How to Check Automatic Transmission Fluid

If your vehicle hesitates when your automatic transmission shifts gears, check the transmission fluid level before you let any mechanic start talking about servicing or adjusting your transmission or selling you a new one. To check your automatic transmission fluid, look for a dipstick handle sticking out of your transmission. This is located toward the rear of an in-line engine on vehicles with rear-wheel drive as shown here:

Where to find the transmission fluid dipstick in an inline engine.
Where to find the transmission fluid dipstick in an inline engine.

If your vehicle has front-wheel drive, the transmission fluid dipstick is sticking out of the transaxle, as shown here.

Where to find the transmission fluid dipstick if you have front-wheel drive.
Where to find the transmission fluid dipstick if you have front-wheel drive.

The fluid level in a manual transmission must be checked with the vehicle on a hoist to enable the technician to reach a plug in the bottom of the transmission

To check your automatic transmission fluid, follow these steps:

  1. Pull out the dipstick.

    With the gearshift in Neutral or Park and the parking brake on, let your engine run. Be sure the engine is warm when you pull out the dipstick. (Don’t turn off the engine.)

  2. Check the fluid.

    Dip the tip of your index finger into the fluid on the dipstick and rub the fluid between your finger and the tip of your thumb. The transmission fluid on the dipstick should be pinkish and almost clear. If it looks or smells burnt or has particles in it, have a mechanic drain and change the fluid.

  3. Wipe the dipstick with a clean, lint-free rag; then reinsert it and pull it out again.

    If the transmission fluid is clear but doesn’t reach the “Full” line on the dipstick, use a funnel to pour just enough transmission fluid down the dipstick tube to reach the line. Don’t overfill!

There are several types of transmission fluid. Each is made for a specific type of automatic transmission. Newer transmissions from the major automakers require different fluid than older ones. Because so many different kinds of transmissions are around these days, check your owner’s manual or dealership to find out which type of fluid your vehicle requires.

A faulty transmission and one that’s just low on fluid share many of the same symptoms! If your vehicle hesitates when your automatic transmission shifts gears, check the transmission fluid level before you let any mechanic start talking about servicing or adjusting your transmission or selling you a new one. Obviously, adding transmission fluid is a lot cheaper than replacing the whole transmission system!

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