How to Check Transmission Fluid
Most car owners understand the importance of regularly changing the oil and keeping air in their tires. However, there are dozens of other moving parts and components that work together to keep cars running smoothly. One such component is the transmission and transmission fluid.
The transmission controls the power levels of your car. It allows you to accelerate slowly instead of shooting ahead at a green light. This control of power also puts less stress on your engine, preserving its life. However, your transmission needs fluid to keep it running smoothly and to give you a seamless driving experience.
As a car owner, you need to keep your transmission fluid levels high and make sure the fluid meets the quality you need. These tasks aren’t hard, but you need to know what you are doing. Keep reading to learn how to check transmission fluid levels within your car and what they mean.
What Is Transmission Fluid and Why Should You Check It?
Image via Pixabay by falco
Your transmission fluid serves multiple purposes: to keep your car running smoothly and reduce wear. This fluid is primarily a lubricant. It keeps the various parts of the transmission running and maximizes performance. This makes driving your car more enjoyable (because the ride is smoother) and reduces repair costs over time by protecting your car’s systems.
Transmission fluid has other benefits to your car to keep it running. The lubricant can protect metal surfaces from wear and keep them clean. It can condition gaskets and increase rotational speed. Transmission fluid also acts as a coolant. It prevents the transmission from overheating and reducing high operating temperatures. This is essential both when your car is used for several hours at a time and when it is exposed to high outdoor temperatures.
The type of transmission fluid in your car will vary by the make and model that you use. Transmission fluid is mainly used in automatic cars. Manual transmissions use plain motor oil or heavyweight hypoid gear oil. Knowing the type of transmission fluid you have and what it is supposed to look like can help you gauge the health of your car.
Your car will give you a few warning signs that the transmission fluid needs to be replaced or that something is wrong. A few of these include:
- A burning smell coming from your car.
- Grinding or vibrating when you shift gears.
- Slowly shifting gears and slow acceleration.
- Rough driving, especially when accelerating on to the freeway.
All of these are signs that the transmission fluid isn’t lubricating your system like it should or that the fluid isn’t cooling your transmission so it can perform at its best.
How to Find Your Transmission Fluid Dipstick
Every car is different, which means that you may have an unconventionally placed dipstick that is harder to find the first time. Before looking around for your dipstick, check your owner’s manual. It should provide insight into its location and provide advice for removing it and maintaining your transmission fluid.
For most automatic cars, the transmission fluid dipstick will be located near the oil dipstick. (Checking your owner’s manual can also help you differentiate between the two.) The dipstick should be fairly easy to remove and replace, making checking the transmission fluid a fairly quick process.
Unfortunately, not all cars have dipsticks for transmission fluid. If this is the case, then you will need to learn how to check transmission fluid without a dipstick. Several late-model cars are made without dipsticks, including models in the Chevrolet Equinox family.
If your car does not have a dipstick, the fluid needs to be checked within the transmission. This can be done by raising your car and locating the fill plug on the side of the transmission. While it is possible to do this on your own (or with the help of a friend or family member), you may be better off bringing your car to our service center to do it for you.
Tips for Checking Your Transmission Fluid
Locating the dipstick is an important first step; however, it is important to follow a dedicated process when checking your transmission fluid. If you check the fluid levels incorrectly, you might miss a key warning sign in your car or diagnose a problem that isn’t there.
- First, your car should be warm. Drive it around for a few minutes to warm it up so you can get an accurate reading. (You may need to wait a few minutes after this to let it cool to a point where you can touch it safely.)
- Place your car in park on a level surface, like a paved garage or flat road. If your car is at an angle, then you won’t get an accurate reading. Keep your car running but use the parking brake for extra protection.
- Use plastic gloves to protect your hands. Remove the dipstick and touch the tip with your fingers. The color should be clear or pink. If the color is dark or has floating particles that look burnt or rusted, then you need to have your transmission fluid changed.
- Wipe the dipstick clean with a damp, lint-free cloth. Re-insert it into the transmission. This will tell you the fluid levels. Remove the dipstick again and check to make sure it reaches the “FULL” line. If it does not reach this line, you need more transmission fluid.
- Check your fluid levels at least once per year. You can also ask our service technicians to check the fluid levels when you get your oil changed.
If your car isn’t running smoothly and you are having trouble accelerating, start by checking your transmission fluid levels. If you aren’t sure how to do this or need someone to check the fluid levels without a dipstick, we are here to help. Visit the Sweeney Certified Service department and ask about your transmission fluid. You can also schedule a service appointment ahead of time so we know what to expect. We can show you how to check your transmission fluid and let you know if it is causing any problems with your car.