How long does “lifetime” transmission fluid last? As long as the life of your transmission. It’s just likely to be a shorter life, if you never change the fluid.
If that seems paradoxical, you don’t understand advertising and marketing.
“Lifetime” is a word used by advertising and marketing people to gull you into believing it is never necessary to change out the fluid and that there will be no consequences if you don’t change it out. The latter italicized part is what they never spell out. They want you to assume that “lifetime” means – essentially – forever. Or at least, as long as the car itself lasts.
In fact, they know (well, the engineers know) that automotive fluids such as transmission fluid degrade over time; lose their lubricity. Or the additives’ detergent properties wane. That – inevitably through use, heat cycling and accumulation of contaminants – the fluid reaches a point at which it needs to be changed. Assuming you don’t want to change the transmission, because you didn’t.
That point is reached at around 50,000 miles.
Far sooner than the “lifetime” of the car. Or so you probably hope it is. You might (and many do) go 100,000 miles – which is sometimes the fine-print definition of “lifetime,” according to some of the advertising, assuming you read the fine print. Many don’t and so continue to drive – on the assumption that “lifetime” is another way of saying forever.
Until the transmission reaches the end of its life.
This business of leading people to believe that “lifetime” is forever is one of the greatest single (and ongoing) frauds in the car business. It has been abbetted, over the years, by the elimination, in the first place, of drain plugs in transmission pans – so as to give the impression that periodic draining of the fluid within isn’t necessarry (assuming you want the transmission to last an actual lifetime) and, more recently, by elimination of easily accessible fill tubes.
The result is that what used to be an easy job for anyone who was capable of performing an oil change has become an extremely messy – and difficult – job that most people are unable or unwilling to do themselves. This discourages the doing of it. And then they read in their owner’s manual that they never have to worry about it. The fluid is “lifetime.” Dealers will sometimes tell customers (marks) the same thing.
Because there’s more money in selling the customer-mark a new $4,000 transmission at 100,000 miles than a $150 transmission fluid and filter change every 50,000 miles. The latter item in italics to make another point about this “lifetime” business.
Filters are essentially fine screens meant to capture particles that might otherwise circulate along with the fluid. Filtering is more-than-usually important in the case of automatic transmissions, because these have a warren of tiny passages in a hydraulic fluid circuit – the valve body – that governs much of the transmission’s function.
A useful analogy is the human circulatory system, which includes narrow veins and arteries that – when clogged – result in bad things happening.
Our bodies have kidneys to filter out the contaminants. These are lifetime components. They regenerate themselves. A transmission filter cannot do that. It eventually “fills up” with contaminants and – at that point – ceases to be a filter. Now the contaminants are free to circulate – and will. And shortly thereafter, you will know precisely the length of a “lifetime.”
It is astounding that there haven’t been lawsuits over all of this. It is clearly deceptive, with the clear intent to encourage people to think they never need to have their car’s transmission fluid/filter replaced – so as to achieve the end result of either selling them a new transmission or a new car.
There is another reason why they do it, too.
Advertisers and marketers have figured out that it is a “sell” to advertise and market low-to-no maintenance. This is perfectly understandable, of course. People are more inclined to buy Car X rather than Car Y if they believe it will cost them less to service and maintain Car X rather than Car Y.
And – if it’s not deceptive – it’s a good sell.
But there is a big difference between low and no maintenance. The former is achievable – as via use of a high-capacity filter that lasts longer than a standard-capacity one. Or by using fluids and lubricants that are of higher quality, with longer-lasting additives – and so on.
But this business of encouraging people to believe they never need to worry about changing fluid/filters – by telling them they are “lifetime” – is of a piece with telling people that they won’t catch a cold if they always wear a filthy “mask” over their faces. Which of course is just what they were told. It is why millions of them ended up catching cold anyhow.
If you’d like to avoid something worse – as far as your transmission is concerned – consider changing out the fluid/filter in your car’s transmission every 50,000 miles or so. If you do, you are more likely to get a lifetime out of the transmission, as opposed to the fluid.
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