Your transmission requires transmission fluid to run properly. Just us with any other fluid in your vehicle, it needs to be clean and clear to get the job done properly. When it's first in your system, your transmission fluid should be perfectly clean and free from debris. But no fluid can last forever without breaking down or picking up bits of dirt and scum as it does its job circulating through your vehicle. That's why you have a transmission filter in your car. So how do you know when your filter needs to be changed, and just what is it going to cost you overall?
What is a Transmission Filter?
As we said, the transmission filter is a filter that helps keep the transmission fluid in your vehicle clean. You'll find it at the rear side of your engine where your transmission is located, obviously. It's above the transmission pan and can catch any excess fluid and also below a tube called a pickup tube where it connects to the oil pump. Any dirt and debris running through your transmission system will be caught by this filter to keep it running smoothly and cleanly.
Most transmission filters are made of felt, so they're not particularly high-tech in any way. That also means they have a limited lifespan especially if they start getting serious clogs. Just like your oil filter, you need to pay attention to know how well the filter is working and when it fails and starts underperforming, and you need to get it replaced as soon as you can.
Signs of a Bad Transmission Filter
The whole point of any filter In your car is to get dirty because that prevents whatever its filtering from being dirty. That means that the filters are inevitably going to get clogged and need replacement. With that in mind, it shouldn't come as a surprise when your transmission filter does get clogged up and go bad at some point in time. Bits of metal tend to flake off over time in the system, and it's almost impossible to keep dirt out of an engine over a long enough timeline. All of that's going to get into your transmission filter eventually.
It's generally recommended that you change the transmission filter every 25,000 to 30,000 miles or so. A lot of drivers miss this mark because changing the transmission fluid and filter is a bit of a time-consuming process, and it's not something you can easily do on your own. You generally have to go to a mechanic to get this done because removing the fluid pan is kind of a hassle. Still, if you recognize any of these symptoms of a bad transmission filter, you should definitely consider going in to have your vehicle looked at.
If you want to try your hand at changing your transmission filter on your own, there are videos you can find on the internet that will walk you through the process. This is definitely an intermediate project however and if you don't have a lot of experience doing car repairs on your own then this may be beyond your skill set. On the other hand, if you are comfortable working under the hood of your car, and things like changing an oil filter are second nature to you, then this could be a decent challenge overall for you to try out.
As we said, it's always best to make sure you have all the correct materials as listed in your owner's manual ahead of time, and definitely check out a video like this one from a skilled mechanic that allows you to follow along step-by-step when you give it a try.
If your transmission filter has become blocked by too much debris, you may notice a slight rattling noise as you're driving. It can be hard to pinpoint exactly where the sound is coming from, and it could be something like the fasteners simply needed to be tightened are replaced because they become loose. Noises are one of the hardest things to properly diagnose when their as minor as something like a rattle under the hood. Still, you know that nothing under the hood should be rattling, so if you do hear the sound it couldn't hurt to give your transmission to look just to make sure that it's not the problem.
If you notice transmission fluid is leaking from your car, that's a pretty good sign that something in the transmission needs to be looked at. This is a closed system, and the transmission fluid should not be leaking out for any reason. It could possibly mean that the filter isn't working correctly because it's not secured properly, or it's been damaged. Of course, a number of other problems in your transmission could lead to leaking that are much more serious than a problem with your filter, so if you do see leaking transmission fluid in your vehicle you definitely want to get it looked at.
Transmission fluid is a red liquid that smells kind of like oil and is also slippery like oil as well. There shouldn't be any other fluid in your vehicle that you can easily mistake for transmission fluid. So if you see it puddling under your car after you've moved it, then it's a good sign that you have a leak in the system and you need to get it checked out soon. The longer you go with a leak in your transmission, the more likely it is that your whole transmission will sustain some serious damage that could cost you a lot more money in the long run than simply replacing the filter.
Dirty Transmission Fluid
You should keep an eye on your transmission fluid just to make sure that the levels are where they need to be on a regular basis. When you are checking, make sure you're taking a look at the quality and consistency of the fluid as well. Like we said, transmission fluid is supposed to be red and slightly slippery and oily. If your transmission fluid has become contaminated it's going to take on a muddier appearance. You may notice some particular in it, but it should definitely be more brown than red and colour if it has become too contaminated.
When your transmission fluid has changed colour that badly, then you definitely have an issue with your transmission filter that's going to need to be addressed.
If you notice smoke coming from under the hood, then you don't need us to tell you that you have a big problem. Even if there is no smoke yet, if you're getting a burning smell in the cabin of your car then one of the potential problems here is that your transmission filter is so badly clogged that the fluid is not able to get through it properly. You definitely need to get to a mechanic as soon as possible if you ever experienced anything like this. Smoke and burning smells are not normal at all, and we can definitely lead to very big repair bills if you're not careful.
Difficulty Changing Gears
When the transmission is running smoothly and the fluid is clean and clear, you should be able to shift smoothly from one gear to another. Ideally, you won't notice anything happening. If your fluid is contaminated because the filter isn't working, then shifting gears is going to start becoming a problem. You'll notice some shuddering or hesitation as you try to change gears, and you might also experience some grinding sounds as well. If you're experiencing things like your vehicle surging as you switch gears, or really slow switching from one gear to another, these are also problems that indicate you may have a problem with your transmission filter.
If your transmission is clogged up, it's possible that your vehicle will start normally and then stop all of a sudden. You can try restarting and you might experience another stall shortly thereafter. If this continues to happen, it could indicate that your filter has become so clogged that it requires replacement.
If you have a manual transmission, then you know you need to depress the clutch in order to shift gears. This transfers the power from your engine to the transmission allowing you to select a year and then release the clutch as you hit the gas to get moving. When your transmission filter has become too clogged with sediment and residue, the clutch can slip has he tried to shift gears. When that happens, you'll be getting the engine revving, but you won't be able to get the speed you want because you haven't hit the right gear.
A clogged transmission filter may end up causing you problems when you try to shift into reverse. You can get the car in gear and then when you hit the gas it might still take a few moments as though the vehicle is hesitating before you actually start going in the direction you want.
Transmission Filter Replacement Cost
When you need to have your transmission filter replaced, you're going to have to head to a mechanic to get it done. As we said, it's possible you can do this job yourself just like it's possible you could do any kind of repair yourself, but we don't really recommend it. Because of the amount of skill in effort required to get this job done It's definitely best left to a professional mechanic.
As with any repair job, the price you pay for this is going to very much depend on the make, model, and year of the vehicle you're driving. As you can imagine, a job like this on something like a Toyota Corolla which is a very common car is probably going to cost you less than it will if you drive something like a Lykan Hypersport. Where you live will also have an effect on the overall price. From city to city common repair costs can vary greatly, and even within one town you've no doubt noticed that the prices between mechanic shops can vary greatly.
When it comes to a transmission filter replacement, average repair costs tend to be between $320 and $380. The labor cost for this is going to be between $140 and $180 on average. Again, we can't really narrow it down much further than that, and it's possible that your mechanic might charge you more. This is just a ballpark figure to give you an idea of what you're looking at.
The cost of a transmission filter on its own can range anywhere from as low as about $6 to over $60 on a site like AutoZone. You need to check with your owner's manual to make sure you have the exact right kind of filter if you plan to buy it yourself because there are literally hundreds of different ones to choose from. If you don't get the right one, it won't fit in your vehicle.
The Bottom Line
The transmission filter in your car may not seem like a big deal, especially if you can get a new one for only $6. But the importance of having clean transmission fluid can't be overstated. If you allow your transmission to run for too long with dirty transmission fluid, you risk some serious damage to the transmission. The symptoms of the clogged filter will increase over time and you'll find yourself slipping gears more frequently as well as having Issues with the vehicle stalling out on you.
If your transmission seized up on you, you're looking at a repair cost in the neighbourhood of $1,800 to as much as $3,500. Again, this depends on the make and model of your vehicle. But, as you can see, it's pretty expensive, and far more than you're going to want to be spending if the problem could have been fixed by simply getting a new transmission filter installed for just a couple of hundred dollars.
The transmission in your vehicle is one of those systems that you never want to mess around with. When you notice a problem crop up, you need to get it fixed as soon as possible to avoid a bigger repair Bill and a bigger hassle down the road.