You probably already know how important transmission fluid is for your automatic transmission, but one thing many people aren’t sure of is when to change transmission fluid. Transmission fluid acts as hydraulic fluid, lubricant, and coolant for your car, but that doesn’t mean it lasts forever. Transmission fluid has a shelf life too just like any other fluid in your car, and breaks down over time from heat, use, and contaminants. If left alone, it can start to cause erratic behavior with your transmission such as shifting issues, slipping, and overheating. So how do you know when to change transmission fluid? We’ll explain everything here.
When to Change Transmission Fluid
If you ask around, you’ll often get different opinions on when to change transmission fluid. Some car manufacturers recommend getting a fluid change every 100,000 or even 150,000 miles, but that is far too long when you think about it. The average driver logs about 12,000 to 15,000 miles per year, so if you were to get a fluid change every 100,000 miles, you’d end up servicing your transmission once every 6.5-8.5 years. That’s 10-12.5 years if you service it every 150,000 miles. Who knows what condition the fluid will be like then!
That’s why it’s recommended to get a fluid change every 30,000 to 60,000 miles, or once every 2 to 4 years. This is the optimal schedule for the average driver and will allow your transmission to run on healthy fluid constantly, which ultimately means a longer lasting and more efficient transmission. Although there isn’t any harm in frequent fluid changes, we recommend getting it changed every 30,000 to 60,000 miles for better results, on your transmission as well as your wallet.
But there are situations where a fluid change should be done sooner, and it will all depend on your driving habits and other various factors. If you do any heavy towing, hauling, frequent stop-and-go driving, snow plowing, or live in a very hot climate, you should consider getting your fluid changed sooner, possibly every 15,000 miles or so. In circumstances like these, the operating temperature of the transmission is much higher than normal, which means that the transmission fluid degrades more rapidly, and as a result, it should be changed sooner.
Although a fluid change every 30,000 to 60,000 miles is a good standard to go by, an even better way to know when to to change transmission fluid is to check the transmission fluid itself. This can tell you almost everything you need to know about the condition of the fluid, and it’s recommended to check the ATF monthly. When performing a fluid check, you are going to want to look at the quality of the fluid itself. If you aren’t sure what healthy fluid looks like, you can refer to this page for more info.
But basically, healthy transmission fluid should be red although fluid with a little age will be darker, which is fine in most cases. Fluid that is brown/black or smells burnt should be changed as soon as possible. You should also look for any contaminants in the fluid such as metal shavings, debris, or dirt. If you spot any, this means that the fluid should be changed and the filter replaced.
So there you have it, now you know when to change transmission fluid. If you always keep in mind when the next scheduled fluid change is, you’ll end up with a long lasting transmission as well as extra cash in your pocket in the long run. For even more savings, you can learn how to change transmission fluid yourself here, but be prepared to get a little dirty.