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Proper care for your automatic transmission

Automatic Transmission
Photo: iStockphoto

Clunk! That’s the sound I heard when I tried to put my old truck into drive. I stepped on the gas and heard another clunk and my RPMs went through the roof – but hold on, I wasn’t going anywhere! My poor old truck just didn’t want to go, and slipped back into neutral. I realized that my transmission was in definite need of some TLC.

Maintaining your vehicle, especially fluids and filters, is imperative to prolonging the life of your vehicle. Your transmission filter and fluid are no different. For this PumpTalk post, we will focus on a vehicle equipped with an automatic transmission and how to maintain it.

Your automatic transmission utilizes gears to make efficient use of the engine’s torque and to keep the engine running at suitable speeds. The fluid in your transmission (ATF) ensures optimum operating temperature and that the gears continue to be well lubricated. The filter, like all filters, helps keep out the dirt and debris. A special thing to note is that transmission maintenance varies for different vehicles. Many newer vehicles no longer have a transmission filter, or the transmission requires minimal maintenance like a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission). In this post, we will discuss care for a transmission which does have a filter and requires regular maintenance, but be sure to consult your owner’s manual for your specific vehicle requirements.

For vehicles with a transmission filter and fluid requiring flushing, it is important to make sure that you keep the fluid and filter well maintained so that you do not encounter transmission issues in the future.

Some symptoms of transmission issues include:

  • Leaking, red fluid
  • Vehicle will not go into gear
  • Hesitation when shifting gears
  • Vehicle slips out of gear while driving*

(*Note: If this does happen to you, don't try to continue driving. Find a safe place to pull over as soon as possible and have your vehicle towed to your local service station)

Make sure you bring your vehicle to a service shop that can perform a proper transmission flush. This includes hoisting the vehicle up, removing the pan, replacing the filter and draining all the fluid. By doing this, a skilled mechanic is able to see if there is any metal debris accumulating in the bottom of the pan. This could indicate a larger problem. Although a small amount of debris is normal, you need to clean it out so that it does not clog up the transmission system, leading to shifting issues or gear slippage.

By changing your transmissions fluid and filter every 50,000 km or so, you can prolong the life of your vehicle. But ofcourse, as we always say, consult your owner’s manual for proper maintenance schedules.

If you are interested in the finer details of how the transmission operates in your vehicle, head over to HowStuffWorks.

- Julie S.


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The article is very interesting and I learned things I did not know until now. Thanks for the detailed information you have posted.


I maintain my car really well and I also got to know some valuable facts through this post. I really appreciate your work and I’ll let my friends know about this too.

April Hutcheson

Whenever I research a subject I have no clue what i might find. I'm so very happy to have discovered your thorough blogging as it perfectly addresses the doubts I have in mind and also the unspoken concerns which i would have checked for in the future.

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