Transmission Fluid Change Cost

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You know your car and all of its service costs like the back of your hand. We’re willing to bet that you could tell us the prices of headlights, oil changes, coolant flushes, and even a new set of spark plugs without having to refer to your notes. What about transmission fluid changes?

It’s no secret that transmissions endure plenty of neglect. You’re not the only one to blank out on the costs of routine services or even recall the last time you even had it checked out. To add some confusion to the matter, transmission fluid changes can cost anywhere from less than $100 to several hundred bucks.

Transmission Fluid Change Cost

Don’t worry. Car Bibles is here to help you get a handle on those costs. We might not be able to tell you exactly what you’ll spend on your own transmission, but we can dive into the factors that make up the final bill. We’re even going to give you some advice on tackling the job yourself.

Ed. Note: This post was updated with all-new text and images on 8/20/2023.

What Does Transmission Fluid Do?

We’re not going to get too much into the science of how transmission fluids work. There are many different transmissions out there, and system functions can be slightly or majorly different. We just want to give you a simple take on fluid function as a whole so you can begin to understand why fluid maintenance is important.

In a manual transmission, transmission fluid functions primarily as a lubricant, as oil does in your engine. In fact, many manual gearboxes simply use gear oil to get the job done. That’s not the case for all, however. Most newer manual gearboxes actually use automatic transmission fluid (ATF) for a few reasons. Primarily, it’s because it reduces drag while still offering desirable wear and rust protection to the gears — as long as the transmission is designed to work with it.

Automatic transmissions make the fluid wear a few hats, however, which is why ATF and ATF variants exist in the first place. ATF functions as a lubricant, hydraulic fluid, and even a coolant, to an extent. An engine could theoretically function for a short stint without oil before overheating and failure, but an automatic transmission could not function without its fluid.

How Much Does It Cost To Change Transmission Fluid?

How much it costs to change transmission fluid depends on the type of transmission you’re working on and whether you’re doing the job yourself. If the transmissions are different, prices can vary greatly from vehicle to vehicle and even in those of the same make and model.

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Generally speaking, manual transmissions are much less costly to service. That’s because they only require a few ounces of fluid to function, something around three to five quarts of fluid is typical. Keep in mind, though, that some manual gearboxes use ATF and others use gear oil. So, you need to take the time to figure out exactly what your transmission calls for to get an exact number regarding pricing.

Automatic transmissions are a little more expensive to service because they require a lot more fluid to run correctly. Automatic transmissions will take anywhere from nine to 13 quarts of fluid to fill. On top of that, many older automatics require the fluid filter to be changed as you replace the fluid. So, you need to purchase that along with the gasket for the pan where the filter resides. Again, a little bit of homework is necessary in understanding your exact transmission and what a fluid service will cost you.

According to RepairPal, taking your car in for a transmission fluid change typically costs between $387 and $446 for parts and labor, but this varies depending on the vehicle.

How Can I Tell if My Fluid Needs To Be Changed?

Transmission fluid takes a serious beating over the years. Between meshing gears, hard abuse, and extreme heat, it will collect debris, break down and need replacing. How often it needs changing depends on a few factors.

Under normal driving conditions, you’ll want to stick to what’s in the owner’s manual. Remember that service requirements depend on the type of transmission you have, and the manufacturer will offer details specific to that unit. In general, manual transmissions will need the fluid to be changed every 30,000 to 60,000 miles, and automatics traditionally call for servicing every 60,000 to 100,000 miles.

If you’re a spirited driver, you’ll likely want to change the fluid a little more frequently. How often you change it really depends on how hard you are on transmissions. If you’re getting on the pedal every so often or are only towing on the weekends, you can still expect to get some decent mileage out of your fluids. If those events are an everyday thing, however, you might wind up changing the fluid much more frequently.

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To determine if your fluid needs to be changed, you need to inspect its condition. If you have a dipstick tube on your automatic, pull it out. If the fluid is a dark brown and smells burnt, it’s time to go. The same rule applies to the oil in your manual transmission, only you’ll have to take a sample from the fluid fill hole to get a good reading.

You never want to let the fluid run until it turns black. In that condition, it will break down and lose its ability to function as necessary. When it does, your transmission can take the beating instead of the fluid, and you might wind up with some serious repair costs. There’s a good chance that fresh fluid will correct any of the performance issues you’re experiencing with old fluid in the transmission, but that’s something you don’t want to take a chance on.

Wait, I Don’t Have a Dipstick Tube

For all of those folks screaming at their screens about how we forgot to mention modern sealed transmissions, we thank you for hanging in there before jumping into the comments section to rip us a new one.

Still, you should inspect the fluid from time to time as lifetime fluids are still going to break down. You can do so from the fluid inspection plug on the transmission. Where it is located depends on the exact model, but the concept is simple. You pull the plug to determine both the fluid health and level. If it’s dirty or low, you know it’s time to replace or add fluid.

What To Know About Changing Transmission Fluid Yourself

Material costs are one thing, the price of labor is another. As long as you’re willing to do the work yourself, you might stand to save a couple dollars on fluid changes. That’s exactly why we want to talk a little bit about how to change transmission fluid on your own.

Safety

You’re going to have to crawl under the vehicle to change the transmission fluid. You’ll also be spending a decent amount of time under there if you’re dropping the pan and changing the filter. Throw in some unfriendly chemicals, and you have some real danger to worry about. Keep these tips in mind before you start the job.

  • Don’t get under the vehicle unless it’s properly secured. Use a set of ramps or a floor jack to safely lift the vehicle. Make sure to secure the wheels and place the vehicle on jack stands before you get anywhere near the undercarriage.
  • Transmission fluid and gear oil aren’t things you want on your bare skin or eyes, so throw on protective gloves and safety glasses.
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Gear and Tools

  • Protective gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Jack stands
  • Wheel chocks

Everything You’ll Need

We don’t know what tools or supplies you have in your shop, so we’re just going to cover the basics. Keep in mind, you need to find out exactly how much and what kind of fluid your transmission calls for before you start the process. The owner’s manual will provide you with this information, and you should follow those details.

  • Wrenches and/or sockets and ratchet
  • Torque wrench
  •  Fluid drain pan
  • ATF or gear oil transmission calls for
  • Transmission fluid filter and pan gasket set (if applicable)
  • Funnels
  • Shop rags
  •  Ramps/floor jack and jack stands

Originally posted 2023-11-25 12:49:15.

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