How To Make Your Tundra’s Automatic Transmission Last

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How To Make Tundra Transmission Last

Automatic transmissions are generally quite reliable, but when they break, it’s not cheap. While noted transmission expert John Lombardo has said that Toyota transmissions are top-notch, nothing lasts forever.

Therefore, if there’s anything you can do to prolong the life of your transmission, you should do it. Right?

Here’s what you can do to make your Tundra transmission last as long as possible.

Automatic Transmission 101

While modern automatic transmissions are complex, they’ve become slightly less complex with the advent of computers, which have replaced all or most of the valve body.

The valve body is what controls the transmission’s engagement and disengagement, shifting, etc. It’s basically the transmission’s brain. Because it’s a collection of small passages and valves, it’s fairly vulnerable to damage caused by common off-road elements like dirt, sand, and dust. If the valve body ever were to become jammed up with off-road gunk, the transmission’s functions are impaired, and repair is often the only solution.

After the valve body, the second most important component in your transmission is the fluid. If the fluid deteriorates to the point that it’s no longer effective, it can cause your transmission to heat up…and heat kills transmissions.

Therefore, keeping fluid clean and 100% effective is really the golden rule. However, there are some specific recommendations you can follow too.

How To Make Your Automatic Transmission Last

1) Keep your transmission from getting inundated with dirt and grime. If you drive in dirty, dusty, or muddy conditions on a regular basis, you need to follow the “severe duty” transmission maintenance schedule (for most Tundras, this means fluid replacements every 60k miles).

Also, if your transmission is submerged during a river crossing, it’s a good idea to replace the fluid ASAP as submersion is often the main reason transmissions ingest grime.

2) Make sure that your transmission stays cool. You can do this by keeping your eye on the transmission temperature gauge. If the temperature gets high, then you should park for a while and let things cool down. Once things are completely cooled off, check your truck’s automatic transmission fluid level following the method recommended in the owner’s manual and make sure that your vehicle hasn’t lost any fluid.

Note: If your transmission has lost fluid and you don’t know why, than you need a tow or a VERY short drive to the local shop.

If the fluid levels are normal, however, and your temperature gauge was sitting on “high,” it may be that your fluid needs replaced. While pulling a big trailer up a tough mountain pass – or a challenging off-road trail – will cause most transmissions to overheat, high temps can reduce your ATF’s ability to do it’s job. Therefore, it’s time to get your Tundra’s ATF inspected.

Finally, be sure to follow the recommended towing procedures in the Tundra owner’s manual to prevent the transmission from getting too hot.

3) Check automatic transmission fluid levels regularly and perform regular maintenance. In addition to cooling the transmission, transmission fluid also serves as a lubricant. A properly lubricated transmission is essential to reduce friction and heat when the gears are shifting.

Obviously, you should also perform transmission services as recommended for your Tundra. Just remember that if you tow, transmission services are recommended every 60,000 miles. If you don’t pull, Toyota only recommends that the fluid is inspected every 30k miles (not replaced, just inspected).

NOTE: There can be such a thing as changing your vehicle’s ATF too frequently.

In an effort to maximize profits, some dealers and repair shops recommend replacing ATF more often than needed. Not only is this a waste of your money, it also increases the risks of contamination and under-filling.

Futhermore, do NOT “power flush” your transmission. These power flush systems use either high-pressure fluid to “force” the old fluid out of your transmission, or they use special chemicals that are intended to remove remnants of old fluid from the inside of your transmission. Unfortunately, these power flush systems can single-handedly cause failures, as the transmission in your vehicle was never designed for either high pressure fluid or chemical cleaners.

Therefore, stay away from “power flush”systems.

4) Don’t engage in risky transmission behaviors. While that advice sounds like something a doctor might say about STDs, it’s all about avoiding driving behaviors that can immediately cause damage. These include:

  • Burnouts, which aren’t just hard on your transmission, but also on your driveline and your tires. Even a fun little peel-out can be hard on your transmission over the long term.
  • If you get stuck, the best way to get un-stuck is to rock your vehicle back and forth. However, rapidly shifting between drive and reverse is a great way to overheat your transmission. So, if you must rock, take breaks to let the transmission cool until you get loose.
  • Towing very heavy loads, or towing at very high speeds (or both) can overheat your transmission quickly. If you’re not paying attention to the transmission temp gauge, you can do some real damage.
  • Racing, off-roading, river crossings, mudding, etc. are all fun, but if you do these things, understand that you need to change your transmission fluid every 60k miles (if not sooner).
  • Don’t let your vehicle’s weight rest on your transmission. When you park on a hill, set your parking brake.

5) Downshift when things get tough. You should shift to a lower gear when doing heavy work, such as moving a large load from a dead stop or pulling another vehicle from a ditch. The Tundra actually does this for you automatically; however, shifting into a lower gear before attempting something strenuous is a good habit to get into.

Bottom Line: The big picture here is that regular transmission services and fresh fluid are key. If you follow those rules, you should enjoy solid transmission performance for many years.

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Filed Under: Maintenance Tips


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  1. Mickey says:

    Mine failed at 96k. Flushed my tranny at 70k. What type of flush I don’t know since the dealership did it. After the flush though I started having the SUA systems. and having to disconnect the battery to let the code disappear so it would shift out of 4th gear. When I rebuilt it I was told the torque converter was the culprit which caused my tranny failure. I was also told by the same people never flush a tranny but drop the cover and changed the filter and oil. I told them Toyota only flushes their tranny’s. He stated that’s why you are here.

  2. LJC says:

    The reason behind a flush/transfusion is to remove ALL the fluid. Just dropping the pan and replacing the filter does not remove all the fluid, thus leaving behind dirty/burnt fluid. I’d be curious to hear what John Lombardo recommends for fluid replacement.

    • Jake says:

      What John means is that you need to do a transmission flush. Any service shop can do this for you. I recommend to buy your own fluid and then take it to the shop.

  3. RC says:

    My 2000 Tundra’s AT is acting up every so often at 172,000 miles. It stalls periodically when I come to a stop. It has no problem shifting. Everyone says “oh you need to rebuild your tranny or get a low mileage used one.”

    I really want to know the truth. Shouldn’t it show problems shifting etc. as a true indicator for a trans. Rebuild?

    Who can I trust .


    • RC – A rebuild now isn’t a bad idea, but I’m not sure that you save much money rebuilding it now vs. rebuilding it later (presuming it can be repaired with a rebuild). Have you kept up on your regular maintenance? If so, I say keep driving it.

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