The majority of vehicle owners are aware that they must perform routine maintenance, such as oil changes and tire replacement, to keep their vehicle roadworthy. However, you should also keep an eye on your automatic transmission—you know, the gearbox that you shift into drive, reverse, and park multiple times per day. Transmissions are one of the most expensive components to repair or replace on a vehicle, so keeping yours in good working order can pay off. Follow our step-by-step guide below to check the transmission fluid yourself.
How To Check Transmission Fluid Level
In the same way that your engine uses oil to lubricate and cool its internals, automatic transmissions use specially designed transmission fluid for the same purpose. Conventional automatic transmissions, dual-clutch automatic transmissions, and continuously variable automatic transmissions all utilize a distinct transmission fluid. If you are uncertain as to which fluid is used in your transmission, consult your owner’s manual; transmission-fluid specifications are typically located in the specifications section.
A simple visual inspection will suffice to determine the condition of your vehicle’s transmission; you don’t need to be a mechanic. You must examine the level and condition of the transmission fluid.
Step 1. Locate Dipstick
- The fluid dipstick looks just like the engine oil dipstick.
- Location of the dipstick depends on the type of vehicle.
- To find the dipstick, leave your engine running and open the hood of the car.
- Make sure the car is warm in order to check the transmission fluid.
- If you have an inline engine, check behind your oil dipstick and toward the windshield.
- Look to the right of your oil if you have a front-wheel drive vehicle.
Step 2. Check Transmission Fluid
- Remove the dipstick while ensuring the engine is running and the car is in neutral.
- Your parking brake should be on at this time as well.
- If you have sensitive skin, wear plastic gloves.
- Use your finger to touch the tip of the dipstick.
- Rub the fluid between your thumb and index finger to see if the color is clean and clear/pink.
- Check for any burnt particles or dark coloring.
- If you notice any of this present, have your vehicle checked by a professional.
- Wipe the dipstick clean with a lint-free cloth and insert it back into the fluid.
- Remove the dipstick once again and check the level.
- This fluid level should reach the “full” line.
- If not, then add a small amount of fluid.
- Make sure it does not overfill.
Step 3. Transmission Fluid Maintenance
- Consult your owner’s manual before checking the transmission fluid level yourself.
- Try to check the level at least once per year.
- You can do this more often to ensure optimal performance.
- The professionals recommend changing your transmission fluid every 30,000-50,000 miles.
State of Fluidity
Now, analyze the color of the fluid by placing the dipstick on a white surface, such as a paper towel. The color of your transmission fluid and, to a lesser extent, the transmission itself indicates the fluid’s condition. If your fluid is healthy, it should be a shade of reddish-pink; if replacement is imminent, it will be a shade of brownish red.
If the fluid is black or dark brown, it is likely that you will need to replace more than just the fluid. A fluid with a burnt odor and a dark color portends ill tidings; in the worst-case scenario, the fluid may also contain metal shavings. Both of these symptoms indicate possible internal component damage to your transmission. It is possible for a transmission to develop a mechanical problem prematurely, just like any other vehicle component.
Signs Of Low Transmission Fluid
If your fluid level is low, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re headed for disaster, but it does indicate a leak somewhere in the system. It is possible to determine the severity of a potential transmission leak by filling the transmission and then monitoring the fluid level on a daily basis.
Try to visually inspect your transmission by looking for fluid leaking from underneath the vehicle. Does the vehicle leave traces of a crimson fluid after parking? It is engine oil if the fluid is black. If it’s water, it’s probably condensation from the air conditioning system.
Here are a few typical signs of low transmission fluid:
- A burning smell both inside and outside the vehicle.
- Vibration or grinding when shifting gears.
- The vehicle does not accelerate properly.
Transmission Service, Repair, & Replacement Services in Phoenix, AZ
We offer a full range of auto transmission repair and replacement services from automatic transmission to manual transmission to the entire Phoenix Metro area.
*Disclaimer – This is not an actual quote. Your transmission repair or replacement cost could be different than the prices you see on this guide. The only way to get an actual estimate is by searching for transmission repair and replacement shops near you. Contact Automatic Transmission Exchange if you are in the Phoenix area and need transmission repair or replacement.