How to change your transmission fluid and filter
The prospect of draining the transmission fluid on our vehicle may often be daunting. Even for the DIYers who are used to changing their oil very frequently
Some transmission pans don’t have drain plugs: changing the fluid can be messy, as the entire pan must be removed. On vehicles that do indeed have drain plugs, the pan still must be removed to change the filter. Consequently, changing transmission fluid is probably one of the messier automotive jobs one would do.
Doing the transmission fluid change yourself will save you money, possibly time and fresh transmission fluid will make your gearbox perform well into its useful live.
We recommend you always refer to your Owner’s Manual or Repair Manual before you begin.
- Assorted Socket Set
- Hand Scraper
- Large Catch Pan
- Rubber Gloves
- Safety Glasses
- Tarp or Cardboard
Time to Complete:
Steps to change your Transmission Fluid and Filter
Check the Level of Transmission Fluid with the Dipstick.Locate the transmission fluid dipstick, which is usually red. It should be labeled clearly and easy to access on most cars, located near the oil dipstick. Most dipsticks list a hot and cold reading. If your engine has not been run in about an hour and you do not live in an extremely hot climate refer to the cold reading for proper levels. Automatic transmission fluid (ATF) is the fluid used in vehicles with self-shifting or automatic transmissions: it is typically colored red or green to distinguish it from motor oil and other vehicle’s fluids. If your levels are low, but the fluid looks clean, you might just top off the system. If the fluid looks discolored or sludgy, you need to change it. If you’re at the mileage marker that requires you to change your transmission fluid, you may just choose to change it anyway, even if the fluid looks good.
Turn the engine on. Transmission fluid drains better at operating temperature, so let your car idle for a few minutes first.
Safety first. After turning your ignition off apply the parking brake. Remove the key. Place chucks behind the wheels for safety. Place the hydraulic jack under the vehicle at one of its designated jack points and raise the vehicle. Once the vehicle is jacked up, place jack stands beneath it before working under the vehicle. Never rely on a hydraulic jack to support the weight of a vehicle you are beneath while working. Always park on a flat, even surface when you’re working under the car and use support stands, chucks, or other acceptable bracing to ensure safety should a jack fail.
Prep the Work Area. Remember, it is going to be a messy job. Lay down a tarp, some cardboard or a newspaper under the front of the vehicle and at least a two-gallon catch pan.
Locate the Transmission Fluid Pan. Crawl underneath the vehicle to locate it. The pan will be attached to the bottom of the transmission with 6-12 bolts. For some front-wheel drive vehicles, the transmission is typically situated left-to-right under the engine bay. For rear-wheeled vehicles, the transmission typically hangs under the center console area, facing front to rear. First, examine the pan. In some vehicles, you’ll be able to drain the transmission fluid by removing a drain plug in the center of pan and letting the fluid drain out into the receptacle. On some vehicles, however, you might have to remove the transmission pan entirely. The fluid pan will have multiple smaller bolts around the border to hold the pan to the transmission, which you will have to unscrew to pull the pan free.
Prepare to Catch the Fluid. Place a collection pan under the drain hole. To catch the falling transmission fluid, you’ll need a pan under the drain bolt big enough to catch it. If your transmission lacks a drain plug, draining the fluid is potentially a very messy operation. Because the fluid will drain around the pan (rather than through a drain plug hole), you will need a catch pan at least as wide as the transmission pan.
Remove the Bolts. Expect to get some fluid on your hands. Keep your face and chest out of the way to minimize the mess. Remove the bolts from one side of the transmission pan, being cautious of hot exhaust parts and fluid. Gradually loosen the other bolts, which should allow the pan to tilt and begin to drain. Once all bolts are removed, lower the pan and dump the remaining fluid into the catch pan. Gently break the gasket seal with a screwdriver, if necessary.
Check for Metal Shavings. You should take some time to examine the fluid that drained out. Some automatic transmission pans have a magnet inside to collect metal shavings that have been produced by worn moving parts. Remove these shavings along with the remaining fluid in the pan. Some small metal shavings are normal and represent the typical wear and tear of the gears. Any large or odd-shaped chunks however are not normal. Keep these pieces and seek the advice of a certified mechanic to ensure the transmission is not in need of immediate attention. More than half of the fluid will remain in the transmission when you drain it. To remove all the fluid, including the fluid in the torque converter, you must flush the transmission completely, a process that is usually part of a more comprehensive maintenance routine.
Catch more Fluid. Remove the old transmission filter and O-ring. The filter contains fluid, so keep the catch pan underneath.
Clean with Solvent. Clean the gasket surfaces on both the pan and the transmission housing. Inspect the pan for metal shavings or other signs of internal damage, and then clean it with solvent.
Attach the New Gasket to the Pan with Oil-soluble Grease. Install the new transmission filter, making sure that its O-ring seats in the appropriate orifice. Attach the new gasket to the pan with oil-soluble grease – DO NOT USE gasket sealer or adhesive.
Make Fasteners Finger-tight. Refer to your owner’s manual or repair manual about using thread sealer on any or all transmission pan bolts, then screw in all fasteners finger-tight. Torque the pan bolts to spec in a spiral pattern starting at the center. Maximum torque is often about 12 pounds per foot. Do not over tighten the bolts as it will cause damage to the pan.
Lower the Vehicle. Remove the jack stand, tarp, catch pan and tools from under the vehicle. Lower the vehicle safely.
Verify Correct Fluid. There exist different kinds of transmission fluid, so you want to make sure to use the fluid recommended by the car manufacturer. Check your owner’s manual to add the correct fluid.
Add Fluid. Pour in a little less fluid than drained out so as not to overfill. You will find out the proper amount in your owner’s manual. Add the transmission fluid through the port from which you removed the dip stick. Typically, the new fluid goes directly into this spout, with the help of a funnel.
Check the Fluid Level. The dipstick, owner’s manual or repair manual will indicate the proper fluid level. Start the vehicle and allow it to run for a few minutes. Run the vehicle up to operating temperature on level ground: the wrong amount of fluid will be added if the vehicle is not on level ground. Check the fluid level. If the level is low, add more fluid. Repeat until the transmission fluid is at the right level. Avoid overfilling. Move the shifter through all gears, return to park and check the dipstick again while the engine idles. Note that some transmissions require the fluid be checked in neutral and others in park. Check your owner’s manual.
Dispose of the fluid properly. Transmission fluid is harmful for the environment. It’s important that you avoid draining or dumping transmission fluids into the environment. Always wear gloves and wash your skin of any residue immediately after completing the change of fluids. Most auto parts stores and body shops will have fluid recycling programs that allow you to drop off your motor oils, transmission fluids, and other vehicle fluids that you collect when maintaining your vehicle. Find a drop-off site in your area.
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