Whether you have a manual or automatic transmission, transmission fluid is essential for smooth shifting. It’ll also extend its life by protecting the internal components from wear. Unlike motor oil, you usually don’t have to worry about how to add transmission fluid unless your car has a leak. However, if you run it hard or use it as a tow vehicle, you’ll also have to check it more frequently.
The first sign of low transmission fluid is rough shifting. Your car may skip gears. You may also hear odd noises coming from under the hood. You should check it immediately if you notice anything strange about how it handles or if you detect a burnt smell.
For normal driving conditions, you can wait until your car reaches 60,000 miles or more to change the fluid. Around 30,000 miles is appropriate if it has a manual transmission. Some vehicles have a sealed unit that you’ll need to have a repair shop handle. Otherwise, the task is simple. All you need is the transmission fluid and some paper towels.
There are several kinds of transmission fluid. It contains friction modifiers and additives to inhibit rust and wear. They also include a range of other ingredients like anti-foaming agents, conditioners, and detergents. Engine oil, on the other hand, deals with the demands of combustion.
You should always get the type recommended by the automaker. They differ based on the make, model, and use of the vehicle. For example, you would use MERCON products for Ford transmissions, while DEXRON works for GM cars and trucks. There are also subtypes that vary by the vehicle’s year and transmission type.
You can find specialized fluids for specific uses like racing or with some kinds of setups. The Type-F is a Ford product from the 1960s that the manufacturer designed for lifetime use. Others have higher quality additives like hypoid gear oil or Highly Friction Modified (HFM) products. They can withstand more demanding driving conditions and higher temperatures.
You only need to get a quart of fluid. Most products typically run under $10 for MERCON or DEXRON fluids. Synthetic types will cost around $20.
Adding transmission fluid differs from motor oil because you need to have the vehicle running and the engine warm. You can quickly give it a look when you stop for fuel. Put the car in park on a level surface before you begin.
It’s always a smart idea to check both fluids regularly to stay on top of this routine maintenance and avoid a costly repair down the road.
The vessel containing the transmission fluid has a dipstick like your oil reservoir. Pull it out and wipe it with a clean, lint-free towel or cloth. Put it back in place and remove it again. Be careful when handling the dipstick as the transmission fluid will be hot.
Examine the color of the fluid. Most are tinted red or green to distinguish it from engine oil. If it’s black or brown, you may have a transmission problem. Likewise, a gritty or sandy texture means something is wearing out within the unit.
Smell the transmission fluid too. A burnt odor also is a sign of a potential problem or a vehicle that has been run too hard. In any case, a trip to your mechanic is the next stop unless you plan on browsing for a new ride on Car Finder or AutoTrader.
The dipstick has markings on it to indicate the fluid level. Some are marked “Cold” and “Hot.” Use the later as your guide. If it’s less than full, you’ll need to add more. Using a funnel is the best way to do it. You shouldn’t spill any of it on the hot engine because of the risk of contamination from the fumes.
Pour it slowly into the reservoir. Do not overfill it since the dipstick needs to go back in it too. Insert it and then remove it. Check the fluid level again to make sure that it’s full. Add more if necessary.
There really isn’t any excuse not to check the level and know how to add transmission fluid. Not only does it protect the transmission, but it will also lube the torque converter, gaskets, and valves to allow them to handle the intense heat of the engine. It’s imperative that your transmission doesn’t run hot for long.
Failure to keep the fluid topped off will soon have you checking new car prices or used car values. Don’t risk it. This simple task can help extend the life of your vehicle for many happy miles.