How to Maximize Automatic Transmission Performance

Three on the tree. Four on the floor.

The transmission has contributed much to our rich automotive vernacular. With few exceptions, however, the days of manually shifting are gone. Most cars and trucks come standard with automatic transmissions. Many sports cars, long the safe haven for manual-transmission purists, have even ditched sticks for paddle shifters. A flick of your finger has replaced the satisfying feeling of letting off the gas, depressing the clutch pedal and engaging the shifter in perfect harmony.

More gears equals better fuel economy

Though they may not deliver the visceral connection to your vehicle like a manual transmission, automatics’ increased gears and computerized controls, which shift more optimally than all but the most skilled drivers, do increase fuel efficiency by allowing the engine to spend more time in the “sweet spot.” The “sweet spot” is simply the engine speed, measured in rpm, at which the engine uses the least fuel. For most passenger cars and trucks, it’s between 1,500-2,000 rpm. Adding more gears reduces the amount of time the engine spends at higher or lower rpm.

And automakers love anything that increases fuel efficiency, helping them meet strict corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) requirements. The 2016 Jeep Cherokee comes with a nine-speed gearbox, while Ford and GM developed a 10-speed transmission, which will make its first appearance in the 2017 Camaro.

What does this new technology mean for you?

Taking care of your transmission has become more important, especially if you tow a boat, camper or trailer. The mind-boggling array of gears, clutch packs and fluid passages in modern transmissions require clean high-quality fluid to operate as designed.

“The fluid doesn’t just lubricate, it acts as a hydraulic fluid to enable shifting,” said Matt Erickson, AMSOIL Product Manager – Passenger Car. “Fluids that oxidize can result in damaging sludge that clogs fluid passages and results in poor performance. Transmission fluid is exposed to high levels of shearing as it’s forced between gear teeth. This can quickly break down a low-quality fluid, causing viscosity loss and reduced wear protection.”

Heat is enemy number-one for automatic transmissions. It can lead to sludge and thin out the fluid. Not only does this reduce shifting performance, it can also cause accelerated wear and end up costing you thousands of dollars in repairs, making it vital to use a transmission fluid that resists extreme heat.

“Also keep in mind that today’s ‘fill for life’ transmissions, where the original equipment manufacturer doesn’t recommend fluid changes, are actually ‘fill for the life of the warranty,’” said Erickson. “Be sure to change your fluid once in a while to keep your transmission in good shape well past the warranty.”

We formulated Signature Series Synthetic Automatic Transmission Fluid to deliver superior wear protection and reserve protection against heat. Take a look at these images of a transmission from a taxi cab that operated in the searing Las Vegas heat. After more than 180,000 miles, the ring gear contains only trace wear, while the valve body, which directs fluid for actuating the clutch packs used in shifting, is virtually sludge-free.

As anyone who’s had transmission work done knows, a repair bill can easily run you more than $1,000. Invest a little now by servicing your transmission with a high-quality synthetic fluid to help keep your vehicle performing like new and potentially save thousands down the road.


  1. My transmission longevity trifecta is an auxiliary cooler, a Magnefine inline magnetic filter, and most importantly the appropriate variety of AMSOIL 100% synthetic ATF. Keep it cool and keep it clean. The cooler and the filter are obvious in what they do but the AMSOIL synthetic fluid does both – it promotes cooler operation and cleanliness. And if the heat does get turned up on the fluid it resists it well.

  2. This is some great information. I’ll definitely look into getting it into a mechanic to have the transmission inspected. Thank you for sharing this.

Leave a Reply