There are a few relatively simple maintenance jobs that’ll keep your vehicle running better for longer. Arguably, staying on top of your fluid levels and changing them when necessary is the most important. Don’t just take my word for it, as it's the same advice Justin Kilmer gave when asked how he’s kept his Honda Accord running smoothly for nearly 1,000,000 miles.
Your transmission fluid is something you need to check unless you're OK with facing a hefty bill for replacing the whole unit. It’s a simple job for automatic car owners and requires slightly more work from anyone who drives a stick. But whether you have three pedals or two,The Autance’s crack team is here to guide you through.
Estimated Time Needed
Less than 20 minutes, and that includes warming the engine up (if necessary).
Everything You’ll Need To Check Transmission Fluid
You don’t need a lot of tools to check your transmission fluid on an automatic vehicle. Unfortunately, manual drivers might need to pick up a few things.
Get your tools organized, and you’ll be done in a few minutes.
Here’s How To Check Transmission Fluid (Automatic Transmission)
Checking the transmission fluid on an automatic vehicle isn’t too troublesome. Anyone driving a manual car will have to do a bit more work.
1. Check the Owner’s Manual
There are a few ways to check your transmission fluid level, and I’ll outline the most popular method. But first, you need to make sure you can. Some newer cars have a "sealed-for-life" automatic transmission, which doesn’t have a dipstick, and you're not supposed to check it.
Refer to your owner's manual to see if your vehicle has a dipstick, and while you're doing that, you can find out where the transmission fluid storage is in the engine bay.
2. Warm Up Your Vehicle
It’s not necessary to warm up all vehicles before checking the transmission fluid, so you’ll need to consult your owner’s manual first. But it’s common to do this with plenty of models. If you need to warm your vehicle up before checking the fluid level, bring it up to normal operating temperatures. All you have to do is take your car for a quick drive.
3. Park It and Clean
Once your engine and transmission are up to running temperatures, park the vehicle on a level surface. Move the gear selector through all the gears a few times before putting the vehicle in park and engaging the emergency brake. Now it’s time to open the hood and locate the transmission fluid container. Once you’ve found it, clean the area around the cap.
4. Check The Fluid
You need to keep the engine running on some vehicles while you check the transmission fluid level. Refer to your owner’s manual to see whether you need to have your vehicle’s engine on or off before inspecting its transmission fluid. Now, open the transmission fluid cap and pull out the dipstick.
Wipe off any existing transmission fluid on the dipstick using a clean rag or paper towel. Then, place the dipstick all the way down into the fluid container before pulling it back out. When you pull it out, you’ll be able to see clearly where the fluid level is on the dipstick, and there should be an indicator showing if the level is high, low, or correct.
5. Seal It
If everything is as it should be, close the transmission fluid cap and your hood. Your job is done.
Here’s How To Check Transmission Fluid (Manual Transmission)
1. Check the Owner’s Manual
Like the first step when inspecting an automatic vehicle’s transmission fluid, consult your owner’s manual to see if you need to check your car’s fluid when the transmission is hot or cold. This is where the similarities between checking automatic and manual transmission fluids end.
2. Lift It
Unfortunately, for stick drivers, you'll need to get under your vehicle to check its transmission fluid. Park your car on a level surface and place wheel chocks in front and behind the rear tires.
Using a floor jack, lift one side at the front of the vehicle and place a jack stand underneath the manufacturer’s lifting point. Now, repeat the process on the other side so that the front of the vehicle is level and off the ground.
3. Locate Fluid Filler Plug
Before you can check your transmission fluid, you’ll need to locate the fluid filler plug. The filler plug is usually a large bolt located about halfway up the side of the transmission.
4. Remove Filler Plug
To remove the filler plug, you’ll need a ratchet and socket. Use a socket that fits tightly around the filler plug and unscrew it.
5. Check Fluid Level
Most manual transmission cars don’t have dipsticks, which makes checking the fluid level simple and a bit crude. Stick your finger into the open filler plug and see if there’s transmission fluid on it when you take it out. If your finger is dry, the fluid level is too low. You might want to wear a pair of gloves for this.
6. Tighten Filler Plug
Once you’re finished checking the fluid, it’s time to reinstall the transmission filler plug. Tighten it to the manufacturer’s specifications.
7. Set It Down
Now the job is basically done. All you have to do is lower your vehicle. Use the floor jack to lift the car on one side and remove the jack stand on that side before lowering it. Repeat this process on the other side, and you’re done.
If you prefer to follow a video while performing maintenance, check out ErickTheCarGuy’s explainer on how to check automatic transmission fluid. Anyone who has a manual transmission should watch the first half of Midwest Garage’s guide to changing manual transmission fluid.
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