Transmission fluid is often taken for granted, but it is the primary component of a modern vehicle. Although it doesn’t get as much attention as motor oil, having the right amount of transmission fluid is just as vital.
Although transmission fluid should never be low, certain issues can cause this problem. Let’s quickly review the symptoms to look for.
The most common symptom of low transmission fluid is a slippery or overheated transmission. You may also notice lag, stuttering, or other lag issues. On some car models, it will also display a warning light on your dashboard.
Here is a more detailed list of the six low-transmission fluid symptoms you should look out for.
Symptoms of low transmission fluid
1. Slippery transmission
The transmission should shift without too much fanfare. However, if you feel the gears slipping during a shift, that’s an indicator that fluid levels could be low.
Slipping can also be combined with sudden gear changes, rev spikes, and squealing. All of this indicates that there is a problem and that the vital friction materials cannot engage. If it continues, significant damage to the transmission could occur.
2. Transmission overheated
As transmission fluid decreases, the transmission is left vulnerable due to a lack of lubrication. When the transmission overheats, you may notice smoke coming from the vehicle or a burning smell.
This problem can also occur with power loss and erratic shifting. In any case, you should stop the car and stop driving before further damage occurs. Otherwise, you will need a new transmission.
3. Delay in gear engagement
As the transmission fluid decreases, you will notice a delay when shifting gears. Also, when moving the car from drive to reverse, there may be a short pause before engaging.
This problem occurs because there is not enough hydraulic transmission pressure to shift normally.
4. Uneven change
Whenever the shift does not happen as it should, it could be related to a low fluid level. Irregularities may present as a popping or lagging sensation.
You may also notice that changes occur more frequently. As the fluid becomes inconsistent, shift time and smoothness are affected.
5. Inability to shift gears
If the transmission fluid drains completely, you may not be able to move the vehicle at all. This sealed system requires lubrication to function.
You can try filling the transmission with transmission fluid to see if that fixes the situation. However, driving the car without the correct amount of fluid in the first place could have caused irreversible damage to the transmission.
6. Dashboard warning lights
For most drivers, the first indication that fluid levels are low is a warning light on the dashboard. Modern transmission systems use many electronic sensors that alert you to problems.
The trouble code is immediately sent to the car’s computer, where it alerts you with a warning light. If the check Engine light or transmission light comes on, it could be that the fluid level is low. Either way, you should always pay attention to the warning lights and take immediate action.
How to check transmission fluid
Once you notice a low transmission fluid symptom, you’ll want to see how much is in the system. Even without any mechanical experience, you can check your transmission fluid.
1. Locate the indicator
To check the fluid, you need to find the transmission dipstick. The gauge is located in the engine compartment under the hood. Do not confuse it with the oil dipstick.
Your transmission indicator may be further back in the engine compartment, closer to the firewall. It is often marked with the transmission symbol.
If you don’t see an indicator, there’s no reason to panic. Many new cars do not have a dipstick; Everything is controlled electronically. What you can do is check for leaks. If you don’t notice any leaks, the level should be good!
If you can’t check your transmission fluid but are having problems, you’ll need to take your car in for service. Otherwise, follow these steps.
2. Check the level
Let the car warm up a little. You should check the transmission fluid with the car parked on a level surface and the engine idling.
Remove the transmission fluid dipstick and wipe it with a clean paper towel. Slowly put it back in and remove it.
Look at the fluid level in the stick. There are indicators that tell you if it is ‘full’, ‘low’ or ‘full’.
3. Evaluate the state of the liquid
In addition to checking the amount of fluid in the system, it is essential that you also understand its condition. Wipe the dipstick on a white paper towel to evaluate the color.
If the liquid is new, it will be reddish pink. However, when it needs to be replaced, it will look brownish-red.
Black or dark brown fluid indicates that you need more than a transmission fluid change, especially if it smells burning. If you see metal shavings, this indicates that the internal components of the transmission have been damaged. In most cases, this happens because you have not properly maintained the transmission.
Learn more about different colors of transmission fluid here:
RELATED: Transmission Fluid Color Chart: 5 Different Stages
4. Fill the liquid
If the liquid is low but looks good, you can top it off. However, you will want to find out what is happening to the fluid because it should not leak.
Fill your transmission fluid through the tube where the dipstick fits. Just be sure to use a funnel to avoid any mess.
Make sure you use the correct transmission fluid for your transmission. Consult your service manual for the correct specifications.
How often should I refill my transmission fluid?
You should not need to refill the transmission fluid unless there is a leak or failure. Look for leaks under the car to determine where the problem is.
If you don’t see a leak, there could be an internal problem that needs to be diagnosed by a mechanic.
To determine how often you need to replace it, you should consult the repair or maintenance manual.
Transmission Fluid Maintenance Costs
Automatic transmission fluid changes cost between $80 and $250 when performed by a professional service center. During this service, you want to replace the filter and clean the tank. Otherwise, contaminants can cause problems with the new transmission fluid.
ATF+4 or SP4 automatic transmission fluid ranges from $8 to $20 per liter, with the average vehicle requiring 5 to 15 liters, for a total of $50 to $120. The new filter will likely cost between $15 and $30, and a new pan gasket will also cost a few dollars.
If you can change the transmission fluid yourself, you will notice significant savings.