The best way to destroy your car’s transmission is by skipping its vital maintenance practice such as checking your transmission fluid color and fluid level.
Transmission fluid is a crucial part of transmission maintenance and vehicle performance. You can prolong the performance life of your transmission by checking the transmission fluid color and level regularly. And if need be, take out the old one and replace it with a new transmission fluid.
In this article, we will learn what different transmission fluid colors mean and how to check them to maintain your vehicle in good shape.
What Color is Transmission Fluid
What is Transmission Fluid?
Transmission fluid is a special fluid used in vehicles with self-shifting or automatic transmissions. The main functions of transmission fluid are to lubricate the various components of the transmission, prevent gears from wear, keep the entire transmission clean and cool the transmission internal components.
Note that not all vehicles can use the same type of transmission fluid. Each car manufacturer specifies the transmission fluid that is appropriate for each vehicle. For instance, Honda requires Honda DW-1 ATF for Honda automatic vehicles, Nissan needs NS-2, NS-3 fluid for CVT transmission cars. You can check your car owner’s manual to know the right fluid to use.
Why is Transmission Fluid Red
Most transmission fluid is red except for B & M ATF, which is blue, or Mercedes transmission fluid which can also be blue. Clean transmission fluid has a bright or translucent red color. There are dyes that are added to it to make the fluid red. Transmission fluid is actually dyed red to differentiate it from other vehicle fluids such as engine oil or brake fluid. The red color allows you to find where the fluid is leaking from more easily.
What does Transmission Fluid Smell Like
New automatic transmission fluid tends to be odorless. It may also have a sweet smell. It gives off a burnt toast smell when there is an internal problem. This is caused by overheating and oxidation of the fluid. In these cases, you should check the condition of the fluid and the transmission system to fix it immediately. This can help you avoid further damages.
Transmission Fluid Color Guide
As transmission fluid ages, it begins to deteriorate from its original reddish color until it becomes black. In addition to this, it also loses most of its abilities, such as its lubricating and cooling effect. This change in color serves as an identification tool to know the different conditions of transmission fluid.
This means your transmission system is in perfect condition. This is the ideal color of new transmission fluid. Maintaining this color and at the right level will ensure your system operates efficiently.
If your transmission fluid is light-brown semi, it shows the system is in good condition. The fluid does not need to be changed yet. Although you would need to check it on a regular basis. It is only a matter of time before it becomes brown.
This color means your transmission fluid is old, dirty. It indicates that the fluid has lost its ability to lubricate the system, and what follows next is usually wear and damage of the internal transmission parts. If this color is accompanied by a burnt toast smell, it means the fluid has oxidized. This requires an urgent response and transmission fluid needs to be changed immediately.
Dark brown to black
When your transmission fluid turns dark brown, it is a sign you have burnt transmission fluid from overheating. Sooner or later, as the fluid gets older, the color will eventually turn black. The transmission system is at risk and transmission failure might occur if left unchecked. At this stage, it is recommended you take your vehicle to a trusted mechanic to check it.
This indicates your transmission fluid is in bad condition if it’s pink instead of red. This means that either water or engine coolant is entering the transmission system through a damaged or leaking transmission radiator. This will ultimately lead to a transmission failure. In this case, you will need to flush the system and replace it with new fluid. In the worst situation, you need to repair or rebuild the transmission.
How to Check Transmission Fluid
The major reason you should check your transmission fluid is to know the overall state of your transmission by the fluid color. Another reason is to ensure that the levels are correct.
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How to Check Transmission Fluid With Dipstick
When preparing to check your transmission fluid with a dipstick, you need a clean white rag and gloves.
Before checking the transmission fluid, your vehicle should be on and warmed up to the operating temperature to get an accurate reading. The vehicle should be put in park, the emergency brake should be set, and your vehicle should also be on a level surface.
The ideal time to check your transmission fluid is after you have driven the car. At this time, the car will be warm and the fluid heated, so you can get an accurate reading.
However, some vehicle manuals recommend the engine be warmed up, running and the vehicle put in neutral. While others suggest the vehicle should be warmed up and the engine turned off while checking the fluid. It is highly advisable to check your owner’s manual before you start.
The next step to take is to locate your transmission fluid dipstick. The fluid dipstick looks something similar to the oil dipstick. It is usually red in color to differentiate it from the oil dipstick. It is often located at the back of the engine compartment. If you are not certain of the location, refer to your owner’s manual.
Once you have located the dipstick, pull it out and wipe it clean with a white clean rag. After cleaning it, gently reinsert it and make sure it goes all the way down. Pull it out again and take the reading.
Observe the appearance of the fluid to know if it’s time to change it and also know the health of the transmission. If the color appears clear enough, then there is no need for a transmission fluid change. On the other hand, if the color is brown, black, or has a burnt odor, then it should be changed. You should also get a professional to check it in case of a damaged internal component.
Check the transmission fluid level. There are two marks on the dipstick, the “Low” and “Full” marks. Make sure it is within those two marks. If not, it means the transmission fluid is low. You will need to top it up with transmission fluid to get the right amount. While topping the transmission fluid, make sure to carefully pour in the fluid little by little.
Reinsert the dipstick inside.
How to Check Transmission Fluid Without Dipstick
Many new vehicles do not have a dipstick. If you can’t find yours, your transmission is most likely sealed. You can consult your owner’s manual to confirm. Checking your transmission fluid without a dipstick is not as easy as doing it with a dipstick. It’s advisable to take your vehicle for a professional check. However, if you still want to check the fluid yourself, you will have to get under your vehicle to do the work.
Before you proceed with the work, you should know three things; the drain plug, the fill plug, and that transmission that are sealed have a fluid checked at a specified temperature.
The following is needed to check your fluid without using a dipstick; a scanner, car jack, ratchet, drain pan.
Connect a diagnostic scanner to the data link connector and look for the transmission fluid temperature for your vehicle. Let the engine run for a few minutes to warm up until it reaches the specified fluid temperature. The scanner will show the condition of the fluid on the screen. Leave the car in park and the engine on.
Raise your vehicle using a car jack while keeping it level. Locate the transmission drain plug. Put a drain pan underneath. The plug is mostly located on the side of the transmission case. Consult the vehicle manual for the exact location. Open the drain plug using the ratchet and appropriate socket.
Observe the color of the fluid to determine if it is due for a change. Moreover, if the fluid does not come out, this indicates the fluid level is low or just right. If it is low, you will need to add transmission fluid to top it.
Lower the vehicle after reinstalling the plugs.
How Often to Change Transmission Fluid
The average recommended fluid change interval for vehicles with automatic transmission is within the range of 30,000 to 100,000 miles. However, different professionals have different opinions on this matter. Some may choose to change it more frequently, and others may do otherwise. To be on the safe side, adhere to the recommended schedule in the owner’s manual.
For manual transmission, it is at least every 30,000 miles or at the most 60,000 miles, depending on the make and model of the manual vehicle. If you are constantly using your vehicle, you may want to check it sooner than that. Again, you should check your car manual for the actually recommended interval and follow the instructions given.
Factors Affecting Changing Interval
Poor driving habits such as habitually pounding the brakes and the accelerator can be destructive to your transmission system. This type of driving can result in overheating. Thereby making the fluid of no or less effect in the transmission system. If not resolved, the heat can break down the organic compound in the fluid, causing it to eventually deteriorate to black color. The fluid should be replaced with clean fluid to make the system cooler and run smoothly.
Type Of Vehicle
If it’s a heavy-duty vehicle, you may need to change the transmission fluid every 15,000 miles. If you want to increase the lifespan of your vehicle, you need to ensure it’s in good shape. Changing your transmission fluid periodically will extend the performance life of your transmission.
Checking transmission fluid color is an integral part of vehicle maintenance. Understanding the various transmission fluid colors will help you know when your vehicle is in a bad shape. When the transmission fluid color is clean and at the right level, it will keep the transmission running smoothly. This entails checking the transmission fluid level and color on a regular basis to know the overall health of your transmission.
Take swift action when you notice the system is behaving oddly or contact a professional to check the vehicle if it is something you can’t handle. Different vehicles use different types of fluids, so it is important to always check your owner’s manual to get accurate information. This is to avoid damaging the internal transmission components or a sorry condition that will lead to total transmission failure.
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