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How Often Should You Replace Transmission Fluid?


According to most vehicle manufacturers (but not all) the best time to replace your transmission fluid is somewhere between 30,000 – 60,000 miles. If you tow, drive aggressively, or are often driving in the city you should opt for more frequent replacements. If you do mostly highway driving in a car, you can wait a bit longer.

Automatic transmission fluid (also known as ATF) bathes all the moving parts of your transmission to keep everything running smoothly. Along with lubricating your transmission it also protects it from wear, keeps it from siezing up in the cold, keeps it from overheating when it’s hot, and keeps all the moving pieces clean.

Clean automatic transmission fluid makes shifting gears a smooth and effortless process, but transmission fluid does break down over time. Like most automotive fluids, automatic transmission fluid sours over time mostly due to high heat. This process can leave varnish and deposits on certain parts of your car.

This means certain parts of your vehicle’s transmission can get covered in sticky deposits, which as you might imagine is not good for a system that relies on being lubricated constantly.

As your transmission fluid ages, your transmission begins to run hotter and hotter which isn’t good considering transmission repairs cost thousands of dollars.

Considering transmission repairs often cost thousands of dollars you don’t want that. Having an extended car warranty will pay for transmission repairs (and you should click that link to get one for your vehicle if you don’t have one already) – but if you can avoid the headache of a transmission repair, you probably should.

How Often You Should Change Your Transmission Fluid Depends On The Type Of Transmission, And The Make Of Your Vehicle

If you have a manual transmission you want to replace your transmission fluid between every 30,000 – 60,000 miles. Manual transmission fluid gets contimated over time as the parts of your transmission wear out.

The wear and tear on your transmission causes metal particles to float in the lubricant, which does not lubricate as well as clean oil. Without replacing your transmission fluid at the specified interval you risk doing damage to your transmission.

Automatic transmissions on the other hand, may not need a transmission fluid change at all, especially for newer vehicles. So for those of you asking how often you should change your automatic transmission fluid, check your service manual.

Depending on the type of vehicle you have (and how new it is) you may only need to replace your automatic transmission fluid every 60,000 miles if you are towing, or using your vehicle for some kind of performance activity.

Performance activities can include:

  • Police or fire work.
  • Top loading (carrying something on top of your vehicle)
  • Heavy vehicle loading (lots of passengers or cargo)
  • Driving for Uber/Lyft or as a taxi frequently

We reccomend you check your vehicle owner’s handbook to figure out how frequently to replace your transmission fluid. Check both the Special Operating conditions section and regular driving conditions section.

But even if your manufacturer handbook suggests that you never need to change your transmission fluid, it still may be worth changing it on occasion.

TLDR: How long should transmission fluid last? Anywhere between 30,000 – 60,000 miles under special conditions, to between 100,000 or longer (if at all) for newer vehicles.

There Are A Few Signs That Can Help You Know When To Replace Your Transmission Fluid

The darkening of transmission fluid over time is a normal part of wear and tear, but black transmission fluid is generally a good sign that it’s time to change your transmission fluid.

However not all vehicles have a transmission that you can just check the fluid on, so we’ll have to rely on other signals other than just the color of the transmission fluid.

If, during normal driving your vehicle is experiencing any of the following, you may want to take it in to be checked out. The signs listed below could indicate that you need to replace your transmission fluid or they may be an indicator of something more severe.

Signs that you should replace your transmission fluid:

  • Difficulty getting into gear or shifting gears / hard shifts when accelerating.
  • Thumps when shifting between gears
  • Slipping a gear
  • Jumping a gear
  • Delay in acceleration
  • Whining or grinding noises coming from underneath your vehicle
  • Surgining of your vehicle either forwards or backwards for no reason

As we mentioned before, a transmission rebuild or replacement is not cheap so it’s worth it to have your vehicle checked out if it’s having any of the above symptoms. And that’s because…

A Transmission Fluid Change Costs Way Less Than A Major Transmission Repair

Changing your transmission fluid costs anywhere between $100-$150 dollars on average, with a range of anywhere between $81-$200 depending on the type of vehicle you have.

Chances are, you know what we’re going to say now.

The average transmission replacement can cost over $2,000 dollars, and in some cases, up to $6,000 dollars.

Is it worth it to spend $100 bucks so you don’t have to spend up to $6,000 for a new transmission? In our opinion, it’s absolutely worth it. We’d rather see you burn your money on something more fun, like a vacation as opposed to a new transmission.

Bad Things CAN Happen If You Don’t Replace Your Transmission Fluid

We don’t mean to scare you, but bad things can happen if you don’t replace your transmission fluid. This does not mean that your doomed to impending transmission failure if you don’t replace your transmission fluid, but it does mean you may be putting your vehicle at more risk of damage.

So what are the consequences of not replacing your transmission fluid?

At the very least, not changing your transmission fluid will cause the fluid to get dirty over time. Dirty fluid as not as effective as a lubricant, which can cause wear and tear on the clutches and other parts of your transmission.

Dirty fluid also can cause your transmission not to displace heat as effectively, which accelerates the wear and tear on your transmission.

Once the clutch packs (a set of alternating disks inside your transmission) lose their grip, the old fluid may be the only thing holding your transmission together. Replacing the clutch packs is a cheap repair (around $100-$200 for the parts) but is still an inconvience.

Now you may be thinking “shoot, I need to replace my transmission fluid”.

But as it is with all things, it’s not that simple.

Changing Transmission Fluid CAN Be Bad

Changing your transmission fluid can appear to damage your transmission, but when people talk about this happening, what they are really talking about is the fluid change revealing pre-existing damage to the transmission.

If it sounds like we are contradicting ourselves, we can’t blame you. We did just say that you can damage your transmission by NOT changing the fluid.

It seems totally unfair to say that you can also damage your vehicle by changing your transmission fluid, doesn’t it?

But hear us out: a rare (but not infreuequent) complaint we hear is that changing the transmission fluid on a vehicle that’s older and never had it changed can cause the transmission to fail on occasion.

So here’s what happens when you change the transmission fluid on high mileage cars.

Over time, as your transmission wears the valve body inside your transmission can get all gunked up by dirty, sticky transmission fluid. When you replace the transmission fluid, this stickiness goes away which can cause your vehicle to lose the ability to shift, or have trouble shifting.

By no means is this a hard and fast rule – it won’t happen to every vehicle, but it is something to be aware of, especially if your vehicle has gone more than 100,000 miles without a fluid change.

You can avoid this damned if you do, damned if you don’t cycle by getting your transmission fluid changed regularly.

What’s The Difference Between A Transmission Fluid Change And A Transmission Fluid Flush?

Sometimes we have seen these terms used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.

A transmission fluid change is when you drain all the transmission fluid from your transmission and then replace it with new fluid. Along the way, your transmission fluid filter is changed.

A transmission fluid change will help fix a gummed up transmission, but it won’t completely clean out any buildup in your transmission.

A transmission fluid flush on the other hand will replace all the old fluid with new fluid. Old fluid is pumped out of the transmission system, and then new fluid is pumped in.

Depending on who you talk to, some may reccomend against doing a transmission fluid flush, but the mechanics we talked to had no problem with it and reccomended a fluid flush as a great way to clean out pre-existing gunk in the transmission.

We reccomend talking to your mechanic about your options if you are having the transmission issues we described above.

How to Check Your Transmission Fluid

Many modern cars don’t have a transmission fluid dipstick, and automakers instead recommend a service center check the fluid level because it’s often done from underneath the car. Use your car’s owner’s manual to determine if the transmission has a dipstick that’s easily accessible; if it does, here are a few tips when checking the fluid:     

1. Use your owner’s manual to find the recommended procedure for checking your transmission fluid.

2. Park the vehicle on a level surface for the most accurate reading.

3. Be cautious of engine cooling fans that may continue to run after the engine is off, as well as hot engine components; many cars recommend that the engine and transmission be at operating temperature when checking the transmission fluid.

4. Determine if the fluid is checked with the engine running or off. This can vary from car to car and will affect accuracy. 

5. Some cars recommend moving the gear selector into each gear for a few seconds before checking the fluid; always return to Park or Neutral and apply the parking brake before getting out of the vehicle.  

6. Identify the transmission dipstick handle, which is typically brightly colored; again, your owner’s manual will help you find it.  

7. Remove the dipstick, being cautious not to spill any fluid on hot engine or exhaust parts, and wipe off the dipstick using a clean rag. 

8. Reinsert the dipstick, then remove the dipstick to check the fluid level, which should be between the low and full marks.  

9. If you have a leak and need to refill, make sure you use the recommended transmission fluid, fill it to the appropriate level and get the leak fixed as soon as possible.   

10. Reinstall the dipstick when done.

Don’t Get Stuck With A Transmission Repair That Costs Thousands Of Dollars

Changing your transmission fluid on a regular schedule is good for your transmission, even if your vehicle maintaince schedule suggests otherwise.

But your transmission can still fail, and that’s costly. As we mentioned earlier, a transmission replacement can cost anywhere between $2,000 – $6,000 dollars OR MORE.

Can you imagine having to pay for that out of pocket? For most people, that means putting it on an expensive payment plan, or that high APR credit card.

But if you have an extended warranty from Protect My Car, that transmission repair doesn’t have to break the bank. You see, an extended warranty from Protect My Car covers repairs to your transmission so if it breaks down you won’t have to sweat paying the repair.

An extended warranty from Protect My Car means that your vehicle repairs are covered, as long as you do your regular vehicle services.

If you don’t want to be on the hook for an expensive transmission repair, and want to get lots of other great bonuses like free oil changes, free tire rotations, and over $150 in rewards cash each month, click the button below to get a free extended warranty quote and learn how easy it can be to protect your vehicle and your wallet from expensive repairs.

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