Transmission Overheating: Your Worst Enemy

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, whatever it takes to get you to remember. Transmission repair might be your worst nightmare but it’s transmission overheating that’s your worst enemy. Most transmission problems start because of excessive overheating, so it’s your job to make sure that doesn’t happen. The reason for most cases of overheating includes low fluid levels, leaks, burnt or ineffective fluid, and problems with the solenoid. Other factors include heavy towing, lots of stop and go traffic, hot climate, and your vehicle’s size. Be sure to keep an eye out for any of these problems, prevent them before they happen and you’ll have a transmission that will last you a long time.

Transmission Overheating: Your Worst Enemy

Around 90% of all automatic transmission failures are caused by transmission overheating, so this isn’t something to be taken lightly. Overheating can almost always tell you what’s wrong with your transmission, which is that there’s something wrong with the transmission fluid. Transmission fluid is the lifeblood of your transmission, providing crucial functions such as cooling to lubrication to fluid pressure and more. Without enough transmission fluid or effective fluid, your transmission will start acting out.

The ideal fluid temperature is under 175 degrees, but as fluid ages it starts to break down and lose its capacity to cool down the transmission. This is when transmission overheating occurs. At 220 degrees, varnish forms. At 240 degrees, seals start to harden. At 260 degrees, you’ll often experience transmission slipping as plates slip. At 295 degrees, seals and clutches start to burn and fluid forms carbon, at which point transmission failure might happen soon. But with every 20 degree drop in fluid temperature, your transmission’s lifespan can approximately double! That’s a pretty significant difference, a decrease from 220 degrees to 195 degrees can allow your transmission to last another 50,000 miles!

That’s why we recommend installing a transmission cooler to help fluids stay at a comfortable temperature. You should also use Lubegard Automatic Transmission Protectant whenever you change the fluid as it can reduce the elevated operating temperatures by up to 40°F.

transmission overheating - transmission repair guy

Symptoms of Transmission Overheating

Burnt or ineffective fluid – Burnt or ineffective fluid are the most common signs of transmission overheating. If the fluid gives off a burning smell then it’s high time you get it drained and changed. Ineffective fluid can be identified by contaminants in the fluid, loss of fluid viscosity, or a dark brown color. You should also consider synthetic fluids as they last much longer and are more resistant to cold and wear.

Low fluid levels – Without enough fluid, the transmission won’t have enough fluid pressure to operate and transmission overheating will occur. You can look for low fluid levels by checking the fluid using the transmission dipstick. If you happen to have low fluid levels, you are going to need to add more of the specified fluid recommended by the manufacturer.

Transmission slipping – Transmission slipping occurs most often when the fluid levels are low, burnt, or dirty. Other reasons include worn gears, issues with the clutches, or broken transmission bands, but these instances aren’t so common. If you ever experience transmission slipping, you need to find out what’s causing it and fix it immediately. Slipping is also a sign of an overheating transmission caused by bad fluid.

Defective solenoid – The solenoid is an electrical component that regulates how much fluid is passed on to the transmission. If it malfunctions, not enough fluid might be pumped into the transmission which results in transmission overheating. A defective solenoid will have to be replaced, although sometimes the circuitry can be what’s causing it to act erratically.

Other Causes of Transmission Overheating

Heavy towing – Lots of heavy towing causes your transmission to overheat more easily, which is why maintenance is required sooner. The extra weight that the loads add to your car means your transmission has to work harder than normal just to get going.

Lots of stop and go traffic – Living in the city means there’s a lot of traffic, and constantly stepping on the brakes and accelerator causes your transmission to work harder than normal.

Hot climate – A hot climate contributes to an overheating transmission by raising the fluid temperature. This causes the ATF to wear out more quickly.

How to Prevent Transmission Overheating

Check fluids often – Checking the fluid should be done routinely, and we suggest doing it every month or so. By checking the fluid you’ll be able to spot low fluid levels and burnt or dirty fluid. It’s a good way to prevent problems early on, and the more often you do it the more efficiently your transmission will run. You should also check regularly for leaks, look for stains on the driveway or fluid around the transmission’s parts.

Change fluids regularly – We suggest getting the transmission fluid changed every 30,000 to 60,000 miles, which is a task that you can do yourself. If you happen to drive in severe conditions (hot climate or lots of stop and go driving) or tow heavy loads, you should change the fluid more often, perhaps every 15,000 miles. Doing so ensures that your transmission is only working with the best fluid. You should also consider using Lubegard Automatic Transmission Protectant, which helps to extend fluid life and reduce wear throughout the transmission.

Cooling system – Your car’s radiator is tasked with the job of cooling down the transmission, so be sure to maintain it. You should have the coolant changed every 2 years or so. You should also consider adding an external cooler if you tow or haul heavy loads. The best transmission coolers are the stack plate ones, which you can attach to the front of your car’s radiator. There are also external coolers with built in fans.

transmission overheating - external transmission cooler - transmission repair guy

Consider adding a deep pan – A deep pan allows you to add more transmission fluid, which helps to cool the transmission even more which allows for better efficiency and performance. If you have an overheating transmission and it occurs often, you should consider purchasing a deeper pan. You can also look for pans made out of aluminum, which helps to dissipate heat better than steel. To learn more about transmission pans including their function, capacity, common problems, maintenance, types, benefits, and features, visit this page.


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