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Do-It-Yourself Projects
Automatic Transmission Service
By Tom Morr/
Printable version
Degree of DifficultyModerate
Estimated Time180 minutes
180 minutes
Do-it-Yourself Fluid & Filter Change -
Vehicles' vital fluids normally perform two important functions: lubricating and cleaning. As the fluid circulates through the parts, it gathers the dirt and metal shavings that can accumulate over time. If you're lucky, this debris will settle on the bottom of the pan or housing and not circulate through the system.
Servicing Automatic Transmissions
Nothing prolongs vehicle life more than regular fluid changes. In automatic transmissions/transaxles, the recommended interval is about every 30,000 miles or 30 months. (Check your owner's manual or service manual for your car's specifics.) The automatic transmission fluid (ATF) should be changed sooner if its dipstick reveals dark or burnt-smelling fluid.
Even those of us who change our own oil often cringe at the prospect of draining ATF. Because many transmission pans don't have drain plugs, changing the fluid can be a messy proposition—the entire pan must be removed. But even on vehicles that do have drain plugs, the pan still must be removed to change the filter.
Changing ATF is one of those messy jobs that someone has to do. Doing the deed yourself will save money and possibly time. Just as Keith Richards allegedly gets his blood changed in Switzerland at regular intervals, fresh ATF can make your gearbox perform young beyond its years.
Low Fluid Symptoms
  • Transmission Slips
  • Transmission Shifts Roughly
  • Noisy Transmission
  • No Drive Engagement in Forward or Reverse Gears
Automatic trans filter kits normally contain a gasket for the pan in addition to the filter and its O-ring.
Kits Have a Gasket for the Pan in Addition to the Filter and its O-ring
Fluid drains better at operating temperature. Raise and secure the vehicle, then lay down a tarp, cardboard or a newspaper under at least a 2-gallon catch pan. Next, remove the bolts from one side of the transmission pan, being cautious of hot exhaust parts and fluid.
Prepare.  Then Remove Bolts From One Side of the Transmission Pan
Gradually loosen the other bolts, which should allow the pan to tilt and begin to drain. Once all bolts are removed, lower the pan and dump the remaining fluid into the drain pan. Gently break the gasket seal with a screwdriver if necessary.
Loosening Remaining Bolts Should Allow the Pan to Tilt and Begin to Drain
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