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How to Take Care of Your Car's Transmission

Updated on June 19, 2015

Taking Care of Your Transmission

Chances are you probably drive an automatic car, but you don't know much about how to maintain it properly. This also applies to manual transmissions but automatic transmissions usually develop more problems because of the fact that they have more parts than their manual counterparts. But either way, your car needs attention and just like a baby if you choose to ignore it, sooner or later it will cause you trouble. And I mean big trouble. Aside from the engine, the transmission is a labor intensive part that can easily produce problems if it isn't well maintained. To prevent issues from ever occurring, we will show you the steps you can take to make sure your car continues to work flawlessly.

Most Common Transmission Problems

Your automatic transmission runs on ATF, which is also known as automatic transmission fluid, and it helps tremendously in a number of ways. Lubrication, cooling, and providing the basic functions such as gear changing and downshifting are just a few things transmission fluid is responsible for. And just to be clear about how important it is, the most common transmission problems that occur have to do with fluid issues.

Low fluid levels and leaks- This is by far the most common problem cars have. Not many people know but low fluid levels and leaks can be attributed to a lot of the problems discussed below. Without enough ATF your transmission won't have enough hydraulic pressure to function properly, not to mention lubricating and cooling. So before you decide it's a bigger issue make sure the fluid is at the right levels and not leaking.

Burnt or dirty fluid- Burnt or dirty fluid is also a common issue. This usually happens because of normal wear and tear, although getting it to the level where it smells burnt could mean that you neglected to get your transmission serviced on a routine basis. Fluid will inevitably attract contaminants over time which is why you should get your transmission serviced every 30,000-60,000 miles. If you choose not to, prepare for the fluid to burn which can lead to transmission failure.

Damaged torque converter- You may have noticed that an automatic transmission does not have a clutch, and that's because what connects the engine to the transmission is the torque converter. This device is a fluid coupling that acts like a clutch, and adapts the power the engine outputs to the transmission. But torque converters can develop issues, the most common one being damaged needle bearings, where is can cause metal on metal contact that leaves contaminants in the fluid. The only thing you can do here is to replace the needle bearings.

Grinding or shaking- Usually when a driver experiences grinding or shaking they think that their transmission is about to give out. This is usually not the case and in most instances the problem has to do with low fluid levels or too much contaminants in it. The moment you feel your car shaking you should inspect it as soon as you can and decide the next steps you can take. Oftentimes a complete fluid with filter change will clear up complications.

How to Check Fluid

Checking the fluid is often the best thing you can do to diagnose problems. Don't be scared whether or not the process might be daunting, because in reality it is pretty darn easy. These are the steps you need to take to accurately check the fluid.

What you will need:

  • Your brain
  • A car
  • A clean towel
  1. Locate the dipstick. - On most cars, the dipstick is what you use to inspect the transmission fluid, and works the same way as the engine oil dipstick. You can usually find where it's located in your car's manual but if you don't have it then check near or around the oil dipstick. Knowing where it is beforehand is important so that you can check the fluid right away after warming up the car.
  2. Warm up the car. - Fluid expands when it's heated, and that's why you need to warm up your car in order to get accurate readings. If measured while your car is cold you might get the idea that you have low levels when in reality it's more while your car is running. So get your car started and running anywhere from 1 to 2 minutes and then turn off your car.
  3. Remove the dipstick and inspect for color and smell. - After it's nice and cozy raise the hood of your car and remove the dipstick. Get your clean towel and wipe off the dipstick and we will inspect the color. Normally new fluid is a bright red and gets darker as it ages. If when you wipe off the fluid it is dark brown or black that could mean your car needs to be serviced. Also if you smell even the faintest hint of something burnt then that also can mean you need to get it serviced.
  4. Reinsert dipstick and inspect for fluid levels. - If the color and smell checks out okay we are going to measure the fluid levels next. Reinsert the dipstick and pull it out once more. On the dipstick should be two lines marked 'Add' and 'Full'. The fluid should be between these two lines and if not it could mean either there is too much fluid or too little. If below the 'Add' you need to add fluid and if above the full line you need to get rid of some.
  5. If any symptoms, proceed to add or change fluid. - If you had low levels, dirty, or burnt fluid you are going to need to add or change the fluid. We'll show you the steps in the next section.

Check the transmission fluid

How to Add and Change Fluid

Adding Fluid

If you checked the fluid and it had low levels you are going to need to add some more. This is quite easy and you will need a funnel and the ATF specified in your car's manual. DON'T USE ANY RANDOM FLUID. It should be the specific fluid unless you want to risk damage to your transmission. Simply insert the funnel into the opening where your transmission dipstick is and add fluid in small amounts. Check the levels periodically in order to make sure it isn't overfilling. Keep repeating until the fluid is between the two lines. MAKE SURE NOT TO OVERFILL. That can be bad for your transmission also which is why we suggest to add fluid slowly.


Changing the Fluid

Changing the fluid can be a little more difficult but after you've done it a few times you will get used to it and it will save a lot of money in the long run. This will be a general outline because explaining the whole thing can be quite long, but you can learn the entire process in the video below, which explains it in detail.

1. Elevate your car - What you need to do first is raise the car on jackstands or some other way. Make sure it is stable.

2. Warm it up to normal operating temperatures - Just like when checking the fluid you are going to have to warm up your car for a few minutes.

3. Remove the transmission pan - The transmission pan is located on the bottom of your car and contains most of the ATF. You are going to have to remove this part.

4. Drain the fluid - After you have removed the pan you will drain the fluid out.

5. Install new filter and gasket - After cleaning the pan and inspecting for dirt and contaminants, you are going to install a new filter and gasket. The gasket makes sure that there are no leaks and the filter helps to trap large contaminants.

6. Reinstall the pan - After you have installed the filter and gasket you are going to put the pan back in place.

7. Lower the car and add the new fluid - Lower the car and afterwards add the new fluid in until it reaches in between the Add and Full lines. Do it slowly and carefully.

8. Warm up your car and profit! - After the new fluid is added you are going to start your car and shift between gears so that the fluid can flow throughout your transmission. And there you have it, the simple process of changing your fluid!

REMEMBER: This is just the general process and does not explain it in detail. Look for complete tutorials online or watch the recommended video below.

How to change fluid and filter

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    • profile image

      ralph neal 

      4 years ago

      Thanks for the tutorial. I always wanted to this on my own. I have visited my mechanist at his repair shop (https://plus.google.com/113236040101115122020/) many times and always wondered how do they do it. And now I know how its done, so from next time it will save me some time and also money.

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