Most of us have driven or been in an old car at some point in our lives. Whether it was the hand-me-down car you got from your parents for a 16th birthday, or the menace-to-society that a first date rolls up in, being in an older car with torque problems can be a bit scary. Torque converters transmit, or multiply, torque generated by an engine. Automatic transmission cars use torque converters because they allow the engine to keep turning while the wheels and gears in a transmission come to a stop. Manual cars achieve this with the clutch. Some cars, buses, trucks, forwarders and other heavy-duty vehicles, and marine propulsion systems use torque converters. There are four components inside a torque converters housing: the pump, turbine, stator, and transmission fluid.
There are a few common scenarios that cause torque converter problems— matching it with a non-stock engine that it wasn't designed for, exceeding its towing capacity for a prolonged period of time, and containing old and worn components. Overloading a converter can cause overheating, stator clutch seizure, stator clutch breakage, blade deformation and fragmentation, and ballooning. Some of the other common causes are damaged needle bearings, damaged torque converter seals, damaged torque converter clutches, or a malfunctioning torque converter clutch solenoid. There are many signs that show up when a converter is causing trouble.
Vanes will bend as a converter begins to wear. A sign of this problem is when the engine begins revving higher than normal but regulates once it heats up. When an engine block begins shaking at the slightest acceleration, otherwise known as a torque shutter, the converter is faulty. Some of the other signs are less power when driving at lower speeds, a whirring sound at startup, increased stall speed, and the “death sound” which is a loud clacking or grinding noise.
Torque converters can be repaired; however, if a converter has sustained heavy damage it can be safer and more cost-effective to have it replaced.
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