There are a lot of moving parts in your vehicle’s transmission. It takes a slippery liquid called car transmission fluid to lubricate those parts and keep them running smoothly. As a vehicle owner, it’s a good idea to learn how to check the fluid and know when it needs to be replaced. If it needs replaced, it’s a good idea to know the steps on how to change transmission fluid if you’d like to do this task yourself. Ignoring this really important maintenance task could cause transmission failure and end up costing you a lot of money.
Four Signs Your Transmission Fluid Needs to Be Changed
- The transmission is grinding or making other strange noises (such as screeching or squealing)
- Your gearshift is slipping between gears
- The vehicle is surging or lurching, not handling smoothly
- There is a delay in vehicle movement
Checking Your Transmission Fluid
You check your engine oil, right? And you get your engine oil changed, right? Well, you should check your transmission fluid too. It’s a very similar process: pull out the transmission dipstick, wipe it clean with a lint-free cloth or a paper towel, place the stick back in the dipstick tube, and pull it back out to see a clear reading of the fluid level. If your vehicle doesn’t have a transmission dipstick, don’t worry. Check the owner manual to learn when the fluid and filter should be changed. A common recommendation is about every 20,000 to 25,000 miles.
The big difference between transmission fluid and oil checks is that you will actually check the transmission fluid while the car is running. Just remember to keep it in Neutral or Park, and set the parking brake for safety. If the fluid level hits below the minimum line on the dipstick, you will need to add more. Check your owner’s manual to see which kind is recommended for your vehicle.
You will also want to check the consistency of the fluid, which should be clear with a pink tint. If the fluid condition looks gunky, it may be a good idea to get the fluid flushed and get a fluid exchange. If you’d like to change your vehicle transmission fluid yourself, keep reading for a step-by-step guide on how to change transmission fluid.
Changing Your Transmission Fluid
- Make sure the car is off and place it in park. Raise it up securely with a jack stand or a lift. If you don’t know how to do this safely, please go to a professional mechanic. We don’t need any accidents occurring, okay?
- Lay down some tarp and a 2 gallon catch pan under the transmission. This pan where the fluid you drain will go so be sure to place it accordingly. You’ll also want to make sure you’re wearing gloves and some safety goggles for this task- transmission fluid can get pretty messy. Completely remove the bolts from one end of the transmission oil pan. Be careful not to burn yourself on any hot surfaces if your car was running recently.
- Gradually loosen the bolts on the other end of the pan so that it will begin to tilt. Once the pan is tilted, the transmission fluid should start to drain into the catch pan you set out earlier. Once the majority of the fluid has drained, remove the rest of the bolts and dump the remaining fluid in the catch pan.
- Clean both the oil pan and gasket housing with a cleaning solvent. Make sure there aren’t any signs of damage like metal shavings left in the oil pan.
- Remove the old filter by unscrewing the bolt attaching it to the transmission. Clean off any residue from the transmission body and replace the old filter with a new one.
- Remove the old gasket from the oil pan and adhere the new gasket to the transmission pan using oil-soluble grease (don’t use adhesive). Place the oil pan with the new gasket back against the transmission and tighten all bolts by hand first to secure it to the transmission. Then go back in and tighten all of the bolts by torquing them in a criss cross pattern, moving across the pan as you tighten to ensure it’s locked onto the transmission evenly.
- Lower the car and add in the new transmission fluid through the dipstick tube using a funnel. You’ll want to reference your owner’s manual for recommendations on which kind of fluid you need. This information can also be found with a quick online search. For example, do you need manual transmission fluid or automatic transmission fluid? Is there a specific brand that works best with your car model?
- Turn the car on and let it run for awhile until the engine is warm. Use the transmission oil dipstick to check the fluid level. If the fluid doesn’t reach the appropriate markings on the dipstick, add more fluid. Once the fluid level is adequate, turn the car off and check that there aren’t any leaks coming from the transmission pan. Be careful! The car will be hot from running.
- Dispose of the fluid properly. Transmission fluid can be super dangerous for the environment, so you’ll want to make sure you take it somewhere with a disposal program. Most auto part stores and mechanics will have fluid recycling programs you can take advantage of.
If some visuals would help, we also love this video on changing transmission fluid. Feel free to check it out for more information.