Tips to Check Transmission Fluid Condition (Manual & Automatic)

The transmission of a vehicle has a lot of moving components and gears which must be lubricated constantly. This concept is really no different than how engines need lubrication for their moving components too. But the difference here is that engines need oil for their lubrication while transmissions require transmission fluid.

You should never try to put motor oil in a transmission because its lubricating properties are not formulated for a transmission. Stick with either manual or automatic transmission fluid, depending on the type of transmission you have. Periodically check the fluid level of your transmission because it can gradually decline over time. If the fluid level is too low, then you can simply add more fluid to raise the level back up to normal.

Of course, many car owners don’t know how to check the transmission fluid level or the fluid’s condition for that matter. If you have low levels of fluid or bad fluid in your transmission, then it can cause permanent damage to its components.

Keep reading, and you’ll learn how to check the transmission fluid of manual and automatic vehicles.

How to Check the Transmission Fluid of a Manual Vehicle

If you drive a manual transmission vehicle and have difficulty shifting with the stick, then it might be an issue with your transmission fluid. Perhaps you hear grinding noises as you’re shifting too. In either case, the first thing you’ll need to do is check your manual transmission fluid level.

The easiest way to do this is with a dipstick. You’ll probably need to purchase the dipstick separately because it doesn’t come with the vehicle. Alternatively, check your owner’s manual to see if it’s okay to check the fluid condition without a dipstick. You can do this by removing the filler plug on the side of the transmission. If you don’t see it on the side, check the top of the transmission. A jack might need to be used to raise the transmission and access the filler plug.

Underneath the filler, you can see the transmission fluid level for yourself. Not only that, but you can witness its odor and color as well. Any transmission fluid that is low, dark, or smells like it’s burning must be replaced immediately. Also, if you see any metal pieces in the fluid, that is a sign to replace the fluid.

How to Check the Transmission Fluid of an Automatic Vehicle

Automatic transmission fluid is supposed to be replaced at 50,000-mile intervals. The owner’s manual of your vehicle will let you know the exact mileage amount. However, don’t wait for 50,000 miles to pass before you check your transmission fluid level and condition. The fluid should be checked at least every six months or so. For convenience sake, you could check the transmission fluid at the same time you’re checking your engine oil too.

Checking the transmission fluid simply requires you to place a dipstick in the filler tube. This needs to be a special kind of dipstick made for automatic transmissions. It will have labels on the dipstick which read “full” and “add,” indicating whether you have too much fluid or too little fluid. The “add” level means you have low fluid levels, so pay attention to that. As for “full,” you’ll need to remove some of the fluid to get the level just below that label. Too much fluid causes air and fuel to mix together, resulting in shifting issues.

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Transmission fluid is normally a dark red color. But if you ever notice it looking brownish, bubbly, or foamy, then it is likely contaminated. If the color is closer to black than it is to red, then it indicates the fluid is too old. Replace the fluid in either case.

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