Do You Need to Have the Transmission Fluid Changed?
The simple answer is yes. But service intervals for new vehicles can exceed 100,000 miles before this needs to be done.
That makes this seemingly clear-cut advice something of a conundrum for car owners. Those who don’t hold on to a new vehicle for very long may never have to have the transmission fluid changed.
How Often Do You Need to Have the Transmission Fluid Changed?
The best advice is to know your car and the manufacturer’s recommended service intervals.
It’s worth noting that intervals for changing transmission fluid vary widely. For some cars and trucks, it can range from as little as 30,000 miles to more than 100,000 miles. Some new vehicles, especially those fitted with automatic gearboxes, have transmissions that are almost sealed shut, with fluid that’s meant to last the lifetime of the car.
Should Your Mechanic Flush the Transmission Fluid?
First, it’s helpful to understand the role transmission fluid plays in a car’s operation. Transmission fluid helps keep mechanical components cool and lubricated, whether the gearbox is automatic or manual. Over time, the transmission’s interior components wear down, and tiny particles contaminate the fluid. This could potentially lead to damage.
Getting rid of this dirty fluid makes sense, right? If it’s called for in the service manual, go ahead and let your mechanic do the job.
Again, the best advice is to research your vehicle and know exactly when a transmission drain (or flush) is recommended. Doing either option too often is a waste of time and money.
Does a Manual Transmission Need Fluid, Too?
Yes, even a manual needs transmission fluid. The type of fluid can vary from car to car, however. Some manuals require conventional engine oil, and others function best with automatic transmission fluid. So make sure you’re putting in the fluid that’s specified for your car. Failing to do so can rapidly affect its performance and the gearbox’s longevity.
Car owners with a CVT will also want to pay special attention to the needs of their vehicle. Unlike a traditional automatic that has a set number of gears, a CVT often relies on a belt or pulley system to operate an infinite number of gear ratios. Make sure you use a CVT-specific fluid or you’ll risk big headaches (and repair bills) down the road.
How Do You Know Whether the Transmission Fluid Needs to Be Changed?
Checking transmission fluid isn’t always easy. In many cases, it’s necessary to have a mechanic put your car on a lift for examination. Some cars have a transmission dipstick or reservoir in the engine bay, so check under the hood first.
Even though fluid levels might look fine, it could be more difficult to discern whether there are pollutants or small metal particles in the fluid.
Is Changing the Transmission Fluid an Easy DIY Job?
It can be a complicated and messy task for the average car owner. Accessing the transmission requires ramps, jack stands, or a lift. Even then, getting to the fill plug can require a higher degree of patience and dexterity than what’s required for a typical change of engine oil.
Many modern cars have transmissions that are basically sealed tight or require a dealer’s service computer to read temperature or other parameters, making them all but impossible to work on for the average do-it-yourselfer.
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