You know that you need to change your motor oil regularly to keep your engine well-lubricated and running smoothly. Your transmission doesn't need attention quite as often, but it contains its own fluid that does need occasional maintenance. Automatic transmission fluid (ATF) does more than just provide lubrication between internal transmission parts, however.

This vital fluid serves numerous roles in your transmission, and it can become dirty or contaminated over time. If you want to keep your transmission healthy and long-lasting, it's helpful to understand how it works and why you need to add transmission fluid drain and replacement jobs to your routine maintenance schedule.

How ATF Keeps Your Transmission Running

Your automatic transmission fluid plays three separate, but critical roles in your transmission: lubrication, cooling, and hydraulic pressure. Like motor oil, ATF does help to lubricate internal parts. Without this added lubrication, your transmission would experience increased friction and heat. This added stress would rapidly damage internal components, leading inevitably to a complete transmission failure. Contaminated fluid or low fluid levels can both reduce ATF's ability to provide adequate lubrication.

Additionally, transmission fluid also helps to keep internal components running cool. Heat can damage numerous parts of your transmission, and it doesn't have a separate cooling system like your engine. Instead, most vehicles route transmission fluid to the radiator or use discrete transmission fluid coolers to help maintain appropriate internal temperatures.

Finally, and perhaps more crucially, your transmission fluid provides the hydraulic pressure necessary to switch gears. Low transmission fluid levels can cause gear slippage or even stop your car from entering certain gears. Likewise, contamination can impact the amount of friction provided by the fluid, affecting the behavior and performance of the transmission.

The Importance of Draining Your ATF

Because ATF plays so many roles, it's critical to drain and replace it according to your manufacturer's recommended service intervals. It's equally crucial to use the appropriate ATF for your car. Manufacturers design transmissions with the friction level of the fluid in mind, and deviation from those design specifications can impact performance or even lead to damage.

If your manufacturer doesn't recommend a replacement interval (as in the case of cars with "lifetime" fluid), you should consider speaking with an experienced transmission shop once your vehicle is no longer under warranty. Lifetime fluids often begin to wear down as a vehicle ages, so it's essential to determine when you should drain and replace yours.

Remember that your ATF is far more than just a lubricant. Taking care of it with routine automobile transmission fluid drain services can help extend the life of your transmission.