Transmission fluid is the lifeblood of your transmission system. It keeps all the components properly lubricated, while also providing hydraulic pressure and friction to make everything work properly. The transmission fluid itself can often be the most obvious indicator that there is a transmission problem. Or, a fluid issue may simply mean you are overdue for a standard transmission service. Like your engine oil and filter need to be changed, so do the transmission fluid and filter. A transmission service isn’t required nearly as frequent as oil changes, but it is a very important maintenance service for any vehicle on the road.
Here are some signs that will let you know if there is a concern with your transmission fluid:
1. Transmission Fluid Leak
The most obvious sign of trouble is leaking transmission fluid. Though colors can vary, most automatic transmission fluids are bright red in color and easy to identify. A leak may just mean there is a loose connection between one of the lines or a worn seal. The transmission pan gasket is a common culprit. Major fluid leaks could also be the sign of a cracked transmission housing or something else that may be a bigger concern. If you notice any transmission fluid leaking from your vehicle, it’s best to get it checked out by a transmission specialist as soon as possible.
2. Low Fluid Level
You can check your transmission fluid just like you can your engine oil. If the fluid level is low, that could be the sign of a leak, a plug in one of the fluid lines or just that you are due for a transmission service and new fluid. Be careful if trying to top off the fluid yourself. Make sure you are using the correct transmission fluid for your vehicle!
3. Fluid Discoloration/Dirty Fluid
Another sign of a transmission issue is when the fluid itself is dark, burnt or dirty. This is usually just a sign that the fluid is old and no longer effective. You are likely just due for a transmission service, but it could be something more significant.
4. Thick Fluid/Sludge
Beyond just the coloration of the fluid, you can usually tell when it’s time to replace it by the texture. Older fluid that’s been in the system for awhile will evaporate and thicken over time. When it gets to this point, it can be detrimental to the inner workings of the transmission, so don’t wait too long if you notice the fluid looks, feels or smells bad.
5. Metal Shavings
If you ever notice metal shavings in your transmission fluid, it is definitely something that should concern you. This usually means there are internal components that are grinding together without proper spacing or lubrication. Any parts damage within the transmission can snowball quickly into major transmission problems. Definitely get your transmission looked at by an expert if you notice any metal shavings or other debris in the fluid.
6. Milky Transmission Fluid
Milky-looking transmission fluid is typically a sign that some other fluid is seeping into your transmission. It could be water, engine oil or radiator coolant and it won’t be good for your transmission. Any contaminants should be dealt with right away and the source of the leak should be repaired before it leads to major internal damage.
These are just a few things you can look for with your transmission fluid. At the first sign of any fluid issues or other transmission problems, turn to your local transmission specialist. In the Central Valley, call Ralph’s Transmission at 209.526.1909 for a free transmission inspection. You can also book your service appointment online.