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How to Properly Check Automatic
Transmission Fluid "ATF" Condition




... How to check transmission fluid condition
... What the different conditions mean
... What action is needed


fluid conditionChecking the condition of your vehicle's automatic transmission fluid is crucial in your efforts to extend the life of your transmission and protect your investment. 

In this DIY article, we explain how to check transmission fluid condition, what the different conditions mean and what action, if any, you need to take to correct an adverse fluid condition.

  Of the estimated 14 million automatic transmission failures each year roughly 90% (or 12.8 million) are caused by an adverse fluid condition.  This is why you need to check fluid level and condition regularly. 

Checking Transmission Fluid Condition

DIY Procedures Begin Here


Note: If you also plan to check the fluid level, the vehicle must be parked on level ground, engine warm and running with shifter lever in "P" Park.  (See How to check transmission fluid level for exact procedures).





My Automatic Transmission> Paper Towels or Clean "lint-free" Rag
> A Clean Sheet of White Paper (Optional)


1Pull hood release and open hood

1Under the hood, locate the transmission dipstick

transmission dipstick



Rear Wheel Drive Vehicle:
The transmission dipstick is normally located on the right "passenger" side of the engine compartment back near the firewall.


transmission dipstick

Front Wheel Drive Vehicle: The transaxle dipstick is normally located on the left "driver's" side of the engine compartment on the top of the transaxle.

1Pull the dipstick out to check fluid condition


Fluid Color: Look closely at the transmission fluid on the end of the dipstick.  Is it Red?  Dark Red? Brown? Dark Brown? Very Dark of Black?  The Chart below provides an explanation and a suggested course of action for each color/condition.






Tip: Place a few drops of fluid on a clean sheet of white paper to get a more accurate color reading.  






Fluid Smell: Smell the transmission fluid - if it has a burnt odor, the transmission has overheated and the ATF is oxidized (or burnt).  Oxidized transmission fluid does not provide adequate lubrication means the fluid is no longer doing its intended job.  The result is poor lubrication, increased friction, increased heat and excessive wear and damage to internal parts. 


Blotter Test: Place a couple of drops of fluid on a paper towel and wait about 30-seconds or so.  If the fluid spreads out and is red or light brown in color, the fluid is good - no action is needed.  If fluid does not spread out and is dark in color, the fluid is oxidized.  In this case, a fluid and filter change or fluid flush in necessary.

Note: In most instances, oxidized transmission fluid means some internal transmission damage has already occurred.  At this point, a transmission flush is not recommended.  A fluid and filter change may add some time to the life of the transmission.

  Fluid Color: Red Transparent
New or Like New Condition
Continue checking fluid condition regularly and follow the manufacturer's recommended transmission service procedures and schedule.
  Fluid Color: Light Brown - Semi Transparent
Good Condition
Continue checking fluid condition regularly and follow the manufacturer's recommended transmission service procedures and schedule.
  Fluid Color: Dark Brown - Opaque
Old/Dirty Fluid
Does not provide adequate lubrication - will cause transmission to run hot.  Recommend flush or fluid and filter change.
  Fluid Color: Very Dark/Black
Old/Dirty and Oxidized
Fluid has a burnt odor.  Some internal transmission damage has occurred.  Fluid and filter change may prolong transmission life.  A flush is not recommended.
  Fluid Color: Light Pinkish
Water/Coolant Contamination
Internal transmission damage has occurred.  A fluid flush may prolong transmission life.  Repair transmission oil cooler/cooler line leak. 
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 How to properly check transmission fluid level
Automatic transmission fluid and filter change


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