July 25, 2024

Driving Conditions that Could Blow Your Transmission

You are driving down the road on your way to work and start to notice shaking or grinding sensations when the car is in a certain gear, or worse still, you notice that your transmission is stuck in first or second gear. These are just some of the transmission damage problems that car owners experience one too many times.

The Importance of Transmission Maintenance

Your transmission’s key function is to transfer your engine’s power and torque to the wheels. Consequently, any transmission damage can paralyze your car’s ability to move forward. Therefore, maintaining a healthy vehicle transmission is critical to having an enjoyable car ownership experience. Prioritizing transmission maintenance also enhances safety on the road, contributes to your car’s longevity, boosts fuel efficiency, guarantees lower repair costs, improves your car’s reliability, and assures you of a higher resale value when you decide to sell the car.

You can keep your car’s transmission in good condition by scrutinizing the driving conditions to which you subject your car on the road. Some driving conditions or habits can be detrimental to your transmission’s health. For example, aggressive driving can lead to premature transmission gear wear and tear and overheating, as can overloading. Driving frequently in stop-and-go traffic is also not advisable because it stresses your transmission more, and driving in extreme temperatures is also a no-no if you want to avoid transmission damage.

So, how do you blow a transmission? If not addressed promptly, the driving conditions below can cause a transmission to deteriorate and eventually break down or blow out progressively.

Low Transmission Fluid

Most manufacturers recommend transmission-fluid-change intervals of between every 30,000 and 60,000 miles. When you fail to adhere to your car’s recommended fluid change interval, your transmission fluid level is bound to drop to dangerous levels, which can cause transmission damage. With continuous exposure to a gearbox’s heat and the rapid motion of its components, transmission fluid breaks down and becomes thinner. In this state, it can easily escape through small leaks or gaps left by worn-out transmission components. Therefore, the longer you delay changing your transmission, the lower your transmission fluid level will go.

Your car’s transmission fluid lubricates the bearings, gears, and clutch plates in your transmission. It also cools those moving parts, facilitates hydraulic function, and cleans and protects them (depending on the additives it has). Therefore, when your transmission fluid level drops, there is bound to be more friction between your transmission’s moving parts, resulting in overheating and increased wear and tear. This condition can eventually cause irreparable transmission damage.

Overheating

Overheating also damages manual and automatic transmissions. Some symptoms of transmission overheating include a burning odor inside the cabin, delayed gear shifts, grinding sounds or shaking sensations in or out of gear, gear slippage while accelerating, and rapidly dropping transmission fluid levels.

As mentioned above, one common scenario that leads to overheating in transmission systems is low transmission fluid levels. When there is less transmission fluid than what is required, internal components are less cooled, and friction is increased due to a lack of lubrication. Other scenarios that can lead to overheating include driving in extreme heat, heavy hauling or towing, using dirty or degraded transmission fluid, aggressive driving, and faulty torque converters.

An automatic transmission’s ideal operating temperature is between 175° F and 225° F. When it rises above that, the transmission fluid may start giving off a burning odor and may even change color. When it hits 240° F, the critical additives in its fluid start to break down, resulting in a film of varnish that coats the transmission’s internal surfaces. This sticky, varnish-like substance makes it harder to shift gears. If the transmission’s temperature rises further, its internal seals harden, resulting in leaks, and its clutch plates start to slip. Thus, overheating can cause rapid transmission damage.

Bad Driving

Poor or bad driving habits can also strain your transmission unnecessarily, causing it to give out eventually. For example, sloppy shifting habits in manual cars, like shifting without fully engaging the clutch and missing shifts, can cause the gears to grind and the engine to lug or over-rev. Keeping the clutch partially engaged while driving is also dangerous because it prevents the clutch plates from fully disengaging, leading to increased friction and premature wear and tear. Other sloppy shifting habits to avoid include skipping gears, shifting at incorrect speeds, failing to rev-match when downshifting, or constantly using the first gear.

Aggressive driving is also not good for your car’s transmission because rapid shifts and increased acceleration place a greater torque load on its components, forcing them to operate or function at faster rates. This increases heat generation, puts more stress on its gears, bearings, and clutch system, and ultimately increases wear and tear of transmission components. In contrast, the best cities to drive in the US typically see less aggressive driving, which helps in preserving vehicle transmissions. Conversely, the worst cities often report higher rates of aggressive driving and transmission issues.

Hard braking also negatively impacts your car’s transmission. When applying sudden, excessive brake pressure, you seize your transmission’s moving parts, which causes increased friction, enhanced heat generation, premature wear, and potential transmission damage.

Heavy Loads

When you haul or tow loads that exceed your vehicle’s manufacturer-specified maximum hauling or towing capacities, you shorten the lifespan of your powertrain and drivetrain components. In such scenarios, your transmission works harder to cope with the increased load, and this extra strain can cause its components to wear out faster. It will also cause overheating and accelerate transmission fluid degradation. In some cases, it causes severe transmission damage. Be sure to check the weight of the loads you wish to tow against the set capacities for your vehicle before you hook up your next trailer or RV.

How to Prevent Transmission Failure

After comprehensively answering the “How do you blow a transmission?” question, let’s explore how to prevent transmission failure.

  • Adhere to your Recommended Transmission Service Schedule: Don’t take your car in for transmission service when the time comes for that. Yes, transmission service can be costly, but the interval between the services is also long, so you can save up slowly for the service within that period. When you service your transmission at each service interval as recommended, you can fix developing issues in good time and replace things that need to be replaced before they start causing problems in your transmission. If you encounter any issues, consult a professional transmission repair service to ensure your transmission remains in top condition.
  • Use the Appropriate Transmission Fluid for Your Vehicle: Transmission fluids are not made the same. For example, manual transmission fluid should not be used in automatic transmissions, just like CVT fluids should not be used in dual-clutch transmissions. When you use the correct transmission fluid, you get the best results.
  • Regularly Check Transmission Fluid Levels: At times, transmission fluid can start to leak out without your knowledge, e.g., because of transmission damage caused while you were off-roading. Regularly checking your transmission fluid level can help you discover such leaks before they cause serious transmission problems.
  • Drive Modestly: While it may be more fun to drive aggressively, it is not worth it if you have to replace your transmission sooner than you thought. A blown transmission system is expensive to repair, let alone replace. You would want to avoid finding yourself in such a predicament because it may also mean a lot of downtime while having the matter attended to by professionals. Therefore, doing all you can to avoid blowing your transmission is in your best interests. Also worth noting is that when you intentionally keep your transmission healthy, you improve the car’s performance and fuel economy.

By Chris Bates