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.

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Jan 17

Fuel Mileage Efficiency in High Gear

Ever since the gas shortage in the 70s people have considered fuel mileage as a part of their decision making a car purchase. Smaller, more efficient engines were part of the equation but not everyone considered the role the transmission played in equation.

Automatic overdrive transmissions were first introduced in 1978 by Toyota. In 1980 Ford came through with an automatic overdrive, followed by General Motors in 1981. Shortly after every auto manufacturer had a four-speed automatic overdrive available in the car line; it became a mainstay for many years.

An overdrive transmission offers the benefit of fewer engine revolutions, hence less fuel needed, per driven mile. Think of it like a 10-speed bicycle: when you’re in a higher gear, like 10th, you barely have to pedal to go pretty fast. It’s harder to pedal, and if you get to a hill you have to switch to a lower gear but while you’re cruising you can just zip along without too much effort.

An overdrive transmission offers the same advantage. In overdrive the engine spins slower and uses less fuel as you’re cruising down the highway. And just like the bicycle example, the transmission has to shift to a lower gear to get up a hill or for hard acceleration.

Beginning in the early 90’s car manufacturers began enhancing this idea with the introduction of five-speed overdrive transmissions, followed by six-speed transmissions in the early 2000s. Here, the strategy was a little different: by having sixspeeds it allows the engine to stay at its optimal rpm (revolutions per minute); where it runs most efficiently andoffers better fuel mileage.

Now, a new problem was developing: These new five and six-speed transmissions keep the engine at its optimal speed but the number of internal part required to get those speeds, in itself, became problematic. There’s a level of inefficiency built into a design with that many parts spinning around.

In 2011, the ZF corporation introduced a radical design that not only offers eight speeds for even better engine efficiency but they did it with only five friction elements (clutches) compared to eight in many of the six speeds. The ZF8-HP45 was first introduced in 2011 for select Audi and BMW cars and is now used in the 2012 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300.

The transmission is too new to report on any problems or service issues but it’s a big jump in transmission technology. The transmission has always been an important component of a car’s performance. And as the technology continues to improve we’re sure to see more efficient models appear. There’s already news about a 10-speed on the horizon.

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Jul 06

Manual or Automatic? Which Transmission Saves More?

As consumers face rising prices at the gas pumps, more and more people are looking into buying a car equipped with a manual transmission instead of an automatic. But that change may not provide the desired effect for most drivers.

That’s because today’s automatics are lighter and more efficient than those of just a few years ago. So much so that only a highly motivated driver will have any hope of wringing substantially higher gas mileage out of a manual transmission.

What’s more, the back-end costs of a manual will quickly eat away at any savings you might receive at the pump. Most drivers can expect to have the clutch replaced as often as every 30,000 miles or so. And when it comes time to sell or trade the car, they can expect a dramatic drop in value with a manual transmission.

For most people, an automatic transmission is a far better choice when buying a new car. They’re more efficient, easier to drive, and last longer than those of just a few years ago.

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Jun 27

How Can I Avoid Scams and Ripoffs when Purchasing Transmission Repair?

Automatic transmission repairs are expensive; some can easily cost $2000 or more. So it’s more important than ever to find a shop that will provide quality repairs at a fair price. Here are a few ways you can avoid getting cheated when searching for a transmission repair shop:

1. Get Recommendations — Ask friends and family to recommend a shop where they were treated well and were happy with their work.

2. Look for a Professional Appearance — A clean, organized shop indicates a professional attitude. And that usually carries over into all phases of the business… including their repairs and job pricing.

3. Avoid Phone Estimates — Today it’s virtually impossible to give an accurate estimate over the phone. Any shop that will give you a price before they see the car is probably low-balling you. Expect the price to go up considerably before the job is finished.

4. Ask for a Detailed, Written Estimate — After checking your car thoroughly, the repair center should have a fairly good idea of what’s wrong with your car. They should be able to provide a written estimate that specifies what’s wrong, and what it’ll cost to repair it.

5. Look for Membership in Consumer Organizations — Most reputable shops are members of an organization or association that provides consumer arbitration in the event of a dispute, such as the Better Business Bureau or AAA. ATRA provides this service to its members.

Find a ATRA shop by clicking this link.

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Jun 16

Check Engine Light: Is It an Emergency?

check engine light

You’re driving alone on a dark road, when all of a sudden the Check Engine light on the dash comes on. Oh, no! What do you do now?

In most cases, relax. The Check Engine light is rarely an emergency. It indicates that the computer recognized a problem in one of its systems. Very often that problem is emissions related. But it probably isn’t something that’ll cause any real damage to your car or a safety issue for you. And your car won’t stop running all of a sudden.

After you get home, you’ll want to call your local repair shop and make an appointment to have the system checked. If the light goes out, it probably means the problem is gone for now, but the computer still may have stored a diagnostic trouble code that your technician can retrieve and diagnose.

Your local ATRA Member shop can check your car’s computer system for codes, and diagnose any computer system problems you may experience.

To find the ATRA Member near you, click the Shopfinder link.

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Mar 28

The Right ATF for Your CVT or Else!

The CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) in becoming increasingly popular with both Domestic and Import cars. Historically, these transmissions were limited due to their lower torque capacity; only being used in sub-compact cars with small-displacement engines. Better designs make these transmissions an option for wide range of car models with more substantial engines. The advantages of the CVT is they are compact, have fewer moving parts and have an infinite range of ratios; resulting in better fuel economy. Be careful though when it comes time to service your CVT. Using the wrong ATF (Automatic Transmission Fluid) can cost you dearly.

CVTs use two steel pulleys and a steel belt made of multiple segments. The pulleys move in a fashion that causes the belt to ride on different locations of the pulleys, resulting in a ratio change. This metal-to-metal contact between the pulleys and belt require a specially-formulated fluid to reduce wear. Using an ATF not designed for use in a CVT will result in premature wear and drivability problems. Although the CVT is simple in design they are very expensive to repair; commonly in the $3,000 range or higher.

If you service your CVT transmission make you use fluid that states “CVT” on the container.

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Feb 16


The most common cause of automatic transmission failure is heat. You can get more miles out of your transmission by reducing the heat that builds up during normal operation. Here are a few things you can do to help reduce heat, and keep your transmission working longer:

1. Avoid Jackrabbit Starts — Hard accelerations create a lot of friction and heat in the transmission. Take it easy on the gas, and your transmission will live longer.

2. Help the Shift — Most of the friction and wear in the transmission takes place during the shifts. Get to know when your transmission shifts normally. Then, just before the shift, back off on the gas just a bit. That’ll reduce the load on the clutches, and eliminate much of the friction during the shift.

3. Keep the Cooling System in Good Shape — Your car’s radiator also provides cooling for your transmission. And heat damage will take place in the transmission long before the engine appears to overheat. So regular cooling system service can help your transmission run cooler… and last longer.

4. Add a Transmission Cooler — If you travel a lot in extremely high temperatures or carry a lot of weight in your car, an auxiliary transmission cooler is a great way to reduce heat and add years to your transmission’s life.

Use the shop finder link to find an ATRA Member Shop in your area.

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Jan 17

My Transmission Won’t Shift

Automatic transmissions used in today’s automobiles and light trucks are computer controlled. Computer-controlled transmissions are nothing new; the trend began in the mid-80’s. Over the years, the computer systems have gotten more sophisticated; largely as a result of more stringent fuel-economy demands. But with this sophistication come a few problems as well; they can be finicky at times and it doesn’t take a lot for them to turn on the check engine or check transmission light.

One simple problem that can cause a range of transmission-related problems is low battery voltage from old, worn out battery. If you car’s battery is more than five years old you may begin to see computer-related problems caused by corroded or loose terminals or the battery itself. Here’re some simple maintenance checks you can make to your battery:

1. Make sure the terminal connections are clean and tight. If you have a lot of corrosion on the battery posts and terminal connections you can clean them with a solution of baking soda and water. If you have to remove the connections, be careful; some cars have theft-deterrent systems and disconnecting the battery can disable your radio. Always follow the instructions in your owner’s manual for removing the battery connectors.

2.Measure the voltage of your battery with a digital volt meter. Check the voltage after the engine has been off for at least one hour. The voltage should be a minimum of 12.45 volts. If it’s less, consider replacing the battery.

Regular battery maintenance can help you prevent problems with your transmission, keep you out of the shop and save you time and money in the long run.

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Dec 28

Winter woes: My car won’t drive forward

Winter brings with it a few special considerations when it comes to your transmission. During the first cold snap it’s common to have a transmission that won’t engage into Drive, but if you move the shifter to Manual Low it’ll engage just fine. After a few minutes of driving it’ll work fine for the rest of the day. This is most commonly the result of a failing component called a sprag; which is a one-way clutch. It’s not an immediate serious problem and other than the inconvenience it won’t cause other damage. The unfortunate part is in order to repair it you’ll need to have the transmission disassembled in order to get to it. Another consideration is getting stuck in the snow. Spinning the wheel in an effort to get out of a ditch can cause serious transmission damage. If you find yourself stuck in the snow try rocking the car by moving the shifter from drive to Reverse… gently. Otherwise call a tow truck; it’ll cost less than a new transmissions.

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