How To Check The Automatic Transmission Fluid

The automatic transmission fluids act as a lubricant which keeps the transmission from overheating. Once your automatic transmission is low on fluid, all kinds of problems will arise. It is important that you check your ATF every month, or when you start to experience some issues with the transmission. Here is how to check the automatic transmission fluid:

How To Check The Automatic Transmission Fluid

How To Check The Automatic Transmission Fluid

How To Check The Automatic Transmission Fluid

You should be checking the automatic transmission fluid every month as a part of preventive maintenance checks. If you notice that your automatic transmission isn’t shifting as it should, make sure to first check the fluid level before you take your vehicle to the mechanic shop.

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1. Park your car on level ground

Start by parking your vehicle on level ground and leave the engine running. Put the gear in Park (P) or in Neutral (N). The manufacturer’s owners manual might suggest that you turn your vehicle off, but on most cars, you should leave it running.

2. Locate the ATF dipstick

The automatic transmission fluid dipstick is usually located on the back of the engine. It is usually shorter than the engine oil dipstick. If your vehicle is a newer model, the ATF dipstick will be labeled.

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3. Remove the ATF dipstick

Have a piece of paper or a towel ready and pull out the ATF dipstick. The fluid will be dripping so make sure that you place the towel underneath the dipstick as soon as you pull it out.

4. Wipe the ATF dipstick

The readings that you will see at this point are not correct. You need to wipe the ATF dipstick and place it back inside and remove it after 10 seconds.

5. Look at the ATF dipstick

There are usually two different reading markings on the ATF dipstick. One is for cold readings and one for warm readings. Depending on if you are doing this with your engine running or a cold engine, see if the fluid comes up to the last line marked full. If it’s lower, you will have to add ATF fluid.

6. Add ATF fluid if needed

If your car is low on ATF fluid, you can add some in the same hole that you pulled out the dipstick from. Make sure to use a funnel with a long narrow neck so you don’t end up with ATF fluid all over the engine. Also, it is very easy to add the fluid than it is to remove it. So, make sure that you add little by little because you don’t want to add more than what is needed.

7. Put the dipstick back

Once you add the ATF fluid, put back the dipstick, and wipe the surrounding area if you spilled out some fluid by accident.

Most Common Signs of Low Automatic Transmission Fluid

Automatic transmission problems are more common than you might think. It is very important that you catch the early signs of low automatic transmission fluid before serious damage occurs on some of the transmission parts. Here are the most common signs of low automatic transmission fluid:

1. Having trouble shifting gears

One of the most common symptoms of low automatic transmission fluid is having trouble shifting gears. Although this symptom is more common on manual transmissions, it is not just limited to them. Automatic cars have gears too. So, if you experience a delay or missing response when you shift, you might be low on ATF fluid.

2. Transmission is slipping

Another common issue of low automatic transmission fluid is when the transmission is slipping. This happens when there is a lack of synchronization between the engine and the vehicle. It occurs when the engine speeds up but the vehicle fails to respond to it. Slipping is just one of the many common low transmission fluid symptoms that should not be ignored.

3. Unusual noise from the transmission

The automatic transmission of the vehicles should be noiseless. If you start to hear some unusual noises coming from your vehicle’s automatic transmission, then it is best to have it checked out. These noises may sound like grinding metal. Experiencing hard or erratic shifts when changing gears can also be a result of low ATF.

4. Automatic transmission overheating

If your automatic transmission is overheating, that is a sign that the car transmission is about to fail. This can be easily attributed to low or ineffective automatic transmission fluid. Overheating is very dangerous for your vehicle. Most of the automatic transmissions fail due to overheating. The ATF should not surpass 200 F degrees.

5. Leaking ATF

This is probably one of the most obvious signs of low fluids. The automatic transmission fluid travels in many hoses around the engine and the transmission itself. If one of these hoses are damaged, the ATF would leak out. Also, damaged seals on the transmission itself can cause the ATF to leak out.

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Hi there. I am a certified Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) mechanic since 2018 and a car detailer for 10 years.

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