How to Check Transmission Fluid

Automatic transmissions are complex and confusing.  But, checking the transmission fluid certainly isn’t.  We’ll cover the two most vehicle types and where to look for the dipstick.

Before you Begin

Most manufacturers recommend that you check the transmission fluid with the engine at operating temperature.  So make sure that you’ve done that.  If you’re not sure that your vehicle needs to be at operating temperature, go ahead and pull out that owners manual and check (or google it, that’s how you got here).  You’re also going to need a rag to wipe the fluid onto.

Also, a quick work of caution.  Whether the engine is on or not, an electric radiator fan can kick on and take a finger off.  I like to treat them like I would a weapon and assume it is always loaded (or ready to kick on).  You’ll also be near hot exhaust so make sure you know what the exhaust manifold is and make sure that you don’t go and get yourself burnt.


Tools Required

The only tools that you really need are towels and a funnel.  Both of these you can find around the house or apartment.  If you are looking at a tight engine compartment where you’ll have to be pouring from a distance, this funnel will work great for that. It’s like eight bucks on Amazon.


Locate the Dipstick

Safety is job one.  Job two is to find that dipstick.

Here are the different scenarios you may come across:

  • Front Wheel Drive-  It’ll more than likely be on the drivers side low and attached to the transmission.   Here is an example of what a typical front wheel drive dipstick looks like
  • Rear Wheel Drive-  The dipstick is usually located near the passenger side firewall on a rear wheel drive vehicle.

Check the Fluid Level

The next thing that you are going to need to do is check the level of the transmission fluid.  The first thing you’ll want to do is pull the dipstick out.  As the transmission spins it slings fluid up the dipstick.  This means that you need to wipe off this fluid and put the dipstick all the way back in.  Once you do this you will have a nice clean and crisp reading.  Now if the fluid level is fine skip down a couple sections to the checking of the color section.  Otherwise, directly below we’ll go over what to do if the level is too high or low.

What if the Fluid Level is Low?

If you are reading an article on this it’s probably not a stretch to assume that you may not know what to do about filling the transmission back up.  That’s ok.  Most people get tripped up because they don’t realize that the little dipstick tube is the point of entry for new fluid.  It seems a bit more obvious on front wheel drive cars than rear.  If you are checking your fluid because you have reason to believe that it may be really low, here are some common symptoms of low transmission fluid.

The next obvious step is to add fluid to the car, right.  Well how do you go about doing that?  You’ll need a funnel with a really narrow neck.  If you don’t have one you can ask for a paper funnel from the gas station next time you fill up.  Most good gas stations have one.  If the dipstick was ready

What if the Fluid Level is High?

The first thing you need to do is check it again.  While it’s not entirely impossible that the fluid is overfilled, it’s rare.  Now if it is overfilled it is very important to remove the fluid and syphon it to the correct level.  Here’s a good syphon on Amazon.

Check the Fluid Color

Fluid color?  Even if you don’t think that you are having transmission problems, you should still check the fluid color.  Transmission fluid coloration tells you so much about what is going on with the transmission.  It only takes a moment or two.  It does help if you dribble some fluid onto a piece of paper, or a paper towel.  The white color will let you see the true color of the fluid.  Here’s more on transmission fluid color.