Let's Exchange Fluids
Oil changes, tire rotations, wheel alignments… these are the more commonly thought of elements of car maintenance. A transmission fluid exchange though? That's a horse of a different color.
Most people don’t think about their transmission until a problem arises. Unfortunately, that probably means it’s too late. When it comes to all things car related, preventative maintenance is the way to go.
Transmission fluid acts as a lubricant for the moving parts inside your transmission. For automatic transmissions, this fluid not only lubricates as it does with a manual, but also cools and transmits power from the engine to the transmission.
Fluid exchange is less known by consumers and usually gets confused with a transmission flush. This is sad because a fluid exchange is arguably better for your car than a flush or a change. An exchange is exactly like it sounds; the new fluid goes in one side and the old fluid goes out the other. Furthermore, a fluid exchange allows the system to work at it's own pace and does not use foreign cleaners during the exchange of fluids. I suppose you could call it the most “organic” option for replacing your transmission fluid.
FLUSH VS CHANGE:
The difference between flushing and changing your transmission fluid is that a flush uses a professional grade machine and a special solution (those foreign cleaners mentioned earlier) to completely clean and empty the system and then fills it back up with brand new fluid. A transmission fluid change, on the other hand, uses gravity to drain the system and does not flush out contaminants. Usually only 20-40% of the original fluid is removed.
Without further ado...
Now that we are all on the same page about what a transmission is, transmission fluid's purpose in life and the difference between exchanges, changes and flushes, I can tell you the 5 signs that your car is very much in need of a transmission exchange. Please be aware that if your car is displaying the following symptoms, you may already have caused bigger transmission problems.
Wait! Shhhhh.... Did you hear that?
If you hear strange grinding noises, stop your vehicle and check your transmission fluid while the vehicle is running. Your transmission fluid should be bright red. If the fluid is brown or black, that means you need a transmission fluid exchange.
Just SLUGGIN' along
Transmission fluid should flow easily. In automatic vehicles, if your fluid has an excess of dirt or sludge it can cause a sluggish response which can result in your car shifting gears too late or too early. With manuals, it can be very hard to shift gears at all.
I CAN'T DO IT, CAPTAIN! I DON'T HAVE THE POWER!
Hydraulic power and pressure keeps your car in the appropriate gear. When transmission fluid is low or dirty it can decrease power and pressure causing what is commonly called a gear slip. Gear slipping is a very common sign that you need a transmission fluid exchange in both automatic and manual vehicles.
We apologize for the delay
A stall for a few seconds after being put into gear is another sign that your fluid might be dirty.
Well, that was unexpected...
Surging is when, for no apparent reason, your vehicle jumps forward or falls backwards. If your fluid is dirty, you are hindering the consistent flow necessary for smoothly operating gears which is the cause of these surges.
Fixing or completely replacing a transmission can be expensive in comparison to maintaining your transmission with the recommended transmission fluid exchanges. On average, and depending on the make and model of the vehicle, it costs somewhere in the vicinity of $2,800-$3,800 to rebuild a transmission and $4,00-$8,000 for a brand new replacement. Meanwhile, a transmission fluid exchange costs hundreds, not thousands (also depending on your make and model). It is recommended that you get your transmission flushed every 30,000-50,000 miles. As always, check your manual for your car’s specific recommendation and speak to professionals to gather multiple data points.
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The primary goal of transmission fluid is to lubricate gears. Forgoing a transmission fluid exchange means you are attempting to lubricate with contaminates including metal shavings. That doesn’t sound so smooth, does it?
Check your transmission fluid by pulling the transmission dipstick out while the engine is warmed up and running. Make sure your vehicle is in park. Check your manual for your specific car because every car is just a little bit different.
Because transmission fluid doesn’t burn up like engine oil, low transmission fluid most likely means that there is a leak.
You should probably consider annual oil changes if you tow heavy loads often, especially in hot weather.