Car Buyers' Guide: Beware old automatic transmissions

By Jack Biddle

Unless buying new, be wary of transmissions

The Subaru XV crossover has a sports lineartronic transmission.
The Subaru XV crossover has a sports lineartronic transmission.

Wynn is getting himself all tied up in knots trying to determine the merits or downsides of some of the automatic transmissions fitted to vehicles these days.

"Forums I go into seem to say a big no when constant variable transmissions (CVT) and the direct shift transmission (DSG) options are mentioned," Wynn says.

"But more and more new vehicle manufacturers are using these types of automatics.

"Surely if they are that bad they would have stopped production completely a long time ago?"

Wynn is after a new or late model automatic and wants to know if he should stick to models fitted with the more traditional auto transmission.

I agree, Wynn, that it is confusing for buyers wanting an automatic transmission.

It would appear that a lot of opinions are still being based on the problems both DSG and CVT encountered in the early days of production and subsequently out in the field, and that is a pity.

Having a large number of used imports with these transmissions fitted also hasn't helped their reputation either as often technical information and support from new vehicle distributors in New Zealand was initially, and still can be, very difficult to obtain.

As far as CVT goes, negative opinion can at times be based more around the "feel" and operation of the transmission rather than its potential weaknesses.

It is certainly different to the conventional autos many drivers may have been used to, but that is a consumer's choice rather than a reason to avoid buying.

From my experience, if you get in a vehicle fitted with CVT and drive normally rather than forcing a change in gear ratios and trying to find fault, then the experience is a lot more positive.

Would I recommend either a CVT or DSG transmission?

If it's a vehicle still under new-vehicle warranty, then absolutely, but if it's an older model then my advice would be to definitely proceed with caution or in some cases it's best not to proceed at all.

But that same advice could be applied to some vehicles fitted with an automatic transmission as they can all be very expensive to repair.

A bad or negative reputation can not only affect vehicles fitted with a certain type of transmission, it can also impact on a particular brand of vehicle. Subaru is a good example of a brand that can still suffer from its past reputation.

While it attracted a loyal following among a select few for its all-wheel-drive abilities and international rally success there were also plenty of negative comments about high running costs and excessive fuel consumption that often swayed potential mainstream buyers away from the brand.

A lot of those comments were, and still are, justified in my opinion, but they cannot be used when looking at their latest line-up. Although the brand still caters for those seeking top-end performance and assured road handling in a host of different terrains and conditions, they have also been designed to appeal to a much wider audience while retaining their special points of difference, including the horizontally opposed boxer engine.

In every respect all Subaru models now, including the XV crossover, compete on an even level with their competitors and consistently rank highly in crash-test ratings, fuel consumption and specification levels.

Their version of a constant variable transmission (called SLT or sports lineartronic transmission) is fitted into some models and has certainly helped address some of those negatives, particularly fuel consumption, without compromising performance.

Sometimes being a late adapter to new technology can have its benefits. And my spies and trusted sources have reported no major SLT problems thus far.

The DSG units have also had their problems in some of the European brands but indications are they have put the worst behind them and, let's face it, it hasn't stopped the VW Golf being a huge success here and on the global stage.

Other vehicle manufacturers have gone down a similar pathway, notably Toyota fitting CVTs to a couple of models, including the Corolla range and the 2WD RAV4, while others such as Mazda, Kia and Hyundai have continued to refine their more conventional auto transmissions.

So try to keep an open mind, Wynn, and regardless of what transmission you end up with, always stick to manufacturer's recommendations when it comes to braked towing weights, scheduled servicing and the correct replacement fluid.

- NZ Herald

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