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When it comes to your transmission don’t be penny wise and pound foolish

Cut away of a transmission

One of the most expensive and complex systems in every vehicle is the transmission.  To replace one, it is not uncommon to spend $3000.00.

Did you know that it has well over a 100 moving parts? That some have over 200 moving parts? And did you know that all those moving parts are completely invisible from the oustide? They are hidden in a large HEAVY case that is bolted into your power train.

There only way three ways to check a transmission:

1. How does the vehicle shift?

2. What is the condition of the fluid?

3. What do computer diagnostics say?  (on newer vehicles)

If there is something is terribly wrong, there is no choice but to pull the transmission out of the vehicle, a four hour labor intensive job in most cases, take apart the transmission and visually inspect it.

So, how do you keep this machine in good working order so you don’t have to worry about this?

The best and easiest way is to change the fluid every 30,000 miles, and change the filter in the transmission pan (if it has one).

There are two ways to change the fluid.  One is from the top of car and the other is from the bottom.

Most transmissions hold 16 quarts of either reddish or golden fluid.  When the transmission fluid is drained from the bottom, only about 1/3 of the old fluid is recovered because most of it is in the front of the transmission in a large doughnut-shaped part called a torque converter. So, we drain about five to six quarts old fluid, add five or six quarts of new and change the filter.  If you’ve faithfully serviced your vehicle’s transmission since it was new and drained your fluid every two years, this probably works. It is also the least expensive of the two methods.

The torque converter is located in front part of the transmission and has its own case inside the transmission case.

When the fluid is changed from the top of the motor, we call it a flush. So what is actually a flush?  It is like hooking your transmission line to a special wet vac.  The flush machine sucks out all the dirty fluid and it can recover most of it.  Then it runs a cleanser through the system to get rid of residue and contaminants that have probably built up.  Then we add 16 qts. of  new fluid with special conditioners and preservatives. The products we use, called BG Products, come with a lifetime warranty to your transmission if you flush it before 75,000 miles and every 30,000 miles thereafter.

Conditioners and preservatives make the fluid more slippery and last longer. Remember, what is the job of transmission fluid?  Just like oil for your engine, transmission fluid is lubrication for those 100 to 200 moving invisible parts inside your transmission case.

Most vehicle owners need to do transmission flushes because they haven’t serviced the transmission on a regular, faithful basis even though they may be very good about changing the motor oil.

If you have a filter at the bottom of your transmission pan, a flush does not include a filter change, that yet it still needs to be done. You can either have it done at the time of the flush or at another time. For example, one year do the flush and the next year change the filter.

Now it’s story time. Last week we had a customer at our shop whose vehicle’s transmission fluid was black.  She had been in here a year ago, and at that time her fluid was black. She didn’t want to change it then, and she didn’t want to change it now.  Now it was really black and thick. Why wouldn’t she change it?

Well, because her friend told her that if she flushed the transmission, it would stir up all these contaminants resting in the bottom of her transmission pan and wreak damage on the 100 to 200 invisible moving parts. Is this true?

Well, let me start out by saying that black and burnt fluid lubricates like water, not like oil. So, is it doing its job of lubricating the transmission? Hmmm….

What happens when you leave thick, black fluid inside the transmission?  Well, in addition to all those moving parts not being lubricated properly, imagine clutches and seals. The clutches are flat paper cork rings that transmit the power that make the car go.  The seals are mostly rubber. What do you think happens when black fluid that’s not slippery circulates?  It corrodes the clutches and seals. As the clutches become friable, little pieces break off and get into the fluid.  The seals get hard. Over time, there will be a lot less clutch material between the metal parts and once metal starts touching metal, all hell breaks loose with the transmission.

So, is there any truth to the concern of her friend?  The answer is that if the transmission is damaged, it’s damaged. A flush will not cause any damage that has already been done.  So, the only question remains: Are you taking care of your vehicle’s transmission?

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Changing Your Oil is Like Brushing Your Teeth

Wow! It’s been quite a while! But we’re baaaccckkk!

None of us like going to the dentist out of fear of getting a bad report card from our dentist. Many of us are also probably afraid of taking our vehicles to the repair shop for the same reasons because we know we’ve been negligent in routine check ups and maintenance.

Changing the oil in your car is like brushing your teeth. You can forget to brush your teeth every so often  but forget too many times,  and you’ll be paying more out of pocket at the dentist. The same goes for changing your oil. You can forget to change your oil every so often, but forgetting too often or too many times leads to sludge build-up in your engine which can result in a  big repair bill. Here at Adolf Hoepfl Garage, we want to help you avoid that.

Changing your oil is the cheapest way to ensure your car is going to last a long time. But how long can you go between oil changes? Car companies in the old days said  could go no further than 3,000 miles (or 5,000 with synthetic) without changing your oil. But nowadays Chrysler now says you can go 7,000 miles; Honda says you can go 10,000.  But  this is at a time when car companies are struggling to sell more vehicles. Just as there are new and improved toothpastes, there are new and improved oils and vehicles. But we have to ask ourselves if the new oils and cars are really that much better than the old ones. New and improved toothpaste doesn’t mean you stop brushing your teeth as often, and the same can be said about oil changes. Think how much longer your engine will last with regular, traditional maintenance schedules. To play it smart, it’s good to have a routine for changing your oil every 3,000 miles or 6 months, whichever comes first. Many of our customer cars have over 250,000 to 300,000 miles on them!

We’re here to help you remember to change your oil routinely. Just like you have to learn good brushing habits, you have to learn good maintenance intervals. We’ll send you a letter in the mail or by e-mail reminding you when it’s time to change your oil. Also, we provide Car Care Clinics throughout the year where we’ll teach you where the fluids are in your vehicle so you can check them for yourself and be able to tell when it’s time to get something changed.

Mom, is my Car Safe to Drive?

December 1, 2009 2 comments

Our oldest daughter called this week. “Mom, my brake light is on.” Our 23 year old daughter was calling me from Newport, Florida. She was heading to St. Augustine for a little sight-seeing and was driving a rental car, a Nissan Sentra to be exact. “What do I do?” Now, my daughter is no dummy. She is an officer in the Coast Guard, happening to be ‘at liberty,’ military lingo for ‘having time off.’

“Pull over, and I’ll tell you how to check the brake fluid.”

I explained to her that the brake light on the dashboard comes on when it senses low brake fluid. A computer sensor on the master cylinder ‘reports’ when the fluid reaches a minimally acceptable level. While the light shouldn’t be disregarded, it doesn’t always mean that the driver is in imminent danger of experiencing brake failure. It does mean stop, check and take care of it.

After Laura figured out how to open the hood, she found the brake fluid reservoir—often it’s close to the firewall. She opened the cap and saw that the fluid level read minimum. Well, she had her answer. Slightly low on fluid, but not in danger. What we didn’t know was why.

There are multiple explanations. The car had 12,000 miles, fairly new for most car owners, but that’s considered “old” in the rental world. The vehicle could have a slow leak either coming from the master cylinder or from a wheel cylinder. Another possibility is that the car had been poorly maintained and over time, the brake pads wore out. This would cause more brake fluid to flow toward the calipers and reduce fluid in the reservoir.

When Laura called me back and told me the fluid level, I said, “What’s also important is how the brake pedal feels when it’s pressed. How’re the brakes working?”

“Oh, they’re fine.”

“Pedal’s not mushy?”

“Nope.”

“Well, okay then. Go have fun in St. Augustine! Your brakes aren’t going to quit on you.”

That was what she wanted to hear. When a dashboard light comes on, all of us are naturally concerned because we don’t know whether it’s safe to continue driving.

“Mom, one last question, how will I know if I’m developing a brake problem?”

My advice to her was to watch for puddles on the ground near the tires or under the hood. Check the fluid once more when she stopped for gas and tell the rental car agent when she gets back.

If Laura had said that her brake pedal had been mushy or acting funny in any way that would be a major safety issue. Mushy brake pedals mean brake failure is imminent! If YOU ever experience this, stop driving. You are a road hazard! It’s possible that a mushy pedal will not be accompanied by a brake warning light, but usually, it will.

Without a technician to check Laura’s Nissan, we could not know why the fluid was low, but we knew that she able to stop the car safely and that was what mattered.

Mom saved the day.