A new generation of transmissions has become a sore spot for many owners and some automakers, with rising complaints and recalls. It seems high-tech transmissions are shifting into higher rates of trouble.
Automakers have recalled 7.2 million vehicles in the United States for dangerous transmission defects since 2010. The problems range from software problem to malfunctioning gears or clutches.
Some fixes are as easy as taking a vehicle to a dealership and having the software reflashed. Others require an entirely new transmission at the cost of thousands of dollars to carmakers and headaches for new owners.
Consumers Are Saying High-Tech Transmissions’ Durability Needs to be Higher
Kia recalled more than 400,000 vehicles recently because they would shift out of park when the brake was pressed. Honda had to recall some Civics and its new Fit due to problems with the continuously variable transmission they use.
Scores of owners are filing complaints to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration despite the manufacturers’ recalls. NHTSA has more than 150 complaints about transmissions on just Jeep vehicles alone from the 2015-2016 model years. And it’s not just Jeeps; owners of other vehicles also have complained of unusual behavior from their gearboxes.
Here is one example complaint from a Jeep owner:
“I have had problems with the transmission of my 2015 Jeep Cherokee since I got it. It will sometimes not shift going up hills and over revs but what is very scary is it will sometimes just hesitate when I press the gas and then suddenly take off without warning…. I am afraid to drive this car.”
High-Tech Transmissions Once Reliable, Now Complex
What has caused transmissions that were once as reliable as anything on a new vehicle to become a problem source?
“Our data suggests transmissions are going to continue to be a problem in the coming years,” said Jake Fisher, Director of Auto Testing at Consumer Reports. There have been growing problems on the Jeep Cherokee, the Acura TLX, and the Nissan Pathfinder, he said.
The answer may be simple. Transmissions have always been the forgotten element of the powertrain, but the need for higher fuel economy has sparked a recent renaissance in the transmission business. And with new technology come new headaches.
“You saw this a couple of years ago when carmakers were adding all kinds of new telematics features, there were lots of problems with them,” Fisher said. “In most cases, they fixed them quickly.”
The push for fuel economy has launched a wave of increasingly complex machinery in tight spaces under the hood. There have been recent advances, such as limiting the drag on clutches needed for each gear that has allowed engineers to add more gears, and, thus, give the vehicle better fuel economy.
Twenty years ago, most cars had four- or five gear transmissions. Six gears is now the industry norm though some cars have seven, eight and even nine gears as in the Jeep and Chrysler front or all-wheel-drive models. There are also more cars sold today with continuously variable transmissions, which, technically, have an infinite number of gear ratios.
Eventually, the additional gear will add more complexity or more weight so it no longer becomes more efficient, but we have not reached that point yet.
Even now, engineers look for more ways to boost fuel economy, yet the easiest improvements have already been used. Based on what customers are saying, however, durability may need to be a higher priority.
For more, see Yahoo Autos