Jul 21

How To Check Your Transmission Fluid

Most auto manufactures recommend servicing your transmission every 50,000 miles or so (check your owner’s manual for more details). But it’s a good idea to check your transmission fluid periodically. One of the best times is during a normal engine oil change. If your transmission has a filler tube and dipstick you can check it yourself. If not, you’ll need to have it check by a transmission specialist.

It’s simple. Just follow these steps:

  1. Make sure the engine is at normal operating temperature.
  2. Park your vehicle on level ground.
  3. Place the shifter in Park and set the parking brake.
  4. Locate the transmission filler tube (note: some transmissions, particularly newer cars, do not have a transmission filler tube. If your car doesn’t have one you’ll have to take it to a specialist to check).
  5. Remove the dip stick and wipe it dry with a clean cloth.
  6. Reinsert the dipstick (all the way) and then remove it to view the fluid level. Dipstick design varies from manufacturer but they all have a “low” and a “full” mark. In this case they’re holes in the stick. In most cases the distance between the low mark and the full mark is one pint.
  7. In addition to checking the fluid level, check the condition of the fluid as well. Transmission fluid comes in a variety of colors but in all cases the fluid should be clear and not have a burnt odor. For more information on transmission fluid condition see the ATRA article that address the color and smell of automatic transmission fluid.
  8. If the condition of the fluid is poor or the level is low you’ll want to have your transmission checked by a specialist. You can locate a qualified transmission specialist with ATRA’s Shop Finder. If the level is low, chances are you have a leak. Make sure you add fluid before driving any further.

To add transmission fluid:

  1. Place a clean funnel in the dipstick tube.
  2. Add fluid based as needed.
  3. Recheck the level as you did in step 6 above

If you have any questions you can e-mail them to ATRA’s Technical Department through the Technical Services page or call 1-866-GO-4-ATRA (1-866-464-2872)

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Aug 15


On some cars it’s called a Check Engine light; others use a Service Engine Soon light. Still others just have a light with a picture of an engine on it. The industry calls it a MIL — Malfunction Indicator Lamp. All scary names for the same thing… something that isn’t scary at all. Basically the light means that the car’s computer has identified a problem in the system that needs attention.

What kind of attention? Professional attention, from a professional technician. It needs to have the computer system scanned and checked to identify any areas that have shifted outside of the normal operating range.
Sounds confusing, but in reality that light is just the computer’s way of telling you to have your car checked. It found a problem — often one that you wouldn’t even notice during normal driving — and it needs to be checked before it becomes serious.

Why does the system need a Check Engine light? Because the more complex the system is, the more it has to help you monitor its performance and diagnose problems. And the computer system on today’s cars is highly complex. So the system is designed to monitor operation and set codes when it identifies a problem.

Most of the time a Check Engine light indicates a problem that’ll increase emissions. And those emissions don’t have to increase much to turn the light on: Today’s cars are designed to run a lot cleaner than those of just a decade ago.
But even if you don’t really care all that much about your car’s environmental impact, a Check Engine light is still something you’ll want to have checked. Keep in mind, anything that increases emissions probably also burns more gas. And at the price of gas today, that’s not something you want to ignore.

What’s more, pumping additional fuel through the engine can force the catalytic converter to work overtime to burn off the excess carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons. That can overheat the catalytic converter and burn it out in just a few miles. And replacing the catalytic converter can be an expensive repair you’ll have to take care of before you’ll be able to pass your next emissions test or smog test.

Your local ATRA Member shop is equipped with the latest test equipment for diagnosing today’s computer systems. They’ll be happy to scan your car’s computer system and check for any codes stored in memory. And their technicians can examine the circuits and systems to track down any problems, and bring those systems back into proper operating condition.

To find the ATRA Member shop near you, click the Shop Finder link.

If you have any questions, you can e-mail ATRA’s Technical Department through the Technical Servicespage or call 1-866-GO-4-ATRA (1-866-464-2872).

More Transmission Problems articles available.
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Aug 08


A transmission service is part of your routine maintenance, just like replacing your engine oil.

A complete transmission service should include:
• removing and examining the sump or pan (where possible)
• replacing or cleaning the screen or filter
• cleaning the pan
• reinstalling the pan with a new pan gasket
• pumping out the rest of the old fluid and replacing it with new, high quality ATF
• adding a friction modifier or additive package (model specific)

New fluid restores the holding power between the clutches, reducing slip and heat production.
At the same time, flushing the old fluid washes away tiny particles of clutch material and metal shavings. Those particles clog passages and wedge between moving parts, causing wear throughout the transmission. Changing the fluid eliminates those particles and the wear they cause.

The net result of changing the fluid is to provide better lubrication, improved the holding ability of the friction components, and reduced heat. So your transmission works better for years longer, which means you’re less likely to face a major transmission repair.

And, where possible, adding an external filter to the cooler line to remove any dirt particles that make it past the internal filter. Most ATRA Member shops offer a complete fluid exchange service, and will be happy to explain the details to you.

To find the ATRA Member nearest you, click the Shop Finder link.

If you have any questions you can e-mail them to ATRA’s Technical Department through the Technical Services page or call 1-866-GO-4-ATRA (1-866-464-2872)

Posted in Transmission Maintenance, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Jul 16

ATRA Introduces a Free Auto Maintenance Log

Whether it’s because of the economy, the environment or convenience, the American people are keeping their cars longer. This means motorists need to diligently keep track of vehicle maintenance. In addition to the transmission, other car parts are neglected simply because people don’t know they need to be checked, and they’re surprised when their cars “suddenly” break down.

To keep you from sitting stranded on the side of the freeway with smoke billowing from under your hood, ATRA has developed a convenient auto maintenance log just for you! It’s packed with monthly to-dos, schedules and log space to keep track of dates and mileage before a checkup is needed. These logs are now available at any ATRA location absolutely free!

There are two key differences between do-it-yourself jobs and the ones that require professional care: knowledge level and the ability to dispose of hazardous materials (you can’t just pour them down your sink or gutter). If you’re a generally automotive-savvy individual and you have a safe way to get rid of toxic, old fluids, grab your toolbox. If you don’t feel comfortable tackling these duties, the dollars you spend to have your vehicle examined will seem like nothing compared to the big bucks you’ll fork over if something breaks when you least expect it.

Do it Yourself                                               

1. Serpentine Belt: It should be replaced after every 100,000 miles. If your belt makes it over that hump, don’t think it doesn’t need replacing. It won’t give you any clues until it breaks and leaves you stranded on the side of the road.

2. Radiator Coolant: This serves as a lubricant, but can become acidic if left alone for too long. The acidic coolant can eat through the metal of your cooling system. Replace the coolant every couple of years, but dispose of the old stuff properly.

3. Power Steering Fluid: Old dirty fluid can cause premature pump failure and leaks as dirty fluid wears at the seals in the power steering system. Make sure to bring your used fluid to a parts store for disposal.

4. Fuel Filter: Change this annually or every 15,000 miles. A dirty fuel filter will cause engine performance problems and affect your fuel mileage. The best part of doing this yourself: little to no hazardous materials to deal with!

See a Professional

1. Timing Belt: These are found in most front-wheel drive, four-cylinder cars and need to be replaced every 100,000 miles. When it breaks, it knocks your entire engine out of commission. Only professionals have the knowledge to take care of this for you.

2. Brake Fluid: When people get their brakes replaced, they often forget to also change the brake fluid. Sludge builds up inside the system and causes components to stick. Have the fluid replaced every 50,000 miles.

Using the ATRA Maintenance Log works to eliminate malfunction surprises. By consulting the maintenance schedule, you’ll never be in the dark about when to have your parts checked again, especially when you keep track of all the work you have done in the log section.

By staying up to date on all your vehicle’s needs, you’ll set yourself up for a long and happy future with your car. Pick up your ATRA Maintenance Log at any ATRA location today!

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May 14

The Heat is On… Ways to avoid having your car overheat.


Vacations are right around the corner. It’s the time of year where families and old friend get together and slowdown from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The last thing you want though is to spend your vacation week at an auto-repair shop in the middle of nowhere because your car is overheating. Regular maintenance will help extend the life of your car but there are a few items you want to pay extra attention to before heading out on a long trip.

Many times, a long trip includes a stretch through a desert or area of the country that’s reaches higher temperatures so you’ll want to check your cooling system. Most cars today use a single, serpentine belt to operate the water pump, alternator, power steering pump and air conditioning compressor rather than a combination of two or three fan belts. These serpentine belts generally have a service life of about 100,000 miles. If you have 100,000 or more miles on your car consider replacing it. A failing belt will give you no warning before it breaks but it will leave you stranded if it does. While you’re having the belt replaced your mechanic can check the condition of the water pump and other devices that you otherwise couldn’t with the belt on.

Also, if you’ve reached or exceeded that 100,000 mile mark have your radiator coolant replaced. Old coolant loses its lubricating ability and is a common cause of water pump bearing failure. In addition, as the coolant ages it becomes more acidic and begins to attack freeze plugs as well as the radiator and other metal areas it contact. Over time it can eat right through the radiator core or heater core and without any notice.

And don’t forget your automatic transmission. If you haven’t done so in a while (or ever) have your transmission serviced before the trip. Old transmission fluid loses its lubricating and cooling properties. It also gives your transmission specialist an opportunity to make sure it’s working properly.

Your local ATRA can help you with the transmission service. Many work on other areas of the car and would be more than happy to check and service those cooling-systems items too.

To find a local ATRA member… http://www.atra.com/shopfinder

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Apr 10

April is Car Care Month

April is Car Care Month

The Car Care Council provides service information to both consumers and automotive repair professions on the importance of regular maintenance services. For consumers it’s an excellent resource because it reminds people of often-forgotten services that’ll help extend the life of their car. For industry professionals it helps them provide this valuable information to the public.

Twice a year, April and October, the Car Care Council emphasizes the importance of regular maintenance by supporting Car Care Month. Auto repair business can register for the events and invite people of their community to come in and learn more about how to maintain their car. These programs are free to the public. One of the more commonly under-serviced components is the automatic transmission. Regular services can greatly extend the life of an automatic transmission. A rebuilt transmission can cost upwards of $3,000 so regular services can go a long way in avoiding that expense.

To learn more about Car Care Month and business supporting this program go to www.carcare.org. To learn more about servicing your transmission visit the service section of this website. Also don’t forget to take your car to a local ATRA transmission repair specialist to make sure your using the correct fluid. To find your local ATRA shop click here http://www.atra.com/shopfinder.

Posted in Automotive 101, Transmission, Transmission Maintenance | Leave a comment
Feb 16

ATRA Begins its Annual Transmission Repair Seminar Training

Each year the Automatic Transmission Rebuilders Association provides training to thousands of transmission repair specialists across the USA and Canada. Each year, ATRA produces training seminars covering new technologies and advanced diagnostic procedures so that transmission repair specialists are better able to repair today’s complex automatic transmission systems.  This year, ATRA will visit 22 cities in the USA and Vancouver, Canada and provide a full day of training.

The training schedule began on February 11 in Charlotte North Carolina to an audience of about 120 transmission specialist. ATRA is one of the few sources for expert training to the Transmission Repair industry.

Posted in Technical Seminars, Transmission | Leave a comment
Jan 26

Transmission Fluid Additives That Cause Your Transmission to Fail

Sooner or later your automatic transmission will fail; just like any other mechanical device. They can simply wear out or… they can suffer other problems like hard internal seals. An automatic transmission operates by applying friction components like clutches and bands that operate a series of gear sets. These clutches and bands are applied by hydraulic pistons. These pistons have rubber seal on them to contain the oil pressure.

Here's a piston with a normal seal

Over time, these seals may become hard and brittle. In this condition they’re unable to contain the hydraulic pressure so the clutches and bands develop delayed engagements or may not apply at all. Generally, this condition is worse when the transmission is cold. After the transmission warms up the seals will soften enough to operate properly.

This condition requires replacement of the seals in order to fix it properly. This is part of the rebuilding process. However, there are products on the market designed to soften these seals. You can find several brands of “transmission fix” at your local parts store.

Beware though, while these products do restore the sealing properties of the seals they will, over time, soften the seals to the point that they fail. The fix, if you want to call it that, is a short-term remedy and within a few months you can expect the transmission to fail completely.

Some ATF additives will swell the seals so much that they fail. This seal will fall apart in use

Here’s the danger: If you’re in the market for a used car you may unknowingly find one that’s had an additive used to fix leaks or shifting problems. Detecting these additives is pretty simple; they have a distinct “sweat” smell to them. If you’ve ever smelled automatic transmission fluid you will definitely recognize the difference with an additive. Just remove the dipstick and take a whiff. If you’re unfamiliar to the odor of transmission fluid or feel uncertain about it then take the car to your local ATRA member; they’ll be happy to check it for you.

Finally, not all transmission fluid additives cause these kinds of problems. Some are actually beneficial to the operation of your automatic transmission. Here again, you can talk to your local ATRA member for more information regarding transmission fluid additives.

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Jan 20

The Real Cost of Transmission Repair

You see it all over the internet: “Rebuilt Transmissions, $799 for most cars”, or articles that talk about the high cost of transmission repair. In the articles you’ll read that a reasonable price for rebuilding an automatic transmission might be as high as $1,500. The reality is much different but might lead you to believe you’re getting ripped off if a shop quotes a price much higher than that.

As with any purchase you want to get the best value for your dollar. If you have an older vehicle you might have to consider whether it’s worth investing in the cost of a rebuilt transmission. Perhaps a repair might be a better choice. But if you’re thinking about investing in a quality transmission repair understand that a $1,500 rebuild would be like buying a 50” flat-screen TV for $99; it’s not realistic and the quality just won’t be there.

OK, you like the car you have and you’d like to keep it for awhile but the transmission went out. ATRA can help you understand the cost of rebuilding your transmission. If you’re thinking of trading in your car make sure you check out ATRA’s Fix or Trade Calculator. It’ll help determine whether keeping your car and getting it fixed might be a better choice than replacing it with a new or used car.

You have a lot of choices when it comes to transmission repair. Take a few moments to learn more about the costs before you spend the money.

Transmission Repair


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Jan 19

What is a Transmission?

Your car’s transmission is the most complicated and least understood major component in your car or truck. In today’s cars, the transmission is a combination of sophisticated hydraulics and computer-controlled electronic components.

Automatic Transmission

No one component in your car has more going on inside than your automatic transmission.

The transmission is a mechanical component designed to transmit power from a vehicle’s engine to the drive axle, which makes the wheels drive the vehicle.

By varying the gear ratio, the transmission alters the levels of power and speed to the wheels. For example, in low ranges, the transmission provides more power and less speed; in high ranges, just the opposite is true. This reduces the load on the engine, while increasing the vehicle’s speed and fuel economy.

Some vehicles use a clutch to connect and disconnect the transmission to the engine, controlled through a foot pedal next to the brake pedal. These vehicles have a manual transmission. If your car doesn’t have a clutch pedal, it has an automatic transmission.

Standard Transmission

If you have to press a clutch pedal and shift the transmission manually, your car has a manual transmission.

Automatic transmissions depend on a special fluid — called ATF — to cool and lubricate the moving parts inside. But the fluid does more than that: In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that the fluid actually drives the vehicle. So there’s little doubt that the fluid is very important to the transmission’s operation. This is why it’s important to check the transmission fluid level and condition regularly (check your owner’s manual) and to have your transmission serviced at least every couple years.

Later model front wheel drive cars also incorporate another major component into the body of the transmission itself: the differential or final drive. These types of transmissions are known as transaxles.

Automatic Transaxle

Many cars today have the final drive incorporated in the transmission, to create a transaxle.

Front wheel drive configuration improves fuel economy and handling, and reduces manufacturing costs. But because of the additional components in the transaxle, it’s generally more expensive to repair than a transmission when it fails.

If you have any questions you can e-mail them to ATRA’s Technical Department through the Technical Services page or call 1-866-GO-4-ATRA (1-866-464-2872).

To find the ATRA Member shop near you, click the Shop Finder link.

Posted in Automotive 101, Transmission | Leave a comment