Unless you've got a lemon, most vehicles can continue to run well past 100,000 miles if they are well maintained. That means changing the oil at recommended intervals and making sure your transmission remains in good condition. Besides replacing an engine, transmission repairs are the most expensive fix for a car, and for older vehicles a transmission repair can cost nearly as much as the vehicle. Here are some tips for keeping your transmission in top shape.
Manual Transmission Maintenance
If you're one of the few drivers out there with a manual transmission, then you've got a lot less to worry about when it comes to maintaining your transmission. A manual transmission is a much simpler set of mechanical parts and gears, as opposed to an automatic transmission that is much more complex and can have hundreds of moving components including hydraulic and electronic systems.
Manual transmissions can get out of whack due to user error and driving style, such as mashing gears when shifting or not engaging the clutch properly. If you need a refresher, we've got some pointers on driving a stick shift.
Check your vehicle's recommended transmission service schedule for details on changing the fluids. The fluid in a manual transmission typically needs less changing than an automatic and can often be done for less than $100. Repairs for a manual transmission can also be less costly and replacing a manual transmission can run $1,500-$3,000, compared to $4,000 or more to replace an automatic transmission. Much of that cost is labor, as pulling/removing a transmission can be a day or day and a half job.
Automatic Transmission Maintenance
The health of an automatic transmission is less dependent on users driving style, but it's smart to avoid ta your transmission whenever possible. Heat is the enemy of an automatic transmission, and if you feel it struggling on a long incline in a higher gear, downshift it manually. This will bring your RPMs up, but relieve stress on your transmission. If you notice your transmission "slipping"—which means it doesn't hold a gear, or it is continuing to search for gears—then have it serviced immediately to avoid further damage.
Learn how to check your transmission fluid level. It should be a cherry red color and have a sweet smell to it. If you notice anything different, including the fluid smelling burnt, get your transmission serviced immediately.
There is much debate on flushing versus draining an automatic transmission. Transmission issues after performing a flush are often blamed on loose particles and sediment in the transmission being spread around during the flushing process. But draining a transmission doesn't always ensure all of the fluid is removed. To do that you may often have to remove the transmission oil pan, which is an extra step compared to just removing the plug. Re-installing the transmission oil pan requires a new gasket, so make sure you have that if you are doing this job yourself. Check out our guide for changing your automatic transmission fluid.
Drivetrain/powertrain warranties usually cover transmission issues and can last 10 years or 100,000 miles, so check to see if your vehicle is still covered before paying for costly repairs, and best of luck out there.