Modern automatic transmissions are incredibly good. They can provide years of maintenance free service. But, they need transmission fluid to operate. Over time, your Saturn SL‘s Transmission fluid can get low. By the time you are experiencing the symptoms of low transmission fluid, damage is already being done.
Your SL’s transmission fluid is responsible for powering, lubricating, and cooling the transmission. That’s a lot for one fluid to handle.
A transmission with low fluid can become seriously damaged, and leave you stranded. You really want to do anything that you can to avoid running your transmission if you think that it is critically low on fluid. You’ll cause damage fast if it’s starting to slip from a low fluid condition.
What Your SL’s Transmission Fluid Does
Your Saturn SL’s transmission fluid is a hydraulic fluid, and has three main jobs:
- Lubricant– Just like motor oil it keeps the many complex mechanical parts inside of a transmission from wearing out.
- Coolant– Here it does the same job as antifreeze going through a motor. It either makes
- Transfers Power– ATF transfers power from kinetic energy into hydraulic energy and back again through the torque converter. It then transfers the power back to kinetic energy through the transmission and out the driveshaft. This process is what allows a vehicle to idle in gear not moving.
This is different from a manual transmission, which uses oil for lubrication only. It’s amazing that transmission fluid can go so long without being changed.
Low Transmission Fluid Signs: Saturn SL
- Higher RPM at any given speed– If your SL’s engine seems to be revving higher than it should be at any particular speed than it may very well be a symptom of low transmission fluid. It could also indicate that the torque converter is not locking up either. But if it’s the torque converter, it’ll only jump up a few hundred RPM ‘s.
- Engine sounds different uphill– If you are going up a steep grade, you’ll find that the fluid may not be able to be picked up from the pan. The motor will then rev higher as the transmission starves for fluid.
- High transmission temperature– An automatic transmission needs its fluid not just for converting mechanical energy to hydraulic in the torque converter. It also needs it for cooling purposes. So, if you happen to have a transmission temperature gauge than you can take this as a warning. Your transmission fluid is probably low.
- Put car into gear, but it’s not going anywhere– Often, if you let a vehicle sit for a while, it’ll cough up transmission fluid. So, it may have been full the last time you drove your SL, but low next time you go to use it. You’ll go to drive it somewhere and it’ll either not move at all or it’ll move only a little. This can often be caused by a loose torque converter. Did you happen to notice a vibration at highway speed? That’s a telltale sign of a loose converter.
Keep Tabs on Your SL’s Transmission Fluid
The best way to avoid low transmission fluid is to check it often and follow Saturn’s maintenance schedule. You should also visually inspect your transmission coolant lines. The pan gasket, and pan itself will often leak as well. Nearly every transmission will need to be checked at operating temperature. If you check it when it’s cold you will get a false reading from the dipstick.
Here is more on the most common causes of a transmission leak:
Conclusion: Saturn SL Low Transmission Fluid Symptoms
If your Saturn SL’s transmission fluid levels are full, but you are experiencing these symptoms, you should pay attention to the color of your transmission fluid. Most transmission fluid is going to be a nice amber color. As it ages it’s going to look like a dirty red. This is generally will not cause the transmission to operate differently. If it its black or burnt smelling than it’s definitely time to swap it out. A good rule of thumb is that the nose knows. If it smells burnt, than it is. Change it before any lasting damage can occur.
If you keep up with your maintenance, than you’ll probably never need to worry about this. But if you don’t, than it’s very nice to know the symptoms of low transmission fluid. Knowing them can save you thousands and keep your SL from being stranded on the side of the road.