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Automatic Transmissions - Cutaway

Automatic Transmissions – customer complaints

Automatic Transmissions – are they all useless?

I recently purchased a 2006 Volvo 2T automatic. It left the showroom floor and the next day the transmission service light came on. I was really pissed off – the dealer is closed until the 11th January and only then will they look at it. It doesn’t pay to be a pessimist unless one looks at the forums. How many times have you looked through the pages and pages on the internet about your next best buy only to find out when it does fail they have a significantly larger amount of pages warning you off the vehicle. I’m not that cynical – the Volvo S60 from 2004 is reported to be a great vehicle, especially for the amount one pays (lesser than their German equivalents, maybe stupid thinking!). Keep        $5 000 aside for any major hiccups but you still have a good vehicle. (do not under any circumstances purchase this car because you can get it a cheap price and brag to your neighbours – it will bite your hand and your butt, maybe simultaneously).

So when one skips from Volvo to Mercedes to BMW and to Audi they have all had their fair share of issues. All gearbox related. The Europeans seem to be great in building strong engines but not auto trannies. Well this one is an Aisin and it’s Japanese. The Volvos which do give trannie problems are the early models with GM boxes. How ironic. From the land of the auto trannie. Living in South Africa there is a scarcity of automatic transmission experts which makes me wonder. But then again until ten years back everyone drove manual. Looking at this lucrative market I know what I am going to do in my second lifetime.

All Automatic Transmissions

This article is not about your Volvo transmission but about all auto transmissions. My uncle drove a Ford for most of his life, a vehicle which had an automatic gearbox and was used for towing. Over 500 000 miles and two cars later he never had one breakdown. How many countries see the Toyota Camry as the ideal taxi and they are mostly automatic. (note that they may use a completely different model box).  Japanese Aisin Warner gearbox. 200 to 300 000 miles without a sniff or fart.

Automatic Transmissions - Cutaway
Lexus A/T
(“Automatic transmission cut” by Silverxxx (talk) 04:33, 1 March 2009 (UTC) – :File:Lexus IS F 07.JPG. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –

Automatic Transmissions – what about 2020?

One needs to come into this with an open mind. We do not know how good the double clutch and CVT systems will be in ten years time. What we do know is that if you don’t do the maintenance which includes flushing the ATF every 30 000 miles, whether the ***fluid is good or not is going to cost you. Most of the reading I do is from the North American fraternity, they know their gearboxes. I’m an electronics geek and know very little about any gearbox suffice to say that a silicon chip in the right environment will outlast any gearbox or rather any mechanical thing. They will not if the supply is too high or the load too heavy or as analogue output, without proper heat dissipation. Sound familiar – The automatic transmission is not designed for heavy continuous loads unless the fluid can be cooled down sufficiently, it’s not ideal to pull heavy loads without near 100% coupling efficiency (near impossible) and if you do decide to remap your configuration understand that this comes with transmission issues. I read about remapping all the time but very little about gearbox issues. We are quick to blame the manufacturers when the gearbox fails but one look at the torn seats, the broken engine mounts, the blistering paintwork tells the repair guy another story. But this is not always the full story is it. We have all seen some pretty shoddy servicing in our time, the motor industry is possibly the worst. Thankfully we do have Beamer forums, Volvo forums and Audi, Mercedes, Saab and whatever else. We can vent, rage and throw a beer-can at the wall but sadly, many dealerships don’t give a sh*t.

***ATF – fluid and so called sealed gearbox warrantees may sound synonymous with computer memory. In a gearbox it is the lifetime of the warranty (fill for life) which may be three years. Computer memory changes with architecture so while the memory is manufactured you will get a replacement, in many cases up to five years. This may sound like trivia but catch the marketing hype. That word “lifetime” is a real eye-catcher.

In South Africa, Renault, Citroen and Peugeot get a bad rap. I have always been told to get a car with a full pedigree and watch out for the French vehicles. I purchased an X-Trail and the Nissan dealer damaged the engine. It had a full history – from this dealership. Were they concerned? Even after telling me that the steel cam chain was stretched and was causing surging (absolutely impossible) – the fault checks told them so, the vehicle was still standing with them when I got a call from the Nissan National Archive of IQ Specialists to find out how my service went?  Of course, the car was in and out so many times over a month that nobody knew whether it was in or out. I took it to a third party company whom repaired it. How the f**k after 145 000 km could the engine be so totally worn that it had to be rebuilt. There was a recall on these vehicles wasn’t there? It had a full service history, stamped by the very same dealer that put the engine into a coffin.

No, at parts-ring the best thing one can do is advertise the service company that did their best, went out of their way and applied what we know as “passion” into the subject matter. There are many clowns out there wanting to milk the system and sadly many of them are getting away with it. I am in the service industry and the one thing that pisses me off more than shoddy workmanship is when the technical “guru” is more adamant in putting his point across that the user damaged his system, camera, computer, TV whatever when in actual fact the manufacturer would be prepared to have assisted them (the user) in the first place. Here I am talking about clash of egos. Does Volvo want a bad name? Does Nissan, does Toyota, does Mercedes? I have sat in this space time and time again seeing how the manufacturer would have been prepared to assist if it wasn’t for the mind boggling antics of some monkey who had a fall out with the end-user. Yes, in many cases end-users are to blame but in many instances, let us not forget the best form of defence is attack – the end user is expecting resistance. In the motor industry, dealerships may have a hard time with certain irate and obstinate customers but I am sure a tactful stance can diffuse a lot of probable issues which may arise later on. No, let me rephrase this – stop blaming the freaking end-user.

Very important 🙂  How many times has their been a complaint lodged at the manufacturer when they know nothing about the problem in the first place. The dealer takes it upon themselves to be judge, jury and executioner. I’m not thumb-sucking here – this happens.

The Messiah, the OBDII tester. Please read here – OBD Tester in the hands of incompetence.. So here you arrive to pick up your immaculate vehicle which went in to have a minor service. Suddenly every failure conceivable to the electronics engineer that devised your vehicle electronics is displayed to all and sundry. Instead of having just a plug change the mechanic now must unfortunately change the torque-converter, the cam belt and the driver’s seat.  Sound familiar.  That’s correct, that funny looking device with a LCD screen has now taken over and is in full control of your car and your wallet. Sure, the electronics of your car is getting more sophisticated, sure your check-points and sensors have become more complex and sure these units are accurate but like a Boeing 747, if you don’t know and understand the instrumentation you don’t fly it. Ask that mechanic to show you his credentials. I did that once and after a lot of mayhem the head service “gentleman” popped out of his office (must be a panic alarm somewhere) and stated that he oversees everything that was done in the workshop. Ah-ha, and there you have it. You are the guinea pig, he is the doctor. The mechanics, unqualified, are charging you full rate while they learn. Does this ring a bell?

In every forum one will read that once a vehicle is out of warranty do not take it to the official dealer. In my near 60 years on planet on earth this is the case. Word quickly gets out whom the real gurus are and where the cowboys operate from.

I am fortunate, Cape Town where I reside has two well-rated out of warranty service centers for Volvo. Swedespeed (non-association) in Montague Gardens is highly rated and listed on the Volvo forums locally. I’ve done my due diligence but I haven’t used them. Now you do yours.  Before buying a non-mainstream (meaning Golfs, Polo etc) used vehicle do find out who will be able to assist when things go wrong.

One last thing before I say adieus amigo: Most servicing platforms do not do gearboxes, this is seen as specialistic. Best to get the servicing personnel to do the test and then they make a refer. Be friends.  But pay on time to remain fiends – they run a business! 😉 – The automatic transmissions industry is fast growing worldwide with manumatics, paddle shifting and double clutches.

Life sucks but Uber rules.

Please make a comment – who is your favourite auto repair company and who is the best value for money auto trans expert. Give your country and region please.

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