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How to Defrost a Transmission

by Robert Morello

When left in extreme cold, cars can freeze nearly completely. All the fluids in your car can freeze, including motor oil, gear lube, door locks and brakes. This problem is not uncommon in arctic regions where temperatures often fall well below freezing. The best way to avoid a frozen transmission is to keep your car garaged. If your transmission does freeze, the process of defrosting it may not be as bad as you think.

Start your car. With the car running, try to shift into gear. Whether you have a manual transmission or an automatic, the symptoms of a frozen gearbox are basically the same. The car will not shift into gear, and if it does, it will not move. By these standards you can determine if your transmission is frozen.

Run your car in park or neutral. Let it idle for at least 30 minutes before trying to shift again. After this length of time the transmission should be sufficiently defrosted to work. If you try to shift and it still will not budge, continue to run the car until it does. The heat generated by the engine is more than enough to melt whatever ice has formed, but it can take some time.

Change your transmission fluid or gearbox oil to a lighter weight. Lighter fluids are less dense and thus move around the transmission more easily. They require less time to defrost and help prevent a solid lockup of the transmission should it become frozen again.

Keep your car in a garage or other form of shelter when the weather drops below freezing. Warm your car up for about a minute every morning before driving.

Tip

  • Make sure there is no water in your transmission fluid (or any other mechanical fluid). The presence of water can cause your transmission to freeze more easily.

Warning

  • Driving your car before the transmission is completely thawed can result in a damaged clutch and potential permanent damage to the gearing.

About the Author

Robert Morello has an extensive travel, marketing and business background. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Columbia University in 2002 and has worked in travel as a guide, corporate senior marketing and product manager and travel consultant/expert. Morello is a professional writer and adjunct professor of travel and tourism.

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