Moving Forward, an Automatic Isn't Just Automatic

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In a world of changing technology, we often underestimate the rate of change and fall behind in ways that have a negative impact on our lives and business. Service centers and shops today have to be able to provide service and fluid for three types of automatic transmissions, not just the traditional step automatic transmission we all grew up with.

Recent advances in vehicle technology have complicated what used to be simple and it is becoming a bigger problem. This is especially true for automatic transmissions.

Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVT)

The CVT is an automatic transmission that can change seamlessly through a continuous range of effective gear ratios with belts and sheaves to change the output drive ratio (like the drill press you used in high school shop).

The CVT transmission has gained popularity in passenger vehicles, especially in the growing eco-conscious hybrid segment. Just a few years ago, the CVT fluid specifications made it difficult to find aftermarket solutions, and obtaining the original equipment manufacturer fluid wasn’t an option for shops that weren’t geographically located within a reasonable distance from a dealership. Thankfully, these CVT fluids can be easily procured in the aftermarket today.

The Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT)

The DCT (aka the twin or double-clutch transmission) is actually a manual transmission that is electronically shifted (with an automatic mode). It uses two separate clutches for odd and even gear sets and has either a dry or wet clutch. DCT fluids are specific to the wet and dry clutch applications, which further complicates things, but we are now seeing more fluid options in the aftermarket. 

When these CVT/DCT transmissions started showing up several years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for a shop to assume it was an automatic transmission, so their regular service fluids would be appropriate. The problem is, these CVT and DCT fluids look like regular automatic transmission fluid. The drain and fill procedure is also the same for all three types of these transmissions. If one has not yet seen these types of transmissions, it could be very difficult to tell them apart.

Training for technicians is imperative on these newer technologies like CVT and DCT. It is important to know what differentiates these transmissions and their fluids. Being proactive and not giving in to the belief that it will be several years before we start to see these types of transmissions requiring service is essential in preventing costly mistakes.

There is no reason to turn away CVT and DCT transmission business because of unwillingness to stock the required fluids or being unsure of the newer technology. With training and the proper fluids, safely servicing all three types of automatic transmissions is possible. Remember, the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act protects your right to service with equivalent fluids.

Servicing these newer types of transmissions is no different than servicing the step automatics we are all familiar with, as long as the proper fluid is used. The first step for any technician or service writer is to find out what type of automatic transmission they are dealing with. Once the proper transmission type is established, the service can move forward with the proper fluid.

These types of transmissions are here to stay, and service centers and lube shops will continue to see the proliferation of these new technologies as the need for fuel efficiency and lighter vehicles increases. Keeping abreast with new technology and fluid requirements will keep your technicians working smarter and will help increase your business.  

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