gear designed to do the process for you. In includes:
- A sun gear – it sits in the center of the gear set
- Planet gears – three or four smaller gears that surround the sun gear. They are mounted to their own shaft and are designed to orbit the sun gear
- Ring gear – this is the outer gear and contains teeth to mesh with each of the planetary gears
A planetary gear set can contain a reverse drive and up to five levels of forward drive.
A pump is located between the torque converter and planetary gear set. It’s what draws transmission fluid in and creates pressure for the torque converter and transmission. Automatic transmissions rely heavily on this fluid for the process to work. Think of it as the heart of the transmission system.
Bands and clutches
Bands and clutches are used to help the gears rotate, engage, or disengage. They are made from metal lined with organic friction material, used to hold the rings and gears stationary or tight, depending on what is called for.
With today’s modern technology, more of this process is computerized than ever before. Sensors control the different functions in the transmission to help control the speed of the engine and wheels in order to decide what gear to use.
The valve body is the control center of the transmission system. It’s the part that regulates incoming transmission fluid and uses it to run the valves and pistons. It determines what gear ratio by sending fluid in the proper quantities to the appropriate places within the transmission.
Transmission fluid is crucial to the overall process. It has both lubricating and cooling properties so that your transmission stays in good working condition and won’t overheat. It’s made from a variety of synthetic liquids and oils, and includes things like detergents, rust preventatives, and lubricants necessary to keep your automatic transmission working the way it should.
How the automatic transmission works
That’s a lot of working parts to ensure your automatic transmission works the way it should. It takes a special combination of mechanical, electrical engineering to give you a car safe enough to drive in all kinds of conditions.
In an easy-to-understand way, the automatic transmission works like this.
The engine starts and sends power to the torque converter, and into the pump.
The pump engages and begins sending transmission fluid into the system. A vortex of power is created inside the torque converter.
This engages the central shaft within the transmission, starts the spinning of the shaft and turbine, sending power to the first gear in the planetary gear set.
Depending on which part of the gear system is engaged, it will allow the gear to move or remain stationary. It sets the gear ratio and powers the transmission into action.
That, in a nutshell, is how the automatic transmission system works. Knowing how it works gives you a better understanding of how your vehicle works. And that makes you better at watching for things to go wrong, as well as a better understanding of the work that needs to be done when you bring your car in for service.
Our goal isn’t just to repair your car. We want to ensure you understand the mechanics of how your vehicle works too. It will make you a better driver, and a better owner.
How can we help you maintain your car?
Signs Your Car Needs A New Transmission
Every day as you drive, dozens of parts come together to ensure your car gets you where you’re going. When everything is working, it’s a smooth ride, one you can depend on.
But over time, things change. You notice bumps in the road. You hear squeaks and squeals. You may even see things slowly starting to fail.
Your car doesn’t fall apart overnight. It never fails without warning signs. If you watch and listen carefully, you’ll notice when things start to break.
Are there signs your car needs a new transmission? Can you tell before your car fails?
In most cases, the answer is yes. Your car gives off warning signs, and the sooner you bring it into a qualified transmission specialist, the higher your chance of catching it early and lowering the overall costs of the repair.
The key is in not ignoring the warning signs. They are there for a reason. Catch it early, and you might only have a small repair. Wait, and the costs can build as time goes by.
Warning signs your car needs a new transmission include:
Problems shifting gears
It doesn’t matter if your car is manual or automatic, it still shifts into several gears as it takes you from resting up to speed, and back down again. Every time it shifts, it should be a smooth transition. When you start noticing changes, a roughness in the process, that’s a sign your transmission might be in need of repair.
Pay attention to the process. Do you notice:
- Hesitation as you try and put the car into gear
- Jerking action as the car shifts between gears
- A sudden shift in gears for no reason
- Trouble with reverse
- Falling out of gear while you’re driving
All of these can be signs your car needs a new transmission. It’s time to bring your vehicle in for servicing right away.
Grinding between gears
With a manual transmission, you can feel when there’s a problem with the gears. As you press down on the clutch, and try to shift from one gear to the next, you hear a grinding sound. The process is anything but smooth. It’s difficult to move from gear to gear.
But it’s not just manual transmissions that have problems. Instead of a grinding noise, automatic transmissions may start to shake or shimmy between shifts as it starts to fail.
It may be the clutch failing. It might be a simple repair. But the longer you ignore it, the more it persists, the more problems you’ll face when you do bring it in for repair.
Have you ever stood next to a vehicle that has a whining, buzzing, or clicking sound while standing in neutral? That can be a sign of transmission failure.
As parts fail, they impact the transmission in different ways. Transmissions are made up of lots of parts: pumps, clutches, bands, sensors, valves, even transmission fluid to keep everything running smoothly. Every part has a purpose. And if one part starts to fail, it can cause a host of other problems.
That’s when noises start to occur. Let’s say your transmission fluid is low. That can cause a ripple effect throughout the vehicle, making bands weaken, clutches tighten up, gears not able to work properly. If you correct the problem quickly, you stop the action from deteriorating the parts any further. The longer you wait, the more damage occurs. When you hear a new noise and it persists, it’s time to quickly find out the root cause.
Cloudy transmission fluid
When transmission fluid is brand new, it has a bright red color and a distinctive sweet smell. If you’ve never seen it before, ask your mechanic about it the next time you visit. Over time, transmission fluid goes through a lot as it keeps the action in your transmission operating as it should.
When you start to see changes in looks, it could be the transmission fluid. If you look at it and it appears dark, or has a milky, cloudy look, it’s a sign the transmission fluid can no longer do what it’s supposed to do.
Not only does transmission fluid change color over time, but it also creates a distinctive smell. When the gears overheat because of excessive friction, it starts to produce a burning smell. You’ll notice it when you turn your car off and open the door. If the transmission has reached this point, it’s time to bring it in for repair, and it’s probably time for a new transmission.
Leaking transmission fluid
As your transmission continues to fail, it starts to develop leaks. Whether you park it regularly in a garage, your driveway, or in a parking spot at work, pay attention to what’s left behind when you drive away. Do you see the red fluid leaving spots? It doesn’t matter if it looks red and clean, or has already taken on a cloudy appearance, a leak isn’t something you should tolerate. Instead, a leak is a sign of a very big problem.
It doesn’t mean your transmission is going bad, but there is a problem with the flow of transmission fluid. The quicker you get it in, the faster you repair the problem, the greater chance you have of saving your transmission.
That can mean the difference between a small repair and adding new transmission fluid, or a costly investment in a new transmission.
Have questions about your transmission? Is your car showing warning signs it might be in need of repair? Schedule an appointment today, and we’ll get to the root cause, and get you on your way.
Question on Your Transmission
Express Car Care Tech Question:
My name is Suzanne. We were taking a camping trip at our favorite state park over a three day weekend. About halfway to our campsite, the transmission went out on our vehicle. It took all weekend to get it towed out and to get back home. What can I do to prevent transmission problems in the future?
Express Car Care Answer: Transmission repairs can be expensive at auto service centers. On top of that, Suzanne was in the back country, her vacation weekend turned into three days of car repairs.
First of all, vehicle transmissions are tough and durable. All that needs to be done to maintain them is to replace the transmission fluid on schedule. The fluid gets contaminated with bits of clutch plates and metal. Dirty transmission fluid under pressure acts like liquid sandpaper, eating away at important gaskets and seals. Then your transmission doesn’t shift as well. It can start to leak and overheat, and then you could end up in a situation like Suzanne.
Another thing to consider: if you carry heavy loads, or are towing a trailer on the highway or up mountain passes, your transmission is working much harder and running hotter than under normal conditions. Your transmission fluid may need to be changed sooner. Check your vehicle’s owner’s manual for your severe service schedule or talk with your helpful and knowledgeable pros about when you should have your transmission serviced. If you’re planning a trip that you know you will be doing some towing or other severe driving, make sure to have your transmission fluid checked before you head out. It’s always better to be safe, rather than sorry.