Do I need my transmission fluid replaced?

OK, I dropped the car off at Jiffy Lube this morning for its regular oil change, and the guy came out and showed me that the automatic transmission fluid was apparently the wrong color. It looked deep magenta red to me. He said it was supposed to be pink. I was like, “And this means…?” So then he said that they could either flush the system, for like $30, or they could do something more comprehensive, which I think involves replacing all of the fluids entirely? Anyway, the latter option would be more like $80.

This is a 17-year-old Tercel with 130,000 miles on it. I am reluctant to spend a lot of money (like 80 bucks) on it if it’s not going to be worth it. Do I need to have either of those things done? I am willing to do it if necessary, I just don’t want to be ripped off. Opinions?

Transmission fluid does occasionally need to be changed (nothing like the frequency of oil changes, but yeah, after awhile it should be changed.) I got mine done around 100, 000 kilometers because it was getting to a reddish-brown hue (not a tremendously good sign).

Transmission fluid should be pink, if it starts looking rather ruddy in color (like it’s starting to turn brown) it should be changed.

The cheaper thing the mech was talking about was probably just a simple fluid change – similar to changing the oil. Old fluid gets drained out, new fluid gets poured in. If your trans fluid is very brown looking, you may need your transmission flushed, which would be the more expensive thing he’s talking about.

Transmission fluid is like any other lubricant, it tends to break down over time, and becomes less effective. One thing to make sure of, if you decide to do it, which you should (I change mine about every 15K…but I’m anal retentive…) is that they don’t just drain the pan. The torque converter also needs to be drained.

Wuhg? … Oh… I’m in Canada and when I first saw “15K” I thought you meant “15 k” as in “fifteen kilometres” (10-ish miles!) :smack:

Yeah, every 15 000 sounds about right if you are diligent. The first year I had my car I hit the 100,000 kilometre mark. I’d put about 30,000 kilometres on it that year (20K-ish miles). Then I had it changed once every year or year-and-a-half after that depending on whether or not I forgot or if I had really pushed the engine, such as a cross-country drive (I put a lot of miles on that car!).

[sub]Oo!.. A girl is talkin’ car stuff!..[/sub]

My oil I’d change myself, but as Superbee said, there’s that other doo-hick that needs to be drained and that was beyond my ambition and knowledge level. Never tried it for fear I’d end up taking stuff apart, putting it back together… and have parts left over.:eek:

(I did change all my belts on my own though.)

Definitely do NOT have your jiffy lube do this. Very few have the knowledge or ability to get it right, and every single person I know who has had theirs done at a jiffylube type place has regretted it. Go to a dealership or at worst, a transmission place.

Yes, it should be changed regularly, the filter as well, and you should do it to your tercel. If you’re moderately handy you can do the pan yourself, but it is good if you do the torque converter as well, whcih requires a bit more knowledge.


Automatic transmission fluid (ATF) does more than just lubricate, it operates the hydraulic mechanisms in the tranny and propels the car (fluid drive in the torque converter). It is highly stressed and breaks down, largely from heat. (To give you an idea of its heat load, ATF is typically passed through the radiator to cool it down–and the temperature inside the radiator is roughly 150-200’ Fahrenheit.) The standard recommendation is to change it every two years or 30,000 miles. Guys who work in tranny repair shops, who spend all day seeing the results of ATF breakdown, typically change it in their personal cars every year or 15,000 miles.

There are two common ways to change it. The traditional method is to remove the tranny pan, which drains roughly half the fluid, and replace the filter while in there. On older cars it was advisable to also drain the torque converter (TC), so that maybe 90% of the fluid was changed. Modern cars tend not to have TC drain plugs, though, so this method has the limitation of leaving a fair amount of old fluid in the trans.

The other method is usually called a transmission flush. Fresh fluid is pumped in, forcing the old stuff out. It changes 95+% of the ATF, which is good. It doesn’t change the filter, which may not be so good.
The perfect thing is to do both procedures, but that gets pretty costly. Either one is pretty helpful, and a lot better than doing nothing.

A few cars–Hondas come to mind–do not have filter access on their automatic trannys (short of removal and disassembly), so the choice is either drain and refill or flush.

Fresh fluid is (pinkish) red, with a slightly fruity odor. As it deteriorates, it turns dark red, to orange, to yellow, to brown, to black. It also becomes increasingly burnt smelling. If it’s black, things are pretty bad inside and changing the fluid may push it over the edge–the car may not move afterwards. Don’t change black fluid unless you’re willing to overhaul it if this happens.

It’s not unusual for the ATF to still look dark red after a traditional service. If I see fluid of this color, I want to know when it was last changed to properly advise whether or not to service it. If it’s orange, yellow, or brown, and/or smells badly burnt, it’s past due.

There are always anecdotal stories of not changing the fluid for 150,000 miles and having no problems, or of changing it every 30,000 miles and having the tranny give out before reaching 100,00. Nevertheless, I think it’s fair to say that any given transmission is going to last longer with regular maintenance than without.

I don’t trust the service chains because I believe they’re overtrained to sell and undertrained to do things really right. I don’t trust the chain transmission shops because they have a long history of overselling, overpricing, and scamming. I would trust most dealerships, and I would trust a reputable independent repair shop–emphasis on reputable. It can be either a transmission shop or a general repair shop, both types should be competent for this maintenance. I’d definitely go with a transmission shop for tranny repairs, though.

In this particular case, I would seek a second opinion from a trustworthy shop.