Is It Necessary To Get An Automatic Transmission Serviced?

Automatic transmissions are convenient, especially in busy traffic conditions where you have to start, stop and shift gears frequently. It also makes a hill start easy and gives you freedom from the clutch. Unlike manual transmissions, they also need very little maintenance. But, are automatic and continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) truly maintenance-free?

Understanding Automatic Transmissions

The transmission transfers torque from the engine to the wheels to provide optimum power to negotiate various driving conditions. In a manual transmission, this is achieved when the driver selects the right gear depending on driving conditions.

Automatic transmissions select the right gear ratio without any driver intervention. Both manual and automatic transmissions give a fixed number of gear ratios. A CVT, on the other hand, gives a theoretically infinite number of gear ratios within a fixed range.

A manual transmission needs maintenance and it is checked during periodic service. It can also be easily repaired. But, automatics and CVTs are relatively maintenance free, at least according to most manufacturers.

Is There Anything To Be Gained By Servicing An Automatic Transmission?

Ideally, an automatic transmission should last 300,000 to 450,000 km. Most manufacturers say that their automatic cars don’t need a transmission fluid change. So, unless you have a leak, in theory, there is no need to change the fluid. Practically, things are not that smooth with most automatic transmissions.

In many automatic cars, strange transmission-related symptoms start appearing after they have done about 150,000 km. Experience shows that servicing usually helps prevent or fix these problems. Although transmission fluid changes are not required according to most manufacturers, in reality, the essential properties of the fluid start to deteriorate with age.

Symptoms Of Transmission Problems

You know you have a transmission problem when your car starts behaving strangely. The gear shift becomes less smooth. Sometimes, the engine revs, but the car does not move forward. These symptoms may not be a problem initially, but they tend to get worse and after some time, become serious causes of concern.

When the symptoms become very acute, it pretty much spells the end of the transmission. Fixing the transmission in time can help prevent such problems and save you the huge cost of a new transmission. The trick is to prevent the transmission from getting to the point of no return.

Servicing An Automatic Transmission

Although saving the transmission is easier in the early stages, there is no harm in attempting a transmission fluid flush even at a later stage. In many cases, changing the transmission fluid can restore the performance of the transmission to a great extent even if the symptoms are acute. There is no guarantee, but it often works and is a good and inexpensive way to fix the issue.

A new transmission costs almost ten times the cost of flushing the transmission fluid. So, it makes sense to attempt the repair. It may not restore the transmission to its full performance, but some symptoms disappear and others become less dramatic. Maintaining the transmission in the early stages is much better than taking this gamble.

Servicing a CVT

Unlike a manual or an automatic gearbox, a CVT can theoretically offer infinite gear ratios within a range. This offers the right power for all types of driving conditions and great fuel economy.

Most manufacturers do not expect any maintenance on a CVT. That’s why, transmission fluid changes are usually absent from manufacturer-specified vehicle service schedules. A fluid change is not recommended as it is a “lifetime” fluid. What they don’t mention is that the life of the transmission is only about 120,000 km without maintenance and replacement is expensive.

Replacement costs are high due to the complex nature of the transmission. A new transmission could set you back by £3,000 to £6,000. A fluid change can significantly extend transmission life. CVT transmission fluid is relatively inexpensive and the entire job should cost only about £200. It is definitely the better option.

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