We are a team of ASE certified mechanics that have created this guide to help
you save money while doing the job yourself, or at least see what you are paying
for when having the job done at a shop. An automatic transmission or transaxle fluid
dipstick handle is located toward the rear of the engine or near the transaxle.
Checking and adding automatic transmissions fluid can vary depending on design and
manufacturer, some newer vehicles will require a different approach. We will show
you how to identify and perform each type below.
What Goes Wrong?
Often, a transmission problem can be as simple as low or dirty fluid. Checking
fluid is not difficult and should be the first thing done when experiencing shifting
issues, a delayed shift, or engagement issues. Allowing the transmission fluid to
run low can cause a transmission to lose internal pressure which will result in
the clutch packs or drum bands to slip causing the loss of clutch material. Many
times this can lead to transmission failure which will warrant a
What's the Cost?
Most shops will check your transmission fluid for free or as part of an engine
oil change service if you have an external dip stick model, but if your car does
not have a dipstick which manufacturers started doing on some models you will be
charged up to .5 hours plus fluid to do the job at a shop.
Where is It?
Automatic transmission dipstick locations will vary, if you have a rear wheel
drive vehicle the dipstick should be located near the firewall behind the engine
on the left side (looking straight at the engine). On front wheel drive vehicles
the dipstick will be near the transaxle itself. If you cannot locate the dipstick,
the vehicle will need to be
lifted and supported on jack stands to access the transmission pan or case.
Lets Jump In!
Park the vehicle on a level surface and start the engine allowing it to
idle. With the parking brake applied, place the shift lever in park, some older
cars will need to be checked in neutral which it will say so on the dipstick.
With your foot on the brake pedal, move the shift lever through each gear, pausing
for about three seconds, position the shift lever back into park. Located the
fluid level dipstick which should be toward the rear of the engine, (rear wheel
Some dipsticks will be labeled with the type of fluid used or the updated equivalent,
this one says Mercon 5 in small print.
Remove the dipstick and wipe clean using a paper or shop towel, typically
a dipstick will be fairly long.
Return the dipstick so it is fully seated inside the tube, wait three seconds,
and pull it back out again. This will show the level of the fluid inside the
transmission. Check both sides of the dipstick to confirm the fluid level which
must be in the crosshatched area above the minimum level indicator. If the fluid
level is in the acceptable range, reinstall the dipstick and you are all set.
If the fluid level is low, use a long-neck funnel to add only enough fluid to
bring the level into the crosshatched area on the dipstick. Start by adding
a 1/4 quart at a time, add enough fluid to bring it up to the proper level,
do not overfill.
Checking Transmission Fluid Without a Dipstick
On some newer vehicles there is not a traditional tube transmission dipstick
to check the fluid level, condition or add fluid. There can be a "screw in" dipstick,
a fluid level plug much like a standard transmission, or a level tube mounted in
the bottom of the transmission fluid pan that is sealed with a plug. We will go
over each of these types below. Follow the procedure above before checking the fluid
With the engine at idle, raise the vehicle on a hoist or
lift using a jack supported
by jack stands. The vehicle must be level with transmission in park. Remove
the dipstick plug with the level indicator attached. The image below has the
fluid pan removed so you can see the level indicator. Unscrew the plug and proceed
to check the fluid level in a normal manner. If fluid is needed a small fluid
pump can be used which is about $10.00 (US) on Amazon.
Here you see innovation as our mechanic is using a squeeze bottle style
of arrangement with a plastic tube attached to add fluid.
Remove the fluid level gauge from the fill plug, This will be used to measure
the amount of fluid inside the transmission.
While the engine is still running insert the level gauge into the plug hole
and remove, this will show the level of the fluid.
Reassemble the level gauge back into the plug and reinstall back into the
transmission case and tighten, (5 foot pounds) and you are all set.
Here is an example of a side plug type which works in a similar manner.
The side plug style is filled until it runs out then reinstall the plug, much
like a differential or standard transmission fill plug, again the engine must
be running. (Images courtesy of AllData)
This is the drain tube type. The fill tube style acts much like the side
plug style, pump fluid in, then remove the fill tube and the excess with run
out creating the correct fluid level, (if the fluid is flowing as a steady stream,
wait until the fluid begins to drip before replacing the fill plug, if no fluid
flows out, add fluid until fluid drips out). The fluid level height is achieved
by the tube inside the transmission pan. (Images courtesy of AllData)
Transmission Fluid Color
Transmission fluid color and odor are very informative when checking the fluid
level. A portion of a transmission is basically a hydraulic pump which degrades
the fluid properties making it less effective. If the fluid color is dark or black
and has a burnt odor the
be serviced. Transmission fluid that is the color of a pink milk shake is an
indication of engine coolant mixing with the fluid. This is because the transmission
cooler inside the radiator has failed, when this happens the
radiator needs to be replaced
and the transmission
Watch The Video!
This video shows a transmission service and refill which will show you how to
check and add fluid.