Changing your transmission oil and filter is an important part of maintaining your vehicle’s performance and prolonging its lifespan. Over time, the oil in your transmission becomes contaminated with debris and metal particles, leading to damage and even transmission failure if not changed. Symptoms of worn-out transmission oil are varied; we’ll cover them below.
This guide will show you how to change the transmission oil and filter for a rear-wheel-drive vehicle automatic transmission vehicle. Front-wheel drive auto transmission oil change is similar. However, front-wheel drive vehicles don’t generally require transmission filter replacement as filters aren’t easily accessible.
If your vehicle is a front-wheel drive, you can simply drain the old oil and replace it with fresh transmission oil.
We’ll cover the following:
- Symptoms of old worn out transmission oil
- Tools you’ll need
- Safety considerations
- Oil change procedure
- Transmission oil change FAQs
Symptoms of worn-out transmission oil
- Delayed engagement: When you shift your car into drive or reverse, it may take a few seconds before the gear engages. This is a sign that the transmission oil is not flowing smoothly and may be contaminated or degraded.
- Rough shifting: You may feel jerking or jolting when shifting gears, especially when accelerating or decelerating. This can be caused by worn-out transmission oil that is not providing enough lubrication to the gears.
- Slipping gears: If your car’s transmission slips out of gear, shifts unexpectedly, or doesn’t shift at all, this could be a sign of worn-out transmission oil. The gears may not be able to grip or engage properly, which can cause the transmission to slip.
- Strange noises: You may hear grinding, whining, or humming noises coming from your car’s transmission. These noises are often a sign that the gears are not working properly, which can be caused by contaminated or degraded transmission oil.
- Burnt smell: If you notice a burning smell coming from your car, this could be a sign of worn-out transmission oil. This smell is caused by friction between the gears and other components, which can cause the transmission oil to overheat and burn.
- Leaking transmission fluid: If you notice a red or brown fluid on the ground under your car, this could be a sign of a leaky transmission. This can be caused by worn-out transmission oil that has broken down and is no longer providing enough lubrication.
- Overheating: Your car’s transmission may overheat if the transmission oil is not providing enough lubrication. This can cause the gears to wear down faster and eventually fail.
- Reduced fuel efficiency: Worn-out transmission oil can cause your car’s engine to work harder than it needs to, which can reduce fuel efficiency. If you notice that you are getting fewer miles per gallon than usual, this could be a sign of transmission problems.
- Dashboard warning light: Some cars have a dashboard warning light that indicates transmission problems. If you see this warning light, it is important to have your transmission checked as soon as possible.
- Difficulty shifting: If you have trouble shifting gears or have to force the gear lever into position, this could be a sign of worn-out transmission oil. The gears may not be able to engage properly, which can cause difficulty shifting.
Tools you’ll need to change oil
- Jack and jack stands or ramps
- Drain pan
- Socket wrench set
- Oil filter wrench
- Clean rags or shop towels
- Transmission oil
- Transmission filter
Before starting the process, ensure your vehicle is parked on a level surface and the engine and transmission have cooled down. Also, use caution when jacking up your vehicle, and ensure the jack stands or ramps are secure before crawling underneath. It’s also recommended to wear gloves and eye protection when working with used oil.
Oil change procedure
- Locate the transmission pan and filter: The transmission pan and filter are typically located underneath the vehicle, towards the rear of the transmission. Refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual to locate them.
- Drain the old oil: Place the drain pan underneath the transmission pan and loosen the drain bung or remove the bolts that hold the pan in place. Slowly loosen the bolts on one end of the pan, allowing the oil to drain into the pan. Remove the pan and set it aside to let it drain completely.
- Remove the old filter: Remove the old filter, usually some small fasteners. Be careful not to damage any surrounding parts.
- Install the new filter: Lubricate the gasket on the new filter with some fresh oil and fit it into place. Tighten the filter fasteners.
- Clean the transmission pan: Use a clean rag or shop towel to wipe the inside of the transmission pan clean. Inspect the pan for any metal filings or debris, which can indicate potential issues with the transmission.
- Fit the pan and bolts: Once the pan is clean and the new filter is installed, place the new gasket onto the pan, offer the pan back onto the transmission, and tighten the bolts. Tighten the pan bolts in an alternating sequence to avoid pinching the gasket.
- Refill with new oil: Use the funnel to refill the transmission with fresh oil through the dipstick tube. Check the owner’s manual for the correct amount of oil needed.
- Check the oil level: Start the engine and let it run for a few minutes. While hot and the engine is running, remove the dipstick, clean it, and reinsert and remove it to check the oil level. Add more oil if needed.
- Dispose of used oil properly: Transfer the used oil from the drain pan into a sealable container and take it to a recycling center or a mechanic who can dispose of it properly.
Transmission oil change FAQs
- How often should I change my transmission oil? It’s generally recommended to change your transmission oil every 30,000 to 60,000 miles, depending on the make and model of your vehicle. Refer to your vehicle’s owner’s manual for the recommended interval. However, if you frequently tow heavy loads, drive in stop-and-go traffic, or have an older vehicle, you may need to change the oil more frequently.
- Can I change the transmission oil myself? Yes, changing the transmission oil is a relatively straightforward DIY task, as long as you have the necessary tools and follow the correct procedure. Just make sure to follow safety guidelines, dispose of used oil properly, and consult a mechanic or professional if you encounter any issues.
- Do I need to change the transmission filter? Yes, changing the transmission filter along with the oil is recommended. The filter helps to remove debris and metal particles from the oil, preventing them from circulating and causing damage to the transmission.
- What type of transmission oil should I use? The type of transmission oil you should use depends on the make and model of your vehicle. Check your owner’s manual for the recommended type and viscosity of oil. Using the correct oil is important, as using the wrong type can lead to transmission damage and performance issues.
- How do I check the transmission oil level? To check the transmission oil level, start the engine and let it run for a few minutes. Then, park the vehicle on a level surface and turn off the engine. Locate the transmission oil dipstick (refer to the owner’s manual if you’re not sure where it’s located), pull it out, and wipe it clean. Then, reinsert the dipstick and pull it out again. Check the oil level against the markings on the dipstick. If the level is low, add more oil as needed.
- Can I reuse the old transmission oil? No, it’s not recommended to reuse the old transmission oil. The oil can become contaminated with debris and metal particles, which can cause damage to the transmission if reused. It’s important to dispose of used oil properly by taking it to a recycling center or a mechanic who can dispose of it safely.
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John Cunningham is an Automotive Technician and writer on Rustyautos.com. He’s been a mechanic for over twenty-five years and has worked for GM, Volvo, Volkswagen, Land Rover, and Jaguar dealerships.
John uses his know-how and experience to write fluff-free articles that help fellow gearheads with all aspects of vehicle ownership, including maintenance, repair, and troubleshooting.