In Part 1 of the Things Your Transmission Shop Wished You Knew published on March 3rd, we discussed how your vehicle is intended to operate, how to service and maintain it, and the importance of various systems in terms of the long-term health of your car. In Part 2, we focus on how the way you drive and how you operate your vehicle can influence your drivetrain. Read on for the rest of the things your transmission shop wished you knew about your vehicle!
7. Manually Shifting an Automatic Transmission Is Not Always A Good Idea
Many people who have driven a manual transmission are used to having control of the shifting and find an automatic transmission kind of “boring.” Since the automatic transmission usually takes care of all of the shifting, the driver can concentrate on the rest of the driving experience. Automatic transmissions are set up in such a way that you do have limited control of shifting in the 1-2, 2-Drive range, but that does not necessarily mean that you should. There are limited occasions during inclement weather, towing on steep hills, etc. where it is beneficial for an experienced driver to take over the shift decisions. However, for the most part it is better to leave it alone and let the transmission and onboard computers do their job. Manual shifting of an automatic transmission increases line pressure, creates more internal stress and heat, and will accelerate wear and tear on the transmission. Hence the reason traffic is the greatest enemy of the transmission. No matter how talented a driver thinks they are, they simply do not have the speed or array of information being monitored within the computers, sensors, and inside of the transmission to optimize shifting to get the best performance (and longevity) out of the vehicle. It might look like fun, but if you really need to do the shifting yourself…buy a manual transmission!
8. Rocking Your Vehicle to Get Unstuck in Snow Is Potentially Damaging
Anyone who has lived in areas with significant snowfall has at some time or another gotten stuck in the snow while driving. The first thing everyone does is start to “rock” the vehicle by going forward, then shifting into reverse, back into drive…until hopefully they build up the momentum to get the vehicle unstuck and moving again. While this is a good strategy, you need to be VERY careful how you do this in order to make sure you don’t do severe damage to your automatic transmission. There is really nothing more potentially damaging to the transmission than shifting into reverse while the vehicle is moving forward and shifting into drive while the vehicle is moving backwards. When the torque load is moving forward and is suddenly reversed (or vice versa), you are putting a phenomenal load on the hard parts of the transmission. This doesn’t result in the breakdown of soft parts (clutch packs, etc.) but rather the catastrophic failure of the hard parts (shafts, sprags, gears) that are the most expensive parts inside of the transmission, along with the increasing number of electrical components. Doing this incorrectly will result in an extremely expensive rebuild or require an entirely new unit, so be careful! Make sure your vehicle comes to a stop BEFORE you shift the other way, if only briefly. The timing is tricky, so don’t get in a hurry or jam on that gas pedal too hard. Your transmission, and your wallet, will thank you!
9. The Correct Use of Your Overdrive Button
While there have been forms of overdrive available on automobiles since the 1930’s, it was in the 1980’s that the modern overdrive systems were born. To achieve better fuel economy, most transmissions built since then have two or more gears at the top of the gear range. These have a gear ratio lower than 1 to 1, which allows the tires to rotate more with each engine rotation. These gears begin to engage in the 40-45mph range and up. Most vehicles with overdrive also have some sort of button, switch, etc. to disengage the overdrive. This limits the transmission to the gears that are above a 1:1 ratio. There are 2 potential reasons to disengage the overdrive, depending on the age of the vehicle and your driving conditions. First, on vehicles built between the 1980’s and the late 1990’s, it is a good idea to turn off the overdrive unless you are actually on the highway and driving at highway speeds. If you are driving around town in the 40+ mph range, your transmission is going to be continually shifting in and out of overdrive based on small changes in vehicle speed as you are right on the bottom edge of engagement. Doing this will cause accelerated wear on the overdrive system and will speed up internal damage. The second reason you need to disengage overdrive is when you are driving (and especially towing) up or down a steep incline. Turning off the overdrive forces your transmission to stay in lower gears, which acts as an engine brake and reduces overheating in the braking system. It also keeps the engine from bogging down by shifting into too high a gear when under a heavy load.
10. The Correct Use of 4 Wheel Drive
It’s important to note that here we are talking about 4-wheel drive, not all-wheel drive. In a 4-wheel drive vehicle, you are usually motoring around in 2-wheel drive until some road condition makes you lock in the 4-wheel drive by use of a button, switch, etc. In an all-wheel drive vehicle, there is a center differential of some sort that allows the front and rear tires to turn at different speeds. In a traditional 4-wheel drive vehicle, when engaged the front and rear differentials are turning at the same speed. If you are on snow, ice, or a wet slippery road, having the 4-wheel drive engaged is a good thing and will improve your traction. The binding that happens between front and rear differentials when you are in a turn won’t be an issue because the tires can fractionally slip on the ice or snow. If you leave the 4-wheel drive engaged on dry pavement, your tires cannot slip and you are going to start doing damage to your drivetrain in a hurry. So, remember, if you are out driving in inclement weather and need the extra traction, engage the 4-wheel drive. Once the road clears up, don’t forget to shut it off!
11. Mountain Driving and Towing Shortens Your Transmission’s Service Life
For those living in the Rocky Mountain area, driving in the mountains is a fact of life whether it happens daily or just for recreation. Likewise, with towing, some drivers are faced with it daily while others might do it only for occasional recreation, moving, etc. In both scenarios, you are putting additional stress on the transmission and it is important to be aware of this in order to maximize the life of your vehicle. Mountain driving and towing both increase the load on the drivetrain through both weight and heat. The constant downshifting in the mountains done to save your brakes is going to heat things up in the transmission in a hurry. When pulling something behind your vehicle, the additional weight is likewise going to generate heat. Vehicles that are designed for towing or constant mountain driving usually have additional transmission coolers installed to help combat this. If your personal vehicle does not and you spend a lot of time towing or driving in the mountains, it might be wise to consider having a supplemental cooler installed. It is also good to remember that some vehicles are better designed for these stresses and have heavy duty transmissions that are designed to stand up to the extra abuse. Know what your vehicle is designed for (and NOT designed for) so that you can ensure you aren’t putting your vehicle in an environment that will shorten the transmission’s service life.
12. Towing Your Own Vehicle
Someday you might find yourself in the position of being broken down and needing to tow your own vehicle for service, back to your home, etc. In a perfect world you are going to let a professional tow your vehicle, ideally on a flat bed. Should that not be an option, there are things to consider when towing your vehicle to avoid doing serious damage to the transmission. The right way to tow the vehicle is to raise one end off of the ground, i.e., raising the front end on a front-wheel drive vehicle and raising the rear end of a rear-wheel drive vehicle. Keeping the drive wheels off of the ground during towing ensures that the transmission is not turning and under load. Also, make sure the vehicle is in neutral (and the transfer case is in neutral in a 4WD). If that isn’t an option for some reason, then you need to remove the driveshaft before towing. What you don’t want to do is have all four wheels on the ground and tow the vehicle for any distance with the driveshaft in place. Doing this is going to force your transmission’s internal gears to be turning without the pump pushing fluid through it to keep it lubricated. You won’t have to pull your vehicle very far before you have done serious damage!
13. Keep Your Battery Clean and Serviced Regularly
One of the most overlooked aspects of maintaining a vehicle is making sure that the battery is routinely cleaned and serviced. The most obvious need for the battery is to start the vehicle, but it certainly doesn’t stop there! There are countless electronic systems in your vehicle that rely on power from the battery, including your transmission. As corrosion builds up on the battery terminals, there may be sufficient power to start the car but not enough to keep the other systems operating correctly. The solenoids and other electronic transmission components may not have enough power to function, which can lead to problems. You may see delayed shifting or maybe a shift being missed completely as the transmission isn’t getting sufficient power to its electronic controls. Worse yet, the problems can be intermittent so that you have transmission issues that come and go at random, making it hard to know that the transmission is failing. To ensure your transmission is getting the power it needs to function correctly, make sure that cleaning and servicing your battery, terminals, and cables is a regular part of the maintenance schedule.
If you need service or are having problems with your transmission, transfer case or differential, contact Advanced Transmission Center at either of our locations and we’d be happy to help! Unlike dealerships or many independent repair shops, we are transmission specialists trained to fix issues related to a vehicle’s drivetrain. You can reach out to either location that is most convenient for you.