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Change Your Car's Transmission Fluid

Extend the life of your engine by changing transmission fluid. It's much easier by using a special pump, and you'll save $100 in shop costs when you do it yourself. We show you what you need and how to do it.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Overview: Buy a special transmission fluid pump

You should change your automatic transmission fluid according to the manufacturer's recommendation— whether that's 30,000 or 100,000 miles. This maintenance task will add tens of thousands of miles—which could be years of service—to a transmission's life expectancy and prevent repairs costing thousands down the road.

A transmission flush-and-fill from a shop will cost you $149 to $199. But you can do it yourself and save about $100. Draining the old fluid has always been a messy, ugly job. That's because it has meant lying under the car, “dropping” the pan—and then getting drenched in fluid. But here's a new way to change your fluid without going under the car and without spilling a drop. The procedure takes less than 30 minutes.

The trick is to work from the top, sucking out the old fluid up through the filler tube. Then refill with fresh fluid. A hand-operated vacuum pump makes the job simple and clean. You can remove one-third to one-half of the fluid from the transmission at a time. The rest will remain in the torque converter and the transmission cooler. So do the procedure three times at one-week intervals to replace nearly all of the old fluid. The little leftover old fluid will be diluted with plenty of fresh new fluid.

Some manufacturers recommend replacing the filter every time you change the transmission fluid. Go with what your dealership recommends. Note: But if your transmission pan is leaking, you should either “drop” the pan and replace the gasket, or take it in for service.

New fluid— bright red

New fluid— bright red

Old fluid—reddish-brown

Old fluid—reddish-brown

How to Recognize Old Fluid

New fluid is bright red. Old transmission fluid turns brown as it degrades—time to change.

How to change the fluid

Follow the photo series for complete step-by-step instructions.

Transmission fluid types

Transmission fluid types

Buy the Right Stuff

Carmakers have made major improvements to transmission fluids in the past two years. Contact the dealership parts department to see if your car requires a newer fluid. Then call auto parts stores until you find one that stocks it. If you strike out, bite the bullet and buy it from the dealer.

Video: How to Check Transmission Fluid

Rick Muscoplat, an editor for The Family Handyman, will show you how to check your transmission fluid to prevent damage to your transmission. Make sure you are not driving around with low transmission fluid.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

This project requires a special fluid pump. Plus, wear plastic gloves.

Comments from DIY Community Members

Share what's on your mind and see what other DIYers are thinking about.

1 - 14 of 14 comments
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August 22, 7:46 AM [GMT -5]

1) Don't ever do a "FLUSH & FILL" on a transmission. All that does is stir up all the dirt, metal shavings & grit inside the transmission, and that will cause even bigger problems. Can you say NEW TRANSMISSION?
2) Change the fluid, strainer & filter all together at the same time.
3) Is there a LOCAL OWNED transmission shop available? Not a franchise type store, a MOM & POP type shop. They can give you a good price, advice, and THEY WANT YOUR BUSINESS!

August 19, 9:44 PM [GMT -5]

I bought the hand vacuum sold by Harbor Freight. I used it to drain the transmission fluid so I wouldn't make a mess. It worked very well, but I also had a slightly smaller plastic hose which I connected to the pump. After I drained the fluid out, I then dropped the pan so I could change both filters. One is a flat one, but the other is similar to the oil filter. It had an O ring which must be installed by using some device (screwdriver handle or dowel works well) to install it into the transmission body. Using the pump saved me from a big mess! I have done it the other way and ended up dumping a couple of quarts of very dirty transmission fluid on the floor and on me! NOT NICE! Very hard to get out of clothes and out of the concrete.

I currently have two Jeeps and a Dodge Ram 2500 (Cummins Diesel). Changing the transmission fluid is an absolute requirement to ensure the tranny keeps working. I usually hold on to the vehicles until I have over 180,000 miles, then trade them off. (My 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which was bought used, had 175,000 when I traded it last week for a 2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. All the fluids were changed by the dealer so I am starting from a clean slate; it also has a three year warranty).

June 24, 11:44 AM [GMT -5]

I bought the liquivac pictured in this article but its tube was too wide to fit down the transmission fill tube. The picture in this article looks like they connected a smaller diameter tube to the liquivac tube with some sort of adapter. Where can I purchase such a tube and adapter?

May 27, 7:44 PM [GMT -5]


February 06, 1:54 PM [GMT -5]

What if you drain the fluid the traditional way ( From the bottom ) will all the old fluid drain out in one service , without leaving a high percentage in the system?

June 26, 1:02 PM [GMT -5]

Adding the same amount back in that you removed is only valid if the amount of transmission fluid was correct to start with. I'd recommending checking the fluid once replaced to ensure it is the correct level...

February 11, 10:20 PM [GMT -5]

Correct me if I'm wrong but it seems to me that if the transmission filter is more of a strainer rather than a filter, as in the case of an oil filter, I don't see the big fuss about changing the transmission filter when the transmission oil is changed. Anybody agree? What about the BG flush system???

October 07, 12:42 PM [GMT -5]

So helpful

August 18, 6:30 PM [GMT -5]

You can find an inexpensive pump at Harbor Freight. Part # 6648. From time to time there are coupons in the back of the magazine for these pumps.

I purchased a much more expensive model from Mightyvac. It was very messy, very slow and leaked horribly after a couple uses.

August 17, 2:09 PM [GMT -5]

I'm eager to try changing my transmission fluid, but can't find any place that sells a vacuum pump -- or anything similar. Can you provide info about where I can purchase the required pump?



December 13, 7:45 PM [GMT -5]

As busted_knuck stated the only time to remove pan or replace filter would be a high mileage vehicle thats never been changed or known mechanical damage internally to the transmission. I change mine every 40-50K miles with average driving; If towing or a performance car more often.

October 13, 12:04 PM [GMT -5]

This is one of the best deals going. For those of us who have changed tranny "filters" in the past you come to realize that the "filter" is actually more of a "strainer" that does not require replacement at every fluid change. If concerned, simply go to an auto parts store and ask to look at the one for your make/model/year vehicle. Hold it up to the light to gauge its stopping power (little) and its holding power (almost none) I'd almost guarentee that, unless there's a major failure of the tranny, before that strainer is blocked, your car will be long ago broken down. I do recommend doing this when the car and replacement fluid are at the same temperature - not hot.

September 18, 12:44 AM [GMT -5]

Agree, never, EVER do this on an old car!!! I wish the mag would get real ASE techs writting these articles and not some PR guy. Bad advice, I think.


July 04, 9:31 AM [GMT -5]

Just changing the fluid doesn't do a lot of good if you don't change out the dirty filter

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