A Guide to Ford Transmissions for Michigan Drivers

While any Ford transmission is going to take a beating over the years, the units found in Michigan Fords have it particularly tough. Rough roads and frequently lousy weather force your Michigan Ford's transmission to work just a bit harder than usual. That's why you owe it to yourself and your Ford to learn a thing or two about transmissions.

The Transmission in a Nutshell

A transmission is an assembly of gears that allows your engine to transfer energy to the wheels. It receives power from the engine's output shaft and modifies both force and rotational speed. It then delivers the appropriate amount of power to the axles so that the engine doesn't have to work harder than necessary. There are three types of transmission: manual, automatic and CVT. Each variant has its own distinct advantages and drawbacks.

Famous Ford Transmissions

Over the years, there have been a number of iconic Ford transmissions that broke the mold. Arguably the most recognizable Ford transmission ever is the Ford-O-Matic introduced in 1951. It was Ford's first fully automatic transmission found in production models. The wildly popular T-18/T-19 family of transmissions were standard equipment in F-series trucks between 1966 and 1991. The famous C6 transmission powered everything from Mustangs to Thunderbirds for nearly four decades.

Why Transmissions Eventually Fail

Despite the massive amounts of force that they handle, most transmissions stand up to the pressure for decades without fail. If a transmission does conk out prematurely, design flaws are the most common culprits. Excessive heat due to poor maintenance and improper shifting practices can drastically reduce the life of even the most resilient gear box. Over time, internal gears become so worn down that they can no longer engage each other.

7 Signs That Your Transmission Is Failing

1. Slipping Gears and Engine Surges

A bad automatic transmission will often "slip" when accelerating or cruising. This condition is caused by gears that have been ground down and lack the necessary contact surface area to operate smoothly. Ford models with slipping manual transmissions often experience engine surges that are indicative of the same problem. If your transmission is slipping, the problem will become progressively worse over time.

2. Rough or Abrupt Shifts

A healthy transmission will shift smoothly with minimal friction. Bad transmissions have difficulty moving from one gear ratio to another without noticeable vibration. Common causes of rough shifts include damage to gear teeth, defective gear synchronizers and faulty clutches or torque converters. Diagnosing the exact problem in the event of unpredictable shifting behavior is difficult even if you're a transmission expert. Be sure to consult a professional if your shifts are increasingly difficult.

3. Difficulty Engaging a Gear

An inability to shift into a particular gear is a classic sign that you have serious transmission problems. While the culprit could be a simple shift cable linkage issue, it's just as likely that your gears are damaged. You'll often find that a failing automatic or manual transmission has particular difficulty shifting into reverse. Have a trained transmission technician give your gear box a thorough inspection if you're experiencing this problem.

4. Suspicious Burning Smells

Every transmission has an upper fluid temperature limit that shouldn't be exceeded if you care at all about smooth operation and longevity. That's why changing your fluid at the appropriate intervals is so important. Old fluid won't allow your transmission to dissipate heat properly. What's more, the fluid itself will burn and produce an unmistakable smell. If you detect any acrid smells coming from underneath your Ford, check the fluid dipstick immediately.

5. Noisy Idling in Neutral

Automatic and manual transmissions on the verge of failure are sometimes quite noisy when idling in neutral. If your transmission is especially whiny when idling in neutral, check the fluid level after warming up the vehicle by driving around for 10 minutes or so. Add fluid if needed and listen to the transmission to see if the noise has subsided. If it hasn't, you may need new bearings or a reverse idler gear.

6. Clinking or Grinding Noises

The internal components of a transmission wear down and shed bits of metal over time. This results in metallic noises coming from the unit when idling, accelerating and cruising down the highway. If you hear a lot of noise during normal operation, you should drop the transmission fluid pan and check the filter for metal shavings. Excessive amounts of metal in the filter is a surefire sign of impending transmission death.

7. Unusually Contaminated Fluid

Checking your transmission fluid once a month is just common sense if you want your Ford to last as long as possible. If your fluid is breaking down far more quickly that it should be, then you've most likely got a problem that needs to be addressed ASAP. Some transmissions can go up to 100,000 miles before they need to be serviced. Changing the fluid every 40,000 miles is a good rule of thumb.

Diagnosing a Faulty Transmission

If you encounter any of the symptoms described above, you should immediately investigate the root cause of the problem. First things first, identify the specific transmission model that your Ford car or truck contains. Use that information to Google common problems that your transmission is known to suffer from based on the symptoms displayed. Consult with an experienced local transmission repair specialist to discuss your options insofar as rectifying the problem is concerned.

-Rebuilding versus Replacing

If your Ford's transmission has show-stopping problems, you have two options: rebuilding it or replacing it. If you choose to rebuild, it's likely that you'll spend at least $1,000 at the local transmission shop when parts and labor are tallied up. If the cost of a rebuild exceeds that of a replacement, it makes more sense to spring for a new unit. A new transmission for an F-150 can be had for as little as $1,300.

-How to Replace a Transmission

Believe it or not, replacing a transmission isn't that hard once you have the right hardware. Start by jacking up the vehicle, disconnecting all wiring harnesses and draining the fluid. Next, disconnect the shift linkage and the speedometer cable. Then, disconnect the bolts securing the transmission to the engine and drive shaft. Lastly, slide the transmission away from the output shaft and lower it to the ground using a specialty jack.

-What To Look for in a New Transmission

Obviously, any new transmission that you select for your Ford should be identical to the old unit. Transmissions are precisely engineered to handle the power produced by your specific engine. Always buy an OEM transmission from a certified genuine Ford parts vendor. Buying a brand-new transmission rather than a rebuild is always preferable. Only patronize Ford parts vendors willing to back up their product with reasonable warranties.

-How to Keep Your Transmission in Great Shape

Once a new or rebuilt transmission is installed, it's important to take good care of the hardware to avoid another costly repair. Use only premium fluid and change it often. Regardless of what you may have been told, you can't damage a transmission by draining and refilling the fluid too often. Furthermore, don't work the transmission too hard during the first few thousand miles.

Finding the Right Replacement Parts for Your Ford

Whether your Michigan Ford needs a new shift linkage, clutch or an entire transmission, you should always opt for the best hardware you can find. At VarsityFordParts.com of Ann Arbor, we go the extra mile to source the finest OEM Ford parts possible for our customers. Stop by our flagship location or visit us online to see the Varsity Ford difference for yourself.