Transmission Maintenance

March 25, 2022

Car Transmission Maintenance

By Michael Soukup 

Service Advisor, Phoenix

Today’s car transmissions are more complex than ever, so car transmission maintenance is an essential part of car ownership. According to AAA, transmission problems are the most common reason for a vehicle breakdown. If you own a car, there is no question that you need to set up a schedule for transmission maintenance—it’s as important as oil changes for keeping your vehicle in top running condition. 


What is a Transmission in a Car?
The transmission is a complex mechanism that transmits engine power to the drive wheels and allows the vehicle to operate at a wide range of speeds. A typical automatic transmission, for example, has multiple gears that run at different speeds and allow the car to accelerate. The transmission works in conjunction with other components, such as the engine, axle, and drive shafts, to move the vehicle. 


If you drive a vehicle with an automatic transmission, you may not be aware that the transmission fluid is manufactured to a certain specification. Using a transmission fluid that doesn’t meet this specification could result in problems ranging from a rough shift to complete failure.


What are the Key Components of a Transmission?
The transmission is a complex piece of machinery that runs lots of complicated mechanisms. There is only so much that can be covered in one article, but here are the key components that help a transmission function properly:


Torque converter – The torque converter is the fluid coupling between an engine and transmission that allows the engine to spin independently of the transmission.

Planetary gearset – A planetary gearset comprises three main parts: the sun gear, planet gears, and ring gear.

Piston and clutch packs – These are hydraulic devices that apply pressure to friction elements to lock or unlock planetary gear sets.

Valve Body – The valve body is what controls the flow of hydraulic fluid to the clutches and bands. It also routes pressurized fluid to activate the shift solenoids, which are used to engage specific gears. On modern vehicles, most of the functions once controlled by vacuum modulators have been converted to electronic solenoids and sensors.

Bands – Bands are steel straps that wrap around sections of a planetary gearset or drum and connect to an anchor, which engages or releases that section as needed.

Clutch disc – The clutch disc is located between the flywheel and pressure plate. As engine speeds increase, the clutch disc spins faster and pressure plates press harder against it. This allows the disc to transmit power from the engine to the transmission.

Flywheel – The flywheel is bolted to the rear of your engine’s crankshaft. It’s a large circular metal device that functions as part of both your engine and your transmission.

Gear shifter – The gear shifter is the metal lever in front of your vehicle’s driver’s seat that you use to change gears. There are other names for it, such as stick shift or gearshift, but they all refer to this one part.

Pressure plate – The pressure plate is also known as a clutch cover or diaphragm spring because its main job is applying or releasing pressure on the clutch disc in order to engage or disengage power from the engine to the transmission. It bolts directly onto your engine’s flywheel.

Transmission fluid pump – The transmission fluid pump function is to provide the hydraulic pressure needed for the operation of the automatic transmission. It also provides oil for lubrication and cooling.


Signs of Car Transmission Problems

Trouble Shifting – One of the first signs of transmission trouble is when your automatic transmission shifts hard. This can feel like your vehicle suddenly dropping into a lower gear with an accompanying jolt or bump. This may happen when you’re just starting out, or it might occur when you’re accelerating. Another problem related to hard shifting is when your vehicle hesitates or refuses to go into gear after you shift from park to drive (or reverse). If this happens frequently, you should get it checked out by a mechanic.

Slipping Gears – Slipping gears is another sign of a potential transmission problem. If your vehicle feels like it’s slipping out of gear or if it jumps between gears without any input from you, then something is wrong that needs to be addressed.

Grinding Gears – A whining noise accompanied by the feeling of gears grinding can indicate an issue with the transmission fluid pressure or worn parts within your transmission. In either case, this is another sign that it’s time for a trip to a professional mechanic.


Recommended Car Transmission Maintenance

Servicing your transmission is as important as changing your oil because the fluid breaks down over the course of time and needs to be changed. And remember, transmission fluids can differ so consult a specialist or the manufacturer to ensure you are using the correct transmission fluid for your specific make/model/year. 


Manufacturers typically recommend car transmission services between 50-60K miles. However, the Arizona heat tends to degrade and break down fluids faster, so we recommend servicing transmissions every 30-45K  miles regardless of what the manufacturer says.  If you drive a lot on highways you can use the upper end of that for intervals between services. However, if you do lots of city driving, you put more pressure on your transmission along with everything else in your car, so we recommend more frequent service to keep your vehicle in top running condition. 


The typical price range for transmission service runs around $200 and up depending on the manufacturer, the car, and the type of fluid. Newer cars need specialist input, so they will cost a bit more.  Now that you understand the importance of car transmission maintenance, we encourage you to book a service appointment for your vehicle soon.


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