So you’ve got the air filters replaced and the oil changed on your vehicle to ensure that it’s in proper working condition. But what about the transmission fluid change? Yes, your vehicle’s transmission and the fluid that keeps it running may be a mystery. However, it’s an important part of your car’s maintenance process.
What Is A Transmission?
First off, to understand the importance of transmission fluid change it’s important to know exactly what the transmission is and the role it plays in keeping your car on the road.
Although the transmission system in each vehicle may differ slightly especially across brands for most parts it’s mostly the same. The transmission is one of the most important components of a vehicle. After all, it’s what transmits the power from the engine to the wheels.
In a vehicle with a manual transmission, the clutch is what bridges the gap between the engine and transmission. The transmission allows the car to change gears and properly accelerate. One of the transmission’s main jobs is to make sure that the right amount of power is distributed to the wheels. If you don’t keep the transmission well-maintained it will affect driving quality and may even make your vehicle inoperable.
Transmission Fluid Change- What Is Transmission Fluid?
Transmission fluid slightly differs from motor oil which mainly serves as a lubricant for the parts within the engine or motor. Transmission fluid is a necessity in both vehicles equipped with an automatic or manual transmission. Transmission fluid acts as an oil and a hydraulic fluid that ensures that your car’s transmission is operating in good condition. It helps facilitate smooth gearshifts and cools down the transmission.
When it comes to transmission fluid change you’ll have to make sure you have the correct fluids that are specifically designed for your vehicle. Transmission fluid is colored green or red to make it distinguishable from motor oil and other oils that keep your vehicle going.
Most automatic transmissions can use standard transmission fluid however manual fluid can vary depending on the manufacturer. While the primary function of transmission fluid is to lubricate the components within the transmission it can also:
- Cleans the transmission system and protects the metal surface from wear
- Reduces high operating temperatures
- Boost temperature range and rotational speed
- Aids in conditioning the gasket
There are a wide variety of transmission fluids available on the market that can help you achieve the best performance from your vehicle’s transmission. Here are some of the top transmission fluids that are used in vehicles with automatic and manual transmissions;
Hypoid Gear Oil – This transmission fluid is mainly for manual transmissions. This transmission fluid is resistant to extreme temperatures and pressures.
Dexron – Dexron and Mercon are commonly used in automatic transmissions to preserve the internal surfaces. Both are sold in different quality grades depending on the level of protection you desire.
Highly Friction Modifiers- HFM transmission fluids are similar to Dexron and Mercon. The only difference is that this particular type of oil is more effective at protecting against friction.
Transmission Fluid Change – Major Part of the Maintenance Process
You may be wondering why exactly a transmission fluid change needs to take place? There are so many different fluids that are running through your vehicle yet the transmission fluid is one of the most important ones. Just like motor oil or any other fluid in your vehicle, transmission fluid will eventually deteriorate.
Daily city driving, hauling heavy loads, and trailer towing will cause transmission fluid to deteriorate faster. Hard use of your vehicle increases the transmission operating temperature and more heat will put a strain on the entire system. You’ll need to keep clean transmission fluid so that your transmission stays in a healthy condition.
Most auto manufacturers suggest that drivers have the transmission fluid changed every thirty to sixty thousand miles. For most drivers, this equates to about every two years. In some instances, a driver may need to conduct a transmission fluid change much more often.
If you rely on your vehicle to drive in high-stress conditions often, you’ll need a transmission fluid change regularly. If you begin smelling a burning odor or start to experience mechanical problems you should have your transmission inspected by a skilled mechanic.
Transmission Fluid Change – Signs It Should Be Done Immediately
Like all other fluids, transmission fluids break down over time and will leave varnish and deposits on the metal surfaces of the transmission. This is typically due to heat. If you’ve ever overheated oil in a pan, you’ll have noticed how it leaves sticky, burnt deposits inside of the pot, and the oil may even be runny in some places.
As the transmission begins to lose some of its fluids it’s forced to work harder, becomes hotter, and may even fail. Transmission replacement and repairs can cost several thousands of dollars. Here are the most common signs that your vehicle needs a transmission fluid change:
Difficulty Shifting Gears
One of the biggest signs that a transmission fluid change is necessary is if you notice that your car shifts gear harder or odd at times. Whether your vehicle is equipped with an automatic or manual transmission, it still switches gears. When you begin to feel abnormalities while shifting it can often be resolved by a transmission fluid change.
Gears Sometimes Slip
Does your transmission periodically slip out of gear? When the transmission fluid is mixed with dirt and grime it can affect the pressure levels that are responsible for keeping the gears in place. This can cause sporadic gear slips without any warning. This can be very dangerous. Therefore, you should have your transmission fluid changed immediately.
Delay in a movement when you change gears
Soiled transmission fluid can cause a delay in movement when you are shifting gears in your vehicle which can often be contributed to an interruption in the flow of the fluid. Longer delay times in movement are a sign that the transmission fluid has extreme contamination.
Noises while shiting
Do you hear grinding or squealing noises at times when you are shifting gears? There may not be any fluids left in your transmission. It can also indicate a more serious problem. You should check your transmission fluid right away.
Of course, the most obvious sign you need a transmission fluid change is if the color of the fluid has completely changed. As previously stated, transmission fluid should be red or green. If it’s a dark, murky color it is dirty and needs to be replaced.
You’ve never had the fluids changed
If you have owned your vehicle for a few years and you've had a transmission fluid change then you’ll definitely want to get it done. Even if you haven’t been experiencing any difficulties shifting gears, neglecting this standard maintenance procedure can have dire consequences.
Transmission Fluid Change – How To Check Fluid Levels
Periodically, checking your transmission fluid levels, color and scent will keep you informed on your transmission’s current condition. Depending on the vehicle, drivers can check the transmission fluid on their own. Checking your transmission fluid levels is similar to checking the oil in your engine. You’ll need to pop the hood and locate the transmission dipstick
In order to get an accurate reading, you should leave your car running and give the engine a chance to warm up. Transmission oil tends to expand in the heat so you won’t get the best result if you check the fluid levels when the engine is cold.
In front-wheel-drive systems, the transmission dipstick is located near the engine oil dipstick. Once you find it, you should extract it, and use a clean cloth to wipe away excess fluid on the dipstick. Place it back into the reservoir and then remove it again. There are indicators on the stick that will let you know if the fluid levels are “high” or “low”.
What To Look For When Checking Trans Fluid Level
No doubt, when you check your transmission fluid levels there are some things you’ll want to keep an eye out for such as:
- Color – If the fluid is a darker brown color it news to be changed. If the fluid left in your transmission is black this is a bad sign since it indicates that the fluid is burnt which can be due to a problem within the transmission system.
- Smell – Yes smell matters. Clean fluid is odorless but if it smells burnt then there may be something wrong with your transmission.
- Consistency – It’s normal for transmission fluid to become thicker inconsistency over time. When the fluid is good it should appear new. Make sure the transmission fluid doesn’t contain contaminants such as metal shavings.
In recent years, automakers have eliminated transmission dipsticks. Therefore, you’ll have to go underneath the vehicle to check transmission fluid levels. Many manufacturers claim that it’s due to a safety issue since car owners often mistakenly put the wrong transmission fluid into their vehicles. Therefore, you’ll have to go to your mechanic to have the transmission fluid levels checked.
Transmission Fluid Change or Flush – What’s the Difference
Often car owners get transmission fluid change confused with a transmission flush. While both a flush and fluid change can greatly contribute to the health of your transmission these processes are different. A transmission fluid change involves replacing some of the existing fluid with new fresh new transmission oil. A transmission fluid change removes most of the particles in the existing transmission fluid and the build-up but it won’t completely get rid of the old fluid.
A transmission flush completely removes all of the dirty fluid. Once all of the soiled transmission fluid is drained it’s replaced with brand new fluid which allows the transmission to run much more smoothly and efficiently. At $150-$200, a transmission flush costs more money than a transmission fluid change. Which one is better for your vehicle?
Most people will argue that a transmission flush is more effective than a transmission fluid change because they believe that the old fluid that’s left in the transmission after a change will contaminate the new fluids. As long as a transmission fluid change is regular especially for vehicles that are used to haul and tow loads, a fluid change is completely fine. Transmission flush should take place every forty-five thousand miles or every three years.
Transmission Fluid Change – How Much Does It Cost?
The cost of a transmission fluid change can vary depending on a number of factors including; where you get your car serviced at as well as the make and model of your vehicle. Popular service centers like Meineke and dealership repair sites overcharge for simple maintenance procedures like a transmission fluid change.
A transmission fluid change for foreign luxury vehicles like a BMW or an Audio is generally much more expensive. However, when you are calculating the cost of a transmission fluid change you’ll need to factor in the cost of the transmission fluid.
The average cost of transmission fluid is between $8-$20. Most cars require 5-15 quarts of fluids. You should also change the filter during a transmission fluid change which can cost between $12-$30. Depending on the vehicle, the pan gasket should also be replaced which runs between $75-$90.
When you do the math the average cost of a transmission fluid change is approximate $80- $250. For standard vehicles, a simple transmission fluid change with a filter replacement is less than $100.
Transmission Fluid Change – Maintaining Your Transmission
The thought of spending a hundred bucks or more on a transmission fluid change might not sound desirable but it’s an essential part of the maintenance process. Opt for a quality transmission oil that is highly efficient at protecting the internal metal surfaces of your transmission. It’s important to note that a transmission fluid change won’t fix any major problems within your transmission system. Once the damage is done you’ll need to have your transmission repaired before the transmission fluid is changed.