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What Is an Automatic Transmission Flush? All You Need to Know

what is an automatic transmission flush

If you're wondering, “what is an automatic transmission flush?” It refers to when your mechanic drains out the old transmission fluid and replaces it with a new fresh one.

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Depending on your transmission type, the transmission fluid might be responsible for functioning the transmission, lubricating the internal components, and preventing any overheating issues. Transmission overheating issues and insufficient lubrication lead to major problems that could cost you thousands of dollars.

Although you need to maintain a proper transmission fluid level in your vehicle, there is some point where you have to completely flush out the transmission fluid and replace it with a fresh one with better characteristics, and that's what's referred to as the automatic transmission flush.

This article provides you with all the details you need about the automatic transmission flush. In addition, it highlights some of the essential information about the importance of transmission flush and the intervals you can wait between transmission flushes.

What is the transmission fluid, and what does it do?

Before we discuss the details about “what is an automatic transmission flush?” Let's step back and explain the purpose of the transmission fluid. The transmission fluid essentially lubricates the internal transmission components and prevents their overheating by reducing friction.

However, if you're driving a vehicle equipped with an automatic transmission, the transmission fluid becomes more important because it is involved in the operation of the transmission. In other words, the transmission relies on the fluid to produce the hydraulic power that engages and switches the different gears.

Therefore, without the proper amount of transmission fluid, your vehicle cannot operate, or at least you'll deal with some damages that might evolve and cost thousands of dollars down the road.

What is the automatic transmission flush?

While it is essential to have the right level of transmission fluid in your vehicle, over time of use, this fluid becomes dirtier and collects a lot of debris and contaminants as it flows around the transmission. That's why you cannot continue driving the vehicle with this dirty fluid, and you must flush it out or perform what's known as an automatic transmission flush. Then, of course, there is also a manual transmission flush.

When you hear the term automatic transmission fluid flush, it refers to the process where your mechanic drains out all the old transmission fluid and replaces it with a fresh one. Unfortunately, the old fluid got dirtier and lost some of its main characteristics, as we indicated earlier.

What is the difference between changing the transmission fluid and transmission fluid flush?

Some people might get confused between transmission fluid change and transmission fluid flush between the two common transmission maintenance types. These are two different maintenance, and each one refers to a completely different process. Let's take a closer look at the main differences between the two:

  1. Changing the transmission fluids

Changing the transmission fluid does not necessarily mean that you will completely get rid of the old transmission fluid. Your mechanic will replace between 50 to 60% of the old fluid while keeping the rest. During the transmission fluid change, the mechanic also replaces the filter and does not use specific equipment or perform any detailed inspection of your transmission.

  1. Flushing the transmission fluid

On the other hand, during the transmission fluid flush, your mechanic replaces 100% of the transmission fluid and does not leave any amount from the old fluid. Also, the mechanic requires specific toolsets to help perform the flush and usually performs a more detailed inspection of the transmission and surrounding components to check for any issues.

What happens if you don't change transmission fluid?

Ignoring transmission fluid change for a long time leads to significant issues. As we highlighted before, the longer you wait on the transmission to change, the more you will end up with a complete transmission flush because the transmission fluid might get extremely dirty, and performing a simple change won't resolve your issues.

When the transmission fluid is very dirty, it cannot do its job, and it will fail to lubricate the internal components of your transmission completely. Even worse, if you are driving a vehicle equipped with an automatic transmission, dealing with a dirty transmission fluid might lead to difficulty switching gears and vehicle hesitation, if not a certain acceleration.

How often should I flush my automatic transmission?

Flushing the automatic transmission is not required as frequently as a transmission fluid change. In other words, experts typically recommend flushing the transmission once every 30,000 to 50,000 miles or three to five years, whichever comes first.

However, the interval we mentioned does not necessarily indicate that you must follow because it all depends on your vehicle type and the owner’s manual. For example, some vehicles manuals recommend flushing the transmission once every 3000 miles or once every two years.

Therefore, you must go through your vehicle's owner’s manual and get accurate guidance. However, suppose you find it a little overwhelming to understand or read through the manual. In that case, we recommend that you consult your mechanic and get an expert recommendation before ignoring or delaying the transmission fluid flush.

How do I know if I need a transmission flush?

Although experts have some recommendations about transmission flush frequencies, sometimes you might need the flush earlier, depending on some common symptoms. The good news is that your vehicle will bring your attention and let you know that it is due for a transmission flush before it even those.

Here are some of the common signs that you need to keep an eye for indicating that you should flush your vehicles transmission fluid:

  1. Loud transmission grinding noises

As a rule of thumb, whenever you notice any weird noises coming from your vehicle, whether it's the transmission or something else, you must take it seriously because it might be linked to a major problem. Of course, there are some instances where the loud noises might be coming from a minor issue, but it's not always the case.

One of the first the most common symptoms that your vehicles do for a transmission fluid flush is when you hear loud grinding noises coming from the transmission. What's happening here is that the internal transmission components did not receive the right level of lubrication, and therefore, they're grinding against each other. This symptom is very similar to what you will hear when you don't have enough transmission fluid.

Whenever you deal with these grinding noises, it is important that you immediately stop the vehicle and consult your mechanic to confirm whether you can drive the car to their repair shop or you should get it towed.

  1. Difficulties shifting gears

Another important symptom indicating that your vehicle is due for a transmission fluid flush is when you have difficulty shifting gears. You will know how easy or simple it should be to switch gears because of the time you've been driving your vehicle. However, when you start realizing that the gear shifting is not as smooth as before, you should take the issue seriously and consult your mechanic to resolve it.

Keep in mind that difficulties shifting gears might be related to other problems, and you cannot immediately confirm that your vehicle needs transmission fluid flush. Therefore, once your mechanic confirms the issue, you're not recommended to perform any action or flushed the transmission.

  1. Problems with slipping gears

Since the automatic resolution relies on the fluid to do its job, when the automatic transmission fluid is not at the proper level or when it's very dirty, the transmission will have a hard time working. Therefore, you might notice some issues with slipping gears. Slipping gears can be a very complicated problem, and if ignored, it might lead to significant issues that could cost you a lot of money down the road.

  1. Issues with surging vehicles

If the transmission fluid is very contaminated and has a lot of debris, it might lead to vehicle surging. If you notice as you're driving that the vehicle is surging unexpectedly, then you should deal with the issue immediately because it might put your life at risk. Therefore, any vehicle surging despite the problem should be taken care of seriously and resolved as soon as possible.

  1. Troubles with vehicle hesitation

Similarly, a dirty or contaminated transmission fluid might make it harder for your vehicle to get going here; therefore, if you realize that the car is stalling between now and then, then it might be an issue with the transmission fluid, which needs to be flushed.

How much does a transmission flush cost?

If you're planning to flush your transmission anytime soon, expect to pay between $100 and $200. On average, a transmission fluid flush costs about $150. Of course, the cost might differ significantly depending on where you get the job done. For example, if you do it yourself, you'll eliminate the labor costs, but if you get to get it done at a dealership, it will cost you much more than having it done at a small independent shop due to high labor costs.

Many drivers prefer to perform the transmission flush by themselves. While this helps eliminate extra labor costs, it is not recommended unless you have the proper level of mechanical experience. Also, especially if your vehicle is luxury, experimenting on your vehicle might be a little risky because introducing any simple mistakes might lead to significant damages that might cost you thousands of dollars in no time. Therefore, whatever you're trying to save on getting the transmission flush done by yourself might not be as close to what you have to take care of if you introduce any mistake.

Which is better, transmission flush or change?

As we explained earlier, transmission flush and change are two completely different maintenance. Of course, each one has its benefits, but you cannot compare the two as good and bad. In other words, your vehicle might get to a point where it needs a transmission fluid change only without requiring a complete transmission fluid flush.

However, at some point in time, when the transmission fluid gets extremely dirty and builds a lot of sludge between the transmission components, that's when you have to perform a complete transmission flush and relying on a transmission fluid change might not resolve your issue. So, it might be just a waste of time.

Therefore, we recommend that you consult with your mechanic and have him inspect your transmission closely to determine whether what you're dealing with requires a transmission flush or change.


The transmission fluid is responsible for lubricating the transmission and preventing any friction. It also helps to operate the transmission by providing the required hydraulic power. However, overtime reviews, this fluid collects debris and contaminants and gets dirtier, which leads to losing important characteristics.

Therefore, your automatic transmission requires what's known as an automatic transmission flush, which indicates that your mechanic will drain out the old transmission fluid and replace it with a fresh one that has the desired characteristics to keep the transmission operating properly.

Of course, if your transmission has major problems, changing or flushing the transmission fluid might not resolve your issue. Therefore, you must evaluate your situation and determine whether it's worth fixing the vehicle or selling it instead. This way, you can use the vehicle's value towards purchasing a better car.

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