Repairing Automatic Transmission Cooler Lines

Owners of classic cars know that rust never sleeps. It’s a constant battle to preserve our vintage, classic and muscle cars against the insidious brown flaky oxidation that eats away at metal parts. Unfortunately transmission cooler lines are particularly susceptible thanks to their mounting location and exposure to the elements. In this article we’ll discuss common problems, repair and replacement procedures for automatic transmission cooler lines on vintage automobiles.
Transmission Cooler Lines
Automatic transmissions generate a lot of heat with temperatures reaching 350°F. This destructive heat is removed from the circulating hydraulic fluid. Coolers are located in the radiator or they can be a separate device. In either case, they mount on the front of the vehicle just behind the grille for efficient heat exchange. The simple metal lines that carry the transmission oil back and forth to the cooler have evolved through the years. The oldest vintage cars will use steel lines, whereas cars from the 60s and 70s will have galvanized lines that hold up a little better than the old ones.
Modern automobiles utilize composite aluminum and rubber hoses to transport the hot fluid to the transmission cooler and return it to the pan. On vintage and classic cars the deterioration rate has a lot to do with the storage and operation of the vehicle. Daily drivers exposed to road salt or automobiles stored outside, even if covered, will fare much worse than those stored indoors in climate control conditions and driven sparingly.Do you have interest in rock climbing?Visit


Identifying Cooler Line Problems
Often the first sign of trouble is spots in the parking area. Pinpointing the leak can be difficult, because the fluid can travel from the leaking area down along the tube and drip off at the lowest point. For this reason the wet area should be cleaned, dried and carefully inspected. With the leaking area identified it’s time to determine whether to replace the entire length or repair a section. The decision is handled on a case-by-case basis, but a general rule of thumb is, if rust has developed to the point where it’s leaking, than replacement might be the best course of action.
Repairing Cooler Line Leaks
If most of the cooler line appears to be in good condition and the leak is in an accessible spot, then successful repair is possible. They make specialized repair kits specifically for this task. Keep in mind when performing this repair that a transmission cooler line holds about 20 to 50 PSI of pressure at idle, but this can increase to over 100 psi during operation. In fact, many transmission coolers can handle 300 PSI just to be safe.
Perfect candidates for a repair would be spots that have worn through from a rubbing condition, isolated rust spot with a pinhole leak and damage to the threaded fittings on the cooler side or transmission side. When leaks are found at a threaded fitting it’s worth trying to coat the threads with a good wrapping of thread sealing tape as this is often successful with the softer brass fittings found on either end of a cooler line.
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Previously repaired assemblies that utilized brass compression fittings can also be cleaned, re-wrapped with sealing tape and tightened before embarking on more extreme measures. Many Chrysler products and the popular Mopar muscle cars of the late 60s and early 70s used a metal line all the way up to the transmission cooler, mounted in the lower half of the radiator. A small section of rubber hose attached the line to the cooler. These are susceptible to dry rot and fatigue. When replacing these small sections of rubber hose you want to use parts rated to carry hydraulic oil.
Hidden Costs of Owning a Vintage car
Can you afford to coddle your car?
When you buy a classic car, you can’t just park it in your driveway. It’s a fragile property and needs tender loving care. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld has a passion for Porsches and owns almost 50, of which the centerpiece is a $700,000 Porsche 959. Only 200 were built and never went through emissions and crash testing, so they cannot be driven on the street. Unwilling to trust this prize to any Manhattan garage, Seinfeld reportedly spent almost $1.5 million to have his own storage facility built in the city.
If you don’t want to go to those lengths, storage facilities exist across the country. “The cost is partly a function of real estate,” Hyman says. And the economy. In 2007, the Bridgehampton Motoring Club, which offers 24-hour video surveillance, heat, air conditioning and a charge for the battery, charged $1,200 a month. Now the monthly fee is around $500.
Use it or lose it applies to your classic car, too. They have to be started up every so often, or the brakes will seize, the clutch will stick, and the engine will rust. The more cars you have, the more difficult this can be. Jay Leno has a staff of four to “exercise” his cars. On the other hand, Ralph Lauren often lends part of his collection to museums where they temporarily become works of art. From April 28 to Aug. 28, the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris exhibited some of his cars, including a 1958 Ferrari 250 TR and a 1938 Bugatti 57S Atlantic.

Count on unexpected repair and restoration
There is no such thing as a warranty when you buy a classic car, and even if it has been beautifully restored, it could have some serious mechanical problems. “If you’re a first-time owner, it’s worth researching the type of car you’re interested in before purchasing it, as maintenance costs can vary greatly,” says Hagerty’s Klinger.
These can range from a $400 tuneup for a mid-1960s Corvette to $4,000 for a Ferrari 308, he says.
If you take your car to shows and competitions around the country, you’ll be paying for airfare, hotels and transport of the car. Getting your car from coast to coast ranges from $1,600 to $2,000, says Hyman, the classic car dealer. But you’ll want to spend money to make the car Concours-ready — as near-perfect as possible.
“This can cost from $1,000 to $10,000, depending on if you just want the car polished or the engine re-detailed,” Hyman says.
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