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A guide to understanding transmission oil 


The main function of transmission oil is to effectively lubricate the hypoid gears found in both manual and automatic transmissions, employed in a wide variety of mechanical equipment along with vehicles like trucks and cars. The transmission oil acts as a lubricant and works to reduce any friction between the moving gears, ensuring improved operating capabilities while negating wear and damage to parts.

Different transmission oils have been developed to suit an extensive range of equipment requirements. Depending on their purpose, gears may need to operate at extreme speeds and under different quantities of pressure. The faster or more intensively they must work, the more heated the gears become, which means they may also need to function at high temperatures. To enable different transmission systems to cope with their unique workloads and working conditions, a diverse selection of specially designed transmission oils has been developed to suit each application.

The right transmission oil for the job

A reliable transmission oil supplier will stock a wide range of brands from leading manufacturers like Q8 and Shell designed for a wide range of equipment. Multiple forms of machinery require transmission oil to function effectively, such as power-shift and automatic transmissions, brake boosters, torque converters, fluid clutches and couplings, suspension forks for motorcycles, hydrostatic drives and even hydraulic systems. Equipment owners who are unsure which oil to use for equipment can always consult a professional transmission oil supplier, who will be able to answer their questions.

Transmission oils are built-for-purpose, so whether they are being used in bogie lifts or automatic gearboxes, it is essential that the correct oil is selected for the specified equipment. Transmission oils may sometimes be engineered with multipurpose additives to manage the work pressures or environmental conditions they need to cope with, or have a specially developed viscosity to suit the design of certain gears. While picking the correct transmission oil for the equipment in question can add years to its life span, using a poor choice can have a detrimental effect, wearing out parts before their time.

It is important that operators always select the right transmission oil for equipment. An experienced transmission oil supplier will be able to offer expert guidance on the best type of oil and suggest a reliable brand like Mobil or Morris to suit equipment specifics.

Built-for-purpose oils

Typically, transmission oil is comprised of a base-stock oil mixed with specially formulated additives. The oil has often been carefully refined, filtering out any properties not beneficial while retaining qualities that may be advantageous to the equipment for which it is being engineered.

On top of this base stock of oil, the additive package will work to enhance the transmission oil, providing it with enhanced capabilities. These may include anti-scoring and anti-wearing properties that protect components from friction and damage during work. They may also deliver a stronger defence against rusting and other forms of corrosion, offering protection for parts when transmissions must work in harsh or wet-weather environments. Equipment that must work at high speeds where equipment has to function well even when parts are subject to extreme temperatures, may also be imbued with additives that give improved thermal stability.

Manual transmissions may use a wide variety of different oils, including standard motor oil, more heavyweight oil designed for hypoid gears, or even in some cases ATF (automatic transmission fluid).

Automatic transmission fluids

Automatic transmission fluid or ATF is a type of transmission oil employed by vehicles that have automatic or self-shifting transmissions. Commonly this lubricant is coloured green or red to differentiate it from regular motor oil as well as other fluids used inside vehicles. These transmission fluids are fully optimised for the specific requirements of the transmission they are designed for use with. On top of gear lubrication, they can assist with brake band friction, valve operation along with the torque converter.

ATF is also employed in some types of power-assist steering systems as an effective hydraulic fluid, as well as a reliable lubricant in four-wheel-drive transfer cases and even some of the more modern manual-style transmissions. Modern varieties of ATF will typically comprise a base oil with a formulated additive package that contains a complex selection of chemical compounds designed to provide the important properties for a dedicated ATF specification.

Like manual transmission oils, the majority of ATFs available will contain a mix of additives designed to enhance qualities of lubrication. These might include corrosion or rust inhibitors, anti-wear additives, and a range of detergents, surfactants and dispersants designed to clean and protect metal surfaces, freeing them of debris and other contaminants. They can also be additives engineered to alter or improve viscosity or enhance the temperature range and rotation-speed range at which transmission fluids can work.

Other additives are designed to not just prolong the life of transmission systems, but the transmission oil itself as well. Anti-oxidation and anti-foaming additives work to reduce oxidation and inhibit “boil-off”, which can effectively extend the life of a single application. Additional inclusions in an additive package for automatic transmission fluids can be petroleum dye, pour-point depressant, cold-flow improvers, gasket conditioners and thickeners for working at high temperatures.

The importance of checking transmission oil levels

It is crucial to regularly check and assess transmission oil levels in between normal intervals of service. Allowing transmission oil levels to run low can result in transmissions shifting improperly, or not at all. Insufficient transmission oil can also lead to a transmission’s internal parts becoming harmed when they are not lubricated appropriately. Damage to internal components often means expensive repair work, replacement parts and costly operational downtime while maintenance is carried out.

Checking levels are maintained regularly is critical, as by the time operators hear grinding noises and other clues that transmission oil has run low, it may already be too late to stop the damage that has been caused. Unlike other equipment requiring lubricating oils, gearboxes and other transmission systems are not as readily accessible or as straightforward to check. For this reason, maintaining transmission oil levels is a task best left to professionals.

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