CarTalk.com Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

How long can an Automatic last

Lets assume you have a non-performance car… Its not a trans with a known issues (IE Honda Odyssey)…You do a pan drop every 30-40,000 miles… Dont beat on it (no hard launching, not towing a heavy load, not plowing, etc)… Lets also assume the car is NOT driven all highway miles, and is used often around town/stop and go. How long can an automatic really last ??

From what I have seem, many Automatics give out around 100-150,000 miles… I also know that in many of these cases the trans has not been serviced reguarly and that this makes a HUGE differance.

So what is the typical life span of an Automatic? Just wondering what y’alls thoughts were…

With the care you describe 300k should be common. Some less, some more.

+1 on it lasting certainly for way over 200K.
I’ve only had one automatic with issues - the others lasted the life of the car except for a Volvo that had different problem

I’m actually in the process of replacing the automatic transmission of that one car now. My son decided to 'punch it to get past this texting soccer mom" and his Subaru didn’t agree with him.
That job is a pain to do without a car lift, btw.

Most of my cars get around 300k miles and more put on them and I’ve only suffered one transmission failure in my entire life. That was on an '87 Mercury Sable at about the 130k miles mark. The car had been purchased used and the maintenance history was very sketchy so I do not know if that contributed to the failure or not but odds are that it did not.

A friend of mine who is a transmission only guy with near 40 years of experience says that automatics are very reliable, especially considering the varieties and high-techiness, and most failures are related to lack of maintenance.

Because I was driving all over the state and in the winter, I had my Riviera trans overhauled at 300K just in case. The guy said it really didn’t look that bad. I had my 74 Cutlass trans overhauled at the dealer and they appologized that it only had 80K on the odometer. I said no thats 180K. So I would guess 200K is a good figure but with care should be able to get more than that.

I’ve never experienced a transmission failure on any of the automatics I’ve driven, but I never owned a car as long or with as many miles as the car I drive now, and it has a manual transmission.

It is important to note, however, that many of today’s new automatics come with “lifetime” transmission fluid. You can’t easily change the fluid, or even check it. I’d definitely steer clear of those cars unless you don’t plan to keep the car very long.

My gf’s Honda Passport has about 245K on it and the transmission has never been rebuilt. As far as I know, the fluid has been changed maybe once. The rest of the vehicle is falling apart fast, and the frame is rusted out, but the drivetrain is in good shape. She does not beat on it, but it was used as a pizza delivery vehicle for some years. BTW, this is a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo and the transmission is actually made by General Motors.

I am hoping better than 100k miles and getting at least 150k out of my Acura MDX(@92k) :slight_smile:

Back in the mid 1960s, the automatic transmissions may have been more durable than the three speed, column shift, manual transmissions available on cars. I had a snap ring break on a manual transmission Rambler that I owned that caused a synchronizer, the main shaft and the main drive gear to be damaged. The independent mechanic who rebuilt the transmission advised me to get an automatic in my next car. He said that these transmissions were designed for the cars of the late 1930s and 1940s. I had a friend that had a 1957 Ford with the 3 speed manual transmission. He had owned manual transmisisons in his previous cars and had no problems. He also drove taxicabs in Chicago in the late 1940s and early 1950s when taxicabs had manual transmissions. He encountered no transmission problems with the Checker cabs that he drove. I had owned manual transmissions in my cars before the Rambler, and had never had a problem. The common wisdom was in purchasing a manual transmission to get the heavy duty 4 speed manual with the floor shift for durability.

I’ve never had an auto transmission fail and need to be replaced on one of my cars. One of my sales reps had a defective Chrysler transmission that tryed to engage two gears and once and one gear won while the other broke and trashed the tranny. It was replaced under the new car warranty, and was a common problem as this was a new "electronic transmission circa 1990.

I haven’t had many cars with auto transmissions much beyond 150K miles. I suspect the newer auto transmission have more gears and are more complex and use lighter weight materials the previous generations of auto transmissions. Perhaps they don’t have the durability either.

I do believe in regular fluid changes with new filters. And I don’t care for “flushing” as offered by many quickie lube facilities. I’m hoping to get 200 to 300K out of a couple of my current auto transmissions since I’ve basically got to keep these car going a long time

It’s a rare automatic that ever sees 300K miles…Most start getting lazy by 150K miles…The CVT tranny’s are lucky to see 100K…FWD vehicles don’t hold up as well as RWD…

65 vehicles within 150 miles of me with automatics and more than 250k miles, 16 more than 300k. About 2/3 are pickups. No idea how many had tranny work (cars.com).

Maintenance, how you use them and who built the trans to begin with are factors. And by the way, I agree with Caddyman. Fwd cars seem more prone to transmission problems IMO. Get a car with a good reliability record in this area to begin with is always a good start.

Root for EV drive motors which can make transmission problems a thing of the past. IMO, CVTs have the potential of having fewer problems and if engineered correctly, cost less during their life time to maintain. They don’t seem read for prime time for HD users.

@dagosa–“Maintenance, how you use them and who built the trans to begin with are factors”.
Good point, particularly in who built the transmission. The 1955 Buick Dynaflow automatic transmission was particularly troublesome. The Turboglide that Chevrolet introduced in 1957 did not hold up well and many dealers advised purchasers to stick with the lower cost Powerglide automatic transmission. The General Motors Hydramatic transmission that was first used on the 1940 Oldsmobile was really very durable and the Hydramatic was even used in military tanks during WW II. By the early 1950s, the Hydramatic was used not only in the GM Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Cadillac, but GM supplied the automatic transmissions to Nash, Kaiser/Frazer, and Hudson. In fact, Ford offered the Hydramatic in the Lincoln begining in the mid 1949 model year. The Lincoln continued using the GM Hydramatic at least as late as 1954. Ford didn’t think its own automatic transmission developed for the Ford and Mercury lines for the 1951 model was rugged enough for the Lincoln.

The Hydromatic of the 1950’s was two Powerglides Siamesed together…(not exactly) This produced a 4-speed automatic with a very low first gear and a neck-snapping, tire chirping shift into second…People loved them…They were expensive to make and, alas the Hydomatic factory burned down in 1953.

http://history.gmheritagecenter.com/wiki/index.php/Biggest_Industrial_Fire_in_History

@Caddyman The PowerGlide and the Buick Dynaflow represented one school of thought–the torque multiplication took place in the torque converter. The Dynaflow and the Powerglide until 1953 did not shift unless one manually selected the low range. In 1953, the PowerGlide was revised so that it did start in the low range and then shift to direct when the selector was in “Drive”. The Hydramatic depended on gears and there was no torque converter. Instead, a fluid coupling was used which did not multiply the torque. The Hydramatic plant did burn in 1953, but GM leased or bought a Kaiser/Frazer assembly plant in Willow Run and resumed operations really pretty quickly. It wasn’t until 1961 that GM cheapened the Hydramatic and reduced it to a three speed unit for many of the models. The more expensive models retained the four speed Hydramatic. The newly designed transmission for 1961 had three speeds and a torque converter and was called the “slim jim”. This transmission was not as durable as the original Hydramatic.

One more point on the GM Hydramatic. There was a company that beefed up the transmission for hot rod applications. This company was B & W and the transmission was known as the Hydrostick. With the same engine and differential gearing, very few manual transmissions could keep up with the Hydrostick.

The only automatic tranny problem I’ve ever had was on my '64 Fairlane. The vacuum modulator diaphragm ruptured and the engine started sucking in tranny fluid. Man. does that stuff make a huge cloud when it burns!

Huh, you mean I had a 4 speed hydramatic in my 59 Pontiac? I just can’t remember-know it was at least three. Never had any problem with it except had to adjust the shift rods to get the right and smoother shift points.

@Bing–yes, your 1959 Pontiac had a 4 speed hydramatic. There were two “Drive” positions. One position allowed the car to go through speeds 1 to 3, the other allowed it to go through speeds 1 to 4. These were great transmissions. With that 389 V-8 in your Pontiac, along with the 4 speed automatic, you could not only out-accelerate anyone else on the road, but with the wide-track, the superior handling would let you leave everyone else on the road in the dust on curves.