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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