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Reading the Signs of Low Transmission Fluid

Motor oil pouring.
Although many people consider the engine the single most important component in a car, the transmission plays an equally indispensable role. Without the transmission, the energy generated by your engine would have no way of reaching the wheels. Of course, in order to provide this vital function, you must keep your transmission properly maintained.
Perhaps the single most important aspect of transmission upkeep involves maintaining an adequate level of transmission fluid. As fluid levels dip below a certain threshold, your transmission will behave in an increasingly erratic manner. This article takes a closer look at three of the most common signs of insufficient transmission fluid so you can avoid problems.

1. Delayed Engagement

As noted above, a transmission acts to transfer the mechanical energy generated by your engine to your wheels. In order to accomplish this task with the maximum degree of efficiency, a transmission must alter gears depending on the speed of your car. A transmission accomplishes the act of gear changing by means of hydraulic power.
The transmission fluid in your system provides a vehicle for this hydraulic power. When the transmission receives a signal to change gears, pressure travels through the fluid, unlocking and/or locking the appropriate planetary gears. In a system with an adequate fluid supply, pressure should travel quickly enough to change gears without much delay.
Yet as your fluid levels drop below a certain threshold, so does the responsiveness of the system. Simply put, the lack of fluid makes it harder to generate the necessary degree of hydraulic pressure. You may notice a gap of several seconds each time your transmission changes gears. Be sure to check your fluid levels if you've noticed this problem.

2. Jarring Shifts

At ideal fluid levels, the transmission of power not only happens quickly, but it happens smoothly as well. No gaps should interrupt the pressure generated at the source of the system. This uninterrupted flow allows your car to move between gears with a minimal degree of lurching, jarring, or banging.
As fluid levels drop, however, the pressure cannot transfer itself as smoothly to the gears. As a result, you may notice that they slam and/or bang into place when the transmission finally changes. Coupled with the delays discussed above, this jarring sensation can make it seem like your entire car is on the verge of breaking apart.

3. Overheating

The transmission of hydraulic force may be the most important job of the transmission fluid - but it's hardly the only one. Transmission fluid also helps to control the temperature in your transmission. As the transmission generates heat, the fluid absorbs this heat. This fluid then circulates back through to the fluid reservoir, where the heat safely dissipates.
Meanwhile, cooler fluid has moved out of the reservoir to circulate through the system. In this manner, the average fluid temperature can be kept within safe limits - ideally less than 175 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet as your fluid level decreases, the fluid pressure will also go down. This reduces the circulation of fluid throughout the system.
As a result, fluid will spend a longer amount of time in hot parts of your transmission, causing its temperatures to rise above safe levels. Overheating causes the fluid to break down, leading to decreased efficiency as well as the formation of problematic varnish deposits. Eventually, the overheated fluid may even cause your transmission to fail entirely.
In fact, experts estimate that approximately 90 percent of transmission failures stem from overheating. Without an adequate fluid supply, your transmission will soon reach dangerous temperatures. Fortunately, regularly checking your transmission fluid levels allows you to avoid this potentially devastating problem.
For more information about what it takes to keep your transmission running smooth, please contact the collision and repair experts at Frankie & Dylan's Complete Collision & Custom Repair Center.