All About Transmission Fluid Exchange

All About Transmission Fluid Exchange

Does your vehicle need transmission fluid exchange? A transmission fluid exchange is a type of vehicle maintenance many drivers don’t think about because they aren’t aware that it's something that needs to be monitored. Not knowing that could cost you a lot of money down the road.

Today, transmission fluid exchange is only done really completed on manual transmission cars. Automatic transmission fluid (ATF) is typically flushed out so all of the fluid in the system can be replaced, in automatic transmission cars.

The transmission of a vehicle transfers the power generated by the engine to the wheels. Transmission fluid is used to keep the components of a transmission system cool and properly lubricated so that excess friction doesn’t cause damage. Without regular transmission fluid exchange your vehicle won’t run as smoothly and you could experience transmission failure.

What is Transmission Fluid Exchange?

Over time, transmission fluid breaks down due to friction and heat. Once that process begins, the transmission fluid won’t perform correctly and will generate deposits that impact driveability. Eventually, it can damage the transmission, resulting in repairs that cost thousands.

All that can be avoided with transmission fluid exchange. This service is sometimes referred to as a transmission flush, but they aren’t one in the same. A transmission fluid exchange is when the old fluid is replaced with new fluid. A transmission flush involves forcing chemicals through the system to clear out debris. Transmission fluid exchange is preventative maintenance whereas a transmission fluid flush is closer to a repair that’s correcting a problem.

How Does Transmission Fluid Work?

Transmission fluid flows through the transmission from the impeller to the turbine. It’s designed to do several things simultaneously when the vehicle is cold and when it’s warmed up:

  • Allows the engine to shift gears
  • Provides hydraulic pressure
  • Lubricates components
  • Acts as a film between parts that are moving
  • Increases friction for the clutch to engage
  • Prevents wear, rust and corrosion
  • Controls foam

The more the transmission has to work shifting gears the hotter it will become. One of the most important things transmission fluid does is carry heat away acting as a coolant for the system. The fluid keeps the engine at an ideal temperature, no matter what the environmental conditions are like.

How is Transmission Fluid Made?

Many transmission fluids are made to be a manufacturer specific proprietary blend. Automatic transmission fluid starts with an extremely viscous base oil. Next, a mix of additives are put in to help stabilize oxidation, reduce foam and prevent corrosion.

Some manual transmissions use conventional oil without additives.

What Causes the Breakdown of the Transmission Fluid?

Heat is what primarily breaks transmission fluid down over time, hindering the fluid’s ability to do its many jobs, including dissipating the heat. The hotter the transmission fluid gets the quicker it will break down. As transmission fluid breaks down, the gears and other moving components generate more debris in the transmission. The build up of this debris reduces the quality of transmission fluid further and makes it burn.

Low fluid level is another problem that can lead to premature breakdown. When transmission fluid levels are low overheating is more likely.

Symptoms of Transmission Fluid Breakdown

You should check your transmission fluid levels regularly to make sure they aren’t getting low. Other signs of transmission fluid breakdown include:

  • Poor shifting
  • Erratic transmission behavior and gear selection
  • Difficulty getting a gear to engage
  • Slipping transmission
  • Overheating
  • Transmission fluid is cloudy or dark brown
  • Transmission fluid has a burnt smell

If you hear what sounds like clunking or clashing it could be a result of degraded transmission fluid. Having to wait for the transmission to “catch” is another symptom to watch out for.

Unfortunately, if these symptoms are noticeable it may already be too late for a transmission fluid exchange.

Types of Transmission Fluid

Transmission fluid comes in different types that are made for certain vehicles and transmissions. For example, high-performance vehicles typically need a synthetic transmission fluid that can handle high friction.

Using the right type of transmission fluid is extremely important. Don’t risk damaging your vehicle with the wrong type of transmission fluid. If you are unsure what type of transmission fluid will work best, give your local Jack Williams Tire shop a call.

Color of Transmission Fluid

The color of transmission fluid changes over time and can indicate quality level.
Transmission fluid comes in a variety of colors. It can be red, translucent, green or blackened. As the fluid ages it begins to darken. It goes from red to dark red to maroon to a brownish burnt color. Use and contaminants both contribute to the darkening of transmission fluid.

How to Check the Transmission Fluid Level

It’s important to check transmission fluid level to make sure it’s where it needs to be. This is possible as long as your vehicle doesn’t have a sealed transmission system. When the level gets low you need to get into a shop for a transmission fluid flush or exchange as well as an inspection of the entire transmission system.

Where to Locate the Transmission Fluid Dipstick

Your vehicle comes equipped with a transmission fluid dipstick for checking the level. It looks a lot like the oil dipstick, but can be harder to find. Look for the red handle on the top. If you have a rear-wheel drive vehicle it’s probably located in the back of the engine on the passenger side.

Front-wheel vehicles tend to have the dipstick located at the front of the engine near the transaxle.

When in doubt, consult your owner’s manual. There should be information regarding where the transmission fluid dipstick can be found.

Checking the Transmission Fluid Level

Now that you know where the dipstick is you can check the transmission fluid level in four easy steps:

 

    • Remove the dipstick to examine the fluid. Get a little bit of the fluid on your finger to analyze the color. What you want to see is translucent, pink or red fluid that’s free of particles.
    • Smell the fluid. If it has a burnt odor the fluid needs to be exchanged immediately.
    • Wipe the dipstick with a clean rag to remove all fluid. Now, dip the stick back into its holder to check the fluid level once more. It should be up to the full indicator on the dipstick. If it’s slightly low put a little more fluid in until it reaches the full mark. Just be careful not to overfill.
    • Reinsert the dipstick all the way once you’re done.

 

The visual inspection should only take a few minutes. If anything looks out of place contact a local shop to discuss what the issue may be.

Manual transmissions do not have a dipstick. Typically, fluid is installed on flat ground, via the fill plug, until it begins running out. Always make sure you can loosen the fill plug before draining the fluid out of the transmission.

Why is Transmission Fluid Exchange Service Important?

Put simply, transmission fluid exchange is needed to protect one of the most vital components of the vehicle. Without it, you will eventually run into serious problems.

The primary concern is loss of additives. The additives in transmission fluid provides lubrication and temperature control while keeping debris out of the system. The debris can build up and reduce lubrication as well as cooling. Driving with old transmission fluid in the system can wear out the components and even cause premature transmission failure.

Benefits of Transmission Fluid Exchange

The simple solution to avoiding the problems above is a transmission fluid exchange. It’s an inexpensive service that will extend the life of your transmission and ensure safe operation of the vehicle. Other benefits include:

  • Better driving performance
  • Smoother shifting
  • Prevents unnecessary wear and tear on the transmission
  • Avoid the cost of transmission repair
  • Enhances the additives

You’ll immediately notice a difference after a transmission fluid exchange that replaces old fluid with clean, additive-rich fluid that reduces friction. Spending a little money on a few transmission fluid services is all it takes to improve the drive and save thousands in potential repairs.

Implications of Not Getting Transmission Fluid Exchange in Time

As noted above, failing to get transmission fluid exchange in time can lead to catastrophic failure. The major issue is when the fluid breaks down parts aren’t lubricated properly and contaminants from the gears, bearings and friction plates build up. Failing to get the problem resolved in time can cause several serious implications:

  • Poor shifting
  • Erratic transmission behavior
  • Heat build up in the transmission

The only way to avoid these problems is to change the transmission fluid regularly. If debris builds in the transmission system a simple exchange won’t be enough. At that point you’ll need an automatic transmission flush to fix the issue.

Looking for transmission flush near me? We do that too! With dozens of locations around Pennsylvania it’s easy to stop in Jack Williams Tire for your transmission needs.

How Often Should You Have Transmission Fluid Exchanged?

Transmission fluid is critical for vehicle operation, but it doesn’t require as much maintenance as motor oil. How often you should have your manual transmission fluid exchanged depends on:

  • Year
  • Make
  • Model
  • Mileage
  • Type of Driving

Generally, you should have your transmission fluid exchanged every 24,000 to 40,000 miles or at least once every three years, whichever is first. It’s best to check your owner’s manual for a specific recommendation.

Process of Transmission Fluid Exchange

Specialized equipment is used to service the transmission, but a fluid exchange is one of the simpler procedures. If you need a transmission fluid exchange here’s what to expect:

  • The old, dirty transmission fluid will be drained.
  • New transmission fluid will be added to replace the old fluid.
  • Most of the time installing a new filter is also recommended.

If there are contaminants in the old transmission fluid a flush may be needed before the transmission fluid exchange. The technician can clear the contaminants out by flushing a chemical solution or pressure through the transmission system.

You should notice a difference in how your vehicle drives right away. It should drive smoother and perform better, especially when the gears shift.

Is your vehicle ready for a transmission fluid exchange?

Bring it by your local Jack Williams Tire shop for quick, affordable service!

Request an Appointment

January 17, 2020
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