Fixing a broken transmission is often the single most expensive automotive repair that you’ll ever have to make, so it’s important to know how long you can expect it to last and what you can do to extend it’s life. Here’s what we’ve found out from talking to countless car owners about their transmission issues:
In This Guide
- How Long Do Transmissions Last?
- Do Manual Transmissions Last Longer?
- 6 Tips to Extending its Lifespan – Transmission Maintenance Checklist
- What Can Reduce the Life of a Transmission?
How Long Do Transmissions Last?
There is of course no set time or mileage, but there have been cases reported to us by car owners of transmissions failing after only 7,000 miles (rare – typically a used transmission in poor condition) and others that have lasted 300,000+ miles. From the reports we’ve received, the average automatic transmission lasts around 150,000 to 200,000 miles.
The two main factors that determine how long your transmission will last are: how well you follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance procedures and your driving habits.
Do Manual Transmissions Last Longer?
Due to its complex design, an automatic transmission has more potential points of failure than a manual transmission that doesn’t have any intricate hydraulic circuits, or complicated electronically controlled solenoids to worry about. Just a clutch pedal, some gears, and a gear stick between the seats.
In theory, the simpler manual transmission will last longer than an automatic. That said, you will have to replace the clutch (the thing that separates the engine from the transmission while you change gears) every so often. And depending on the vehicle, a new clutch can be expensive.
6 Tips to Extending its Lifespan – Transmission Maintenance Checklist
Most car owners have their engine serviced regularly, but many completely ignore their transmission until it breaks.
Let’s look at how you can ensure they keep working properly:
1) Check Your Transmission Fluid Regularly
The fluid’s job is to absorb heat and carry it away from the moving parts. If the fluid level gets low, the internal components of your transmission can overheat and cause irreversible damage.
Check your ATF every 2-4 weeks (depending on how much you drive) with the engine running, and check your owner’s manual to be sure that you’re using the correct type of fluid.
If you drive a manual, check the clutch fluid reservoir every 2-4 weeks (if so equipped), and the transmission / differential oil every 6-12 months.
2) Have Your Transmission Serviced Regularly
Like an engine, a transmission has oil and a filter that needs to be changed every 20,000-30,000 miles, or once every 18 months. For newer cars, you should also have the transmission flushed every 40,000-50,000 miles or every 2 years, to remove all of the sediment and debris from the torque converter and cooler lines.
Vehicles with manual transmissions should have the clutch fluid and gearbox oil changed every 30,000-40,000 miles.
3) Upgrade to Synthetic Fluid
Over time, heat breaks down the organic compounds in ordinary automatic transmission fluid, rendering it much less effective. Synthetic transmission fluid on the other hand, is much more heat resistant, making it the ideal heat removal agent if you regularly tow/haul heavy loads, or drive in environments that cause strain on the transmission (like the mountains or heavy traffic).
4) Buy a Transmission Cooler
The number one transmission killer is heat. As all of those parts move around, the friction creates heat, which causes long term damage to the seals, friction materials, metal surfaces and electronic components.
When the operating temperature climbs above 200-degrees, every 20-degree interval reduces the service life by 2. A good quality transmission cooler can significantly lower the gearbox operating temperature, which can prevent it from wearing out 2-3 times as fast.
5) Consider Your Driving Style
Driving aggressively from a stop causes intense heat buildup, as does constantly accelerating and decelerating. So if you want to extend the life of your transmission, go easy on the gas pedal, and plan your moves. This will reduce the strain on the transmission, and you’ll still arrive at your destination in about the same amount of time.
6) Find a Quality Transmission Shop
An experienced transmission mechanic will be able to save you time and money, because they already know what transmission problems to look out for on your particular vehicle. They also know how to quickly solve existing problems and be able to catch potential issues before they sideline your vehicle.
What Can Reduce the Life of a Transmission?
1) Driving before your engine and transmission are warm
Cold fluid is thicker than when it’s warm, so it isn’t as good at moving up from the bottom of the transmission pan to prevent friction damage if you just turn the key and go in cold weather. For best results, let the vehicle idle until the engine kicks down to a lower RPM before putting it in gear.
2) Shifting gears while the vehicle is still moving
If you’re backing out of a parking spot, or need to make a quick maneuver like a 3 point turn, always let the vehicle come to a complete stop before changing gears from drive to reverse and vice versa. Otherwise you’ll damage the gears, clutches, and universal/CV joints.
3) Racing or driving aggressively
Do we even have to explain this one? 😉
4) Using an inexperienced mechanic
Given the complexity, and ever-changing service procedures and software updates available from the manufacturer, you need someone who is familIar with your car’s particular type of transmission, and the most up-to-date information about keeping it working properly. Otherwise, that “cheap fix” could evolve into an expensive problem.
What to Read Next
- What is a Transmission Flush?
- How to Check Transmission Fluid
- How to Change Transmission Fluid
- What is a Torque Converter?
- Transmission Overheating – The #1 Killer
Over to You
We’re interested to know – if your transmission is still working, how long has it lasted so far? If you’ve had one fail on you before, how many miles did you put on it? Let us know by leaving a comment below!