Do I need an Automatic Transmission Service

The automatic transmission service is a common up sell during regular maintenance. The questions are, do you need the service, will it solve any problems, can it make my transmission last longer, and is there a chance it could do more harm than good. Let’s put this article in drive and get some answers to these valid questions.

Kinds of Transmission Services

Unfortunately, automatic transmission services are not a standard operation and each shop is free to interpret the definition of one in their own way. Two common versions do exist that consumers will run into most often. The first version is when the shop removes the transmission pan and replaces the filter and replenishes the fluids lost during the service.

The pros of this operation are the filter gets replaced. The cons are not all the fluid is replaced. On average about 4 or 5 quarts will be replenished during this type of service. An automatic transmission holds a total of about 11 quarts. The other common method is when the auto repair facility uses a specialized machine to remove and replace all the fluid.

The positive aspect of this service is all of the hydraulic oil is replaced, including the fluid that resides in the torque converter, which would otherwise be left behind in the first service example. The downside of this method is the filter remains untouched inside the pan. A complete transmission service would include both of these examples offered in one package deal.

When to perform Automatic Transmission Services

The short answer to this question is most mechanics will recommend you adhere to the manufacturer’s recommendations. These can be found in the maintenance schedule in your owner’s manual. This interval was reached by the engineers that designed the transmission and studied the drawbacks and benefits of changing the fluid. Auto repair centers that provide different recommendations than the factory can often do so, because it’s good for them not the automobile.

Will Services Solve Transmission Problems

In most cases the answer to this straightforward question is no, the service will not solve particular problems. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Several manufacturers have issued technical service bulletins stating that some driver complaints about transmission operation could be improved by replacing the hydraulic oil. Kinds of problems a service might improve would be harsh or erratic shifting.

It’s rare when a driver has a complaint of a slipping transmission or shift flare up between gears that any kind of maintenance operation will improve the conditions. Complaints like this can often indicate internal problems, like leaking seals, line pressure out of range, low pressure from a worn front pump, and malfunctions in the valve body. Changing the fluid and filter will not improve these types of issues.

Can the Service Make Things Worse

Unlike a throttle body service where the mechanic is just cleaning some things up, the transmission service presents opportunities for internal problems to become worse. This is more important on transmissions with high miles and on automobiles that have skipped the recommended service intervals. As an example, when a car has 110,000 miles on it with the original fluid and filter, and a service is performed in the hopes of improving a slipping condition, things could get worse.

If internal seals have degraded and causing a slipping problem, installing new fluid with fresh detergents could deteriorate these weakened seals even faster. Many mechanics have a general rule of thumb when they come across a vehicle with a transmission problem that was never serviced. Generally speaking, they won’t recommend trying a service to improve the condition. Providing customers with the hope that a $100 service can solve a $1500 problem isn’t good for business.

Will Service Make My Transmission Last Longer

The answer to this question is it depends on a lot of factors. Certain year, makes, and model automobiles have reliable transmissions that provide a lifetime of service without difficulties. Other models experienced problems regardless of maintenance performed. Some fleet studies have shown failure rate in serviced automatic transmissions are higher than those left alone. They explain this result as a connection to human error.

When left with the choice of having the service performed incorrectly or not at all the choice is obvious. For automotive consumers their best bet is to know when the first service for the transmission is due, and to have it performed by a factory trained technician. Although this doesn’t guarantee trouble free operation it’s about all a person can do to protect the life of their cars automatic transmission.