P R N D L. Something you probably see every day. Of course, you probably recognize this combination of letters as the gears in your car if you have an automatic transmission. The transmission is an integral part of the drivetrain and without it, your car is going nowhere. There are many things that must be done to make sure this critical component keeps doing it’s job but there is also things you should NEVER do.
1) Never under any circumstances let water get in the transmission
While water vital to human life, it can severely shorten the life of a transmission. Have you ever looked at a huge puddle or partially flooded road and thought it would be fun to plow through the water? Think again. Enough water exposure on the body of the transmission could allow it to get into where you don’t want it to be. Water and transmission fluid do not mix and it can affect the lubricating properties of your transmission fluid. Insufficient lubrication is the main ingredient in the recipe for immediate transmission failure.
2) Shift car into reverse while car is moving
“Drive” is obviously the gear we use most in our cars that have automatic transmissions. But a close second is the “reverse” gear. When it comes to reversing, we all know that we need to check our surroundings before backing up to ensure the safety of others and prevent accidents. But what about the safety of your transmission? Just remember this; stop then go. Make sure your wheels have completely stopped moving before shifting to reverse. Failure to do so will put unnecessary stress on the whole transmission and all its internal parts. The sudden directional change can cause the “teeth” on the gears to break off which makes the transmission slip. This can even happen at low speeds. Moving to reverse before you have stopped moving can also put the drive axles or drive shaft in distress as well.
3) Never put your car in park before it comes to a complete stop
You’ve finished the workday and you just pulled into the garage or driveway. You’re probably anxious to get out of the car and get inside the comfort of your home. You get your car where you want it to be and quickly move the gearshift into “park”, essentially using it as makeshift brakes. You may be in a good mood now that you’re home but your transmission is anything but. Moving the gear selector to “park” before your wheels have stopped moving is another ingredient in the disaster recipe. The damage that can be caused is similar to shifting to “reverse” before stopping. The sudden stop can damage the gear “teeth” and prevent the gear from properly operating the next time you drive. The “park” gear is what keeps our vehicles where we want them once we have stopped driving. That is definitely not a gear you would want to have fail!
4) Never coast in neutral
In a vehicle with an automatic transmission, we rarely use the “neutral” gear. Should you find yourself in a situation where using the neutral gear is required, that situation should never be coasting. There is a theory that coasting in neutral saves fuel. This is incorrect. Most vehicles, especially modern versions, are fitted with electronics that are designed to constantly monitor and even regulate and change the amount of fuel that is being pumped into the engine. It does this only when the engine is connected to the drive wheels of the car. Shifting to “neutral” breaks this connection and those electronics don’t know that the car is still moving. When you are in neutral, it is no different than sitting in “park” in the sense of the engine idling. That means, the fuel will pump into the engine constantly to keep it running. At idle, more fuel is pumped than if the car were decelerating in a forward gear. Also, coasting neutral does not allow for safe travel downhill. When in a forward gear, the resistance of each transmission gear cause the engine to act as a “brake” that safely slows down the vehicle on a downward hill. This also prevents over aggressive use of the foot brake as well.
5) Never launch your car while in neutral
Possibly one of the worst things you can do to a transmission is “launch it” from the neutral gear. This involves placing the car in Neutral, revving the engine to high rpm, and then quickly shifting to “Drive” to allow for a fast takeoff. Like many of the things you should never do with a transmission, a “neutral slam” exposes the gear teeth to extreme stress but it can be even more catastrophic to the transmission inner workings. The sudden jolt of movement can separate the gears completely. In extreme cases, the gears can even penetrate the outer housing of the transmission and become a projectile from underneath the car. Needless to say, once this happens, your showing off just turned into a very expensive repair bill.
6) Leave in in drive while idling for a long time
Engine idling is an inevitable part of driving. We idle in the “drive” gear frequently when it comes to stopping at a red light or stop sign. While these short instances of idling in the “drive” gear are fine, you should avoid prolonged idling when the car is in “drive”. While it may not cause significant damage, idling in the “drive” gear puts unnecessary load on the engine. The more load on the engine, the more fuel it burns. The stress on the transmission may not be much but if idling in “drive” is something you do frequently, the stress on your wallet can add up.
7) Never Do Burnouts
We’ve already discussed neutral slams as one of the worst things you can do to a transmission that is automatic. Performing burnouts in your car is side by side with neutral slams. While it may show off the power of the engine and impress others, when you perform a burnout, your transmission is anything but happy. When your car was built at the factory, there was a team that was assigned to the task of selecting which transmission was installed in your car. There are many factors that go into that decision to make sure that the transmission model that is selected is the best possible option. The transmission is designed to carry no more than the rated capacity of the car as well as the weight of the car itself. Performing a burnout subjects the entire transmission and it’s inner workings to an incredible amount of stress. The heat levels in the housing rise rapidly during this action and in turn, the friction levels increase. We already know that heat and friction is the enemy of the transmission. While you may be burning rubber and looking cool, the inside of your transmission is burning too and no one looks cool on a tow truck. Simply put, just don’t do it.
8) Not change the transmission fluid
We mentioned earlier that a transmission needs a lubricant to fight heat and friction. Over long periods of use, the fluid eventually begins to break down. Similar to motor oil, once this process begins, the lubricating properties of the transmission fluid are not as sufficient as they once were. Before long, that heat and friction level will begin to increase unless you change the fluid. Most manufacturers recommend changing the transmission fluid every 55,000 to 75,000 miles. Changing the fluid within this mileage interval will prevent sediment and deposit buildup. Particles and sediment on the moving parts of a transmission are a bad thing that can easily lead to a complete disablement. Keep the heat away and the buildup at bay with fresh transmission fluid at the correct intervals!
While it may seem like it’s as simple as getting in the car and shifting to “drive”, there are a lot of intricate details of an automatic transmission. Because of this, they tend to be very expensive to repair or replace. Follow these 8 guidelines and not only will your transmission be happy, your wallet will too.