We already know that there are 7 important automotive fluids our cars need. But did you know that among them, the transmission fluid acts multiple roles – as a lubricant, as a coolant, and as a hydraulic press?
Because of the complexity of the transmission fluid’s importance to our cars, it is not surprising that its purity and amount has to be regularly monitored and swapped whenever necessary.
With this in mind, we may then ask the following questions:
- What is the average transmission service rate?
- What services are included?
- Is transmission fluid change’s cost same as that of flush?
Service Cost and Transmission Fluid Price
Based on the statistics provided by KASPA Transmissions, about 90% of transmission failures are because of overheating or due to contamination in the fluid system. To rebuild a transmission, it usually costs around $2,000 up to $5,000. That makes a valid point on why you should change transmission oil without any delay.
There are two ways of replacing old transmission oil in your car – through fluid change by drip and through transmission flush.
A simple transmission fluid top up cost ranges between $107 and $225. The cost may come along with a transmission filter and gasket replacement too, depending on the mechanic or the auto repair shop. You will have to discuss and ensure beforehand that the service provider includes filter and gasket replacement service.
Fluid change cannot completely drain out the old oil in the system. At most, fluid change can only change about 20-40% of the total volume. It is not also efficient to remove grime, debris, and sludge that built up over time in the system. Such substances can block the channels and valves that hinder the normal flow of the fluid in the transmission.
A fluid flush, on the other hand, ranges between $140 and $320, which is more than a mere transmission oil top up because of the amount of oil and cleaning solutions that are needed for the extensive cleanup. The transmission fluid used alone is 12 to 22 quarts – twice or thrice more than the usual 5-7 quarts used in a fluid change. The efficiency of flushing out the oil is about 90% – 95%.
Dealers like Hyundai provide specific vehicle maintenance services like transmission flush in their centres. The cost of the trans oil flush has a starting of $250 and may vary depending on the assessment.
Meanwhile, shops like Midas in Madison charge around $150-$210 for an automatic transmission flush.
Pep Boys provides such service around $130-$180 per package.
The service can also include gasket and filter replacement; but to make sure, inquire with the service provider first. Usually, additional services like replacement of the filter, pan, and gasket increase the cost by $50.
You may wish to discuss with your selected mechanic or auto repair shop if it is possible to source the transmission oil yourself.
Automatic transmission fluid generally costs around $5.49 to $135, but there are those that are cheaper. On the other hand, manual automobile transmission oil can cost as low as $7.74 and as high as $452.
Note that some car companies or models require the use of their own brand of transmission fluid. Honda, for example, has its own transmission fluid which costs as low as $8.15 up to $12.
Additionally, some auto repair shops and mechanics would recommend renewing the transmission filter during transmission flush. If so, you may also opt to source your transmission filter kit, especially if your car happens to have an automatic transmission.
Kits cost around $5 to $121, although there are also kits that cost even more.
Working Of Transmission Oil And Its Types
The transmission fluid is a dual purpose substance loaded into your transmission to keep all the components properly running. It acts both as a lubricant and as a hydraulic fluid. As a lubricant, it helps clean and protects the metal surfaces of your transmission from wear and tear, as well as keeps the gears from grinding and creating friction which can damage their surfaces.
As a hydraulic fluid, it acts as a transmitting agent during the shifting of gears, all while cooling the components it runs through during high-temperature operations when you drive. Additionally, because of its higher boiling point, it can also act as a coolant to your transmission gears.
Your vehicle has certain specifics when it comes to the type of transmission fluid it uses. It is, therefore, important to remember that there are different types – each with variations in terms of which function they are best at:
- Motor Oil – originally used as engine oil, the motor oil can act as a quick-grab fluid for manual transmissions due to its similarity with an M/T gear oil in terms of chemical components and properties.
- Hypoid Gear Oil – this is for some manual transmission cars and it resists well against high temperatures and extreme pressure levels.
- Dexron/ Mercon – these two types are the most common in the market to date. They are known for their friction modifiers that protect the internal mechanisms of the transmission well.
- Highly Friction Modified (HFM) fluid – this type of transmission fluid has more intensive friction modifiers compared to Dexron and Mercon.
- Synthetic fluid – this type of transmission fluid provides even way better protection of the transmission from friction, oxidation, and shearing compared to Dexron / Mercon. Additionally, it has a high-temperature change tolerance that will help the transmission withstand rapid temperature shifts.
- Type-F – this transmission fluid does not contain friction modifiers. It is used mostly by 70s car models.
Each car model has a specific type or a number of types of transmission fluid it can handle. Certain cars with manual transmission, for example, may be able to use motor oil, hypoid gear oil, and even accept automatic transmission fluid, while other cars models with a manual transmission may only be able to handle hypoid and motor oil.
It is, therefore, important to check your car’s service manual to check which types of trans oil is recommended for use so as to optimize your car’s performance.
The Need for Replacing Transmission Fluid
Like any component and fluid within your car, your car’s transmission fluid eventually deteriorates through time. Its rate of deterioration, however, varies depending on the type of fluid used as well as the frequency of gear shift and rough driving your car has to go through.
Some vehicles, however, need not have their trans fluid changed frequently. Some ford transmissions, for example, call for fluid change at the 150,000 mileage. There are also those that require an oil change at the 100,000 mark. Some vehicles even do not require any fluid change in their lifetime at all.
Just to play safe, however, there are two possible bases for the regularity of your oil change – (1) your car’s service manual and schedule, and (2) the call made by your trusted mechanic.
Most mechanics would call for a trans oil change at least every 30,000 miles especially for manual transmissions and at most 60,000 to 100,000 miles, especially for automatic transmissions.
Your car’s service manual and schedule, on the other hand, may require less or more frequency, and it should serve well as your primary guide as to when you need to have your car’s transmission oil replaced.
Transmission Fluid Problem Symptoms
Although a change of transmission fluid may not be that frequent, it is still important to pay attention to the oil’s clarity and functionality. Your car’s tranny fluid should ideally be pinkish (although some brands may be greenish) and free of grime and dust.
Excessive debris will lead to clogging on the car’s transmission filter and eventually the transmission which will affect your car’s gear shifting.
Here are the symptoms indicating trans fluid problems that you need to look out for:
- Transmission noise – a car with contaminated or low trans fluid may exhibit strange noises such as grinding coming from the transmission.This is because lack of clean transmission fluid results to the internal gears of the transmission to contact with one another which increases friction and heat. This speeds up the deterioration of these components until the transmission will fail to work and your car refuses to run. So if your vehicle happens to show this kind of symptom you will have to check your transmission fluid levels as well as look out for other indicators of fluid clogging.
- Check Engine Light is On – this is another symptom that is shared by vehicles with dirty transmission fluid or that lacks enough transmission oil.
- Transmission fluid discoloration odor – transmission fluid is meant to be clear red in color. If the fluid sample you get from the transmission is brown, black or has plenty of grit and grime in it, then it is time for a fluid change. A burnt odor is also an indicator that the transmission fluid is up for a replacement.
- Gear shifting problems – this symptom holds especially true for automatic transmission vehicles. This is because the fluid acts as a hydraulic conduit of the transmitted force needed in order for the car to change gears. With the dirt and debris present in the transmission fluid, this will cause delays in the transmission response which can make your car’s response to the change of gears either too fast or too slow.
- Transmission slipping – a symptom also known as gear slipping, this happens when degraded transmission fluid loses its capacity to transmit force, preventing transmission gears from properly engaging. Additionally, for automatic transmission, debris can hamper the electronic connections within the valve body as well as the solenoids – components that are important in effective gear change. As a result, your car engines may work when you press on your car’s gas pedal but the vehicle wouldn’t increase in speed.
- Delayed gear response – if your car’s reaction time is a couple more seconds longer than it usually does when you shift the gears, then it is possible that your car has transmission fluid problems. Connectivity between transmission components is a bit muddled due to the dirt and grime in the fluid.
A car showing the symptoms mentioned may still be drivable, but it is better to have the car towed as soon as possible since damages related to transmission fluid problems can escalate quickly.
Problems With DIY Transmission Flush
A transmission flush is a process of purging your car transmission of the old fluid and replacing it with a new one through the use of a flush system or machine. Occasionally, the process of flushing involves cleaning solutions in order to remove excess grime and sludge that cannot be removed mechanically.
The machine in itself costs a lot, like around $108 to $1,980, depending on the brand, capacity, and portability.
Considering that a flush machine costs way more for using it less frequently – like, every 2-4 years mileage – it is better to leave the transmission flush of your car to service providers, unless you happen to have your own garage of vehicles that undergo a lot of rough handling every day.
Buying or sourcing a transmission flush machine is costly not only when purchased – you have to expect to pay for the excess transmission oil used during each flushing process. This is why a transmission flush is costly compared to a transmission oil change.
Fluid change uses the natural force of gravity to remove the oil from your car’s transmission before you replace a new trans fluid in it.
A transmission flush service price is not only affected by the kind of machine used. The service cost is also affected by the following:
- Your car model, year, and make;
- The type of service provider;
- The fluid required;
- The type of fluid used;
- Additional services including pan and filter replacement and additional cleaning solutions; and
- The local area’s cost of living which can affect labor cost and other fees
So, Change or Flush?
There has been an ongoing debate regarding the change of transmission fluid and among the points of contention are whether it is better to change fluid, to do a transmission flush or to leave your transmission fluid be.
A transmission flush, for example, may be costly but it will assure you that every dirt and debris mixed in the oil, including 100% of the old trans oil is siphoned out of the machine. On the other hand, a drip will not completely remove all the grime in a dirty transmission fluid, but the process costs less than a flush.
Some mechanics advise not to do any fluid change or flush if there is no problem with the car’s gear shifting.
Additionally, there have been accounts of old transmissions breaking down after their fluid was replaced. Some components within the car transmission might get weakened or bent or scratched and ready to get damaged in the near future because of the pressure the machine exerts to force all the contaminants out.
In other cases, some of the debris gets stuck between transmission components during the flush process.
We have already established a few paragraphs above that the rule of thumb is to follow the service manual and schedule. This also holds true for the issue whether to do a flush or a change since both methods are meant to extend a car’s lifespan.
The Safest and Ideal Flush Process
Whether you employ the service of an experienced technician who happens to have the flush machine or subject your car to a transmission flush in an auto repair shop, it is still important to know the basic steps of how a flush is done:
Diagnosis – the mechanic-in-charge of your car may let your car run through an initial test drive to see the extent of the tranny fluid problem. This is also to check for other possible problems that your car may have.
Discussion of the Type of Machine Used – the shop you are in may have more than one type of flush machine, so you may need to discuss it with the mechanic as to what type of machine you are going to use. Ensure that the machine the shop or mechanic uses is government-regulated before you agree to any flushing.
Car Is Connected to the Machine – your car is hooked to the machine and the old transmission fluid gets pumped out. There are two ways to do a flushing:
- Regular flush – your cars transmission’s original connection to the car’s cooler will be removed. Instead, the transmission will be connected to the flush machine’s input, while the cooler will be attached to the flush machine’s output. The machine makes use of your car’s pump to move the both the old and the new trans ; flushing the old transmission fluid out and replacing it with the new one at the same time. The downside with this method is that there are times when some of the old fluid gets diluted with the new one rather than dropping straight into the oil pan. This is almost similar to the drip and change method, except that the process is faster since it does not rely on gravitational force alone.
- Pump Inlet Flush – this method makes use of the machine’s line attached to the car’s pump intake, so the transmission fluid is pushed out and into the oil pan as the machine feeds new transmission fluid into the transmission until it is clean. The process takes longer and costs more fluid, but it cleans the car transmission faster.
Replacing the Filter and Gasket – when the flushing has been completely done, the pan is removed and the oil examined to determine the condition of the transmission. The old filter and the gasket may not be replaced, but it is recommended that they be swapped out for new ones to ensure extended transmission lifespan and avoid near future replacements.
Test Drive – when everything has been properly replaced or reinstalled and returned, the service provider conducts a test drive to check the car’s working condition.
Some auto service shops use machines that utilize additional pressure to flush out your car’s old transmission fluid which increases the chances of damaging your car’s transmission. Make sure to check out the kind of flush machine the service provider you plan to employ to avoid those excess pressure types.
When in doubt, go back to your car’s service manual. Note that some car models recommend that their own brand of tranny fluid be used, while other car models require only drip method, and still others may specify the type or brand of fluid to use in the transmission. Your car’s service manual is tailored for your car’s optimum lifespan, so use it as a guideline rather than others’ opinion.
Get a trusted mechanic. Choose those who have good service record and are referred by close relatives and friends, as well as car buffs. Ask for a definite warranty to ensure that the service provider takes a job seriously. Additionally, ask them to show you the changed oil and the parts that have been swapped out.
Note that a transmission flush and a fluid change are options to help extend the lifespan of your car’s transmission. They are not cures to any transmission problem but rather preventive measures. The good thing about prevention, however, is that regular practice of caring for your car’s transmission and transmission fluid will definitely cost you less than getting a bad transmission and a damaged car in the long run as result of neglect.