How Often Does Transmission Fluid Need to Be Changed?

Car mechanic drain the old automatic transmission fluid

Checking your transmission fluid used to be a regular part of home auto maintenance for many drivers. You’d pop the hood, find the transmission dipstick, and make sure the level and condition of the fluid was good. Transmission fluid usually has a pinkish-red color, darkening as it begins to degrade. If it was headed in that direction, or worse, black or burned looking, you’d head to the shop for a fluid change or inspection. 

But today’s cars usually feature sealed-for-life transmissions. No dipstick, no easy access. This means most drivers will need help from a certified technician to check the condition of their fluid. Thankfully, today’s transmissions also tend to require fluid changes less often, in some cases only after 100,000 miles or more. But because recommendations vary considerably based on make, model and driving conditions, it’s smart to talk to your technician about what’s right for your vehicle. 

What does transmission fluid do? 

Transmission fluid acts as a coolant and lubricant for your car’s transmission. It lubricates the transmission’s parts, making gear shifts possible. It also helps provide hydraulic pressure for automatics. 

That’s a lot of lifting for one fluid, so after time—and sometimes only after a significant amount of time—the fluid begins to break down. Vehicles that drive regularly in severe conditions, like steep mountain roads or major stop-and-go traffic, or those that haul heavy trailers, place more strain on the transmission and, by extension, the fluid. Additionally, a transmission problem will often show up in the condition of the fluid, darkening it to black or brown or leaving behind metal shavings and gunk behind. Burned fluid is always a sign there could be a serious mechanical problem. 

How often do manufacturers suggest you change your vehicle’s transmission fluid?

Recommended changing schedules vary depending on the make and even model of the car. Whether you drive an automatic or manual transmission also affects the schedule. It’s easy to see that there’s a wide variety of suggestions among manufacturers by looking a three popular automakers: 

  • Mercedes-Benz recommends checking and changing the fluid at 30,000 miles for some models. 
  • Toyota recommends changing the fluid of cars with automatic transmissions every 60,000 to 100,000 miles. 
  • Ford suggests transmission fluid change every 150,000 miles. 

Always check your car’s manual for specific recommendations. And if you regularly drive in more challenging conditions, factor that in as well. 

What are the signs I may need my transmission fluid changed?

While it’s reassuring to know that your transmission fluid should last for tens of thousands of miles, you may not want to stretch all the way to the manufacturer’s suggested upper limits. 

A technician can check your fluid’s condition periodically to make sure everything still looks normal, addressing any issues before they become serious. It’s a good idea to have your car looked at if you experience any of the following problems: 

  • It’s hard to shift gears
  • Your car is regularly slipping gears
  • Your vehicle occasionally surges forward or back
  • You hear a grinding sound while shifting

A technician knowledgeable in the manufacturer’s recommendations will then determine if your transmission should be flushed or drained, or perhaps diagnose another issue. 

If you’re experiencing transmission issues, contact Bavarian Body Works today.At Bavarian Body Works, our trained technicians work on many types of cars. We’ll be able to check the quality of your transmission fluid, as well as diagnose any transmission issues. We also do pre-purchase car inspections that can reveal fluid leaks and overdue maintenance. Contact us today for more information.