How to Change Transmission Fluid

Check fluid levels before changing the fluid.
Learn how to check transmission fluid
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Transmission Fluid 101

What Is Transmission Fluid, and Why Is It Important to Me?

The automatic transmission is one of your vehicle's most complex components. It has dozens of moving parts typically under electronic and hydraulic control, so fluid is imperative to its operation. Most manufacturers recommend periodic automatic transmission fluid changes.

Even though some of the newer automatic transmissions are sealed and require limited maintenance, most automatics rely on automatic transmission fluid. ATF is used to lubricate the transmission and activate the various clutches that assist in changing gears.

Things You'll Need

Transmission Fluid
transmission fluid image

Transmission oil pan gasket and filter
oil pan image

Step by Step: Transmission Fluid Change Instructions

Tap each step to check off which ones you've completed

  1. 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.

  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.

  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.

  4. Replace the transmission pan 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.

  5. Once completely drained, and with the new filter and gasket in place, tighten the transmission pan bolts.
  6. 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.

  7. Pull the funnel out, reinstall the dipstick and close the hood.

How to Check Transmission Fluid

Step by Step: Transmission Fluid Check Instructions

Tap each step to check off which ones you've completed

  1. Open the hood of your vehicle and locate the transmission fluid dipstick.

    Check your owner's manual to determine if the vehicle needs to be running or off to accurately measure the transmission fluid.

  2. Pull the dipstick out using the handle and wipe any oil residue off the stick. Re-dip the stick until its fully seated, and pull out to see the oil level.

    Wiping it clean ensures you're measuring the accurate oil level and not any residue that may falsely indicate higher levels.

  3. Check the oil level to make sure it's in the right operating range, which will be indicated on the stick. If it's low, top off with the manufacturer's recommended oil.

    When checking the fluid, also check the condition of the fluid. If it's older, the fluid tends to get darker, and in some cases, you can smell a burnt odor; the latter may suggest the transmission could use service. Be sure to follow your manufacturer's recommend fluid change intervals found in the owner's manual.