Keep your vehicles’ gears shifting smoothly with the right fluid
The transmission is one of the most important – and complex – systems in a vehicle. It is responsible for literally making a car move by receiving the power from the engine, converting it into torque, and transmitting this rotational power to the wheels.
Transmission repairs are notoriously one of the most expensive and complicated repairs a vehicle owner can face. Therefore, keeping the transmission in good shape and using the right transmission fluid is critical to the safe and efficient operation of any modern vehicle.
How does a transmission work?
The transmission uses a series of gear ratios to keep a vehicle’s engine spinning at an optimal rate (neither too slow nor too fast), while simultaneously providing the wheels with the right amount of power they need to start, move, and stop the car.
The transmission acts like a power switchboard for the car: It increases torque to accelerate away from a stop, prevents the engine from working too hard at highway speeds, and disconnects the engine power from the drivetrain to allow a car to idle without moving.
There are 4 types of transmissions
The simplest and oldest type of transmission is the trusty manual. The driver controls the gearbox by using a foot-controlled clutch to engage and disengage the engine from the wheels and a manual gear shifter to change the gears.
While manual transmissions are mechanically simpler, automatic transmission are easier to use. Instead of the driver changing gears with a clutch and gear shifter, an automatic transmission uses a highly complex torque converter and a series of computer-controlled gear sets, clutches, and brakes to automatically shift gears up and down. The complexity, number of moving parts, and computer system needed for automatic transmissions can lead to expensive repairs, if not maintained properly.
Automated Manual Transmission
Like a manual transmission, an automated manual also employs a mechanical clutch. However, the clutch is automated using electronic, pneumatic, or hydraulic controls. Sometimes referred to as a “Direct Shift Gearbox” (“DSG”) or a “Sequential Manual Gearbox” (“SMG”), this transmission allows for either fully automatic forward gear shifts or manual shifts through the gear selector or through buttons or paddles on the steering wheel. A Dual Clutch transmission is an example of this type of transmission.
Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)
The CVT is similar to an automatic transmission, but it operates using a completely different mechanism. The CVT doesn’t have gears at all — instead, it uses a system of belts and pulleys to produce an infinite range of ratios. The car’s computer decides how to adjust the pulleys to create the optimal ratio for the particular driving situation.
What does transmission fluid do?
In order for your transmission to work properly, it can’t have any of its metal parts grinding against one another. Similar to motor oil, transmission fluid acts as a lubricant between the transmission’s moving parts to facilitate smooth operation and to keep the transmission lubricated, clean, cool, sealed, and most importantly, transferring power.
Typically, transmission fluid needs to be changed every 30k-100k miles, depending on manufacturer recommendations. It will need to be changed more often on cars driven in high-stress conditions, such as frequent stop-and-go city driving, towing heavy loads, or driving up and down hills regularly.
How to choose the right transmission fluid
Since the transmission is one of the most complex systems in a vehicle, choosing the correct fluid is critical to preventing damage and ensuring the best performance and fuel economy. Today’s modern transmission fluids are typically blended with synthetic base oils to offer better performance, with improved resistance to heat, cold, oxidation, friction, and shearing. Here are the most common types of transmission fluids and what makes them different:
Dexron VI (GM) / Mercon V (Ford) / ATF+4 (Chrysler)
GM, Ford and FCA (formerly Chrysler) offer the three most common ATF products on the market. They are exclusively licensed to these three automobile manufacturers, and are specifically formulated for the new transmission technology. These fluids can often be used in new imported vehicles as well, according to manufacturer recommendations.
Dexron VI/Mercon LV
Dexron VI is the newest ATF from GM. It is a synthetic blend, formulated specifically for the new six-speed automatic because it meets its requirements for tighter internal tolerances and higher shear strength. Mercon LV is the low viscosity specification for Ford vehicles with six-speed automatic transmissions.
Mercon V is similar to Dexron III and is the most common Ford ATF in late model Fords. Mercon V should never be used in a transmission that requires Ford Type F.
Chrysler ATF+4 is another synthetic blend that was introduced to the market in 1998. It can be used in most Chrysler vehicles with conventional automatic transmission manufactured in 1998 or before, with the exception of minivans that were manufactured before the year 2000. It is not compatible with Dexron or Mercon fluids. ATF+4 is backwards compatible to ATF+3 fluids, another synthetic blend manufactured in 1997, and can be used in vehicles today with the exception of non-conventional transmissions.
Kendall® VersaTrans® LV ATF is a full-synthetic, low-viscosity ATF is approved for use in passenger car and light truck automatic transmissions that require a Ford MERCON LV or GM DEXRON-VI fluid. It also is recommended for use in Toyota vehicles where a Type WS fluid is specified, and in many newer import vehicles. Kendall Classic ATF® can also be used in domestic and import vehicles no longer under warranty where the OEM previously specified a GM DEXRON®-III H or Ford MERCON® fluid.
Multi-Vehicle Synthetic Transmission Fluid
Multi-vehicle transmission fluids are designed to be used in a variety of automatic transmission types and have been growing in popularity in recent years. They are formulated with the latest additive technologies and often incorporate synthetic base oils. Multi-vehicle transmission fluids are not licensed by any specific auto manufacturer.
Kendall VersaTrans ATF is a part-synthetic transmission fluid specially designed for automatic transmissions and can be used in most passenger cars and light trucks. It has been extensively field-tested for use in most North American vehicles and in a wide variety of European and Japanese vehicles. Kendall VersaTrans ULV ATF can also be used in most passenger cars and light trucks with the difference that is a full-synthetic product with ultra-low viscosity (ULV).
Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) Fluid
It’s becoming increasingly common for auto manufacturers to use continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) due to their fuel economy benefits. CVTs are similar to an automatic transmission, but they use a system of belts and pulleys instead of gears. Because of this, CVTs have very different fluid requirements than a typical stepped gear transmission. Most CVT transmission fluids also utilize synthetic base oils.
Kendall CVT FLUID is designed for use in most Honda, Jeep, Mitsubishi, Nissan (except Altima hybrid) and Suzuki vehicles with CVT transmissions. It is not recommended for eCVT or most chain-driven CVT transmissions, or in any non-CVT transmission. Kendall VersaTrans CVT Plus Fluid is designed for a wide range of out-of-warranty vehicles that require either a step or CVT fluid, which helps shops reduce inventory and minimize the risk of misapplication.