Everything you need to know about towing with an automatic

Vehicles with automatic gearboxes have made driving so much easier for people and new drivers. The classic manual gearboxes require drivers to switch gears at different points of the driving, such as stopping, moving, turning, etc. But with an automatic, you don’t have to learn how to drive a manual stick shift because the gears change for you automatically. It is hard to imagine a time when this luxury didn’t exist.

Are you interested in towing with an automatic? There was a time when it was impossible to tow a heavy trailer with an automatic transmission vehicle. Every auto expert said that you should never attempt to use an automatic transmission vehicle to pull anything because it would damage the transmission. But now, that has changed.

tow ball

The Evolution of Automatic Gearboxes

The automatic gearboxes of the 21st century are built with electronic components and advanced technology that make them stronger and more dependable than ever before. They provide drivers with some of the same benefits of a manual gearbox, such as the capability of managing gear shifts to accommodate your particular driving situation. As a result, you can have better fuel efficiency when driving around town or over rugged terrain.

This new automatic gearbox technology has improved the towing experience also. You need a vehicle with the right gearbox to accommodate the terrain of your location and the amount of weight you plan to haul. For instance, if you’re towing on a softer terrain with sand or mud, a manual gearbox could cause you to lose momentum. You need a constant connection between the drive wheels and engine power to stay in control of the tow on this terrain. If you don’t have that, it could slow you down immensely and lead to worse issues if it continues.

An automatic gearbox with a manual mode is the perfect solution to this type of towing problem. You can simply set the gear to Drive and then slowly move as you tow the load behind you. It all depends on how fast you would like to tow your load. For example, if you’re in a hurry and wish to move faster with your towed trailer, it would be better to have control over the gear selection if you’d like to go faster on a predictable surface with steady terrain. Some examples of these terrains are sandy beaches or hills where you know what is coming ahead. You could even increase your selection to third gear and increase the speed of your towing over a longer distance.

On the other hand, things are different when you tow a trailer over unpredictable terrains with rocks and creeks. In these situations, you’re better off switching to Drive in automatic mode so that you can let the gearbox decide which gear is best for this different terrain. Then you can focus all your attention on driving and avoiding obstacles and other obstructions in the road. The last thing you’ll want to do is worry about switching to different gears as you have to negotiate and focus on your driving. That is how accidents can happen.

One of the reasons manual mode is better for driving on steady, predictable terrains is that you don’t have to worry about dodging obstacles and negotiating your driving. Instead, you can focus most of your attention on switching to the right gears and enjoying the benefits of that. The same cannot be said for driving and towing on uneven terrains.

A lot of people have questions about downhill driving. They wonder whether automatic or manual mode is appropriate for it. Well, it is best to use the manual mode and switch to a lower gear as you move downhill because it takes the weight and pressure off your braking system. And if you have a vehicle with turbo diesel, the manual mode will prevent too many engine revolutions from taking place downhill.

Newer automatic vehicles come with a lock-up feature, which locks up the torque converter and prevents it from slipping after you reach a particular speed. It also activates after the gearbox load goes down to a particular level. So if you’re towing a trailer on an even highway with steady terrain at about 90 kms per hour, don’t be surprised if your engine speed has reached 1,900 rpm after setting the gear to drive.

However, this lock-up feature won’t work as well on hills. Let’s suppose you activate cruise control while going 90 kms per hour on a hill. The engine speed could reach 2,500 rpm, which indicates the torque converter is slipping. Once that happens, the engine will consume more fuel, and the transmission fluid will heat up quickly.

Normally, the newer automatic gearboxes come equipped with a transmission cooler, similar to how your radiator works. The cooler works wonderfully under normal driving conditions, but not so much when towing a trailer on a hill for extended periods. The slippage will cause the temperature to rise to dangerous levels. The final result will be a damaged or worn-out gearbox.

Focus on the tachometer whenever you have too much load on the gearbox. If the number of engine revolutions increases too much, use the manual shift to switch to a lower gear. That should ease the tension on the gearbox and enable the torque converter to prevent slippage once again. If you can achieve this task, your gearbox should cool down significantly.

The dashboard warning lights will alert you if the temperature of your gearbox gets too hot or overheated as you tow a trailer. Some automatic vehicles have transmission temperature gauges built into them too. So not only can you rely on the warning lights to signal an overheated transmission, but you can also study the transmission temperature gauge as well. This gauge works similar to the engine temperature gauge, where the needle would point toward the red zone to indicate a hot temperature in the system.

The torque converter is an essential hydraulic link that allows the automatic transmission to function in the first place. The torque converter slips to enable your vehicle to stop while the engine is still running. But slippage can also happen while you’re driving as well. The goal should be to keep the temperature of the gearbox to around 80 degrees Celsius because it will preserve the longevity of the transmission fluid. But if the temperature rises to about 90 degrees celsius or more, it can reduce the fluid’s lifespan by at least 50% or more. The reason is that a hotter temperature diminishes the lubrication compounds of transmission fluid. If there is less lubrication in the transmission, the gear components will produce more friction and heat. Then you’ll have hardened seals with less retention within the system. The result will be more slippage and a gearbox with less efficiency and more malfunction.

Check Your Automatic Gearbox Fluid

The best way to preserve the lifespan of your automatic gearbox is to check the fluid levels every two years. This recommendation is suitable for most people who don’t do any towing whatsoever. Auto mechanics will tell you to change your fluid every 40,000 to 50,000 kilometres or every two years, whichever comes first.

However, if you do a lot of towing with your automatic vehicle, it is better to change the fluid every year or every 25,000 kilometres. Heavy towing adds more stress to the gearbox, so you need to keep the lubricant fresh and viable with more frequent fluid changes.

Your car manufacturer might say you don’t need to change the transmission fluid because the gearbox comes sealed. But anyone who does a lot of towing or long driving with their automatic vehicle will know that the manufacturer is incorrect here. The internal components of the gearbox will turn black after they’ve been stressed from lots of heavy towing and driving. The only way to resolve this problem is to flush the old dirty transmission fluid and replace it with fresh fluid.

If your automatic vehicle was made for towing, it might come with a transmission cooler to control the transmission fluid temperature. Sometimes you must select the option to have a transmission cooler installed because the manufacturer won’t give it to you automatically. But that’s assuming you’re buying the car from an official dealership of the manufacturer. If you’re buying the car from a third-party dealer, they probably took out the cooler or never bothered getting it installed in the first place.

A whopping 90% of automatic transmission damage or failure is due to overheating. For this reason, it is imperative to change your transmission fluids before they overheat and cause permanent damage to your automatic transmission. Then you’ll have to pay thousands of dollars to have it fixed or replaced. You might as well buy a new car if that happens.

But why do that? It is so much cheaper and easier to change the transmission fluid every year. Since you already get oil changes every 4 to 6 months, what is the big deal about getting new transmission fluid? Sure, it will cost you a little more money, but the price is still minuscule compared to the cost of a transmission repair job.

Did Your Automatic Transmission Overheat and Breakdown?

If you have already found yourself in a situation where your automatic transmission has overheated or stopped working altogether, then call the professional towing operators of Executive Towing Services. We can send a qualified towing operator to your location with a tilt tray tow truck and recover your vehicle quickly. Then you can have us take your vehicle to your home address or the nearest auto shop for repairs.

Call us now on 0410 471 056 for fast assistance anywhere in Perth.