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By Don Patten

Don Patten is a leading expert in automotive education. His text book Automotive Service Basics published by Prentice Hall is used in automotive instruction courses world wide.

The automotive transmission is a background item that is rarely thought of until it doesn't behave like it should. Transmissions, although they many times do not get it, should be on your list for periodic maintenance. Let's start with the standard transmission. The major parts beside the transmission are the clutch disc, throw-out bearing, pressure plate, flywheel, and clutch fork. There will be a clutch pedal and connecting linkage. This linkage can be hydraulic or mechanical. All these parts have to be inspected and kept in adjustment. The transmission requires lubricant and it should be the correct viscosity and changed when contaminated.


== 1. Check the fluid level on a regular schedule. Some have a dipstick but most are checked by removing a plug on the side of the transmission exactly where the fluid level should be maintained. The vehicle should be level when making this check. If the fluid is low, fill the transmission up to the bottom of the threads at the inspection hole. Be careful when replacing the plug as it has pipe threads that jam tighter as the plug goes into place. Your owners manual should inform you about the right transmission fluid for your vehicle.

== 2. Change the fluid when needed. Some changes have to be made for severe weather both on the hot and the cold side but most of the time the fluid needs changing because of dirt and metal particle contamination. Fluids come in a variety of viscosities to be used in these extremes. GL-5 is the best transmission fluid presently offered for transmissions using gear oil. Not all transmissions use gear oil so be sure to check the owner's manual before using any type of fluid. Drain out the old and replace with new fluid at the specified owners manual mileage and time recommendations so internal bearings, shafts, and gears with not receive wear from contaminated fluid. Inspect the breather hole to be sure it is not clogged. This will show up by a pressure buildup inside the transmission and fluid leaking out of every place it can. The result will be puddles of transmission fluid dripping off the sides and ends of the transmission ending up on the ground.

== 3. Check and adjust the pedal travel. When the pedal is moving down it should move about 3/4" to 1" before the transmission is released from the engine. As the clutch disc wears this travel will get smaller until the clutch starts to slip. This is doing damage to the internal parts and can be easily avoided by a clutch adjustment just after the travel gets below 3/4".

== 4. Hydraulic clutches need to have the brake fluid in the clutch master cylinder maintained at the right level. There usually is a mark at the full mark on most master cylinders. If not, fill to 1/4" from the top. Use DOT 3 brake fluid.

== 5. Check and adjust the shift linkage. This is for transmissions that have external linkage and not those where the shift lever is directly on the top of the transmission. The linkage should be adjusted so the transmission engages and disengages smoothly and completely.

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== 6. Do a leakage inspection. Common leak points are at the front and the rear of the transmission. Also around any external linkage. Transmissions have grease seals that over time can become worn and damaged. If a front seal leaks, fluid can get on the clutch and cause slipping. All leaks should be fixed as they can lead to bigger and more expensive problems if the fluid gets too low.

== 7. Road test. Check for up and down shifting and listen for gear noise in any gear. There may be noise in only one gear selection on a transmission but this should be repaired before more damage occurs. Broken gear teeth and worn bearings are two common problems. Worn parts can cause a transmission to jump out of gear.

It all starts with proper maintenance and fluid checking. If you do this on a regular basis, you may never have to get to the expensive repair step.

A word of caution. A leak in hydraulic fluid on a hydraulic clutch is very serious. If the hydraulic clutch fails it can engage the clutch and cause the vehicle to move without your control. This could be at a stop light and move you into traffic. If this happens, immediately jam on the brake and shut the engine off. This is why constant checking of the master cylinder and leak inspection are important. It is unsafe and difficult to drive a vehicle with a failed clutch, either hydraulic or mechanical, to any repair shop as you do not have any way to disconnect the engine from the transmission. This is one time when towing is highly recommended.

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