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Telltale signs that there is something wrong with your gearbox include:
- Strange noises coming from the gearbox, such as crunching between gear changes, rumbling in neutral, noisy when the clutch is depressed or when you are accelerating/decelerating.
- Unusual behaviour, such as being slow to respond to a gear change, refusing to go into gear when the engine is running, gears being hard to engage when the engine is cold, the engine revving when the gears are under load, or changing gear randomly.
- Burning smells emanating from the gearbox or the transmission fluid smells burned.
- Leaking oil or transmission fluid.
Ideally, you should change your gearbox oil every 50,000 to 80,000 km and your oil filter at the same time. If you do a lot of high-stress driving, such as towing or driving in low-traction conditions, then it’s advisable to stick to the more frequent end of the scale. Old, dirty oil becomes less viscous over time, which means that it doesn’t lubricate your gearbox as well as it should, which can lead to damage.
While it depends on the model of the car you drive, checking your gearbox oil level will usually require you to get underneath the car and locate the filler plug on the side of the gearbox. Wipe the area around the plug clean and unscrew it with the correct tool. Be sure to place a pan underneath in case the oil overflows. The oil should be level with the bottom of the hole. If not, place a clean, bent piece of wire into the opening to ascertain how low the oil level is. Some models of cars have a gearbox oil dipstick.
Automatic transmission fluid cools and lubricates your vehicle’s automatic transmission, protecting it from wear and tear, and helping your gears shift smoothly. But, over time, particles begin to accumulate in the fluid, creating friction and heat. If left long enough, this debris forms into a sludge that can interfere with accelerating and gear shifting. If your transmission’s hydraulic lines become clogged, your inner seals may break and leak, causing serious damage. To prevent this, it’s necessary to flush your transmission at regular intervals. This process removes the old, dirty transmission fluid and flushes out any accumulated grime. A regular transmission flush will extend the life of your transmission, improve performance, and may also be a requirement of your vehicle’s warranty.
A direct-shift gearbox (also known as a dual-clutch gearbox) is a transmission with two independent gearboxes, driveshafts, and clutches. While one gearbox handles the gear you’re currently using, the second is busy working out which gear you’re most likely to want next. It combines the driving experience of a manual transmission with the convenience of an automatic transmission.
A DSG gearbox comes with an inbuilt control module that constantly monitors your driving, taking note of the engine and road speed, the position of your accelerator, and which driving mode you’re in (normal or sport). It uses all of that information to select the perfect gear and the optimum time to shift to the next. When it’s time to change, the transmission swaps to the other gearbox, which is already prepared for the new gear.
The result is exceptionally smooth and super-fast shifting – Volkswagen claims each change can take just four one-hundredths of a second. It also means there is no reduction in traction. Because the DSG maintains constant torque, it’s especially well-suited to turbocharged engines, always keeping the turbo spooled up. Another benefit is improved fuel economy over a standard automatic, as the transmission is extremely efficient, with very little power wastage. According to Volkswagen, their DSGs are, in some cases, even more fuel-efficient than a conventional manual transmission.
You can drive a DSG in two modes: automatic or Tiptronic. Tiptronic allows you to decide when to move through the gears, rather than the car doing it for you. You do this by engaging Tiptronic mode and tapping the gearstick for each shift, or some Volkswagen models have paddle shifts for a sportier experience. Note that, unlike a manual transmission, the clutch still operates completely automatically in Tiptronic mode.
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