Survive the Cold: Taking Care of Your Transmission in Winter Weather

When the temperature tanks, it's time to take steps to keep your transmission safe.

AAMCO  | 01/06/2023
Vehicle Maintenance

Rear view from the car of a young man driving on a snowy winter day.

Originally published on 12/30/2022
Updated on 01/06/2023

As the winter weather arrives, it's time to start thinking about how to keep your vehicle running smoothly as temperatures fall. Cold air, ice, snow, and road salt can all affect your vehicle’s vital parts.

Why Winter Is Rough on Transmissions

The transmission is an essential part of any vehicle, as it helps to convert the engine's power output into usable torque and speed. 

It allows your car or truck to move quickly and efficiently by changing gears, which modulates the torque and speed used. This is why transmissions are crucial for vehicle operation—they allow your vehicle to run smoothly and efficiently regardless of the speed or terrain you're driving.

However, winter weather can be brutal on all vehicle parts—especially transmissions, as the cold temperatures and slushy road conditions can cause extra wear and tear. Cold temperatures also make all oils, including your transmission fluid, thicker and less effective at lubricating your transmission's moving parts, leading to increased friction and wear. 

Your transmission should be looked at if you notice any of these warning signs of trouble:

  • Delayed response when shifting gears: If your vehicle is suddenly slow to change gears or there's a noticeable delay between when you shift out of park into drive or reverse and when the gear changes, it could indicate something is wrong.
  • Slipping gears: Slipping means that your transmission’s clutches and other internal parts aren't properly engaging fully, which, if left unchecked, can cause serious damage and ultimately complete failure.  
  • Noises coming from the engine or transmission: Clunks, whirs, grinding noises, or the engine sounding like it is revving abnormally high suggest that something within the transmission is not functioning correctly.
  • Leaks and smells: If you notice fluids underneath your vehicle or if you smell oil burning, it could indicate that your transmission is leaking, which is the leading cause of transmission failure.

If you allow your transmission to suffer in winter weather, you may find yourself with a costly repair bill and a vehicle that won't move. Even if you keep your vehicle in a garage, cold temperatures and harsh conditions can still cause lasting damage to your transmission if you're not proactive in caring for it.

Tips for Taking Care of Your Transmission in Winter Weather

The holidays are for giving gifts—not spending money on repairs! To keep your transmission healthy during winter, follow these tips:

1. Give Your Transmission Routine Check-Ups

One of the most important steps you can take to avoid transmission problems is to have it looked at by a professional. A trained transmission expert can inspect your transmission, look for any signs of leaks, wear or damage, and check the condition of your fluid levels.

During an inspection, your technician will look at various components, including the filters and fluid levels. They will also check the rest of the drivetrain including the differential, which can help prevent any potential problems.

2. Check and Change Your Transmission Fluid Regularly

Your transmission needs to stay lubricated to work efficiently and last longer by having good quality transmission fluid at the proper level. Check your owner’s manual to find recommendations for fluid change intervals specific to your vehicle’s make and model to ensure your transmission is adequately lubricated and at an optimum temperature.

Cold temperatures won't freeze your transmission fluid, which is designed to remain liquid and functional even at low temperatures. However, if a seal or gasket hardens and fails, you will lose valuable transmission fluid, which will cause serious damage quickly, even leading to failure. To avoid any issues with your transmission, have a trusted technician inspect the gaskets and seals.

3. Avoid Hard Stops and Quick Starts

We get it—the colder it is, the less time you want to get from A to Z. But hard stops and quick starts can put unnecessary strain on your vehicle—especially your transmission—causing it to wear out faster and break down sooner. 

To keep your transmission healthy and performing safely, take it easy when accelerating and braking so you don't strain the transmission unnecessarily. Instead, give yourself plenty of time when traveling and allow for smoother starts and stops. Taking it easy on your transmission can extend its life and avoid unnecessary wear and tear.

4. Avoid Driving Through Water or Allowing Snow To Pile Up

Driving through deep water too quickly can splash water high under the vehicle and may allow liquid to enter into your transmission through vent hoses and dipstick locations, which can lead to failure and costly repairs. To keep your vehicle in top condition, avoid driving through deep water if possible, and drive slowly and carefully as you navigate bad weather.

You should also be careful when parking to avoid any snow or ice build-up on the underside of your vehicle, as this can cause your vehicle to become stuck.  Instead, park in a dry, covered spot when possible. If you do become stuck, avoid spinning your tires or rocking your vehicle as much as possible, as these actions can damage your engine, transmission, other drivetrain components, and your wheels and tires. 

Handle Your Winter Transmission Care with a Certified Technician

The winter months can quickly go from a snowy wonderland to an icy nightmare if your vehicle isn't ready. To avoid unnecessary wear and tear or repairs on your vehicle, check the condition of your transmission and keep up with regular maintenance.

If you are unsure of how to best care for your transmission during the winter months, an AAMCO-certified technician can help. They will be able to inspect your vehicle and provide you with personalized advice to ensure your vehicle is always in top condition.

By taking the time to properly care for your transmission during the winter, you can avoid costly repairs and extend its life for years to come. So, rather than deal with unexpected transmission repairs, relax knowing your vehicle is ready to brave the cold winter months.

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