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How to Check Automatic
Transmission Fluid "ATF" Condition


 
WHAT'S COVERED

... How to check transmission fluid condition
... What the different conditions mean
... What action is needed
 

fluid conditionChecking the condition of your vehicle's automatic transmission fluid is crucial in your efforts to extend the life of your transmission and protect your investment. 

LOOK...  This is serious!  If you want to drastically reduce (almost eliminate) serious transmission problems (including transmission failure) for the life of your vehicle - Here is how you can do it:

1. Check the transmission fluid level and condition once a month and correct any adverse fluid condition immediately.

2. Service the transmission (fluid and filter change) at the manufacturer's recommended mileage intervals.

 
  Of the estimated 14 million automatic transmission failures each year in the US, roughly 90% (or 12.8 million) were caused by an adverse fluid condition.  This is why you need to check fluid level and condition regularly. 
 
 

In this DIY article, we explain how to check the condition of the transmission fluid, what the different colors mean and what action, if any, you need to take to correct an adverse fluid condition.


Checking Transmission Fluid Condition

DIY Instructions Begin Here

 

Note: If you also plan to check the fluid level, the vehicle must be parked on level ground, engine warm and running with shifter lever in "P" Park.  (See How to check transmission fluid level for exact procedures).

 

 

THINGS YOU WILL NEED

 

My Automatic Transmission> Paper Towels or Clean "lint-free" Rag
> A Clean Sheet of White Paper (Optional)





 

1Pull Hood Release - Open Hood.

1In Engine Compartment - Locate Transmission Dipstick.

transmission dipstick

Rear Wheel Drive Vehicle:
The transmission dipstick is normally located on the right "passenger" side of the engine compartment back near the firewall.

 

transmission dipstick


Front Wheel Drive Vehicle
:
The transaxle dipstick is normally located on the left "driver's" side of the engine compartment on top of the transaxle.

 


1Pull the dipstick out to check fluid condition.

 


Fluid Color:
Look closely at the transmission fluid on the end of the dipstick.  Is it Red?  Dark Red?  Brown?  Dark Brown? Very Dark or Black?  The Chart below provides an explanation and suggested course of action for each color/condition.

 

 

 

 

 
 

Tip: Place a few drops of fluid on a clean sheet of white paper to get a more accurate color reading.  

 

 

 

 

 

Fluid Smell: Smell the transmission fluid - if it has a burnt odor, the transmission has overheated and the ATF is oxidized (or burnt).  Oxidized transmission provide poor lubrication, which causes increased friction, excessive wear on internal parts and intense heat.  A transmission with oxidized fluid will not last long. 

 

  Oxidized transmission fluid means some internal damage to the transmission has already occurred.  A fluid and filter change may extend the life of the transmission.  A fluid flush is not recommended.   
     
Blotter Test: Place a couple of drops of fluid on a paper towel and wait about 30-seconds or so.  If the fluid spreads out and is red or light brown in color, the fluid is good - no action is needed.  If fluid does not spread out and is dark in color, the fluid is oxidized.  In this case, a fluid and filter change or fluid flush in necessary.

   
 
 
 
  Fluid Color: Red Transparent
New or Like New Condition
Continue checking fluid condition regularly and follow the manufacturer's recommended transmission service procedures and schedule.
 
     
 
  Fluid Color: Light Brown - Semi Transparent
Good Condition
Continue checking fluid condition regularly and follow the manufacturer's recommended transmission service procedures and schedule.
 
     
 
  Fluid Color: Dark Brown - Opaque
Old/Dirty Fluid
Does not provide adequate lubrication - will cause transmission to run hot.  Recommend flush or fluid and filter change.
 
     
 
  Fluid Color: Very Dark/Black
Old/Dirty and Oxidized
Fluid has a burnt odor.  Some internal transmission damage has occurred.  Fluid and filter change may prolong transmission life.  A flush is not recommended.
 
     
 
  Fluid Color: Light Pinkish
Water/Coolant Contamination
Internal transmission damage has occurred.  A fluid flush may prolong transmission life.  Repair transmission oil cooler/cooler line leak. 
 
 
 

 How to Properly Check Transmission Fluid Level
Common Transmission Problems

Transmission Shift Solenoids

 
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NEED TO KNOW
which transmission fluid to use in your transmission?
Check our Automatic Transmission Fluid Application Guide 
 
 
 


 

 
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