How to Check Transmission Fluid in Your Car

How to Check Transmission Fluid in Your Car

Every car’s transmission system is lubricated by a special liquid known as Transmission fluid, just the same way engine oil lubricates the different parts of the engine to keep them from wear. To ensure that your car’s transmission shifts appropriately and the car runs without hitches, you will need to maintain the ideal level of the transmission fluid.

When You Should Change the Transmission Fluid

Different people will tell you different opinions about this. A number of vehicle manufacturers advise their customers to change the transmission fluid after every 100,000-150,000 miles; but when you consider that, it really is a long time. Under normal circumstances, normal drivers run between 12,000-15,000 miles yearly; so going by the earlier suggestion, you will be changing your oil after every 7-8 years, or 10-12 years if you went by the 150,000 miles advice. Now not even you can determine the condition of the fluid by that time!

For this reason, I have suggested changing transmission fluid every 30,000 – 60,000 miles. Alternatively, once in two to four years should do. For the normal driver, this schedule will ensure that the car runs smoothly on good, optimal fluid; which will culminate in durable, effective and optimized transmission every time. Now changing your fluid very frequently doesn’t necessarily have adverse effects; we only advise that it happens every thirty to sixty thousand miles, for better results in transmission and finances.

In spite of this, there are conditions in which your transmission oil would need to be changed more frequently. These conditions are determined by your driving manners and a number of other factors. If you live in a very hot area, or you do heavy towing, or snow plowing, or hauling, you might want to have your oil changed like every 15,000 miles. This is because in cases like these, the working temperature of the fluid is quite higher than the ideal temperature; and this means that the capacity of the oil diminishes faster than usual, so it would require changing more frequently.

Even though the 30,000 – 60,000 mile schedule for changing oil is very good, the best way to know when your fluid is due for replacement is to check it. You will have information you will need – pertaining to the current state of the fluid; so it is also recommended that you check the ATF every month. When checking the fluid, try to observe the quality of the oil itself. Normally, good transmission fluid should have a red colour, and the colour is darker if the fluid has been there for a while. In most cases, this is okay. Conversely, oil that has black or brown colour and has a ‘burnt’ odour should be replaced quickly. You may also check for impurities in the oil – like dirt, metal splinters or debris. If you notice any of these, you will need to change the oil and the filter.

That’s it. You now know when to replace your transmission oil. If you always remember the next due date for changing the fluid, you’ll be having a very durable transmission, and you’ll also save extra money for yourself. To save even more money, see how you can change transmission oil by yourself here – just get ready for them stains.

 How to Check Transmission Fluid in Your Ride

Step 1: Refer to your owner’s instruction guide. Is yours an automatic or manual transmission? Manual transmissions do not normally come with a dip stick; and they do not require refill because they usually come factory filled. The oil will only be changed when repairs have to be done.
Step 2: If yours is an automatic transmission, find the transmission dip stick (usually red in colour). You will locate it much easier if you refer to the owner’s guide. Sometimes, it may be labelled. For front-wheel drive cars, the dip stick is usually located on the driver’s plane, on one flank of the transmission. For cars on rear-wheel drive, the dip stick is usually located on the passenger plane of the engine housing, towards the rear of the engine.

A lot of vehicles do not have a transmission dip stick. In such cases, the oil may only be checked using a machine, or by unscrewing one part of the transmission compartment. It gets more complex if you have to check for fluid in a sealed transmission system. Normal car owners cannot check transmission oil by themselves. If your vehicle has no dip stick, you can check the fluid level at a local transmission shop or a car clinic. You might consider doing this when you’re changing the engine fluid. Conversely, if your vehicle has a dip stick, you should try to check the fluid frequently.
Step 3: How to Check Transmission Fluid
Take out the dip stick, clean with a clean rag, and put it back into its place. Leave to stand for some seconds, then take it out again and check. If need be, fill up with recommended fluid.
If you’re adding oil, do it gently and gradually. Check the level as you add. Filling it can be easy; but if too much is added, reducing it can be very difficult.
If the vehicle takes in more than a quart, or is using up the oil regularly, take your car to a specialist to check for leakages. The colour of the transmission fluid is very important. The light-brown/translucent colour must be maintained. ATF (Automatic Transmission Fluid) has cherry red colour. If it is brown or dark red, you will need to replace it. If it has a burnt odour, or you notice debris in it, you will need to service your entire transmission system. What does this ‘service’ refer to? It involves changing the transmission oil filter before adding the oil.

How You Can Check Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF)

What is Automatic Transmission Fluid?

ATF is an acronym for Automatic transmission fluid. It is the transmission fluid used in cars with automatic transmission systems. It is usually coloured red or green.

Why should one check the ATF level?

ATF is the sap of the whole transmission system. It is responsible for generating the hydraulic pressure required to effect the transmission. It also cools and greases the transmission. When the level of the oil is low, the pump may suck air into the housing. This will interfere with the normal flow of ATF; and when the transmission oil is low, damage is more apt to occur.

How to Check Automatic Transmission Fluid Level

For systems that have a dip stick, follow the process described above. Car manufacturers have begun excluding dip sticks. Many car models like Ford, GM, Toyota and others have stopped fixing automatic transmission dip sticks for checking the fluid level in their cars. Contemporary transmission systems are more complicated than older ones; and as a result, the transmission fluid levels are more critical. One would require ultra-specialized processes in order to check the ATF level in these models.

If you want to proceed, learn how you can change ATF.

Empty the transmission fluid. Firstly, detach the cooling line connecting the transmission and the radiator, and fix a scrap of rubber tubing on to the pipe, while you put the tube’s other free end in an empty basin. Ignite the engine and leave it. Under normal circumstances, you should see fluid flow out of the cooling line into the basin. Once it stops flowing, switch off the engine. Undo the detachment and rejoin the cooling line and the radiator.

Take out the bolts holding the drain oil pan to the base of the transmission
Clean this pan using transmission fluid
Change the filter
Change the gasket
Put the pan back in place
As soon as the filter and gasket are back in position, re-fix the pan on the transmission. Use your hand to gently fasten the bolts a bit, to preserve the threads, before you then use a torque wrench to fully tighten the bolts. Try not to over-do it, to preserve the threads and to avoid damaging the pan.
Next, fill up with ATF: You can check the owner’s guide for the appropriate or recommended transmission fluids. Note the amount to add too.

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