Why selection of the appropriate ATF is essential

Automatic transmission fluids (ATF) are complex lubricants that perform a variety of functions in today's engines.


“Vehicle manufacturers are working harder than ever to increase efficiency while continuing to meet consumer demands,” he says. “In the coming years, ATFs will have even more demand put on them with new fuel-efficiency CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) requirements coming into law. Systems will need to be even more efficient to meet these stringent new fuel mileage requirements.”

Correct type

It might be laborious to search through the various varieties of ATFs, but it is essential to always use the correct type for the correct motor. Many manufacturers have their own specifications for the transmissions in their vehicles. Using an ATF not specified by the manufacturer can cause problems like wear in the transmission and erratic shifting, as well as have a negative impact on fuel efficiency if the viscosity of the oil is not correct.

“The viscosity alone can be an issue by itself,” Rober of Schaeffer Specialized Lubricants says. “Mix in the chemistry and the wrong fluid, or a fluid that is not specified as a replacement, can cause complete failure.”

“The type of transmission fluid can impact both the life and performance level of the transmission,” Betner adds.

“The best thing vehicle owners can do is make sure the transmission fluid they are using meets the specification required by the OEM,” AMSOIL’s Newman says. “The specification can usually be found in the vehicle owner’s manual.

“These specifications are created using the tolerances and designs of their transmissions in order to make sure that a transmission fluid can properly protect them. Since fluids are designed to work with specific transmissions, the owner risks problems by using a fluid that doesn’t meet the specification they need. “

“Each manufacturer seems to think they know best the type of fluid that will do the job, and, therefore we are seeing an even more diverse branding and chemical makeup of these fluids,” says Rober. “The trend is toward lighter fluids, mainly for better flow and fuel economy.”

Service intervals

Not only is it vital to use the ATF recommended by the manufacturer, it is also important to have a proper maintenance schedule and follow each vehicle’s specified intervals for lubricant servicing. Changing the fluid at the correct intervals can significantly increase the lifespan of the transmission.

“Drain intervals are important for several reasons,” Newman of AMSOIL says. “First of all, the OEM’s recommended intervals are based on the designs of their transmissions. New fluid will help replenish the additive package, increasing transmission life. Old dirty fluid can lead to lack of protection, increased wear, and transmission failures.”

“The stress placed by newer more complex transmissions more than ever stress the fluids and they should be changed or sampled to assure maximum performance and life for modern transmissions,” says Schaeffer’s Rober.

“The manufacturer knows the specifications and lubrication requirements of the transmission,” says Betner of CITGO. “These facts are matched with operating conditions, transmissions and general lubricant specs. In some cases, higher performance lubricants, such as synthetics, can extend the service life while optimizing transmission life.”

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