Automatic transmissions don’t always get the same attention as oil changes and tire rotation when it comes to routine service. But forgetting to take care of the heart of a vehicle’s powertrain can leave you stranded and digging deep into your pockets.

Checking the Fluid

Much like your engine, the components of a transmission require constant lubrication. When there isn’t enough fluid, the important network of gears can become damaged and less efficient. The process is a little more complex than checking your engine’s oil. Here’s how.

First, park your vehicle on an even surface and leave it running. The system must be hot before accurate levels can be measured.

Next, open your hood and locate the transmission dipstick. In rear-wheel drive vehicles, it is in the rear of the engine bay; front-wheel drive models will have it closer to the front.

Ensure that fluid on the dipstick is transparent pink in color. If it smells burnt or you notice particles, a fluid change is required.

Wipe the stick clean and insert it back in the tube to check the level on its indicator. If you require more fluid, fill from the same tube.

Full Flush or Service

The Illinois Secretary of State recommends changing your automatic transmission fluid every 25,000 to 30,000 miles, but your instructions may differ depending on the vehicle manufacturer. Servicing a transmission is typically inexpensive as it includes partially refilling the system and replacing a filter and gasket in its pan. A full flush can cost a little more as additives are used to completely eradicate contaminants in a system and a refill of fluid is required.

Performing regular services and keeping an eye on the fluid levels and quality can save you big bucks by avoiding the need for a flush.