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Does spinning wheels in snow damage the automatic transmission?

And if so (assuming everything seems to be running well for now, at least), should the transmission fluid be changed ASAP, to prevent even further damage?


  • edited January 2009
    It is unclear how much spinning you are talking about. Rocking the car to get out of the snow has never caused me any transmission damage, but you should look at the trans fluid, any color other than normal is the first sign you need a fluid change, if not service.
  • edited January 2009
    Not just spinning the tires in snow will damage the tranny. But if you get stuck in snow, and use the tranny to rock the vehicle back and forth, that can cause overheating of the tranny.

  • edited January 2009
    Also, if you're rocking yourself out, you need to make sure you press the brakes before shifting so you're not slamming it into reverse while the wheels are spinning forward or vice versa.
  • edited January 2009
    Thanks for that, over looking the obvious to me!
  • edited January 2009

    For a long time maybe but the spinning is usually causing the differential to work harder. If you did it back and forth for four minutes, you are OK. Your car too.
  • edited January 2009
    Ok, this is more complex than I thought, so I'll describe exactly what happened. The car is a 2006 Subaru Outback AWD. With good traction, most of the power goes to the front, but the transmission will also send power to the rear as needed. I was turning around in a parking lot, and got stuck (wheels spinning) in an area where the snow was a little deeper. I gave it a lot of gas (whech reved the engine) and was free within seconds. Total time for everything was well under a minute, and I never tried rocking the car. But just after freeing the car, I noticed a slight burning smell. Today, the car is driving fine, as if nothing happened.
  • edited January 2009
    A Word Of Caution: As We Always Say, Look In The Owner's Manual.

    Cars have differentials that allow the drive wheels to spin at different rates to prevent the tires from scuffing, especially while turning. Also, they equal out the torque delivered to both drive wheels. So if you have one wheel spinning on ice / snow, the other one that is not stuck doesn't have the torque to move the car, and there you are, stuck in one place.

    Most regular 2-wheel drive cars have this type of differential that lets one wheel spin if it's on ice or in the air. The problem here is that the speed of the ring gear in the differential is the "average" speed of the two drive wheels or axles.
    So if the gripping wheel doesn't turn and the non-gripping wheel just slips and spins, it can turn at twice the speed indicated by the car's speedometer. When the speedometer says 60 mph, for example, one wheel may be turning at the incredible speed of 120 mph! That's just at an indicated 60.

    That 120 mph exceeds the speed of even some "speed rated" tires, such as "S" and "T" rated tires. Many tires are not speed rated and often recommend a maximum speed of only 85 mph!

    This high speed is bad for the car and can explode a perfectly good tire. My car's manual warns not to exceed an indicated 35 mph while stuck or you can explode a tire or damage the transaxle.

    Many people carry sand or kitty litter in the winter to help get traction when stuck.

    This whole warning about excessive spinning that I've written may not apply to this AWD Outback. Cars with limited slip or locking differentials can be an exception. The owner even says that his car can send more torque to different wheels when needed. Maybe somebody can explain how this Subaru works. Maybe somebody can check their manual and tell us what it says.

    The best thing the owners can do is to read the Owner's Manuals. They usually cover situations that pose a danger to the vehicle and its human friends.

  • edited January 2009

    Hmmm...If you are spinning your tires in an Outback, then I am going to guess that this is one of the Subarus that came from the factory with Bridgestone RE-92 tires. If I am correct about your car being equippe with those tires, I can tell you that those tires are essentially USELESS on slippery winter surfaces, and this is just a sample of what you can expect from those dangerous tires in winter conditions.

    Even if you don't want to go as far as I do by mounting a set of Michelin X-Ice winter tires for the colder months, I would advise you to get rid of those RE-92s a.s.a.p. Think about it--if they were spinning at low speed in snow, imagine how they will perform when you hit a patch of black ice at 45 mph. Subaru should be ashamed of itself for equipping most of its cars with those crappy tires, as even an AWD vehicle needs decent tire grip if it is to transmit power properly to the tires.

    All of this being said, since the incident took "well under a minute", it is very unlikely that any damage took place. Prolonged spinning of the tires can lead to overheating the transmission fluid, but that was not likely in such a short amount of time. Additionally, Subarus have a warning light on the dashboard to warn you of overheated transmission fluid. If that light did not illuminate, then it is fairly clear that you did not overheat the trans fluid. However, just to be on the safe side, I would advise that you check the trans fluid for both the presence of a burned smell and/or a brownish color rather than the normal pinkish-red color. (Consult your Owner's Manual for information on how to check the fluid)

    Now, do yourself a HUGE favor and get rid of those Bridgestone RE-92 tires before you have problems more significant than spinning your tires in a parking lot. If you don't want to invest in winter tires, at least get a set of all-seasons that will handle slippery conditions properly. I recommend the Goodyear Triple-Tread tires, or if you want to spend a bit less money, the B.F. Goodrich Touring T/A tire (sold at Costco!) is a good value and is infinitely superior to the RE-92s in every way.

  • edited January 2009
    VDC Driver, What Does A Subaru AWD Owner's Manual Say About Spinning?

    I don't have a Subaru Dealer within 100 miles of here and I never even see these cars.

    Did you read my post (below) about spinning and wheel / axle speed ? What happens with this Subaru AWD set-up ?

    Also, I don't care how many wheels are driving, if you ride up on deep snow like we get frequently here (every other day, lately, today not withstanding), and all your wheels leave the ground, you're stuck!
  • edited January 2009

    Growing up and learning how to drive in one of the snowiest (if not THEE snowiest) areas of the country I've NEVER seen or heard of a tranny being destroyed because of wheels spinning in the snow. But then again people there KNEW how to drive in the snow...When tires start spinning....back off on the pedal...The spinning means your NOT getting traction. Slower moving tires will get better traction.
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