One of the most common causes of automatic transmission problems is low or contaminated transmission fluid. To keep your transmission working properly, it is important to regularly check its fluid to ensure there is an adequate amount and that it hasn’t spoiled. Fortunately, doing so is a relatively easy task. Below, we provide a simple guide on how to check automatic transmission fluid.
Locate Your Owner’s Manual
The first step to checking your automatic transmission’s fluid is to break out your trusty owner’s manual. In many cases, you will check a vehicle’s transmission fluid while the car is in neutral or park and the engine is running. However, some vehicles are checked while the engine is off. To determine whether the engine should be on or off, consult your owner’s manual for clarification.
Locate the Transmission Fluid Dipstick (If It Has One)
Once you have determined whether your car’s engine should be on or off and acted accordingly, the next step is to locate and remove the vehicle’s transmission fluid dipstick. This component is typically located near the area where the transmission meets the back of the engine. It will look similar to the oil dipstick but is generally located further back in the engine bay near the firewall. Many transmission fluid dipsticks will have a transmission symbol or a specific color that will further help distinguish them from oil dipsticks.
It is important to note that some transmissions—such as sealed transmissions—may not have a dipstick and don’t require their transmission fluid to be checked or replaced. In such a case, you should consult your owner’s manual for information regarding your model’s service schedule.
Remove the Transmission Fluid Dipstick and Check the Fluid
Upon locating the transmission fluid dipstick, the next step is to remove it. Then, wipe it clean, reinsert it completely back into the transmission, and remove it again. Check to see if the fluid reaches the “Full” line on the dipstick. If it doesn’t, then you should pour more fluid into the transmission while being careful not to overfill it.
In addition to checking the level of the fluid, you should also check the fluid’s quality. To do so, dip your finger into the fluid on the dipstick and rub it between your fingers (make sure to let the fluid cool before doing so as it may be hot). The fluid should be clear with a slightly pinkish color and shouldn’t contain any particles. If it is discolored, smells burnt, or has contaminants in it, you will need to have it drained and replaced.
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