How to check your automatic transmission fluid (ATF)

08 February 2019 / Lindleys Autocentres

Transmission fluid ensures the components in the transmission system are running smoothly. The lack of fluid can lead to wear and tear beyond repair and for automatic transmissions, the fluid acts as an antifreeze by preventing your vehicle’s engine from overheating.

Keeping on top of the health of your transmission is vital. So, maintaining the level of your transmission fluid regularly will contribute to this. In this article, we will teach you how to check your automatic transmission fluid level with our 3 easy steps. But, before we begin, let’s cover the key indicators that show you are low on transmission fluid.

(Throughout these steps, be sure to refer back to your car’s manual to understand whether you will need to have the engine running when performing this check. If you do not, simply leave your engine off. )

Main signs you are low on transmission fluid.

If you notice hesitation with your vehicle when your automatic transmission is trying to shift gear, there is a high chance you need to top up the fluid. The other main signs include:

  • Delay in gear engagement

  • Gear slipping

  • overeating transmission

  • Banging sounds when shifting gears

Step 1 - Clean the dipstick

Whilst your vehicle is in Neutral or Park (and the parking brake is on), start the engine so that your engine gets warmed up. Open your bonnet; locate the transmission fluid dipstick and pull it out from its compartment. Wipe the dipstick clean with a lint-free towel and reinsert it back in.

Step 2 - Check the fluid level

In order to check the level, remove the dipstick for the second time. Instead of wiping off the fluid, check to see if the fluid reaches the “full” line on the dipstick.

Pay attention to the quality of the transmission fluid. The transmission oil on the dipstick should be an almost clear liquid that is pinkish/reddish in colour. Keep in mind the colour strength will vary by the type and manufacturer. If you notice any particles or a burnt smell, we strongly recommend you visit your local garage for a professional mechanic to drain and replace the fluid.  

Step 3 - Refill if needed

If the quality of the fluid is healthy, you can go ahead and refill the transmission fluid if needed. Using a funnel to avoid spillages, gradually pour in the fluid and frequently check the dipstick tube until you reach the required level. Be sure you do not overfill the reservoir. Adding too much fluid can be just as damaging as having too little.

Unsure of what transmission fluid to use? As there are many types of transmission to choose from, check your owners manual to find out what type of fluid is required for your vehicle.

Transmission fluid is very important for your vehicle to function properly. Therefore, it needs to be topped up regularly. We recommend you do a dipstick test at least once a month to ensure the fluid is in good condition and check the maintenance schedule recommended in your car’s manual.

If during this check you notice any leaks, we highly advise you get your vehicle checked out by a professional mechanic. Whenever you are faced with any complications with your vehicle, please feel free to contact us and book an online appointment.

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