If you take care of your ride, you ensure that it gets timely engine oil changes. But, when did you last replaced the transmission fluid? Well, most people don’t remember if they ever changed the transmission fluid.
Most car manufacturers mention very long service intervals for the transmission. They mainly do this to show their cars are affordable to maintain, and also to comply with environmental regulations. There’s a rare chance anything goes wrong with the transmission during the warranty period.
They don’t care what happens to it after the warrant is up. If the transmission is neglected for too long, it can fail on you. And these technologically advanced automatic gearboxes are not cheap to replace or repair.
The best insurance policy for your vehicle’s transmission is fluid change every 50,000 miles or every two years. transmission fluid change costs around $100 on average. But transmission repair jobs can run up to few thousand.
How much Transmission Fluid Change Costs
An individual repair shop will charge anywhere between $90 to $150 for a transmission oil change. The dealer will do the same job for $150 to $250. This is irrespective of your transmission type: stick shift or automatic.
If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty then it will cost $50 to $100 for new transmission fluid, transmission filter, and gasket (if you clean the pan too). While you can just drain the old fluid and pour in the new, but we recommend cleaning the bottom pan and replacing the filter too.
What type to fluid goes into transmission?
Appearance and consistency-wise, transmission oil looks like engine oil. The difference is in the additive mix and transmission oil is generally thicker than the engine oil. ATF oil for the automatic transmission is Red in colour, Gear oil for manual gearbox can be any color (transparent, honey, or red).
Transmission oil works as a lubricant and also as a hydraulic fluid in automatic transmissions. The mechatronic system, responsible for changing gears works on hydraulics. ATF (Automatic transmission fluid) is used in Automatic transmissions due to its hydraulic properties.
ATF also acts as a glue when clutches in the automatic transmission needs to bind and send power to the wheels. This extra holding capacity provided by ATF fluid is crucial and some clutches in high-performance vehicles can be sensitive to this.
Gearbox oil for manual transmission is more closer to engine oil. In fact, some vehicle manufacturers just run a thicker engine oil in the manual gearboxes, instead of transmission oil specifically. Learn more: How to select the right Gear oil for Manual Transmission?
Characteristics of a Good Transmission Fluid
Good transmission fluid needs to provide adequate binding properties to the clutch pack. Lube the moving parts, maintain temperature, prevent corrosion, should not form foam while it’s sloshing around, should not damage seals, and should not breakdown easily with heat.
A vehicle’s transmission of many gears that run over each other. This produces a lot of friction and heat. Take out transmission oil from the gearbox and it won’t last even a few miles.
Checkout: 10 Signs of a Failing Transmission
There are three types of ATF (Automatic Transmission Fluid)
1) Type F Fluid: Type F fluid was engineered to work with bronze clutch components of older Ford models. Bronze clutches were only till the 70s, so if you don’t have a vintage car then you can skip this gearbox oil.
Type F ATF has less slippery nature and therefore allows the clutch to lock up and engage quickly.
2) Dextron / Mercon: Today, most manufacturers recommend Dextron/Mercon transmission fluid. Most Ford, GM, German, and Japanese vehicles comes filled with Dextron ATF fluid.
Even Dextron has many variants like Dextron II C, II D, II E, III F, III G, III H, VI J, etc
Therefore, it’s best to refer your vehicle owner’s manual and note down the exact transmission fluid rating required.
3) HFM (Highly friction modified) Transmission Fluid: Friction characteristics of an ATF fluid is important as how well the clutches bind together depends on it. The friction character of HFM Fluid is different than the Dextron/Mercon ATF. And some vehicle’s transmission asks for HFM transmission fluid specifically.
When should you Replace Transmission Fluid?
It’s best to replace transmission oil every 50000 miles or earlier. Even though some manufacturers like BMW claim their transmissions don’t need a replacement for life. They even label their transmission fluid as ‘Lifelong’.
Yes, synthetic oils surely last for a longer time but what’s the life of BMW vehicles according to the company? The warranty period? Could be.
Changing transmission fluid every 50k miles looks like a good deal to protect expensive transmissions that can cost over $5000 to repair.
However, if you’ve never replaced transmission oil in your high mileage vehicle, it’s better to just keep it running if it’s not causing any trouble. Changing transmission oil in high mileage vehicle can cause some problems like Slipping clutch, stuck gear, etc. We explain more: Why replacing ATF on high mileage vehicle can be bad.
DIY: Change Transmission Fluid at Home
Watch the video below:
Are Transmission Flushes Really Neccessary?
Yes, replacing transmission fluid periodically will ensure a trouble-free vehicle ownership experience. Many manufacturers recommend changing transmission fluid every 2 years or 50,000 miles. But with advancing synthetic oil technology, some carmakers claim their transmissions don’t need fluid change ever. However, we recommend against it if you plan on keeping the vehicle long-term.
What's the Cost of Changing Transmission Fluid?
A third-party workshop will charge $90 to$150. The dealership will charge in the range of $150 to $250. The cost of parts (Fluid, Filter, Gasket) will be around $50 to $100.
How much Time does it takes to Change Transmission Fluid?
Generally, it takes around 1 hour for changing out the transmission fluid. Of course, it may vary depending on your vehicle model.