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What is a Transmission Flush - Cost, Process, Maintenance, & Signs

What is a Transmission Flush - Cost, Process, Maintenance, & Signs

Transmission Flush

One of the most important parts of owning a car, no matter what you might use it for, is the responsibility of maintenance. It takes more than just keeping a car cleaned and gassed up to make sure everything is running as it should be. There is oil changing, engine upkeep, and what will be discussed here, the importance of transmission fluid. Transmission fluid is a type of thin oil that fills the automatic transmission system so the vehicle will be able to run on hydraulic pressure, though has a number of other uses as well, such as use in power steering pumps and to clean the inside of a carburetor. Transmission fluid, while it might not need to be checked as often as regular oil, is still a vital part of the transmission system and there are important facts to know, all of which will be explained in the article below. Keep in mind that this is a general maintenance article, and, as such, some methods will not be the same for some vehicles as compared to others.


     • Transmission Flush
     • Cost
     • Flush vs Change
     • How to check fluid
     • Fluid Color
     • Signs that fluid is bad
     • How often to service
     • Signs you need a flush
     • Myths about Flushes



One reliable method to changing out old fluid for new in a transmission is through the process of a transmission flush. What this involves is removing the fluid from the transmission where it is then run through a special machine to clean out any grime and sludge. After that, the transmission is refilled to the brim with new fluid and the car is ready to be driven once more. This is an effective and efficient method to make sure that all crevices get cleaned to the best ability possible, much more so than the basic drainage of the transmission fluid.


Average Cost

Typically, a transmission flush could cost anywhere between $125 to $250 due to the amount of fluid needed to clean out the transmission. A basic drain only uses about 5 to 7 quarts while a flush can use up to 22 quarts at a time. The average cost to expect from a standard auto store would generally be around $150. For a simple fluid change in a shop, the cost would generally be anywhere from $80 to %150, while doing a change at home is the cheapest route, costing only about $50 to $100, though this is also not as effective as using a store.


In addition to this, there are a number of factors that can affect the cost. These include the year, make, and model of the vehicle, taking the transmission itself into account, noting that higher end models will produce more cost due to being fresh off the market, the location of the store where the procedure will be held, as cities usually cost more due to having a higher cost of labor, the type of shop that does the procedure, whether it is a quick lube shop, a mechanic on his own, or an actual dealership, the type of machine, pump inlet or cooler line, and oil used in the flushing, synthetic being the more expensive option that is used, the amount of fluid used, anywhere between 11 and 22 quarts, and any additional services that might need to be handled, such as filter replacement and pan removal. These extra features may seem like money grabbing techniques, but do indeed help extend the life of the transmission.


Flush vs Change

While the flush may be an efficient method of replacing transmission fluid, some have argued it is not the best way to trust a machine to effectively service the transmission itself. One main argument is that the flush causes any debris that may be loose to become clogged in crevices, causing damage to certain parts of the transmission. There is another argument that the pressure from the machine is too much for the valves and seals to handle and it will weaken them with the flush. However, this is often due to outside forces and not the flush itself. For example, if a car has not had a cleaning in ages, then the fluid will indeed be harmful, but that is not the fault of the procedure, but rather the vehicle owner for not maintaining their vehicle in the proper manner.


Besides the flush, another popular method to change transmission fluid is the drain. This is more of a “do it yourself” method. The drain uses the force of gravity to empty out any fluid out of the transmission so the owner can put in new fluid on their own merit, without the aid of any shops or machines. One downside of this, however, is that this is unable to drain the total volume of the fluid, getting only up to about 40% out, less than half overall. The point behind this method is for those wanting to save cost on cleaning the transmission out. If you are unsure of which is better for your transmission, consult your manual, as it should tell you what the recommended option for new fluid is



How to Check Fluid & Color

The main way to check to see if your transmission fluid is where it should be is by checking the color. Within the interior parts of the car, pull out the dipstick leading into the transmission. Take the fluid on that and rub a paper towel over it to get a good sample. In some cars, where the area is sealed off, this will prove difficult to do. Seen in the picture below. If the color is a light red to a pink, then the fluid is in peak performance levels. If there is a brown color, then it is time to change the fluid as soon as possible. If it is black, that is serious danger, as that indicates the fluid is burnt or damaged. In addition to this level, there could be metal shavings within, meaning there are internal problems coming from within the transmission and this needs to be examined by a professional immediately, even if this means the car cannot be driven to them. The metallic shavings are the source behind any damage that may occur during a flush. These shavings can grind the gears they flow past or get stuck, thus forming clogs in the parts. These shavings can come from poor maintenance of the transmission, so make sure to often check on the state of the fluid and accessible parts.

 Transmission Fluid Color


How Often to Service

While most vehicles have different mileages on when they should have their fluid inspected, the general average of when the best time to go in for a change or a flush is around 30,000 miles. This is dependant on your own driving habits; how far a drive to work is, the route your car might travel in, the weight of the load your car might be carrying, especially in larger vehicles such as semis, and other factors that might affect the performance of your vehicle. If anything seems to be going wrong in the vehicle, such as poor shifting performance in the gears, check the transmission to make sure the level of fluid is adequate. For any advice, just consult an expert when you take the vehicle in to be examined.  The owner’s manual of your vehicle will also be able to tell you when a transmission should be examined for any issues. Every car, as well as the driver, is different, so there is typically no set date to when the best time to check is.


5 Signs your vehicle needs a flush


1). Grinding or other noises

A transmission that is filled with contaminants such as grime and sludge can mimic the problem of low transmission fluid in the vehicle. If the transmission in your vehicle is making any sort of noise,the first thing to check should be the fluid. With the engine running, pull the dipstick out, as the car allows, and check the color of the fluid to make sure it is within date. A reddish pink hue means that everything is fine with the state of the transmission while brown is a sign that the fluid needs to be replaced. If the level of fluid is present, then having a transmission flush is recommended.


2). Shifting Difficulty

No matter they type of transmission that your vehicle has, whether it be automatic or manual, it still will require transmission fluid to operate properly, and clean fluid at that. If a transmission has sludge and other sorts of grime present in its crevices, then there will be troubles shifting gears. These might include gears changing too quickly or too late in automatic transmissions or, in the case of a manual transmission suffering from this issue, the gears might not be able to shift in any which way.


3). Slipping Gears

An important reason to keep the transmission clean and tidy is to keep it running properly. If the transmission is filthy with sludge and bad fluid running through it, then the hydraulics will not be able to work as they should. Having a bad transmission like this can cause gears to slip from one to another, causing problems on the road. To stop this, the transmission must be clear enough so it will be able to develop an ample amount of pressure to keep the vehicle in the proper gear. If there are no mechanical issues with the transmission, and if the fluid is at an acceptable level, then the problem is likely restricted flow due to buildup of dirt that is clogging the parts up to where nothing is able to get through.


4). Vehicle Surges

Another sign that a transmission flush is required is when you find your vehicle surging, meaning the vehicle is either jumping forward or falling backwards for no explainable reason. Again, this goes back to the transmission being polluted with dirt and sludge and other contaminants that affects the flow of the transmission. The surging itself is caused by a poor flow of clean fluid needed to maintain proper operations of the gears and other moving parts inside the bellhousing of the transmission.


5). Delay in Movement

While the problem behind this could possibly be a mechanical issue in the vehicle, if a car stalls after being moved into a gear, this is also a sign that the transmission could be contaminated with dirt or sludge or something in the parts that is getting in the way of the transmission working as it should. While these problems are caused by a dirty transmission, something to note is that if these symptoms are appearing, then there might be more problems already with the transmission. The best advice is to maintain proper upkeep on the transmission and, when in doubt, consult an automotive expert.



• Cleaning the transmission will damage it: No, because this depends on the quality of the parts. If something happens, such as metallic flakes appearing, then something is wrong with the internal components of the transmission. The parts are either in good condition or bad and adding fluid to it won’t change that fact. In fact, adding clean fluid could reveal something about the vehicle that the owner was not aware of. This is also the case with the state the current fluid is in. If it is burnt or damaged, then there could be problems with the transmission, which is why it is important to keep up on how the fluid is doing.

 • All transmission fluids are the same: This is wrong, as each transmission and vehicle type require a specific type of fluid. Using the wrong one can cause serious issues for the vehicle. To find what type is the one for your transmission, all that needs to be done is to check the owner's manual. It will describe what fluid belongs to your transmission, whether it is Type F, full synthetic, Mercon V, or any of the other brands on the market.


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