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How Often to Change Transmission Filter

How Often to Change Transmission Filter

The answer to how often to change transmission filters vary. But if you want optimum protection then do it at 30,000 miles or every 2 years depending on which would come first. And that is unless you have a brand-new car with Dexron III ATF, which is expected to last 100,000 miles. 

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Automatic transmission filter maintenance may seem to be more hocus pocus than science at times. With so many automakers promising “lifetime” transmission fluids that never need to be replaced, you'd think the filter inside these gearboxes will be the same. The reality, however, is a little more complicated. 


A number of issues with the filter can arise, reducing its ability to do its job effectively. So you must know how often to change transmission filter and what signs to look for to help you determine when a replacement is needed. But first, what is a transmission filter? Is it really necessary to replace the filter in your gearbox? When do you know it's time and how often to change transmission filter.


How Often to Change Transmission Filter: What is a transmission filter?


Since it's the first line of protection in keeping pollutants out of your transmission fluid, your transmission filter is a critical component in your car. The transmission filter is an important component of that system, located above the transmission pan, which collects any excess fluid, and below a pickup tube that connects to the oil pump, which controls fluid pressure in the transmission. When sending lubricating fluid to the transmission, the transmission filter acts as a sieve to absorb pollutants such as dirt and debris.


As the miles pass, the heat produced during normal operation puts a lot of strain on your automatic transmission. As your vehicle ages, internal gear wear can cause metal shavings to float around in the transmission fluid. The transmission filter sifts out the metal and prevents it from causing problems and allowing smooth shifting.


Since many gearboxes aren't fully sealed (there are breather vents, a filler tube, and a level check tube), dirt and other foreign particles may get into the fluid and the job of cleaning them out also lies on the transmission filter. A transmission fluid filter is located on the outside of some vehicles, while others require removal of the transmission pan to replace the filter.

How Often to Change Transmission Filter: Signs that It’s Time


For practical reasons you're not going to open up your transmission to see if the filter is clogged. It's just not the easiest part to get to. Since you'll most likely have to lower the transmission pan to do the fluid change, you can replace the filter at the prescribed transmission fluid change interval found in your owner's manual.


A vehicle's on-board computer can also keep track of fluid life and warn you when it is approaching the end of its useful life. Being aware of the signs helps you determine how often to change transmission filter. Here are the signs it’s time:

  • Smoke or a Burning Smell


The smell of something burning can signal that the filter has become clogged with particles that it has been built to keep out. In extreme situations, it can result in the frightening sight of smoke erupting from the engine.

  • Strange Noises


It's worth checking the transmission if you hear a rattling that you can't put a finger on. If a defect has developed, the component must be replaced or the fasteners tightened. Filters that have become clogged with debris can also cause noise.


A noisy neutral can also be a sign of a clogged transmission filter. A noise coming from your vehicle should always be taken seriously. It could indicate that your tires, suspension system, brakes, axles, engine, or transmission are malfunctioning. When it happens while you're in neutral gear, though, it can lift your eyebrows even more. So, what's going on? Your car should be almost quiet throughout this period.


It could be your transmission fluid, requiring you to change it and replace your filter at the same time. If the noise persists, it can indicate the presence of a more serious issue.


Another strange sound that can be heard if you have a clogged transmission filter is a whirring or whining noise whenever you shift into gear. This sound is more prominent for manual transmission.In between gears, the engine can sound like it's revving up. What is the only problem? It won't engage as fully or as quickly as it could, indicating a clutch problem.


A high-pitched noise rather than a whir can be heard from an automatic transmission. When switching from park to drive or reverse, it's the most obvious. The method of moving should be quiet and painless. Something is wrong underneath the car or hood if it becomes laborious or noisy.

  • Contamination


The transmission filter prevents pollutants from contaminating your transmission fluid. The transmission fluid will easily become too dirty to perform its work if the filter fails to do its job properly. As contamination exceeds a certain amount, it may cause the transmission to burn, entailing transmission repair. Inspect the transmission fluid on a regular basis, not only to ensure that it is at the proper level, but also to ensure that it is free of impurities.

  • Transmission Leak


One more sign to know how often to change transmission filter is you’re already seeing a transmission leak. If the transmission filter is not mounted correctly or if the transmission itself has a defect, leakage can occur. There are a number of seals and gaskets in the transmission that can develop cracks and cause a leak. A leak can also occur if they become dislodged or misaligned. There will be signs of leakage after the car has been moved from where it was parked.

  • The inability to shift gears


If you can't change gears easily or it doesn't work at all, you might have a transmission filter problem. A faulty transmission filter may also be to blame if the gears grind for no apparent reason or the vehicle surges when changing gears.


Each of these symptoms indicate that your transmission filter needs to be replaced. However, hopefully, you can replace your filter before any of these issues arise. With this in mind, it's recommended that you replace your transmission filter if you adjust the fluid in your transmission. 

How Often to Change Transmission Filter: Transmission Fluid Filter Kit


When it comes to replacing the fluid and filter in a transmission, most owners opt for a complete fluid filter kit rather than just the filter. The transmission filter parts are few, but the kits contain a little extra related hardware that you can repair as a precaution when the transmission pan is off and that part of the transmission system is easily available. The following elements are commonly included in a transmission filter kit:


Transmission Filter


The transmission fluid passes through the filter, which looks like a metal plate with slats. A fibrous medium is contained within those slats, which traps any pollutants before the fluid enters the transmission.




The gasket ensures a close fit between the transmission filter assembly and the transmission pan, ensuring that no fluid escapes while the transmission is in use. It's either kept in place by a ring of bolts around the pan's perimeter, or it's built to be easily removed with a little effort. Cork or ridged rubber may be used to make these gaskets.


Pickup Tube


The kit also includes the pickup tube that attaches the transmission filter assembly to the oil pump.




An O-ring type rubber seal ensures a close fit between the pickup tube and the transmission case as the final component of a transmission filter kit.

How Often to Change Transmission Filter: Frequently Asked Questions


Can you DIY transmission filter change?


Removing the transmission pan and draining the fluid takes the majority of the time when you are replacing a transmission filter. While it might not be a complex process, expect it to be messy. It's just just a matter of a few nuts and bolts if you're comfortable removing the pan, popping out the old filter and installing a new one, and then using the right pan gasket to reseal the transmission However, some vehicles have more complicated transmission filter replacement procedures, so do your homework before starting on a DIY transmission filter change project.


When you replace the transmission filter, you should also replace the transmission fluid and the transmission pan gasket. These parts are simple to replace and can be done in under an hour.


Do you need to change the filter when changing transmission fluid? 


A fine-mesh screen is standard in most cars and does not need to be replaced. However, some vehicles do have a transmission fluid filter that needs to be replaced. An owner's manual or maintenance schedule will tell you if your car has a filter and whether or not you should change it as you change the transmission fluid. But in general it is recommended that you also change your transmission filter each time you have to do a transmission fluid change.


Should I change transmission fluid after 100k miles?


Many automatic transmissions don't need fresh fluid until 100,000 miles or even 150,000 miles, according to the manufacturer's maintenance schedule. Many mechanics believe that this is too long and that it should be completed every 50,000 miles at the very least.


Can you clean transmission filter?


Normally, a transmission filter is replaced, not cleaned. However, if you have an older model car that has been discontinued, you might be unable to find a new filter, or if you do, it will be costly. Here’s what you can do:


  1. Disassemble the filter, making a mental note of how it's put together so you can reassemble it correctly. Cut the crimps that hold the clamshell-like transmission filter together with a bench grinder. To separate the seam, hold the bench grinder perpendicular to the filter and run it around its circumference.


  1. To separate the two halves, use a drill bit to drill through the mounting hole crimps..


  1. To clean the filter parts, place them over a pan and spray them with disc brake cleaner. The dirt and debris would fall into the pan. A toothbrush can be used to dislodge anything stuck to the filter bits. With the toothbrush, be careful not to scratch the brass bits.


  1. The rough outer edges of the filter parts should be filed. Replace the crimping metal with crimpers and reassemble the parts in the correct order.


How much is a transmission filter change?


If the transmission fluid gets filthy or the transmission filter becomes clogged, it's time to replace them. You should expect to pay between $250 and $340 to have your transmission filter replaced. Labor should cost between $100 and $125, and parts should cost between $150 and $215.


What does a mechanic do during a transmission filter change?


Your mechanic usually replaces the transmission fluid and filter at the same time because they also tend to clog up and get dirty at the same time. To begin, he'll look for leaks, as this is one way for the fluid to become contaminated quickly.


Then he'll unscrew the transmission filter and remove the transmission oil pan (which is needed in most but not all vehicles). In certain situations, the mechanic may also want to replace the pan. The fluid will be drained, and the necessary components will be replaced. The mechanic would then inspect the vehicle to ensure that the transmission is in good working order.


Your owner's manual will usually tell you how often to change transmission filter. Some cars have an onboard computer that monitors the vehicle's fluid life, making it easier to determine when the transmission fluid needs to be replaced.


How often to change transmission filter can also depend on your driving conditions. You also will decide whether the automatic transmission filters need to be replaced by monitoring your fluid on a regular basis. If you notice a significant amount of fluid degradation, it's time to change the filter. The technician will be able to say whether your filter needs to be replaced when you bring your car in for its routine maintenance check-up.


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