What is Transmission Fluid?- Symptoms of Low Fluid

Cars have all kinds of fluids flowing through them, from engine oil, radiator fluid to air conditioning refrigerant. It’s super important to keep an eye on each of these fluids to keep your car in awesome condition.

One of these crucial fluids is the transmission fluid. While most people know about the importance of changing engine oil, not everyone fully gets what transmission fluid is all about, what it does, and when it needs changing. But trust me, it’s just as important!

Hang tight as I break it down for you. We’re going to cover everything you need to know about transmission fluid, including its role, the different types out there, symptoms of low fluid, and when you should give it a little refresh. Let’s dive in, shall we?

What Does Transmission Fluid Do?

Transmission fluid is a lubricant that is used to protect and lubricate the components of a car’s transmission for optimum performance. It helps make the act of shifting gears less strenuous on the vehicle by lubricating the bearings and moving metal parts within the transmission.

Automatic transmissions not only get lubed up by the fluid, but it also helps with hydraulic pressure and friction to make everything work like a charm. And guess what? Manual transmissions need some love too. They can use different fluids like regular motor oil, this heavyweight hypoid gear oil, or even automatic transmission fluid.

Shifting gears is a tough job for a car, but the transmission fluid is the magical potion that makes it all feel like a breeze. Manual transmission fluid has been around forever, while automatic transmission fluid came into the scene in the 1940s and has been a car hero ever since.

Now, here’s the thing about transmission fluid: there are tons of types out there. It’s best to check your owner’s manual or ask a trusty auto technician to make sure you’re using the right one for your ride.

Without transmission fluid, your gears would be toast. They’d wear out crazy fast or get so hot they’d be like, “Nope, I’m outta here.” And let me tell you, a broken transmission is a massive headache and a major expense.


Types of Transmission Fluid

Basically, there are two main types: automatic transmission fluid (ATF) and manual transmission fluid (MTF). And hey, don’t forget about synthetic transmission fluid and those fancy specialty fluids they use in different kinds of transmissions like CVT and dual-clutch models.

To make sure your car keeps running smoothly, it’s important to know what type of transmission you’ve got and the specific fluid it needs. No guesswork here!

Automatic Transmission Fluid

This type of fluid that you use in cars with automatic transmissions. But guess what? It’s not just for automatic ones! Some of those modern newer manual cars also use it.

The thing about these fluids is that they’re usually thinner than the ones you use in manual transmissions. Oh, and they come in different colors too, like red or green. They do this on purpose, you know?

First, it’s to make it super easy to spot if there are any leaks. Nobody wants a leaky car, right? And second, it helps you avoid using the wrong fluid by mistake. Smart move, really.

And get this, some manufacturers even have purple, green/blue, or amber fluids. It’s like a whole rainbow of options! These colors are handy because they help you tell the difference between transmission fluids and other stuff, like motor oil or whatever else is flowing through your car.

Automatic transmission fluid does a bunch of important things to keep your transmission running smoothly, like:

  • Gear lubrication
  • Torque converter operation
  • Valve body operation
  • Clutch friction operation
  • Brake band friction
  • Transmission cooling

Read More: What is Automatic Transmission?

Manual Transmission Fluid

Manual transmission fluid in older vehicles, sometimes referred to as manual transmission fluid or lubricant, is usually finds this stuff in older manual transmission cars, not in ones with automatic transmissions. Just because your car is a manual doesn’t automatically mean it uses this type of fluid, you know?

This heavier fluid, ranging from 75W to 140W, can make shifting gears a real pain, especially in the winter. That’s why a lot of transmission systems go for automatic transmission fluid instead.

Read More: What is Manual transmission?

Synthetic vs. Traditional Transmission Fluid

Did you know that there are two types of transmission fluid? You’ve got the traditional Fluid, which is made from crude oil, and the conversion of hydrocarbons to fit different vehicles. And then there’s synthetic transmission fluid, which is made through some fancy chemical reactions. The cool thing about synthetic fluid is that it doesn’t break down, oxidize, or thin out as easily when things get hot.

Now, the tricky part is figuring out which one to choose. It’s not always a clear-cut decision, unfortunately. You gotta look at what your vehicle’s manufacturer recommends. And if you’re still not sure, it’s best to chat with a transmission expert. They’ll have the scoop on what’s best for your ride.

What Does Transmission Fluid Look Like?

Transmission fluid can come in different colors depending on how old or worn out it is.

When transmission fluid is fresh and new, it’s usually a bright, eye-catching red color. You can tell it’s new because it’s super slick to the touch. That’s a good sign!

On the other hand, if your transmission fluid looks deep red or brown, that’s a clear indication that it’s seen better days. When the fluid gets old, it starts causing some serious damage to your transmission.

If your transmission fluid looks dark brown, it’s a red flag that something’s not right. That color means the fluid is burnt, and your transmission might be overheating. Not good news.

As time goes by, transmission fluid naturally gets darker. So, if you’re worried about your transmission, you can check the fluid level by taking a peek at the dipstick. It’s a handy way to see if everything’s in order.

To sum it up, here’s a simple color guide to help you figure out if your transmission needs some attention or if it’s just time for a fluid change:

  • Brand-new fluid: Dark red
  • Normal: Darker brick red
  • Service your vehicle soon: Deep blood red/rust red
  • Service your vehicle immediately: Burnt/almost black.
  • Checking your transmission fluid at home is simpler than you might imagine! Consult our step-by-step guide to learn more.

Red Fluid Leaking from Vehicle: What Does It Mean?

If you spot some red fluid leaking from your ride, it’s probably because of some transmission trouble. Luckily, the red color makes it pretty obvious, so you can identify the problem right away. There are a few other signs to look out for when it comes to spotting a transmission fluid leak:

  • Consistency: Transmission fluid will have that oily and slick feel, just like engine oil or brake fluid. So, if you touch it, you’ll notice that familiar texture.
  • Odor: Transmission fluid usually has a petroleum-like smell. But if it’s been hanging around for too long without a change, it might have a burnt odor.
  • Location of the Leak: Keep in mind that transmission fluid tends to drip from the middle of the car, closer to the front.

When to Change Transmission Fluid?

Remember how we talked about the importance of changing your engine oil? Well, there’s something else you should keep an eye on—your transmission fluid. A lot of folks know about changing the oil, but they’re not aware of how crucial it is to change the transmission fluid too.

Over time, the fluid in both automatic and manual transmissions break down and gets contaminated with particles and dirt. Now, you don’t have to change the transmission fluid as often as your engine oil, but it’s still important to keep an eye on it and check it regularly.

  • Manual: Every 30,000 to 60,000 miles
  • Automatic: Every 60,000 to 100,000 miles

Changing your transmission fluid is an important thing to do, but the frequency depends on the type of transmission you’ve got. If you drive manual, most manufacturers will recommend changing your transmission fluid every 30,000 to 60,000 miles. If you have an automatic, you can typically boost that range up to 60,000 to 100,000 miles.

There’s no harm in getting it changed earlier if you want to play it safe. If you’re driving a manual and you really put your vehicle through some heavy-duty stuff, you might want to consider getting that fluid changed every 15,000 miles. And for those with automatic transmissions, there might be certain situations where you’ll need to change it around the 30,000-mile mark.

At the end of the day, the best move is to check your owner’s manual or talk to a trained technician who knows their stuff. They’ll give you the lowdown on the exact interval that’s right for your ride.

How Do I Know If My Transmission Fluid Is Low?

The most common reason why transmissions fail: overheating. When your transmission gets too hot, bad things happen. And you know what causes that? Well, it’s usually because you’re low on fluid or you haven’t been taking care of your fluid as you should.

If you have a leak in your transmission system, you’re gonna lose fluid. And when that happens, your transmission starts to overheat and slip. Your car won’t stall, but your engine will rev up more than usual or you’ll feel like you’ve got no power at all. Not a good situation, my friend.

But that’s not all. If your fluid level stays low, it can mess up your transmission big time. And trust me, that’s gonna cost you a pretty penny to fix. You might even have to do a full-on replacement, and that ain’t cheap.

Keep an eye out for any leaks on the ground where you park your ride. And if you have an oil dipstick, make sure you check your transmission oil level every time you change the oil.

If it’s only a little low, you probably have a small leak that’s gonna turn into a big problem and will cause costly repairs in the future if you don’t fix it early.

Symptoms of Low Transmission Fluid

So how can you tell if your transmission fluid level is low? Here are some key signs to watch out for.

1. Noises

If everything’s running smoothly, you shouldn’t hear any weird sounds while you’re driving in your car. But different brands and models have their own funky noises, especially when it comes to transmissions. Manual ones might make a loud clunk or grind when you shift gears, while automatics can sound like they’re whining or humming.

Hearing strange noises could be a sign that your transmission fluid is running low, but don’t try to play mechanic and figure it out yourself. It’s best to get it checked by a certified technician ASAP to avoid any major repairs that’ll cost you time and money.

2. Burning Smell

If you catch a whiff of something funky in your car, it’s time to head straight to the nearest service center. There could be a bunch of reasons why your car starts emitting a burning smell, and one of them could be that your transmission fluid is getting overheated. That smell could be a sign that your fluid level is running low.

When your transmission gets too hot, it creates more friction between its parts, which leads to the formation of gunk and corrosion. If you ignore this problem, your transmission will eventually give up and refuse to do its job properly. That’s a big no-no!

3. Transmission Leaks

A transmission fluid leak is one of those obvious signs that something isn’t right. Just peek underneath your car or see if there are any little puddles of fluid hanging around where you usually park. That fluid is going to be a flashy bright red color, and that’s your transmission fluid saying, “Hey, I’m leaking out here!” If it’s outside the car, that means your transmission fluid is running low.

If you ignore this issue and let it slide, that fluid is going to turn into a darker shade, it might even start giving off a burnt smell.

You gotta get your wheels to a technician ASAP. They’ll be able to check out the damage to your transmission and fix up whatever’s causing the leak. Trust me, it’s better to nip it in the bud before it gets worse.

4. Slipping Gears

A healthy transmission should shift smoothly between gears without any problems. But if you feel the gears slipping or grinding, it could mean trouble. It might not seem like a big deal at first, but it’s a good idea to get your transmission checked to avoid expensive repairs down the road.

5. Slow Gear Engagement

Along with gear slippage, low transmission fluid levels can also make your gears take their sweet time to engage. So, if you put your car in drive or reverse and it takes a moment to get going, it could be because of low fluid levels.

6. Vehicle Accelerates Poorly

If your ride is sluggish and doesn’t want to pick up speed when you hit the gas, your transmission could be to blame. Don’t ignore it! Get your wheels to the nearest service center and let them take a look.

7. Check Engine or Transmission Warning Light Is On

When that pesky check-engine light decides to shine on your dashboard, it’s a signal to head straight to the service center. There could be various reasons for that light to come on, and one of them could be trouble with your transmission.

What Happens if a Car Runs Out of Transmission Fluid?

If your car completely runs out of transmission fluid, it’s going to be a real struggle. You might find yourself barely moving, or worse, stuck in one gear and not shifting at all. This is especially true if you’re rolling with an automatic transmission.

Letting your ride run out of transmission fluid is a recipe for disaster. Trust me, it’s going to leave your wallet feeling a whole lot lighter.

That’s why it’s super important to keep an eye out for those warning signs I mentioned earlier! And if you’re not sure what to do, don’t hesitate to either give your transmission a quick check or take your wheels to a pro who can give it a good once-over for you.

What is a Transmission Flush?

When you’re taking care of your transmission, you’ll often come across the term “transmission flush.” Basically, it’s all about getting rid of the old, gunky transmission fluid and replacing it with fresh, clean fluid. It’s like giving your transmission a nice, refreshing bath to keep it in good shape.

So, how does a transmission flush work? Well, there’s this cool machine that hooks up to your transmission’s cooling lines using hoses. It’s like a fluid-swap magician! It drains out all the tired, worn-out fluid and holds it inside the machine while pumping in shiny new transmission fluid.

Now, let’s talk about the perks of a flush. First off, it’s like hitting the reset button on your transmission’s fluid. All that old, dirty stuff gets swapped out for fresh, high-quality fluid. Plus, it helps give your transmission a good cleaning by flushing out sludge and other yucky contaminants that can build up over time. Think of it as a spa day for your transmission!

But hold on a second, there’s a word of caution from some folks. They say that if your transmission fluid is already super old and dirty, doing a flush might cause some of that icky stuff to move around in funky directions.

You know, like a dance party gone wrong. That could potentially dislodge debris and make it settle in places it shouldn’t be. So, it’s worth considering if your fluid is in bad shape before going for a flush.

A transmission flush can be a bit pricier than just getting a fluid change. A fluid change is like a drain-and-refill process that leaves some old fluid behind in your transmission. The problem with that is it can mix with the new fluid and make it less effective. So, if you want to go all-in for a fresh start, a flush is the way to go.