Are ZF Transmissions Actually Good Or Not?

ZF Transmissions can be found in many vehicles produced by several different car manufacturers. They are often chosen as an upgrade for everything from a luxury sedan to an AWD SUV. Just like with any type of car part or brand of part, there are benefits over other choices and there may be some reasons to avoid it. Are ZF transmissions good for cars? Let’s learn more about ZF.

What Does ZF Mean?

ZF is the more common reference to the ZF Group or “ZF Friedrichshafen AG.” ZF is an abbreviation of Zahnradfabrik which means “gear factory” in German. ZF is based in Baden-Wurttemburg, located in the southwest region of Germany.

Their revolutionary 8-speed transmission was first introduced to the American car manufacturers in 2011 when Chrysler designed it into their popular Chrysler 300. Chrysler then decided to work with ZF in establishing a plant in Indiana to continue producing these transmissions. It wasn’t long after that other American car brands began incorporating them into their own models.

Which Cars Use ZF Transmissions?

The list of actual car models that come with a ZF transmission, either standard or as an available upgrade, is huge. While Chrysler brought it to the US, it uses the ZF 8HP in everything from its luxury car models to its Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel. Other car manufacturers that have adopted this transmission in its production vehicles include BMW, Maserati, Volkswagen, Jaguar, and Rolls Royce.

Benefits of a ZF Transmission

There wouldn’t be so many car manufacturers installing the ZF transmissions if there weren’t enormous benefits for their drivers. In just a few years, ZF went from a small-time, European transmission production company to one known around the world. Their most popular transmission, the 8-speed 8HP, won the Automotive News PACE Award. What are these benefits?

Fuel Efficiency

We’ve figured out years ago that more gears mean better fuel efficiency. The ability to more precisely match your speed, RPM and power needs with the proper gear means you won’t be trying to get more out of a low gear than is possible, wasting gas and efficiency. You also won’t be in too high a gear forcing too-high RPMs that eat your gas mileage.

Lightweight

The 8HP 8-speed transmission is much lighter than many other transmissions, even popular 5- and 6-speed options available in many production vehicles. The ability to reduce the overall weight of the car has several benefits, mostly depending on the type of vehicle. Sedans can see better fuel efficiency. Sports cars can improve their performance. AWD vehicles perform better when off-road. LED headlights don’t have to be the only upgrade you make for off-road performance.

Longer Life Expectancy

The torque converters matched to the ZF transmissions are designed to take much of the abuse that a transmission usually sees. With a limited-slip, you’ll enjoy a quick transfer of power from the transmission to the wheels. This also means that your transmission could last much longer than some others with less wear and tear. Given that replacing a transmission is one of the costliest repairs for any vehicle, this should give you peace of mind.

Smoother Shifting

No one wants to feel their car shifting. It’s a disruption in the enjoyment of driving. Most drivers with cars featuring a ZF transmission report rarely feeling their car shift. A smoother shift is a smoother and more comfortable drive. Even when off-road, a smooth shifting automatic transmission can get you out of some tough spots in a hurry.

Easy Upgrade

If your vehicle came equipped with a ZF 6-speed transmission, or 6HP, it’s an easy upgrade to the 8HP. Both are designed with the same housing which means you can swap out the internal components to the 8-speed transmission. The 8HP also uses fewer parts making the upgrade an affordable one, considering. You will most likely have to reprogram your vehicle’s computer system to operate the 8-speed ZF transmission.

The Not So Good About ZF Transmissions

No car manufacturer or part is perfect and there are bound to be some bumps in the road. This is especially true as ZF continues to outpace its growing pains.

ZF Transmission Recalls

There have been a couple of recalls on ZF transmissions over the years that they’ve been introduced to American car manufacturers.

Several Chrysler Group vehicles with production years of 2012 through 2015 were recalled, including the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Dodge Charger. The recall was announced in April of 2016 and dealerships were advised to update the computer software to better manage the transmission’s shifting.

Approximately 125 Ram 1500 trucks for the 2014 model year were recalled due to a parking issue. Because of a mechanism that was machined incorrectly, these transmissions could allow the truck to slip out of park and start rolling. These transmissions need to be replaced to fix the issue.

Sudden Lunges

Mostly due to software programming, some drivers experience sudden lunges when their ZF transmission shifts instead of the smooth-shifting that the brand is known for. This isn’t the norm and any issues like this should be brought up with your dealership so they can diagnose the root of the problem.

Front-Axle Vibration

A more common problem than sudden lunges is front-axle vibration. There are several reasons for this and sometimes it’s not something that can be repaired. While it’s not an indication that something is wrong with the transmission, it may make for a less than perfect ride.

Mechanical Failure

ZF isn’t the only transmission manufacture to experience mechanical failure. Truly, this is a more widespread problem as a mechanical failure of a transmission can be caused by any number of things.

It’s important to contact your dealership right away with any transmission problems so they can be remedied before a failure. If failure does occur, you may have a powertrain or extended warranty that covers the transmission, or it may be covered under a recall notice.

In Brief…

As you can see, ZF transmissions have had a definite impact on the auto industry and not just in Europe. These transmissions are designed for efficiency and a long life but also for a wonderful driving experience no matter the make and model of your vehicle. When shopping for a new vehicle, be sure to ask about its transmission. Learning it is equipped with an 8HP or 9HP ZF transmission might just help you make up your mind.