Maintenance schedules offered by car manufacturers always include the transmission. That's because it is an enormous part of your automobiles health. Transmission fluid plays a critical role in how a transmission functions and the car part longevity. Like engine oil, transmission fluid should be checked and changed on a regular basis; however, the interval is different for all vehicles and dependent on the transmission and fluid type as well as use.
Changing transmission fluid is not as simple as changing engine oil and should be handled by a service technician or someone with a thorough understanding of transmissions. Generally, the car is lifted on a hoist, the pan is dropped and the old fluid pours out. This fluid and the pan are inspected for contaminants, such as fiber from clutch discs or any other indication of a larger issue that may be appearing. After a routine check of the exposed components the filter is changed, the pan is replaced and the fluid added to the proper level.
Manual transmission fluid change is usually simpler. Manual transmissions are usually outfitted with drain and fill plugs. The car is lifted, the oil drained, and then refilled with the proper grade specified by the manufacturer. If an owner decides to tackle this operation on his or her own, one thing to remember is to make sure the fill plug can be removed and the fill tube is clear before draining.
While periodic fluid changes are ideal, checking the fluid level and condition on a regular basis is a good idea as well. Most automatic transmissions have a dipstick similar to the engine oil dipstick. However, unlike engine oil, the car must be running to check the level. The vehicle manual will also specify if the car should be in park or neutral, and what temperature the transmission should be -- fluids expand with temperature and checking a cold transmission will often provide a false reading. When the dipstick is out, smell the fluid and note if it smells burned (a symptom of overheating), or like any other fluid (gas, coolant or motor oil), which may be a symptom of a leak in the system or contamination. Also, wipe some of the fluid onto a piece of white paper or cloth and check the color against a fresh fluid sample. Too much variation in color could mean contamination or degradation of the fluid.
Manual transmissions can be checked by opening the filler plug. The level should be just below this hole. Dip a cotton swab in, pull some fluid out, and smell it to check the condition of the oil just as you would on an automatic transmission.
While maintenance is key to auto part longevity, being aware of any bangs, whines or groans from the transmission, as well as smells, will help head off any problems at an early stage.
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