4 Ways to Prevent Transmission Overheating & Avoid Failure

Heat is the number one cause of premature transmission failure. Not manufacturer errors, or even defective parts. It accounts for approximately 90% of all automatic transmission failures.

Need a replacement transmission? Get an estimate for replacement transmissions and local installation. Look up your transmission model by vehicle make and model.

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In This Guide

Excessive transmission heat is responsible for the start of many transmission problems including; ruptured seals, cracked gears, slipping transmission bands, failed bearings, inoperable solenoids, and delayed clutch engagement. You name the part, and too much heat can cause it to break.

This silent killer has claimed the service life of countless transmissions, and it could be wreaking havoc on your vehicle every time you put it in gear. An overheated transmission can often go unnoticed until it’s too late and something breaks.

The most common causes of overheating include solenoid problems, fluid leaks, low fluid levels and burnt/old fluid. Other heat generating factors are if you live in a hot climate, often drive in stop and go traffic and/or tow heavy loads with your vehicle.

How Automatic Transmission Fluid Cools a Transmission

It contains chemical additives that provide lubrication and the pressure to change gears, but its primary function is heat removal. The spinning gears, expanding springs, and whirring turbines generate friction as they move about.

This friction produces a lot of heat, which can cause stress fractures, varnishing and other forms of damage to the internal components if it isn’t dealt with quickly.

For this reason, it is formulated to absorb the heat as it flows through the moving parts. It then carries the heat out of the transmission to the radiator, where the hot fluid is forced through a special cooling chamber that uses aluminum fins to extract heat from the ATF.

As air flows through the radiator, the heat is dissipated and the cooled fluid is then piped back to the transmission for another round. If it isn’t able to remove and expel heat through the factory transmission cooler fast enough, the transmission will overheat and damage will start to set in.

Fluid Life Expectancy vs Temperature

Over time, heat breaks down the organic compounds inside the fluid, causing it to take on a darker red, then brown, then black color. It also becomes thinner, which significantly reduces the amount of heat that it’s able to carry away from the moving parts.

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If your transmission isn’t serviced (new fluid + filter) every 20,000 to 30,000 miles or once every 12-18 months, the fluid will become ineffective, and the normal operating temperature will increase.

The ideal operating temperature of transmission fluid is 175 degrees. Overheating occurs after the temperature surpasses 200 degrees, and the failure rate doubles for every additional 20 degree increase after that.

So if you drive the vehicle with the fluid temperature at 240 degrees, your transmission will develop significant problems and fail 4 times sooner that it would have otherwise. Fresh, clean fluid on the other hand, will make it run cooler, shift better, and last longer.

Fluid Temperature & Damage

  • 220-degrees = varnish forms on metal surfaces
  • 240-degrees = seals harden
  • 260-degrees = transmission bands and clutches begin to slip
  • 295 degrees = seals and clutches burn – call a tow truck

For every 20 degree reduction in fluid temperature, your transmission’s lifespan will approximately double!

Low fluid levels will also cause the transmission to overheat, rather quickly. Without enough ATF to remove the heat, the temperature can skyrocket past 260-degrees, resulting in a slipping transmission, along with serious damage to the clutches, bands, and torque converter.

To keep this from happening, check your transmission fluid level once a month, or every two weeks if you spend a lot of time on the road. And don’t forget to leave the motor running when you check it, otherwise you won’t get an accurate reading.

How to Prevent Transmission Overheating

1) Check Transmission Fluid Often

You should check your vehicle’s fluid at least once a month in order to spot issues such as a low fluid level or worn out dirty/burnt fluid. This will allow you to fix these early warning signs before they cause serious transmission problems that can damage or destroy your transmission.

In addition to checking the level and quality of fluid using the dipstick, be sure to look under your car occasionally for stains on the driveway or transmission pan to make sure that your fluid isn’t leaking.

2) Change the Fluid on Schedule

Your vehicle’s transmission fluid should be changed every 30,000 to 60,000 miles. You can change it yourself or have a transmission shop flush it from your vehicle.

If you drive in a hot climate, a lot of stop and go traffic or haul heavy loads, the fluid should be changed more often than the suggested range – every 15,000 to 20,000 miles for example. That way your transmission is always running on fresh, effective fluid that will keep it cool.

3) Add an External Cooling System

Your vehicle’s radiator is responsible for cooling down the fluid, so be sure to change the coolant inside it every 2 years or so.

If you haul or tow heavy loads, the radiator alone may not be enough to keep it cool and you should consider installing an external transmission cooler. A stacked plate cooler for example is easy to install and attaches to the front of the radiator.

4) Add a Deep Pan

If your transmission has overheated, then it is worth considering adding a deep pan. A deep pan allows you to add more fluid to your vehicle, which helps spread out the heat and remove it from the transmission faster. Aluminum pans dissipate heat better than those made of steel.

When to Install a Transmission Cooler

Towing causes a serious amount of strain/heat buildup. So does the constant up-down shifting the occurs when you’re crawling through traffic, or driving in hilly/mountainous terrain.

If you regularly do this type of driving, then you need to seriously consider having an aftermarket transmission cooler installed. Most are designed to work in tandem with the manufacturer’s original transmission cooler, and they provide increased fluid capacity so that more heat will be removed, faster. To keep your transmission temperature from exceeding safe levels, this is the best way to go.

Other Transmission Heat Sources

Worn transmission bands, clutches, and solenoids can also cause your transmission to overheat. If the part isn’t functioning correctly, it can generate excess friction heat and overwhelm the fluid.

Even though just one part is worn or broken, the high temperature can do things like warp the valve body, and destroy the torque converter internals. So if you can help it, try not to drive the vehicle until the transmission is repaired.

Need a replacement transmission? Get an estimate for replacement transmissions and local installation. Look up your transmission model by vehicle make and model.

What Transmission Do I Have?

What to Read Next

Over to You

We’re interested to know – has your transmission overheated? If so, how did you fix it? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

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Grant Gass
1 month ago

Okay While Im Driving It Wont Shift In Third Gear I Have To Hit Overdrive Botton For It To Jump Into Gear. Then After A While Driving The Transmission Just Stops Working And I Have To Turn My Truck Off And Then Back On And It Starts Working Aging. Is This Transmission Going Back Of Its The Seloids?

Hessel Flach
1 month ago

1995 camry. Transmission usually works fine, but sometimes it runs hot on the highway around 70 mph. Other times there is no problem at all. Could this be a solenoid problem?

Just
2 months ago

I have a Dodge charger 2014 and the temperature is 169 is that good or not

Doesn't matter
3 months ago

Hf how are you gonna say degrees like 50 times and not fucking ONCE specify Celsius or ferinheight. Your stupidity fucking infuriates me

Kenny Heyer
3 months ago

The only thing I need to notice is after driving and tranny getting hot my car started doing euratic shifting as well as slipping and things it doesn’t normally do when car is cold it’s obvious what it’s going through

Jason
5 months ago

I have a 2014 Chevy Silverado, 1500 6 cylinder. I have had the truck for about 6 months. Current mileage is about 77,000 miles. Recently I was backing a trailer up in 4×4. I was getting stuck in the mud so I backed up and tried again. I did this a few times. I was not working the gas pedal excessively. This process of forward and back lasted about 20 minutes. After I decided it was too muddy, I started to pull forward when my dashboard started dinging with a “Transmission Fluid High Temperature “ alarm. I checked the transmission temperature by clicking through the screens on the dashboard. The temperature was reading 284 degrees.
I parked the truck and went back to work. A few hours later I got in to drive home. Transmission temperature was reading 127.
After driving about 20 miles the temperature gradually increased from 127 to 212.

I changed my transmission fluid and fluid filter. (draining the pan only). Afterwards I added about 6 quarts and took it for a rest drive. It didn’t seem to help. The temperature still gradually increased beyond operating temperature.

Today I removed my transmission lines that go to and from my fluid cooler(in radiator) and blew air through the lines to see if my fluid cooler was possibly clogged. It didn’t seem to be clogged. Air passed through relatively easy.

I put the lines back on the transmission and took it for a ride. The fluid temperature was reading 145 when I backed out of driveway. As I drove, it gradually increased to 235 degrees after driving about 20 miles.

I don’t know what to do except take it to a chest dealership for maintenance.

Ideas/thoughts?

Geoff
3 months ago
Reply to  Jason

Your transmission has a thermostat that controls the amount of fluid going from your transmission to the cooler built into the radiator. If you remove it and install a thermostat bypass valve in its place (just google it for your truck and you’ll see an example or two of what they are), it will fix that problem.

paul watkins
6 months ago

Nissan versa 2012 rpm up and down feels like im in higer gear then jumps back to lower gear higher RPM .Nissan should have a fix for this

Yodany Acosta
6 months ago

My transmission heats up a lot. I have a ram 3500 2012 but it changes me well. It doesn’t fail any speed that could cause heating

Dave Morris
6 months ago

I’m looking at oil and filter change maybe larger pan for more fluid and adding an oil cooler.
Thoughts?

Frank
6 months ago

I gave an r v and it seems like when it gets hot the transmission starts slipping bad like it has a clutch or a stall converter is there a simple fix for this it not as it’s setting now as I need to get it back to my place would it. Be safe to drive it and when it starts slipping pull over and let it cool off as the fluid doesn’t smell burnt

Peter
10 months ago

I have a 2018 Nissan Versa want to add a extra cooler to the OEM transmission cooler, would this be a problem, and if I could find a aluminum deep pan to the transmission. Plus I’m going to add external transmission filter.. I found out that the CVT transmissions don’t last long, I drive 132 miles a day (s)X5 .
Would any of theses items be a problem…

Scott Barnicoat
11 months ago

I have a 2004 Ford F-350 5.4L and I had a transmission line that broke and transmission overheated. I changed the fluid and filter and the truck will not move. Please help I an unemployed and can’t spend $2,000 on a transmission. Could it possibly be shift solenoids?
Thanks.

Anonymous
2 months ago

Hi

John Wilson
1 year ago

How do I know what size trans cooler I need? Coolers are rated by BTU/hour and cars and trucks are rated in GVWR. How do you calculate BTU vs GVWR?

John Wilson
1 year ago

Which cars have sealed transmissions where the fluid cannot be changed?

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