check transmission fluid

Most auto manufacturers recommend servicing your transmission every 50,000 miles or so (check your owner’s manual for more details). But it’s a good idea to check transmission fluid periodically. One of the best times is during a normal engine oil change. If your transmission has a filler tube and dipstick you can check it yourself. If not, you’ll need to have it check by a transmission specialist.

It’s simple. Just follow these steps:

  1. Make sure the engine is at normal operating temperature.
  2. Park your vehicle on level ground.
  3. Place the shifter in Park and set the parking brake.
  4. Locate the transmission filler tube (note: some transmissions, particularly newer cars, do not have a transmission filler tube. If your car doesn’t have one you’ll have to take it to a specialist to check).
  5. Remove the dip stick and wipe it dry with a clean cloth.
  6. Reinsert the dipstick (all the way) and then remove it to view the fluid level. Dipstick design varies from manufacturer to manufacturer but they all have a “low” and a “full” mark. In this case, they’re holes in the stick. In most cases, the distance between the low mark and the full mark is one pint.
  7. In addition to checking the fluid level, check the condition of the fluid as well. Transmission fluid comes in a variety of colors but in all cases, the fluid should be clear and not have a burnt odor. For more information on transmission fluid condition see the ATRA article that addresses the color and smell of automatic transmission fluid.
  8. If the condition of the fluid is poor or the level is low you’ll want to have your transmission checked by a specialist. You can locate a qualified transmission specialist with ATRA’s Shop Finder. If the level is low, chances are you have a leak. Make sure you add fluid before driving any further.

To add transmission fluid:

  1. Place a clean funnel in the dipstick tube.
  2. Add fluid based as needed.
  3. Recheck the level as you did in step 6 above



No way to tell… at least, not yet. Not until the problem has been checked thoroughly by a qualified technician. After performing those tests, a technician will be able to tell you whether you’re dealing with a problem inside the transmission. Or a possible problem in the vehicle systems that control transmission operation.

But then he’ll be able to give you a price, right? Well, no… not completely. If the problem is in the computer system, the technician will probably have to perform additional diagnosis. This will identify the specific cause of the problem. That may take a half hour, or may take a few hours, depending on the problem. Once he’s identified the specific problem, the shop would be able to give you an accurate estimate of the cost to fix your car.

Rebuilt Transmission

If the problem is inside the transmission, the shop may be able to give you a rebuild price based on the type of transmission and the transmission repair option you choose. If your preference is a custom-rebuilt transmission they’ll need to disassemble and inspect the transmission in order to give you a firm price.

The good news is that the vast majority of transmission problems that come into the shop these days don’t actually end up needing a new transmission. The repairs may end up costing less than 25% of the price of a rebuilt transmission.

The important thing is to take your car to a qualified transmission repair shop. There they can diagnose your transmission problem accurately, so you don’t end up paying for work you don’t really need. The ATRA Code of Ethics — which all ATRA members are bound by — dictates that ATRA members provide competent, quality diagnosis and repairs at an honest price.


Transmission Shop Or General Auto Repair?

If you’ve ever had your car at a quick lube or the auto department at your local big box store, you’ve probably seen the signs offering to service your car’s transmission. Which begs the questions: Should you use a transmission specialist or generalist?

Generally speaking, when it’s time to have your transmission serviced, you’ll always be better off taking your car to a transmission specialist, such as your local Transmission repair center.

Of course, that begs the question: Why? Why can’t a general repair shop handle a transmission service? After all, it’s just about draining out the old oil and replacing it with new, right?

Not exactly. Oh, sure, in the simplest terms, a transmission service is about changing the oil. But that’s really only a small part of the process.

Servicing Your Transmission The Right Way

The more important issue is about knowing what to look for. Is the old oil really burnt or just a little worn out? Is the material in the bottom of the sump indicate a problem or is it just from normal wear? And should you really be paying for a service… or is it too late for that?

These are important questions, and they go way beyond the simple “drain out the old oil and replacing it with new” mentality. Those questions require technical expertise that’s well beyond that of the average oil change worker. It requires the eye of a true transmission expert.

So, when asking yourself whether to use a transmission specialist or generalist, consider whether they can offer you the knowledge and the experience to be sure your transmission is in good condition.


Both manual and automatic transmissions are generally trouble-free, but there are times when problems arise. Transmission issues manifest themselves in different ways, so it’s important that vehicle owners monitor how their vehicle’s transmission is operating. While there are many potential issues that require transmission repair, there are three common ones that should never be ignored.

Leaking Fluids

Any transmission, whether manual or automatic, should not leak. That means if there are any signs of a leak developing, it’s important to deal with the issue quickly. This will prevent damage to the transmission’s internal components. Seal leaks are generally the cause of fluid leaks and are one of the easier issues to deal with. Although the labor for replacing some seals can be quite high, it’s always lower than having to replace a transmission that fails because of that leak. Leaky Transmission issues should never be ignored.

Transmissions Should Never Slip

Slipping Gears always indicate some sort of problem. That means when transmissions don’t engage quickly when shifted into gear or shifts between gear are not precise. It’s time to have the vehicle looked at by a transmission specialist. Letting a problem go unattended is not recommended, as additional damage can occur when problems are not promptly dealt with.

Don’t Ignore Warning Lights

That Check Engine Light is there for a reason. In most cases, the light will come on to let the driver know there is some sort of an engine-related problem, but there are also times when the light indicates a transmission issue. Industry experts always recommend drivers take steps to determine why the light is on. Diagnostic equipment will quickly isolate the source of the issue, so it pays to visit a qualified technician when the check engine light comes on. Quickly identifying an issue and dealing with it often saves money.

No one wants to be stranded by the side of the road, and responding to any changes in the way your transmission behaves normally helps to prevent breakdowns. Maintenance is also important, so discuss your driving habits with a transmission expert to determine what care your vehicle needs. If any changes in a vehicle’s performance are noted, it’s always time to ask an expert for advice.