7 Ways to Ruin Your Automatic Transmission Car

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Owning an automatic transmission car makes gear shifting easier, but to maintain its longevity and keep repairs minimal (which are pricier than manual repairs), you need to steer clear of these costly mistakes.

Keeping the Gas Tank Nearly Empty


While fuel costs can make filling up your tank regularly a financial challenge, running on a nearly empty tank can lead to bigger problems for your transmission. Don’t starve your gas tank—automatic transmissions rely on fluid pressure to operate effectively, and a low fuel level means less pressure and potential transmission issues. 

While it might seem economical to use every last drop of gas, the inaccuracy of fuel gauges and the risk of running completely dry—which could lead to costly towing and repair bills—should encourage more frequent refills.

Remaining in Drive When Parked

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It’s standard practice to put your car in park and remove your feet from the pedals when you’re stationary, say in a parking lot or driveway. This is good for both your transmission and comfort, particularly if you’re staying put for a while. 

However, there might be times (like waiting for a friend) when you keep the car in park with the brake engaged. Leaving your car in drive while parked keeps the engine active and, over long periods, can lead to overheating. This raises the risk of abrupt engine failure. Always shift to park during stops to ensure your engine and transmission get the rest they need.

Shifting into Park Before Stopping The Car


It’s a common mistake to unknowingly shift into Park while the car is still in motion, but doing so can cause significant mechanical issues. 

In automatic cars, shifting to Park inserts a locking pin into a gear connected to the output shaft, which is also linked to the wheels. If you shift into Park before the car stops, you risk snapping this locking pin due to the continued movement, potentially leading to expensive gearbox repairs.

Letting Water in Your Transmission


Water entering the transmission is a serious issue. Once water mixes with the transmission fluid, it can initiate rust, cause the clutch’s adhesive to deteriorate, and release harmful vapors. Starting the car draws this contaminated fluid up, worsening the damage even more. 

If water contamination goes unchecked, it can almost completely destroy the transmission, potentially leaving you stranded. In case of this horrifying scenario, you need to address any water intrusion as quickly as possible to avoid extensive damage and ensure the longevity of your vehicle’s transmission.

Shifting Gears While Moving


Normally, you’d only change gears in an automatic transmission when you’re parking, driving forward, or reversing—essentially very distinct actions. Theoretically, there’s no need to switch gears unless the car is completely stopped, but some might be tempted to change gears on the move, like quickly shifting to park while rushing into a spot or coasting in neutral downhill. In automatic vehicles, adequate fuel is vital for running the car and keeping the engine and other components cool and lubricated. 

Regularly running low on fuel can accelerate wear and tear on these parts, leading to more frequent and costly maintenance.This can be seriously harmful to your vehicle without you even realizing it. Automatic transmissions are not built for on-the-move shifts, making such actions risky and damaging, akin to forcing a square peg into a round hole.

Flooring the Gas Pedal


The urge to floor the gas pedal, or “launch” the car, might strike as soon as you get behind the wheel, but launching your car from a stop poses serious risks to your safety and to your car’s transmission. 

When you floor it from a standstill, you impose a severe strain on the transmission belt immediately. This is particularly harmful in cold weather, where the rapid revving can damage the engine’s cold metal before it properly warms up and circulates fuel. After all, is there really any destination worth hurrying to if it means damaging your precious vehicle?

Shifting to Neutral at Stops

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It’s a common misconception that shifting to neutral while stopped (like at a traffic light) saves gas. In automatic transmissions, the neutral gear is essentially redundant, primarily there as a safety measure for scenarios where the brakes and gas fail to respond. 

Staying in drive is usually sufficient and recommended. Shifting to neutral fails to save fuel and also adds unnecessary strain on the transmission. Moreover, if you accidentally hit the gas while in neutral, your car won’t move as expected, which can be dangerous in traffic or at busy intersections. It’s best to leave habits from manual driving behind and adapt to the nuances of an automatic transmission.

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Kate Smith, a self-proclaimed word nerd who relishes the power of language to inform, entertain, and inspire. Kate's passion for sharing knowledge and sparking meaningful conversations fuels her every word.