The transmission is one of the most important components on your vehicle. If it goes, then chances are you won't be going anywhere. Unfortunately, automatic transmissions are particularly susceptible to extreme heat buildup, especially during long-distance travel and towing:
Prelude to a Heated Situation
Transmission fluid doesn't just provide lubrication and hydraulic force for the various clutches, gears and valves in your transmission. Like engine coolant, it's also tasked with transferring and dissipating the heat that builds up within the unit during its operation. For this reason, the fluid also circulates through a small, dedicated portion of the radiator. Under normal circumstances, this keeps the transmission at its normal operating temperature of around 175 degrees Fahrenheit.
Unfortunately, there are many scenarios where the cooling capacity provided by the manufacturer isn't enough to prevent heat-related transmission problems. Towing a trailer, especially a heavy one that comes close to your vehicle's tow rating, makes the transmission work harder and subsequently builds up excess heat. High-speed driving and long-distance travel can also cause overheating, especially if the fluid hasn't been changed according to the recommended service intervals.
As the transmission fluid overheats, it'll take on a progressively dark color, finally ending in a brownish/black color with a burnt odor. Normal transmission fluid is usually bright red in color, with little to no odor.
Keeping Your Transmission Cool
Prevention is the key to keeping your transmission out of hot water. Consider these steps for giving your transmission a longer lease on life:
- Change your transmission fluid – Not only should you check your transmission fluid every six months or 6,000 miles, whichever comes first, but you should also change your fluid according to your vehicle's recommended service regimen. If the fluid is already black in color or has a strong burnt odor to it, you may want to skip a fluid flush and instead prepare for a rebuild or replacement.
- Change the transmission filter – In addition to changing your fluid, you should also replace the transmission filter. In many cases, debris can clog the filters and block the transmission from receiving fluid from the pan.
- Make sure the transmission cooler lines aren't clogged – When transmission cooler lines are blocked by debris, it can make cooling impossible. Have an experienced mechanic inspect and, if necessary, unclog the cooler lines.
- Consider upgrading to an auxiliary transmission cooler – An externally-mounted transmission cooler can give your vehicle's transmission the extra cooling capacity it needs, especially when tackling steep mountain grades and towing heavy trailers. The auxiliary transmission cooler should be installed in line with the existing radiator-based cooler for the best results.
With these steps, you can rest easier knowing your transmission will tackle a wide variety of driving conditions for years to come. To learn more, contact a company like Budget Automotive Center with any questions you have.