Proper maintenance of all the fluids in your car is integral to ensuring it runs as smoothly as possible and a transmission flush is no different. But what does a transmission flush cost? The exact price will depend on where you go and how much fluid you need, but there is an average range you can usually count on to give you an idea of what to expect. In general, you will likely need to pay anywhere from $100 to as much as $400. This is a very wide range and averages tend to be in the middle, around $200 or so for most drivers. You’d likely do best to shop around a bit and research the matter for yourself before committing to anything.
Should I Flush or Change My Transmission Fluid?
Transmission fluid, sometimes called automatic transmission fluid or ATF, is the fluid in the closed transmission system of your vehicle that keeps everything lubricated, cooled, and running efficiently. Contaminated fluid or low fluid levels require being replaced or flushed entirely but there is a difference between the two processes and it’s worth knowing the difference.
- A fluid change only partially cleans out the system. It’s essentially just opening a valve, emptying what’s inside, then filling new fluid into the system. There will still be remnants of the old fluid present, which could include contaminants. The advantage to just changing your transmission fluid over a transmission flush is that it is much faster and will also be much cheaper. Potentially this is the sort of job you could do yourself at home depending on your level of technical know how and confidence. It’s just not that thorough so it’s best to do this if you just have low transmission fluid, or are looking to do this as a stop gap measure until you can get the money or time together for a proper flush, if you really need one.
- A fluid flush forces out all of the old fluid under pressure and runs a cleaning agent through the system as well to change it completely. This is the closest you can get to resetting your transmission to factory new. It is the more thorough and complete option, but also takes longer and will be the more expensive choice in terms of cost. Overall, it’s the better choice for the efficiency of your vehicle though.
Are Transmission Flushes Worth It?
Compared to some things like repairing a blown head gasket or replacing your fuel injection system, paying for a transmission fluid flush is not the most expensive repair job on your vehicle. Even though $200 isn’t chump change, it’s a lot more reasonable than a $2,500 repair for a cracked cylinder head or something like that.
Even though a transmission flush could be considered relatively cheap, that $200 would still probably be better served on something else in your life if you don’t need to spend it on this. Is it worth it to get your transmission flushed?
Your transmission is not a system that needs maintenance anywhere near as often as some systems. You don’t need to change the fluid here as you’d change your oil. Some mechanics will tell you it is good maintenance though, especially if you find your transmission slipping or making a grinding sound now and then.
There are some mechanics who suggest a fluid flush every 100,000 miles or so. The belief is that such a procedure will keep your transmission running as though it were brand new and ensure no loss in performance for your vehicle. That said, not every mechanic agrees with this position.
Some mechanics feel a full transmission flush is just a cash grab by unscrupulous mechanics. You need a trained transmission specialist to not only determine if you need it done but to conduct the flush as well. An untrained or improperly trained mechanic could damage vital valves and seals in your transmission and cause an even worse problem.
Can I Flush My Own Transmission?
This is a tough question to answer but obviously it’s something many car owners want to know. You can change a lot of your own fluids so why not transmission? And in the spirit of do-it-yourself car maintenance you can, in fact, change your own transmission fluid although that doesn’t always mean it’s a very good idea to do so. The same can be said for any do-it-yourself project, however. If you don’t feel confident in your skills, the job may not be up to par and may result in more problems if it was done incorrectly. Naturally, you’ll need to determine this on your own. This is not the same as a proper and thorough flush, but it will clean the system more than just topping up old fluid.
If you do feel confident enough to try this on your own, you'll need a few items including;
- Transmission fluid
- Floor jack + jack stands + wheel chocks
- Socket Set
- Drain pan
- Long neck funnel
There are a few steps to go through to change your fluid yourself. Here’s the simple method. If you’re not 100% sure, you can check out some YouTube videos that will show you the steps or just get your mechanic to do the job for you.
- Let your engine warm up and then use the fluid dipstick if you have one to check your levels. The dipstick should have a red handle. If the levels are normal and the fluid looks clean, either red or green depending on what color you use, you may not need to change anything. If the levels are low, it can be topped up. If it’s off colored or sludgy, it needs to be changed.
- Turn off the engine and then place the wheel chocks behind the rear wheels. Use the jack and jack stands to raise and secure the front end.
- Locate the transmission pan under the engine. Depending on the make and model, there should be a plug that can be removed to drain the fluid. In others, the whole pan will need to be removed, and that will require taking off about 6 to 8 bolts.
- Place your drain pan under the plug and drain the fluid. If there’s no drain plug, you'll need a drain pan bigger than the transmission pan, because it’ll be a mess. You’ll probably get about half of the fluid out of the system this way. To do a full clean, you MUST get a professional flush.
- Inspect the drain pan for metal shavings or other contaminants. The pan should have a magnet in it to collect the metal shavings that may be from normal wear and tear in your engine. Large, irregular pieces are not usual, however.
- Check the filter and gaskets after the fluid is drained. Replace anything cracked or worn.
- Replace the plug or pan. Make sure to not over-tighten any bolts.
- Take the car down off the jack stands and replace the fluid with the funnel. You’ll need several quarts as detailed in your manual and you’ll need to make sure it’s the right kind for your make and model.
- Restart the car and let it run for a few minutes, then check your fluid level. Add more if it’s low.
- Properly dispose of your old fluid. Transmission fluid is not safe to just dump in the trash or flush down a drain. Most shops will accept it as a drop off.
Will a Transmission Flush Hurt My Car?
A transmission flush should not harm your car but that doesn’t mean it won’t. As we’ve said, you need to have this job done by a properly trained technician who is using proper tools. A proper transmission flush should use the car’s own transmission pump to help flush the system.
Some mechanics may perform this job in a different manner, one that is more like a vacuum cleaning to suck the fluid out. This can dislodge debris and clog the lines even worse, potentially damaging the system in the process and making it function even worse after the flush than before.
This is why some mechanics even warn against having a flush done. If it is done you need to make sure it’s being done by not just any mechanic but someone who is trained as a transmission technician specifically. This is a delicate system, after all. It needs to be done correctly to ensure the result you want.
If it’s done correctly, a transmission flush will not harm your car, however. If it’s necessary, it will improve the overall function of your transmission and will be a benefit to the longevity of your vehicle.
How Do I Know If I Need a Transmission Flush?
Your owner’s manual is a good first place to check if you’re curious about when and how often to flush your transmission fluid. While we often just use rules of thumb in driving to determine things like when you need to rotate your tires or when you need to change an oil filter, your manual has exact specifications that are unique to your make and model. This is always a better bet than just going by averages that can apply to numerous different makes and models.
In general, they say you should get a transmission flush every 30,000 miles or two years. There are some other signs to be on the lookout for, however.
- If your transmission is grinding or making other unusual sounds, that’s a good sign your fluid needs to be flushed. This could be caused by low levels or just heavily contaminated fluid.
- If your vehicle stalls for a moment every time you put it in gear, that may mean you need a transmission flush.
- If you have a problem shifting gears, and it seems to go either too quickly or too slowly into a new gear, that's a sign that your fluid may not be clean and requires a change.
- Dirty transmission fluid can cause what is called surging. That’s when your car seems to just lurch or move forward in a sudden and jerky way. An inconsistent flow of transmission fluid is the cause for this.
- If you find that you keep slipping gears, that can be caused by both a lack of fluid and the presence of dirty transmission fluid. A transmission flush could also be the solution to that problem.
If you’re experiencing any of these issues, a mechanic can better help you diagnose if it’s truly an issue with your transmission fluid or if something else may be amiss.
What Happens If I Don’t Flush My Transmission Fluid?
While the rule of thumb is that transmission fluid should be changed every 30,000 mile or so, and others feel that “fill-for-life” fluid can last well over 100,000 miles the fact remains that sometimes it does need to be changed. Transmission fluid subjected to high heat and contamination over long periods of time may become muddy and thick with sediment, dirt, metal or other unwanted materials. This will wear down your transmission, lower the performance of your vehicle, and make your vehicle much more unreliable. In a worst-case scenario, your entire transmission could break down and require a thorough repair or replacement. As we’ve covered in the past, repairing your transmission is incredibly expensive and can cost anywhere from $1800 to $3400.
For the relatively low cost of some routine maintenance and having your transmission flushed as your owner’s manual suggested, you can spend a couple of hundred dollars and save yourself several thousand, which is why it’s a good idea to get it done. Not having your transmission fluid flushed is the same as not changing your oil, not rotating your tires, or not getting your brakes checked when they’re making noise.
If you don’t get your transmission fluid flushed at some point, you’re risking serious damage and serious financial difficulty for you down the road. It just makes sense to get it done. But you must use some discretion when deciding when to do it. If it doesn’t need to be done, then there’s no need to put time, money and effort into it. Likewise, you don’t want to go and pay someone to do it if they’re not properly trained and using equipment and methodology that ensures the well-being of your vehicle.