There are so many elements that must work together in a car, and must all work in such a perfect synchronicity, that it is no wonder cars break down. In fact, it is a surprise that they do not break down more often when you think that the engine, gearbox, brakes and accelerator, and the steering must all be working together before you can even get anywhere with the vehicle. Adding any more technical elements to the process of driving will simply complicate matters, and gives you some insight into why “high performance” automobiles are so called. To get cars to do some of the amazing things that they do requires a level of engineering that, for the layman, simply does not bear thinking about.
Automatic transmissions are actually not such a common thing in Europe as they are in the US. Some say that it has to do with how much more twisting the European roads to, and that in America, with a lot of longer, straighter roads, a vehicle should be enjoyed simply for what it is best at, pointing it at the horizon and putting your foot down. But even this would be impossible without automatic transmission fluid to keep the gears shifting smoothly as and when they need to.
In this respect, it is important to ensure that the fluid in your automatic (or manual) transmission is always at the optimum level. If you find that gear shifts are somewhat labored, then it will as often as not be down to a lack of transmission fluid. This may be due to a leak, automatic transmission fluid does not get used up. Over time it can gradually dissipate or become compacted however, but as long as you keep it topped up your transmission need never be a major issue and you will avoid expensive repairs such as the transmission rebuild.
To check your transmission fluid you need to first make sure your car is parked on level ground, and start the engine (check the owner’s manual on this point, as some cars should not be running when you check the fluid). When the engine is warmed up you need to find the Transmission Fluid dipstick, usually located at the back of the engine. It may be labelled, but if not, you are looking for something similar to the engine oil dipstick, but shorter. You pull this out completely and look at it. You then wipe it, replace it and repeat the process. You should get an idea from this of how consistent your ATF level is, and if the level does not come up to the line marked “full”, you need to add more ATF.
The instructions on how to top up ATF will differ between cars, but essentially you should have a bottle of transmission fluid that comes with a nozzle that allows you to pour directly into the hole from where you pulled the dipstick. This is something that only needs to be repeated every 25,000 miles, but it is good housekeeping to check it every once in a while anyway.