Best Transmission Coolers: Improve Your Car’s Performance
Keep your car running smoothly with a transmission cooler designed to go the distance
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BY Dorian Smith-Garcia / LAST UPDATED ON September 4, 2019
Your transmission allows you to shift gears and uses automatic transmission fluid (ATF) to stay cool. The lifespan of your transmission can be affected if it gets overheated. Common causes for overheating include aggressive driving or towing heavy loads. Avoid damaging your transmission with a transmission cooler, which helps to cool the ATF. Read on to learn more about the top transmission coolers on the market and tips for purchasing one.
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Benefits of Transmission Coolers
- Keep your transmission from overheating. The primary purpose of a transmission cooler is to keep the hydraulic fluid inside the transmission cool. The optimal temperature for this fluid and your transmission is 170-degrees Fahrenheit or lower. But when the temperature increases beyond this point—especially if this frequently happens—it can lead to permanent damage and costly repairs.
- Prolong the life of your transmission. Under normal driving conditions, your car’s radiator should be able to properly cool your transmission’s hydraulic fluid before it returns to the transmission. But if you drive aggressively or regularly tow heavy loads, this might not happen. As a result, hot fluid returns to the transmission, which can cause gear issues. A transmission cooler can help your transmission last longer.
- Save money. A broken transmission can be a costly repair. But when you invest in a transmission cooler, you can prolong the life of your transmission by keeping it cool and preventing unnecessary damage to its internal parts. That also means fewer trips to the mechanic.
Types of Transmission Coolers
Tube and Fin Cooler
This type of transmission cooler tends to be the most budget-friendly. Its defining characteristic is that it features an S-shaped tube that is surrounded by fins. The tubing houses the transmission’s fluid, and the fins help to draw heat away from the tube, cooling the fluid. Typically, these models are made of aluminum. Tube and fin coolers are a common option and are highly recommended for older car models or if you only tow heavy loads occasionally. However, they are not recommended for overdrive transmissions and are considered the least efficient option for a transmission cooler.
Plate and Fin Cooler
Plate and fin coolers are similar in design to the tube and fin cooler except they have a higher efficiency rating. Instead of an S-shaped tube, the tubing is horizontal and is placed between two aluminum fin plates. The plate and fin model is much more efficient than the tube and fin style because it can cool a larger quantity of fluid in a shorter amount of time and requires less space as well. While it is pricier than the tube and fin cooler, it is a better option for modern cars and vehicles that frequently tow heavy loads.
Stacked Plate Cooler
This is the most efficient option of the three styles of coolers. As the name implies, this cooler is made up of a series of plates that surround the fluid tubing. The design allows for optimal airflow, which contributes to the faster cooling speeds that are associated with this model. Even though this is the most expensive option, it’s your best bet if you’re using your vehicle for racing or heavy-duty towing.
Hayden Automotive is a U.S.-based aftermarket automotive accessories brand that focuses almost exclusively on designing performance cooling products for transmissions, engines, and power steering fluid, but it also manufactures clutches. The company is headquartered in Texas and has been in business for over 50 years. While it’s known for its aftermarket category, it also supplies OEM parts to automakers. Hayden is one of the best-known names and trusted brands for transmission coolers.
B&M is a popular aftermarket car accessories brand that is best known for the B&M Shifter. The brand has created a name for itself within the racing community and is known for creating quality shift sticks, transmissions, transmission coolers, and additional parts to help improve the performance of your car. It’s one of the top-rated aftermarket brands for transmission coolers, especially with its SuperCooler Automatic Transmission kit.
Mishimoto is a younger brand within the transmission cooler niche, but it is well-respected. With nearly 20 years of experience, the company has proven itself as an aftermarket authority for all of your car cooling needs. In particular, the brand creates products for older car models. While it does emphasize its performance racing categories, Mishimoto also creates transmission coolers and other accessories for everyday use. It is known for creating make-specific transmission coolers; however, they do have a few styles that are universal.
Transmission Cooler Pricing
- $20 to $50: Budget-conscious shoppers should be able to find a decent transmission cooler, especially within the tube and fin and plate and fin categories. While there aren’t many within this price range that are standout options, it is possible to upgrade your car’s performance without breaking the bank.
- $50 to $200: Most transmission coolers are available at this median price point. You should be able to easily find a transmission cooler from each of the three styles. Still, we can’t stress enough that price cannot be your only consideration since GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating), individual performance needs, and the make and model of your car will strongly influence your selection.
- $200 and higher: Transmission coolers can top more than $1,000. However, the more expensive models tend to be for true performance and racing style cars such as Corvettes.
Because the three types of transmission coolers each offer unique features depending on your goals, usage, and the age of your car, it’s important to check for compatibility before purchasing one. An older car model might not be compatible with a stacked plate cooler, and if you frequently tow heavy loads, a tube and fin model is not the right option either. Also, many brands build transmission coolers that are specific to a particular make of car. They will often specify whether a cooler is universal (fits any car) or if it only works with a specific make.
Ease of Installation
If you’re planning to install an automatic transmission cooler yourself and you aren’t a mechanic or car enthusiast, you’re going to want to look for cooler models that are easy to install. Not all models are equal when it comes time for installation. Take the time to do your research before you make a purchase so that the process matches your skill level.
This refers to how quickly your transmission cooler will cool the transmission fluid. Efficiency will also depend on the amount of wear and tear you’re putting on your car and the rating given to the cooler you’re planning to buy. It’s important to research this information so that you aren’t buying a transmission cooler that isn’t rated to meet the demands you’re putting on your car.
Materials and Design
Since the goal of any transmission cooler is to quickly reduce the temperature of the transmission’s fluid, you want to make sure that the cooler is made from efficient materials and with a design that’s optimized to achieve this goal.
- Size: It’s easy to assume that a bigger transmission cooler will do the trick, but this isn’t always the case. More important than the size of the actual cooler is its compatibility with your car’s specifications and capacity.
- GVWR: GVWR refers to the maximum allowable weight that your vehicle can handle. This includes the weight of the car itself, a full load of passengers, and additional cargo. Before selecting a transmission cooler, you need to know the GVWR for your particular car. The GVWR number can range from 10,000 to more than 30,000 pounds, and a higher number indicates that your car uses more fluid and needs a higher efficiency cooler.
- Fans: Not all transmission coolers feature fans. They can help to quickly cool the transmission fluid. While not a necessity, if you are concerned about performance and know that you routinely tow heavy loads or drive aggressively, it’s a good idea to opt for transmission coolers that feature an electric fan.
Best Transmission Cooler Reviews & Recommendations 2020
- Quality parts are essential for installation. Even if you’re focused on a budget, go with brands that have a reputation for building transmission coolers that last.
- Regular maintenance is important for optimal performance. Just because you install a transmission cooler doesn’t mean that you can ignore your transmission until it breaks down. Periodically check your cooler to ensure that any tubing, joints, and hoses are properly attached and that nothing has degraded.
- Watch your spacing near other moving parts under your hood. Your transmission cooler won’t be effective if it’s coming into contact with fans from other essential components under your hood. Make sure that when you install your transmission cooler you leave a safe distance between it and your A/C or radiator.
Q: What causes a transmission to overheat?
A: Transmissions overheat when the hydraulic fluid that’s used to cool its parts doesn’t properly cool. This will typically happen if you are driving aggressively, frequently tow heavy loads, or live in a region with extreme heat.
Q: How do I pick the right transmission cooler?
A: There are a number of factors to keep in mind when you pick a transmission cooler. First, you need to confirm the make, model, and age of your car as not all transmission coolers are universal. While we’ve outlined a few popular universal models from some of the top brands, many of these brands also create make-specific coolers. Next, you need to confirm the GVWR for your car and reference that against the approved rating for the transmission cooler.
Q: How do I know if a transmission cooler will be durable?
Look for a transmission cooler that’s designed from heavy-duty materials and is resistant to the elements. In particular, you want one that is designed to resist corrosion and can still function properly under high temperatures.
Your transmission is the workhorse of your car, and if you’re using your vehicle for more than the average commute, it’s important to give it a little TLC to prolong its lifespan.
Our top pick for the best transmission cooler is the B&M SuperCooler Automatic Transmission Cooler, which comes with a complete installation kit.
For price-conscious shoppers, the Hayden Automotive Rapid Cool Plate and Fin Transmission Cooler is a great option.