Diagnose Your Own Automatic Transmission Problems

There are a few words in the language of auto repair that make car owners want to crawl back into bed, and “transmission” is at the top of the list. There’s something about that mysterious box underneath your car that incites fear. Unfortunately, most repair shops know this, and will take advantage of the situation by reaching deep into your pocket.

Before you hand over your keys and a blank check, brush up on the simple end of automatic transmissions. If something is seriously wrong, at least you’ll be armed with enough knowledge to avoid being overcharged, over-repaired or straight ripped off.

Your transmission is a remarkable contraption. Somehow it can shift your car from gear to gear, knowing how fast you need to go and how quickly you need to get there. What goes on inside is a mystery to most. Unless your thirst for automotive knowledge borders on compulsive, you can leave it a mystery. The basics will be enough to have an intelligent (which translates to “not about to be ripped off”) conversation with your mechanic.

While there are many, many little parts inside, your transmission is essentially made up of a few key parts of systems.

  • Bell Housing: This is the cone shaped metal case that you can see when you peek underneath your car. If you have a front-wheel-drive car it’s stuck on the side of the engine under the hood. If your car is rear-wheel-drive, the transmission will be mounted underneath the car behind the engine.
  • Gears: Even though you’re not shifting them, an automatic transmission has gears. They are broken into main gears and planetary gears. You need all of these to be able to drive.
  • Fluid: Transmission fluid is very important to an automatic transmission. All of the magic happens in the fluid. Most cars come with red transmission fluid, good to know if you are looking for a leak.
  • Filter: All of that fluid has to be clean for your car to shift gears at the right time. To keep things fresh, your transmission has a filter to catch any gunk.

Now that you know a little about what’s happening in there, you can try to figure out why your transmission is acting up, or at least understand what your mechanic is talking about while he tries to make your bill into his new fishing boat.

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