Most people don’t know very much about vehicle transmissions, and realistically, why should they? All you want to do is get in your car and drive, and feel assured that you can get from Point A to Point B safely.
Having said that, you should be able to recognize the signs that indicate your transmission may be about to fail. The most obvious sign is that your Transmission Temperature Light has come on. And what does that mean? Simply this – your transmission is overheating. And heat is, without a doubt, the worst enemy of your car’s transmission. In fact, heat is responsible for more transmission failures than anything else.
Here are some facts to know about Transmission Temperatures:
The ideal temperature for your transmission is 200 degrees. For every 20 degrees past 200, the lifespan of your transmission is reduced by a factor of 2. In other words, if you hit 220 degrees, you can expect to get about half the normal life out of your transmission. At 240 degrees, your transmission will last about 1/4 the time that it should. And if you get up to 260 degrees, you are down to 1/8 the normal life.
Hot transmissions give off an odor. Ideally, if your transmission overheats, your Transmission Temperature Light will come on. But keep in mind that warning lights are not infallible, so if you smell something out of the ordinarily (usually a sweet odor), pull over. You need to let your transmission cool down.
Checking your transmission fluid can help you to determine if your transmission is overheating. Transmission fluid isn’t like engine oil – it doesn’t burn up under normal circumstances. If the fluid level is down, then there is a very good chance that something is wrong. And if the fluid is dark, it is almost certain that you are overheating.
Needless to say, you want to catch transmission problems as early as possible in order to prevent any further problems. So don’t rely exclusively on your Transmission Temperature Control Light, but by the same token, don't disregard it either. If it comes on, it has come on for a reason. While you can probably drive safely to your next destination, you want to have your transmission system inspected right away to stave off further issues and ensure optimal vehicle performance.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as Is It Safe to Drive With the Transmission Temperature Light On? and was authored by Valerie Johnston.