An international education gap apparently exists regarding the proper application of aftermarket automatic transmission fluids (ATFs). Pouring in a faulty fluid can grind away at a transmission’s wear protection, foam control and low-temperature performance.
“If you put the wrong ATF in a vehicle, the driver will be able to tell based on the change in their shifting experience,” says Tu Lai Turner, an ATF specialist at Afton Chemical Corp. “At best, the installer will have to perform the transmission service all over again. But over time, putting the incorrect or unlicensed ATF into a transmission can shorten its life through increased wear and tear and the glazing of the clutch plates.”
Based in Richmond, Va., with facilities in Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, Afton has created an ATFonATF.com website to provide insights into the importance of using only industry-licensed ATFs.
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A recent survey by Liberman Research Worldwide of 200 transmission specialists on behalf of the campaign shows that nearly one in three don’t know the difference between OEM licensed and unlicensed ATFs.
“A licensed ATF ensures that a fluid meets all the specifications an OEM set for that vehicle,” Turner explains. “In order to obtain a license, the ATF must pass a battery of rigorous performance tests. These tests are set by the OEM and performed by a third-party testing facility. If the facility and OEM approve the ATF as licensed, the oil company is required to display the OEM logo/trademark and license number on the label of the product. This proves to both installers and customers that the ATF is licensed for use in that vehicle.”
To understand the difference between licensed and unlicensed ATFs, an installer must first understand how an automatic transmission fluid is formulated, according to company executives. There are two main components in an ATF: base oil and additives.
Compared to engine oils, the ATF additive component is far more complex. In an ATF, there is a need for the formula to be both slippery for the transmission gears, and sticky for the friction plates. The ATF additive is where the “magic happens.” That’s where the mix of anti-oxidants, dispersants, friction modifiers, detergents and anti-wear agents are added to create a specific ATF formula.