How Automatic Transmissions are Like Rolex Watches

These days, most folks don’t know what’s turning the gears inside their mechanical devices. But, as someone who specializes in making sure gears and bearings have a proper lubrication, the comparison of a Rolex to a Transmission intrigues me. 

Both mechanical devices are weighty investments for consumers like you, so it’s a worthy comparison.

Automatic transmission similarity #1

Similarity #1: Both have gears that impact operation.

A Rolex watch’s tiny gears slowly move the mini hand dials to deliver the accurate time of the day. The gears in a transmission work the same way, allowing your vehicle to move forward or backward. 

If the gears are not precisely fit, the watch could miss a tick, and the transmission could slip a gear. In both, the finely-engineered gears provide the smoothness of movement. In both, precision fit is essential.

To keep a Rolex ticking and your vehicle transmission moving, both benefit from preventive maintenance, just at different intervals.

Automatic transmission similarity #2

Similarity #2: Both need adequate lubrication to prevent friction and wear.

As a valued investment, the Rolex watch needs to be regularly serviced, maintained, and cleaned. Without the proper care, it can fail. A Rolex requires oil to prevent friction and wear just like a transmission. Without a good oil to protect the Rolex’s gears, it can be expensive to repair or replace. And believe me, replacing a transmission is not an inexpensive repair. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Difference #1: High heat stresses ATF.

Unlike the oil in your watch, the automatic transmission fluid is subjected to thermal stress.

Transmissions may routinely reach temperatures of 230°F or more. Unless you accidentally dropped your Rolex in the batch of cookies you just put in the oven, watches are not subjected to high heat. 

Difference #2: Watches move much, much slower.

The gears in your Rolex also move at a much slower pace than your vehicle’s transmission gears. Without much stress, a dab of oil in a Rolex can last about ten years, but not with transmissions.

Transmission lubricants suffer from additional stresses. Because of their differing gear sizes, contact surfaces, tight meshing, and high rpm rotation, transmission fluid suffers from “shear” or a progressive thinning out of the fluid over time. 

Fluid shear or oil-to-gear “smashing” happens from day one, until the fluid is reduced to a water-like consistency. Think of transmission fluid spinning in a blender on a high-speed puree setting; it will go from thick to thin due to physical contact with spinning teeth. The thin fluid protects vastly less than thicker fluid.

So, over many driving miles, the extreme environment in the transmission will essentially destroy the fluid.

Difference #3: Transmissions require maintenance more frequently.

So, over many driving miles, the extreme environment in the transmission will essentially destroy the fluid. When the fluid breaks down, it forms sludge, and when it becomes sludge, it’s no longer cool, clean, or protecting the expensive and intricate gears inside your transmission. 

The same would happen to your Rolex if you increased the gear speed and dropped it into a vat of hot french fry oil at McDonald’s. 

What’s the point of this comparison?

Obviously, I know there are many more differences between a Rolex watch and an automatic transmission, and probably more similarities. This comparison is an illustration to show you how important maintenance is to the mechanical devices we invest in.

You would definitely protect your Rolex with high-quality gear lubricant; your vehicle’s transmission deserves the same. Periodic maintenance optimizes operational performance in a Rolex and your transmission.

Rolex watches are dismantled, cleaned, and lubed every ten years. A transmission fluid service should be performed every three years or 30,000-miles.

Michael Belluomo, Product Technical Service ManagerBy Michael Belluomo
Product Technical Service Manager

Mike has been with BG for 23 years. He manages all product-related inquires and assists with BGU and Distributor-specific training. He is a regular contributor of articles on product understanding and technical industry trends.

35 years of experience in fuel and lube technologies.


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