Automatic Transmission Driving Habits You Should Avoid

Photo courtesy of Flickr by Robert Couse-Baker

The automatic transmission is one of the greatest innovations in the car industry. It’s only second to self-driving cars, which are yet to be produced for the mass market in significant enough numbers to challenge human-controlled vehicles.

Trucks are another matter, but we’re talking about cars that people use on a daily basis to commute to work, do the school run, grab some groceries, etc.

Unfortunately, the innovation of an automatic gearbox has brought with it its fair share of safety and reliability problems.

So if you want to give your automatic transmission a long life, you should avoid the following bad habits when driving.

1. Driving downhill in neutral gear

Coasting in neutral to save a bit of gas may have been common for older style manual transmissions in the 70s. But the modern automatic transmission engine combination can save fuel without you helping it by shifting your gear to neutral.

The neutral gear effectively takes away your control of the car. It is actually illegal to use the neutral gear in 15 states across the U.S.A.

2. Engaging the reverse gear before you stop

Engaging the reverse gear before the car completely stops is detrimental to the transmission. You are basically forcing the automatic transmission system to stop the car instead of allowing the brakes to do their job.

3. Revving the car in neutral

You may be tempted to rev your engine in neutral before you slam it into drive in a misguided attempt to launch yourself forward as fast as your car can go. Hint: It’s not a Tesla. There’s no Ludicrous Mode.

You should never do this with an automatic transmission car because you are wearing out the bands of your transmission system and they’re costly to replace.

4. Selecting neutral at a red light

Again, putting it in neutral is not a way to save fuel in automatic transmission cars. You will be just compromising control of the vehicle without the added advantage of saving any fuel.

5. Shifting to park before you stop

There are some models of cars that may allow you to shift into park before you come to a complete stop. However, you should never do this because you will damage the brake locking pin that is used to keep your car running.

6. Driving before warming the engine (older cars)

During winters or cold weather, the oil will thicken and therefore move very slowly. For older cars without fuel injection, this can take a little while to rectify. So give the transmission system a minute or so to warm up so the oil can start lubricating the engine parts and reduce any unnecessary wear and tear.

But with modern cars under normal driving conditions, there’s no need to warm up your car before driving it, even if you haven’t driven it for days. Notice how when you start the car, it will often go into high idle for a few seconds? That’s the car doing what it needs to do, without your help.

7. Neglecting to check the transmission fluid

An old adage goes, “prevention is better than a cure”. The general recommendation from most vehicle manufacturers is to have the transmission oil checked regularly, and replaced every 3,000 to 4,500 miles on the road.

Transmission fluid doesn’t cost a lot, nor does it take a lot of time to be checked or changed.

8. Incorrectly using the transmission for engine braking

If you need to slow down and you have plenty of room and time to do so, such as when descending a steep  inclive, using your transmission to slow the vehicle (called engine braking or downshifting) can make a lot of sense because:

  • It reduces fuel consumption – the engine doesn’t use more fuel when you downshift (it only burns fuel when you use the accelerator). When you downshift to reduce speed, the engine essentially stops burning any fuel at all, which makes it better than coasting along in neutral, as an idling engine still burns fuel.
  • Downshifting reduces brake wear – engine braking spares your brakes and also keeps them from overheating.

But don’t overdo it. As a rule, use engine braking to reduce the need for using your brakes, but not to replace them altogether.

9. Keeping the Fuel Tank Almost Empty

In your fuel tank, the fuel pump sends fuel from the tank to the engine. This fuel pump relies on the fuel (gasoline, petrol or diesel) in the tank to keep it cool and lubricated. Driving with a tank that’s almost empty means that the pump isn’t being lubricated as much as it should and is at risk of overheating (and failing). Repairing the fuel pump can be quite expensive – much more so than a tank of fuel!

In addition, driving with a low tank can make the fuel filter in the pump dirty a lot faster. Because any sediment or dirt sinks to the bottom of the tank, the fuel filter can end up getting blocked or take in dirty fuel, which can also be a very costly thing to fix.

How Does an Automatic Transmission Work?

Since the invention of the automatic transmission, the vehicle industry has been completely revolutionised. And it’s also turned into a very lucrative source for mechanics to make money. But how does the automatic transmission system work?

1. The torque converter

The transmission of an automatic car sits in a bell housing where it connects with the engine. The whole system contains gear sets and a torque converter that convert the fuel’s potential energy into kinetic energy.

2. The flex plate

The flex plate is connected to the converter directly so that when it rotates, it can rotate the converter housing, connecting and disconnecting the power of the engine to the engine load.

3. Inside the torque converter

The torque converter, situated between the engine and the transmission, is basically a type of fluid coupling, which allows the engine to spin independently of the transmission. There are four components inside the extremely strong housing of the torque converter:

  • Pump
  • Turbine
  • Stator
  • Transmission fluid

How to Drive an Automatic Transmission

Before you start driving an automatic transmission, you must first understand a few basics. Even though most four-wheeled vehicles work similarly, there is a difference between a manual transmission and automatic transmission.

1. Footwork

Photo courtesy of Flickr by Ken

Automatic transmission vehicles do not have a clutch pedal. They just have the brake pedal and accelerator pedal (along with a foot rest). You should only use your right foot to control both the accelerator and the brake pedal (unless you are a professional racing driver).

It’s advisable not to use your left leg as this may cause an accident if you inadvertently step on both the accelerator and the brake.

2. Starting the Car

  • Press brake pedal with your right foot
  • Start the engine ignition
  • Put the gear stick into Drive mode
  • Disengage the handbrake
  • Remove your foot from the brake pedal to the acceleration pedal

3. Parking

  • Steer into position
  • Press the brake pedal until the car comes to a stop
  • Put the gear stick into Park
  • Engage the handbrake
  • Switch off the headlights (if not Auto-off)
  • Check windows are closed
  • Turn off the engine

And if you really want to look after your car, simply get a GOFAR.

GOFAR connects to your car via the OBD2 port and allows you to access all its data (via a free app). It constantly monitors your car’s health and instantly alerts you to any problems it detects – right on your smartphone.

Check out this amazing and affordable little gadget today.

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