Vehicles’ vital fluids normally perform two important functions: lubricating and cleaning. As the fluid circulates through the parts, it gathers the dirt and metal shavings that can accumulate over time. If you’re lucky, this debris will settle on the bottom of the pan or housing and not circulate through the system.
That’s why some auto shops use machines that perform a transmission fluid flush, ensuring that more of this debris is removed before any new transmission fluid is poured into the vehicle. Nothing prolongs vehicle life more than regular fluid changes.
In automatic transmissions/transaxles, the recommended service interval is about every 30,000 miles or 30 months. (Check your owner’s manual or service manual for your car’s specifics.) The automatic transmission fluid (ATF) should be changed sooner if its dipstick reveals dark or burnt-smelling fluid.
How to Change Transmission Fluid: Step-by-step instructions
If you can garner some initial patience, learning how to change automatic transmission fluid will only benefit you in the long run. More importantly, you’ll need an automatic transmission filter kit; they normally contain a gasket for the pan in addition to the new transmission filter and its O-ring. Along with some basic shop tools, you’re ready to get started.
Step 1: Use a car floor jack to raise the vehicle off the ground
Transmission fluid drains better at operating temperature, so let your car idle for a few minutes first. After turning your ignition off, Use a car floor jack to raise the vehicle off the ground using the manufacturer’s recommended lift points to avoid damaging the undercarriage.
When using a jack, exercise caution to ensure no accidents. Always secure the vehicle with jack stands, ramps, or cribs. We recommend installing wheel chocks to the opposite end being lifted to prevent the vehicle from rolling.
Step 2: Place a container or drip pan under the transmission oil pan to catch the old oil.
Before draining the fluid, make sure the transmission is at normal operating temperature. Also, make sure there’s a fill spout for the new fluid; some newer transmissions do away with traditional fill methods.
Step 3: Loosen the pan bolts to allow for draining.
Once loose, the fluid will immediately gush out; the fluid may be hot, so use caution. A tip to help keep things clean: Removing all but the last four bolts at the back of the pan allows fluid to drain with minimal splatter.
Gradually loosen the other bolts, which should allow the pan to tilt and begin to drain. Once all bolts are removed, lower the pan and dump the remaining fluid into the catch pan. Gently break the gasket seal with a screwdriver, if necessary.
Step 4: Remove the transmission pan old gasket and filter.
Make sure the transmission pan and transmission mating surfaces are clean, and that the old filter grommet and transmission pan gasket are removed before installing the new parts. Inspect the pan for metal shavings or other signs of internal damage, and then clean it with solvent.
Step 4: Install the New gasket and filter
Once completely drained, and with the new filter and gasket in place. Install the new transmission filter, making sure that its O-ring seats in the appropriate orifice.
Step 7: Tighten the transmission pan bolts
Refer to the service manual about using thread sealer on any or all of the transmission pan bolts, then screw in all fasteners finger-tight. Torque the pan bolts to spec in a spiral pattern starting at the center. Maximum torque is often about 12 pounds per foot.
Step 9: Fill the New Transmission Fluid
Lower the vehicle to fill the new fluid, open the hood and pull out the automatic transmission fluid dipstick. Insert a funnel and pour the new transmission fluid through the funnel. Check your owner’s manual for the recommended type and quantity of transmission fluid.
Step 10: Start the vehicle, warm it up, then shut it off and check for leaks.
Pull the funnel out, reinstall the dipstick and close the hood. Start the vehicle, warm it up, then shut it off and check for leaks. If you don’t detect any leaks, run the vehicle up to operating temperature on level ground, move the shifter through all gears, return to the park and check the dipstick while the engine idles.
Why change transmission fluid?
Changing your transmission fluid frequently is the best way to ensure the maximum longevity of your transmission. If you don’t change your transmission fluid frequently, the dirty fluid will not serve as an effective lubricant and it won’t disperse heat well.
This will cause wear and tear on the clutches and other parts of your transmission. Once the clutch packs lose their grip, the old fluid might be the only thing creating enough friction to get your clutches to engage and keep your transmission from slipping.
Prevent damage to your transmission by making sure your transmission fluid is changed or flushed according to the owner’s manual. You can also check the owner’s manual to know what kind of transmission fluid your car takes, as there is a wide variety on the market with varying viscosities.
How often and When to change transmission fluid?
Most manufacturers recommend replacing transmission fluid every 30,000 to 60,000 miles. If you tow, or do mostly city driving with constant changes of gears, it may be wise to change your transmission fluid even more often. Here’s why. Your automatic transmission has a lot of moving parts.
There are a few different numbers you’ll see thrown out when asking this question. On the one hand, it’s important to always follow your manufacturer’s recommendation. You’ll find this in the manual provided to you at purchase.
That being said, most automatic transmissions run on a fluid interval between 60,000 and 100,000 miles. For this reason, many wait until the 60,000 markers to bring up fluids with your mechanic.
Any great mechanic is going to be keeping an eye on this for you anyway during oil changes and other servicing. Likewise, feel free to request transmission fluid changes as often as every 30,000 miles.
There’s no harm that comes to your transmission from more frequent changes. That way, you can have your mechanic keep an eye on the bigger issues that might be at play with your transmission as well.
How Much Does a Transmission Fluid Change Cost?
The first factor that influences the cost is where you have it done at a dealer or at a mechanic/service center. The next contributor is the make and model of your car. This determines the type of transmission fluid you need and how much.
The cost to have your fluid changed by a dealer, service center, or independent mechanic ranges from $80 to $250. The average cost is around $100 for both automatic and manual transmissions. We recommend getting the filter replaced and the pan cleaned every time the fluid is changed.
|Transmission Fluid Change Cost|
|Range||$80 to $250|
|Mechanic||$80 to $150|
|Dealership||$150 to $250|
|Do it Yourself||$40 to $90|
When you change your transmission fluid, you should also change the filter and sometimes the pan gasket. Filters range between $15-$30 and pan gaskets between $75-$150.
Add these all together, and you get a total cost of between $130-$480, with the average price ranging between $80 to $250. If you have the service performed at a mechanics shop or service center, expect to be towards the lower end, otherwise, be ready to spend more at a dealer.
If you’re willing to get your hands a little dirty, you can always change your transmission fluid on your own for between $50-$100.