Buying a classic with an automatic transmission involves a certain risk. Whether 'the machine' is good, that only becomes clear after a really long test drive. Automatic gearboxes have the reputation of being difficult and expensive when something is wrong. This means that any transmission doubt is a strong negotiating point in the purchase journey. Look almost casually at the condition and level of the ATF, the Automatic Transmission Fluid. Previous owners have often not done this for a long time, also because the dipstick for the oil level in the tank is not always easy to reach.
Beautiful red is not ugly
The ATF should be red or reddish. Due to internal pollution, wear, moisture and aging of oil, the ATF oil slowly becomes contaminated and loses its working properties. This makes the oil thicker and loses its lubricating properties. Contamination of the ATF oil will slowly contaminate oil channels, switch valves and blades of the automatic gearbox. As a result of which, for example, switching is no longer smooth.
Afraid of the high costs
There is an above average number of owners of classics with automatic transmission that are stuck with their hands because of the problems and the 'solutions' they are offered. These 'solutions' are usually very expensive and the number of people who can work sensibly on this type of transmission is not immediately impressive. There are usually more people with too little knowledge. But they often have the most horrible stories. In this way, quite a few people have become completely sick of their 'machines'. So sick that they actually wanted to get rid of it at any price.
In any case, that resulted in the adoption of a beautiful but poorly shifting Mercedes-Benz. The car was bought and stumbled to the first best gas station. The car was parked there and the ATF level was measured. The level was too low and the oil was dirty. Buy oil and so at a gas station? You do that for the main prize. But with two liters of fresh ATF in the container, the machine switched well again. After the box had been flushed at a professional, the automatic transmission shifted perfectly again and the Mercedes-Benz that was bought for five mille was worth ten mille unseen. The owner is still smiling every time he gets behind the wheel.
That was a textbook example of happiness. Because if the tank had really had technical problems, they would of course not have been solved by flushing.
The ATF really needs to be replaced around 100.000 kilometers. There was a while when manufacturers called the filling of the automatic transmission 'lifetime guaranteed'. It was a gross overestimation of one's own ability. They have come back to that enormously. The machine also deserves a fresh filter or fresh filters. If maintenance is not carried out on time, this can eventually lead to the automatic transmission malfunctioning, after which the automatic gearbox needs to be renewed, overhauled or otherwise repairs, often resulting in a high bill. And that bill can run into the thousands of euros.
Black ATF has been too hot. ATF that has been too hot also smells burned
Overheated ATF can have all kinds of expensive consequential damage. Too low an ATF level is also not good. Then we come to the drawing of the chance card: in 90% of the practical cases, a poorly shifting automatic transmission is all right again when it is flushed, flushed.
The symptoms that usually occur
This usually resolves the following complaints: shocks with forwarding, not being able to choose properly and retaining acceleration, kick-down is not functioning properly, fluctuating speeds, slipping of the automatic transmission and increased fuel consumption. There are companies that specialize in flushing automatic transmissions.
If this story has put you on the prowl to buy a classic with a poorly switching machine, then you do so at your own risk. But at least check the color (must be red), the odor and the level of the ATF when checking.
But once you have driven a classic with a properly functioning automatic transmission? Then you never want to switch again.
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