Author Topic: When to change transmission fluid?  (Read 7706 times)

Choices

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When to change transmission fluid?
« on: July 13, 2016, 12:06:39 PM »
Hi, we're pretty handy around the house, but I have no idea about cars and I hope you can help.

We have a good mechanic for repairs, but I use Big O for their $15 oil changes. Today Big O said I need a new cabin filter (a lie, we'd changed it a few months ago and it just had a few leaves on top that were easily removed) and new transmission fluid ASAP. They didn't say a peep about this 5k miles ago.

It's a 2011 Rav4 with 83k miles, automatic transmission, V6.
Is there any way to tell when changing the transmission fluid is necessary without taking it to my real mechanic (with the associated charges and hassle)? The car runs great.

Thanks in advance!

ketchup

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #1 on: July 13, 2016, 12:13:45 PM »
Check the owner's manual.

If it claims the fluid is "lifetime", that's really code for "change it every 60,000 miles or so."

Do you know when it was last changed?

If the $15 oil change place says you need *anything*, assume it's BS until proven otherwise.  They don't make any money on $15 oil changes.

WSUCoug1994

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #2 on: July 13, 2016, 01:56:14 PM »
Transmission fluid change is as important as your oil change from a preventative maintenance standpoint.  Most OEM's will recommend between 40-60,000 miles.  I always do it on the lower side of the scale because transmissions take a beating and they are expensive to replace.  If you don't have your owners manual - google it and find out.  You are likely over the recommended mileage.

soccerluvof4

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #3 on: July 13, 2016, 02:10:26 PM »
^ agreed with above. Usually 40-60k miles. Another thing to see how bad it is is smell the dipstick and look for metal shavings. If its smells burnt or has metal in it then thats baaaadddd!

lbmustache

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #4 on: July 13, 2016, 02:24:20 PM »
https://www.cars.com/articles/2013/07/do-you-really-need-to-change-the-transmission-fluid/

This might help. I personally would change it, even if it shifting fine. When it stops shifting fine, transmission fluid is not going to magically fix it. ;)

Reynolds531

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #5 on: July 13, 2016, 08:05:46 PM »
If you go to Bob is the oil guy forums the advice is changing early and often. But I would not do it at Joe's discount oil change LLC.

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #6 on: July 13, 2016, 11:04:35 PM »
Thanks, all! My trusted mechanic said it looked clean and wonderful at 75K, but I'll take it in next week and change it out.

HipGnosis

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #7 on: July 14, 2016, 11:57:24 AM »
We have a good mechanic for repairs, but I use Big O for their $15 oil changes. Today Big O said I need a new cabin filter (a lie, we'd changed it a few months ago and it just had a few leaves on top that were easily removed) and new transmission fluid ASAP. They didn't say a peep about this 5k miles ago.

It's a 2011 Rav4 with 83k miles, automatic transmission, V6.
Is there any way to tell when changing the transmission fluid is necessary without taking it to my real mechanic (with the associated charges and hassle)? The car runs great.
According to Rav4World.com forum;  The ATF life is  80k according to the service manual.

Big O is saying you need it, and the cabin filter just based on your miles.   They type in your vehicle info when you come in and their computer says what is 'needed'.

Philociraptor

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #8 on: July 14, 2016, 12:16:41 PM »
I was wondering about this too. I have a 2008 Scion xD coming up on 130k miles. I bought it at 105k and am not sure if the transmission fluid has ever been changed. It shifts well. Owners manual says automatic transmission fluid never needs to be changed under normal driving conditions. Is that correct?

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #9 on: July 14, 2016, 12:35:53 PM »
Thanks guys, it might not be 'needed' yet, but I'd rather err on the side of caution since I love this car and plan to keep it for at least another 100k miles. I know, I know, it's not Mustachian, but it works really well for us. I'll consider something smaller the next time, but we haul furniture, compost, tons of luggage, camping gear, etc. regularly and so far it has been fantastic.

ketchup

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #10 on: July 14, 2016, 12:40:00 PM »
I was wondering about this too. I have a 2008 Scion xD coming up on 130k miles. I bought it at 105k and am not sure if the transmission fluid has ever been changed. It shifts well. Owners manual says automatic transmission fluid never needs to be changed under normal driving conditions. Is that correct?
Nope.  Toyota is one of the companies that recently likes to claim "lifetime" ATF (I believe this claim saves them $$$ on environmental regulations but I don't know the details).  I'd change it (and the filter if it has one), and then again every 60k or so.

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #11 on: July 14, 2016, 01:29:54 PM »
I was wondering about this too. I have a 2008 Scion xD coming up on 130k miles. I bought it at 105k and am not sure if the transmission fluid has ever been changed. It shifts well. Owners manual says automatic transmission fluid never needs to be changed under normal driving conditions. Is that correct?
Nope.  Toyota is one of the companies that recently likes to claim "lifetime" ATF (I believe this claim saves them $$$ on environmental regulations but I don't know the details).  I'd change it (and the filter if it has one), and then again every 60k or so.

On filters...  Several automatics I have had had a "filter" that was not much more than a fine wire mesh screen.  To change it, you had to drop the pan.  They always made this "easier" by not putting a drain plug in there... so you had to drop a full pan.

In the ones I have done... I have never seen that the screen really needed replacing... and digging into it was more trouble than it was worth.  Now: if it has a filter that is more than a wire mesh... changing the filter might be more useful. 


ChairmanKaga

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #12 on: July 18, 2016, 11:58:41 AM »
One note - be CERTAIN to talk to a certified technician about the procedure for changing it. Most modern automatics require a "drain and fill" procedure that actually wastes quite a bit of fluid, but is FAR safer on the internals. Lots of cheaper facilities will do a backflush using a sort of vacuum pump that can do severe damage to the transmission. Read up on "my transmission was ruined after changing the fluid." Do it right.

Cadman

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #13 on: July 18, 2016, 12:38:38 PM »
Absolutely, the trans flush is about the worst thing you can do to your car, service-wise.

But there's another problem here and that's that half of your trans oil resides in your torque converter. Dropping the pan and changing the filter will only account for half. 50 years ago some of those converters had plugs so you really could drain and refill the system as the fluid did require more frequent changes, but not these days. If the car has an external cooler you'll also have some fluid there to account for. I've had luck in the past opening a cooler line from the pump, running that to a graduated 'bucket', starting the engine and filling the trans at the same rate as the dump. Bought me a little more time on a failing trans but I'm not sure I'd really mess with it if you're fluid looks good.

edit: should you decide to drop the pan to do a filter change, look for a small magnet fixed to the inside of the pan. This is designed to catch clutch material and is usually more effective than just a mesh filter. Wipe it clean and reuse it.
« Last Edit: July 18, 2016, 12:41:29 PM by Cadman »

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #14 on: July 18, 2016, 01:54:17 PM »
Absolutely, the trans flush is about the worst thing you can do to your car, service-wise.

But there's another problem here and that's that half of your trans oil resides in your torque converter. Dropping the pan and changing the filter will only account for half. 50 years ago some of those converters had plugs so you really could drain and refill the system as the fluid did require more frequent changes, but not these days. If the car has an external cooler you'll also have some fluid there to account for. I've had luck in the past opening a cooler line from the pump, running that to a graduated 'bucket', starting the engine and filling the trans at the same rate as the dump. Bought me a little more time on a failing trans but I'm not sure I'd really mess with it if you're fluid looks good.

edit: should you decide to drop the pan to do a filter change, look for a small magnet fixed to the inside of the pan. This is designed to catch clutch material and is usually more effective than just a mesh filter. Wipe it clean and reuse it.

The lazy way to do it:
* drain the pan (assuming you have a drain plug).  You have 50% of the fluid.
* top it off.
* drive it around
* drain the pan.  You now have half of the remaining fluid -- 75% drained.
* top it/drive it around
* drain the pan.  You're up to 87%.  To me, it is starting to feel good enough.  You could do it again and be at about 95%. 

This does waste a little fluid... and at the price of the Toyota "lifetime fluid"... that isn't insignificant.

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #15 on: July 18, 2016, 01:55:00 PM »
FYI, if your car uses "transmission fluid" instead of "gear oil" you're already Doing It Wrong.

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #16 on: July 18, 2016, 02:04:26 PM »
FYI, if your car uses "transmission fluid" instead of "gear oil" you're already Doing It Wrong.

I wholly agree with you here.  But those gear oil cars are getting increasingly difficult to find.  I get jealous when I go to other countries and see manual transmissions in all sorts of different models that are just not offered here.

ChairmanKaga

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #17 on: July 18, 2016, 03:07:50 PM »
Absolutely, the trans flush is about the worst thing you can do to your car, service-wise.

But there's another problem here and that's that half of your trans oil resides in your torque converter. Dropping the pan and changing the filter will only account for half. 50 years ago some of those converters had plugs so you really could drain and refill the system as the fluid did require more frequent changes, but not these days. If the car has an external cooler you'll also have some fluid there to account for. I've had luck in the past opening a cooler line from the pump, running that to a graduated 'bucket', starting the engine and filling the trans at the same rate as the dump. Bought me a little more time on a failing trans but I'm not sure I'd really mess with it if you're fluid looks good.

edit: should you decide to drop the pan to do a filter change, look for a small magnet fixed to the inside of the pan. This is designed to catch clutch material and is usually more effective than just a mesh filter. Wipe it clean and reuse it.

The lazy way to do it:
* drain the pan (assuming you have a drain plug).  You have 50% of the fluid.
* top it off.
* drive it around
* drain the pan.  You now have half of the remaining fluid -- 75% drained.
* top it/drive it around
* drain the pan.  You're up to 87%.  To me, it is starting to feel good enough.  You could do it again and be at about 95%. 

This does waste a little fluid... and at the price of the Toyota "lifetime fluid"... that isn't insignificant.

That's the official Honda method. My CRV is about 1500 miles from its first trans service and I'm trying to decide if I should do it myself (this is my first automatic transmission) or take it to a specialist. Given I'd like to continue driving it for another 20+ years. I'm thinking this every 6-8 years service might be in better hands with a pro.

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #18 on: July 18, 2016, 06:45:15 PM »
"Before it's black and smells of burning."

A good test is to drip some on a piece of white paper.  It should be reddish-pink.  If it's a darker shade, it's been overheated and needs to be changed.

StartingEarly

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Re: When to change transmission fluid?
« Reply #19 on: July 18, 2016, 07:48:26 PM »
I don't think it needed to drop and fill it several times in a row. What is normally suggested is to do a drop and fill at the recommended change interval. NEVER do a flush on any car, it's just a bad practice. After that usually do a drop and fill every 30k to keep it decently fresh. You don't need all new fluid every time, just enough to keep the additives good and remove a decent amount of the particles floating around in there.

On a side note the lifetime fluids are a sham made up by the auto industry to A. Lower the total cost of ownership of the vehicle for online comparisons fraudulently and B. To make sure your transmission lasts through the warranty buy fails early enough that you are buying a car more often since the transmission will likely last 150k or so on the original fluid before taking a dump and by then the car is almost a wash on if it is worth having the transmission rebuilt.