It's easy to break a factory transmission, but how can we help extend it's life? Although there is no surefire way to prevent the failure of a transmission, there are certainly many ways to make it stronger and support a healthy lifespan for the factory transmission. In this installment in our popular Drivetrain 101 series, we will be analyzing the Top 5 ways to extend the life of the factory transmission.
This article is written as general information to benefit the average consumer, whether you have a powerful diesel truck, or a sleek muscle car. All of this information applies to torque converter style automatics as well as dual-clutch automatics alike. The ultimate purpose of this article is to educate and inform, potentially saving our clients thousands in repairs and internal maintenance. Without further ado, we will begin.
Tip #1 - Perform Timely and Proper Maintenance
Sound obvious? Unfortunately, everyone isn't as smart as you. One of the most prolific causes of failed transmissions is neglectful, improper or simply unperformed maintenance. Would you believe we've had clients tell us they haven't serviced their transmission in over 100,000 miles? Servicing your transmission is important for multiple reasons.
Firstly, filters can only hold so much material. As they age, they begin to filter less effectively whilst gaining flow rate. The issue here is that larger contaminants begin to circulate throughout the fluid, contributing to premature bore wear, friction material losses and pump gear damage. When performing oil maintenance, it's important to use OEM Specification filters as aftermarket alternatives are often designed to save money rather than be better. They're generally much lower quality and in some cases more likely to cavitate.
Additionally, oil breaks down over time due to multiple different factors. One is a destabilization effect caused by sitting still for extended periods of time. A different factor is the exposure to extreme heat or extreme cold in alternation, such as climates with aggressive winters and warm summers. These extremes challenge oil integrity, further endorsing the need to perform proper maintenance.
Tip #2 - Minimize Average Operating Temperature (AOT)
A comparably important factor for the health and lifespan of a transmission is controlling it's exposure to heat. Excess heat is one of the largest causes of unexpected transmission failure. This is especially prevalent in heavy towing as well as power-added applications. Frequent exposure to temperatures in excess of 200 degrees will aggressively detract from transmission lifespan.
There are many ways to enhance the cooling system of an automatic transmission. On many vehicles, a deeper oil pan capacitating additional fluid can be very helpful. However, for most dual-clutch transmissions, as well as some with pans toward the top of the transmission such as the 62TE, this is not always an option. Deeper oil pans also allow for easy maintenance as they include threaded drain-plugs, making the oil change process quick and painless. For those who want to ensure they're using the highest quality parts, Next Gen carries premium deep pans and OEM filter service kits for most transmissions.
For torque converter style automatics, the torque converter can produce between half and 2/3 of the heat inside the unit. Because of this, an upgraded torque converter yield improvements in heat management, especially for diesel applications where the stall speed can be decreased, leading to less friction in lower gears where the lockup clutches are not engaged. For dual-clutch transmissions, this is inapplicable.
A third way you can manage heat in your transmission is by modifying the external oil circuitry that sends it through the cooler and heat exchanger (if applicable). This can be done by adding a modified or additional transmission cooler, as well as deleting the heat exchanger/transmission oil thermostat somewhere on the vehicle that is designed to heat them up faster in cold conditions. Transmissions can always produce heat, cooling them down is the challenge. Because of this, heat exchangers are generally unnecessary and simply apply stress to the transmission for most applications.
Tip #3 - Avoid High Stress Applications
We know that this one is not always doable, but if it is, it's a big one. People using transmissions for stressful applications that the OEM never cared about when they were originally designing them makes it very easy for them to fail. For example, heavy towing. Many transmissions in the truck market were not designed for trucks originally, but rather are slightly uparmored (and sometimes not even that) versions of passenger car transmissions. Because of this, it can be quite precarious to tow heavily with such dainty and inadequate transmissions such as a 68RFE or Aisin Seiki.
Another example of a stressful application would be repeated full throttle pulls or hard launching from low speeds. These put extraordinary stress on internal components of the transmission. Even if they don't break immediately, every boost launch, every freeway pull takes a certain amount of time off the end of the transmissions life. Much like smoking cigarettes, the degradation is slow but predictable.
Naturally, some people must use their vehicle for heavy towing, or large payload as a component of the vehicle's purpose. This is especially common in industrial, commercial and agricultural applications. In these cases, an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure.
Tip #4 - Keep your Torque Multiplication Factor (TMF) Down
If you've read our Drivetrain 101 on Torque Multiplication Factor and why it's so important, then it would be of no surprise that fighting a high torque multiplication factor can be intensely damaging to a factory transmission. Briefly, torque multiplication factor is a mathematically calculated number that you can multiply your torque by to determine the "applied" torque of your application.
This is especially critical in understanding the precise impact of things such as larger tires, a heavier vehicle vs. a lighter vehicle or adding power. Often do we understand that they impact the transmission's ability to survive, but seldom do we understand how much. Torque multiplication factor clarifies this for us, allowing us to accurately estimate how much transmission we need for our respective applications.
For example, let's say you calculate your TMF to be 1.5. You would need a transmission capable of at least 1.5x the factory power to have rational expectations of a long-lasting, healthy transmission. If you're unsure of how to calculate your TMF, explore our Drivetrain 101 article linked above. Knowing your TMF is a tremendously helpful way to avoid unnecessary damage to your transmission.
Tip #5 - Upgrade your Valve Body
Arguably the most impactful upgrade one can perform without removing the transmission from the truck is a valve body. The transmission valve body is the hydraulic valve system inside the transmission that sends oil to the converter, clutch packs and other critical components and is often the cause or origin of most transmission problems. Upgrading your valve body will result in many of the benefits of a built transmission, such as faster acceleration, quicker shifts, less crossleaks and extended transmission longevity. There are 2 primary ways to upgrade your valve body.
Firstly, one could install one of our best-selling Next Gen Drivetrain Bulletproof Kits™. For many transmissions, we offer our popular Bulletproof Kits™ as Do-It-Yourself style install kits that can be done at home without dropping the transmission. These kits are designed to be 100% drop-in and require no machining. All bulletproof kits are designed to implement all of the upgrades of our sought after built valve bodies, such as upgraded accumulation systems, steel valves, our laser cut crushing-style steel plates and more. They come in an easy do-at-home format for those who don't mind doing a bit of wrench turning.
For those who either do not desire to build their own valve bodies, or who would prefer the benefits of machining mating surfaces and physically upsizing valves, a complete bolt-in valve body may be more logical. Next Gen Drivetrain offers an expansive and diverse array of complete valve bodies designed to optimize for both reliability and performance. Our complete valve bodies are unique in that we do not sell our inventions to other transmission companies, making Next Gen Drivetrain the only place to procure one of our popular products.
Regardless of which path you choose, upgrading your valve body is integral in protecting the lifespan of your transmission. Further, if you have a Next Gen Drivetrain Bulletproof Kit™ and later need a transmission, we will accept the Bulletproof Kit back on trade-in at full price, making it effectively free to buy a Bulletproof Kit now, and build the transmission later. The same incentive exists for complete valve bodies, less a $299 to $499 refresh service depending on the valve body.
Broken transmissions are expensive, time consuming and difficult to repair. Although sometimes unavoidable, the best thing we can do is be cogent and responsible about the transmissions that we do have and employ the tips available in this article to our benefit. If you follow the tips in this Drivetrain 101, you will be far more likely to experience success with your factory transmission. Still have questions? Feel free to call in and speak to one of our friendly experts!