There are many fluids that run throughout your vehicle, but one of the most important to keep track of is the transmission fluid. Whether or not you should change it is not a matter of debate: Yes, you should. But how often this service should be performed varies by manufacturer and vehicle, and it’s open to debate.
The manufacturer’s maintenance schedule for many automatic transmissions doesn’t call for fresh fluid until 160,000 kms or, with some Ford transmissions, even 240,000kms. On lots of the BMW transmissions claimed is “life time use.” That is way too long and that it should be done at least every 100,000kms. Manual transmissions require more conventional gear oil rather than automatic transmission fluid and tend to be on a different maintenance schedule, so it’s best to consult the service intervals in the owner’s manual.
Like other vital automotive fluids, transmission fluid deteriorates over time. Hard use — such as frequent stop-and-go city driving, hauling heavy loads and trailer towing — will accelerate the deterioration. That kind of driving raises the transmission’s operating temperature, and heat puts more strain on the transmission and the fluid. Unlike engine oil, which is primarily a lubricant, transmission fluid serves as both an oil and a hydraulic fluid that helps facilitate gear shifts, cools the transmission and lubricates moving parts.
The typical transmission service interval is 60,000 to 100,000 miles. Don’t forget to check the fluid level between the fluid change intervals. Letting your car run low on transmission fluid can cause the transmission to shift improperly— or not at all. It also can harm the internal parts of your transmission, which are not being properly lubricated. Unfortunately, you may not hear any noises or have other clues that your transmission is low on fluid until it’s too late.
Manual Transmissions: Most vehicle manufacturers recommend a transmission fluid change between every 50,000 to 100,000 kms. The problem is fluid contamination which occurs over time as the synchronizers, bearings and gears in the transmission wear out. The resulting metal particles then float around in the lubricant. Oil that contains microscopic particles of metal does not lubricate as well as clean oil. So if these contaminants are not drained out, they will shorten the life of your transmission.
Automatic Transmissions: A fluid change for automatic transmissions can vary from every 60,000 kms to possibly never. Because more heat is generated in an automatic transmission, automatic transmission fluid actually degrades and breaks down with use. It also becomes contaminated with worn bits of the transmission.
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