Six Signs That Your Transmission Fluid Is Low (Check the Level)

Although transmission fluid is not often thought of as a major component in modern vehicles, it is essential. While it doesn’t get as much attention as motor oil, having the right amount of transmission fluid is just as vital. 

Transmission fluid shouldn't be below the recommended level, but there may be other issues. Let’s take a quick look at the symptoms to look for.

Low transmission fluid can lead to slipping and overheating transmissions. There may be other issues such as shifting delays, irregularities, and related problems. Some car models will display an indicator light in your dashboard.

This is an in-depth list of all 6 indicators of low transmission fluid that you need to be aware of. 

Índice de Contenido
  1. Low Transmission Fluid Signs
    1. 1. Slipping Transmission
    2. 2. The Transmission is Overheated
    3. 3. Engagement with Delayed Gear
    4. 4. Unusual Shifting
    5. 5. Unability to shift
    6. 6. Dashboard Warning Lights
  2. How do you check transmission fluid?
    1. 1. Find the Dipstick
    2. 2. The Level
    3. 3. Check the Fluid Condition
    4. 4. The Fluid should be filled
  3. How often should I change my transmission fluid?
  4. Transmission Fluid Service Costs

Low Transmission Fluid Signs

Transmission Fluid Level

1. Slipping Transmission

It should be able to shift smoothly and without too much fuss. It is possible that your fluid level might be too low if the shifts feel jerky. 

Slipping may also occur when there is sudden shifting, high RPM spikes, and grinding sounds. These are signs that the friction material is not working properly. Transmission damage can occur if this continues. 

2. The Transmission is Overheated

The transmission becomes more vulnerable as the fluid in the transmission decreases. You might smell smoke or notice a burning odor when the transmission heats up. 

The problem can also be caused by loss of power, erratic shifting or other issues. No matter what, pull your car over so that you can stop the car from causing further damage. You will need to replace the transmission. 

3. Engagement with Delayed Gear

The transmission fluid will become less viscous and you'll notice an increase in shifting delay. There might also be some hesitation when shifting the vehicle from Drive to Reverse. 

This problem occurs because there’s not enough hydraulic transmission pressure to create the gear change normally. 

4. Unusual Shifting

Whenever shifting doesn’t occur as it should, it could be related to low fluid. You might feel slammed or delayed because of irregularities. 

The shifting may also be occurring more often. Fluid becomes more inconsistent and smoother. 

5. Unability to shift

You might lose the ability to move the car if the transmission fluid is completely dry. For the sealed system to function, it needs lubrication. 

To resolve the problem, you can fill your transmission with transmission fluid. But, if you drive the car with the wrong amount of fluid it could have led to irreversible transmission damage. 

6. Dashboard Warning Lights

Most drivers will see a dashboard warning lamp as the first sign that fluid levels have dropped. The modern transmission system uses many electronic sensors to notify you of problems. 

The trouble code is sent immediately to the car’s computer, where it alerts you through a warning light. It could be that fluid levels are low. You should pay close attention to any warning light and immediately take action. 

How do you check transmission fluid?

Transmission Fluid Dipstick

You should check the transmission fluid level if you have noticed a sign of low transmission fluid. The transmission fluid can be checked even without mechanical expertise. 

1. Find the Dipstick

The transmission dipstick is required to check fluid levels. It is located under the hood of the engine. Don’t get it confused with the oil dipstick. 

You might find your transmission indicator further back than the firewall in the engine bay. It’s often marked with the transmission symbol. 

If you don’t see a dipstick, there’s no reason to panic. Most cars are electronic and have no dipstick. You can check the level for leaks. If you can’t notice any leaks, the level should be fine!

If you can’t check the transmission fluid but are having problems, you will need to take your car in for service. If you don't know how to check the transmission fluid, these are some other options. 

2. The Level

The car should warm up slightly. With the car on a flat surface, and the engine running, you can check the transmission fluid.

Remove the transmission fluid dipstick from your vehicle and clean it with a towel. Slowly remove it from the tank and replace it. 

Check the fluid level. There are indicators that show you if it is “full,” “low” or “fill.”

3. Check the Fluid Condition

Along with checking how much fluid is in the system, it’s vital you understand the condition of it as well. To assess the color, wipe the dipstick with a piece of white paper.

It will turn reddish pink if the fluid is fresh. If it's time for replacement, however, it may appear brownish or reddish. 

A dark-colored or black fluid means you have to replace the transmission fluid, particularly if there is a burning smell. Any metal shavings indicate that the internal components of your transmission may have suffered damage. Most often, this occurs because you didn’t properly service the transmission. 

You can find out more about transmission fluid colors by clicking here.

RELATED: Transmission Fluid Color Chart – 5 Different Stages

4. The Fluid should be filled

It is possible to top off the fluid if it looks low, but not too low. However, you will want to figure out what is happening to the fluid because it shouldn’t be leaking. 

Your transmission fluid should be poured through the tube with the dipstick. To avoid any spillages, use a funnel. 

You must use the proper transmission fluid. Refer to the service manual for exact details.

How often should I change my transmission fluid?

Transmission Fluid Color

You shouldn’t need to fill the transmission fluid unless there is a leak or defect. To determine the source of the problem, look for any leaks underneath the vehicle.

If you don’t see a leak, there could be an internal issue that needs to be diagnosed by a mechanic. 

Check the service or repair manual for information on how frequently it should be replaced.

Transmission Fluid Service Costs

Professional service centers can perform automatic transmission fluid changes for as low as $80 or $250. This service will include a filter replacement and a pan cleaning. The contaminants could cause problems with the transmission fluid if they are not replaced. 

The cost of ATF+4 and SP4 automatic transmission fluids ranges between $8-20 per quart, with the average vehicle requiring 5-15 quarts. This adds up to $50-$120. New filters will typically cost around $15-30 and pan gaskets only a few dollars. 

It will be a huge savings if the transmission fluid can be changed yourself. 

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