Do automatic transmissions go up hills?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Sep 01, 1990

Dear Tom and Ray:

A friend of mine is afraid to use his car on steep hills for fear it will damage the automatic transmission. I have been told by mechanics that this is baloney. What do you say?

RAY: Gee, I don't know about this guy, Earl. That's like not turning on the heat in the dead of winter because you're afraid you'll strain the furnace.

TOM: It's like not playing Wayne Newton's Danke Schoen over and over again because you're afraid you'll wear out the grooves!

RAY: Actually, I was afraid I'd wear out my nerves. But the point is that things wear out over time. And so what? That's why people buy cars, so they can go places without having to walk or rent a burro. The trick is to minimize the amount of damage you do by taking care of the car and driving correctly.

TOM: For example, when driving on hills, one thing you should avoid is transmission hunting. We're not talking about shotguns and bloodhounds here. When a transmission is hunting, it's continually switching back and forth between gears. That shifting back and forth is what really wears cars out, because it not only makes the transmission work harder, it also puts stress on every component in the drive train--including the engine.

RAY: If you notice your transmission hunting, the thing to do is downshift. That will make the engine run faster, but overall, it's easier on the car because all of the components aren't being jerked around.

TOM: That's also why highway driving is easier on a car than city driving. In city driving, there's a lot of shifting, stopping, and starting. On the highway, even though the engine is running fast, the drivetrain isn't being stressed every few seconds.

RAY: So tell your friend to get a grip, Earl. His transmission can always be repaired. The damage he does to his heart and blood pressure by worrying about things like this cannot.

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