In the wider realm of automotive maintenance, the one thing that we might not often think about is the transmission. It works tirelessly while you’re driving along, handing out gears and swapping them within the blink of an eye. Yet, we can sometimes forget that it too, goes through as much – if not more – stress as the rest of your car. As your gearbox pleads and begs for a break, you might be mercifully thinking over how much a transmission flush cost would be.
After all, transmission fluid is a very important liquid that you’ll need for your car to run at its best. It’s just as important as fuel is burned to make your car move around, or as engine oil slushes about to lubricate that engine. In short, transmission fluid works to ensure that your car’s tired old gearbox can change cogs without friction, or an excess of heat. That bottle of liquid is paramount to extending the lifespan of the gearbox and guaranteeing the performance of your car.
Yet, it appears as though a lot of us don’t really think about transmission fluid. Well, we’re here to tell you a few good reasons why you shouldn’t just ignore this blood-red liquid flowing around in your car. As your four-wheel companion’s regular service schedule might be due, it’s a good time to ask your technician about checking over your transmission fluid. So, why does it all matter? More importantly, why do you need to bother with paying for the transmission flush cost?
- Why Flush The Transmission?
- Transmission Fluid Flush vs Change
- When Should You Flush It?
- Transmission Fluid Flush Cost
- DIY Fluid Flush – Yes Or No?
- Preventative Maintenance
- Final Conclusion
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
We’ve hinted earlier how hard your car’s transmission has to work. Amidst all the many moving parts of your car’s gearbox, this will ultimately emit a lot of heat and friction. This, in turn, will affect the properties of your gearbox fluid. Over time, the chemical compounds of the transmission fluid will start to break down and lose their efficacy. Sooner or later, this ‘burnt out’ fluid won’t be able to maintain a friction-free and low-heat environment within your car’s gearbox.
All this heat and friction is often the primary reason why you need to eventually bear the full brunt of a transmission flush cost. Then, there’s also the subject of contamination. Your transmission fluid can get contaminated by stuff within your car’s transmission case. Some carmakers especially are known for gearbox failure. This is owing to the poor design and manufacturing of their gearboxes, which results in metal or metallic shavings getting into the transmission fluid.
Transmission Fluid Dirty
Aside from design flaws, some of the components within your car’s transmission will naturally degrade and wear out after a while. This is regardless of how prudent and attentive you might be toward the health of your car’s transmission fluid. This is normal, and it’s the reason why your car has a regular maintenance schedule to inspect and replace these parts if needed. Parts such as rubber hoses and cooling lines, as well as seals, are the most vulnerable points of failure.
When these components wear down, they can degrade into “chunks” or small bits that get into your transmission fluid on the inside. Just like with faults in design or manufacturing, these chunks can contaminate your transmission fluid. The fluid itself will slowly turn into a very viscous sludge-like liquid matter. Imagine how thick orange juice can be with pulp inside of it. This sludgy transmission fluid is detrimental to the health of your car’s transmission.
Firstly, this sludgy transmission fluid will no longer work well for transferring and moderating heat or lubricating your gearbox. Secondly, this sludge may clog up certain parts of your car’s transmission, such as the cooling lines. Either way, contaminated transmission fluid can cause catastrophic damage. It would either start wearing down individual parts within your transmission prematurely or cause complete gearbox failure. Hence, transmission flush cost is worth paying for given the consequences.
Transmission Flush vs Change
When it comes down to sending your car over to a workshop to have it looked after, there is a common linguistic mistake that we tend to make. While it might sound similar, there is in fact a very important distinction between a transmission fluid “change”, and a “flush”. So, it’s worth being cautious the next time you try to use those two terms interchangeably. They are at least similar in their end goals.
Both a “change” and a “flush” of your car’s transmission fluid are intended to maximize the lifespan of your car’s gearbox. With a clean bill of health, this will also make sure that the gearbox can function properly. Either a fluid change or a flush will have its own pros and cons. So, here are the important differences that you need to know, for our transmission flush cost guide…
Transmission Fluid Change
This term can extend beyond just “changing” your transmission fluid. It could be that your technician is simply topping up new fluids on top of the old ones. If you’re running low on transmission fluid because of a leak, this is what you can expect.
In that sense, you’re not actually changing anything, other than adding new transmission fluid (to find out more, refer to our explainer on how do you add transmission fluid and how often does transmission fluid need to be changed). Alternatively, it would be good for your car’s well-being to drain out the old transmission fluid and then replace it with new ones.
Transmission fluid changes are generally a part of your car’s routine maintenance check-up. As we’ll learn later on, this is not the same as a complete flush. Overall, a transmission fluid change is a lot simpler, saves time, and is certainly cheaper than a full flush. The downside here is that it’s not a very thorough job, as much of the transmission fluid and some of the contaminants might still be in your transmission.
This is a good option for newer cars whose transmission fluid might be all too dirty. And, it would be acceptable for owners that very frequently change out their transmission fluid. Doing fluid changes enough times won’t give much room for a build-up of contaminants. Moreover, a transmission fluid change is also a good temporary stop-gap measure for those who might not be able to afford the time or money for a full transmission flush.
Transmission Fluid Flush
A full transmission fluid flush is very different in its process than a change. With a transmission fluid change, you’re only using the forces of gravity and fluid dynamics to drain out the old fluids. According to some technicians, a transmission fluid change will only drain out about 80% to 90% of the total volume of transmission fluid. This still doesn’t account for some of the nasty sludge that is stubbornly stuck in some parts of the transmission.
With a “flush”, you’re using a flushing machine that runs pressure through your gearbox. This includes some of the hard-to-reach areas like your cooling lines or around the torque converter. This can drain the gearbox of its liquids more vigorously until it’s as close to bone-dry as it can get. Meanwhile, a special cleaning solution is run through the gearbox. It can then help to clean out the insides of your transmission. It’s essentially a more complete removal of all the bad stuff.
The solution could thus remove any and all remaining contaminants, grime, dirt, or sludgy transmission fluid. Once the solution detoxes the innards of your transmission, fresh transmission fluid will then go in. The upside here is that your car’s transmission will now work better. Imagine getting plaque removed from someone’s arteries. The downside is it takes more effort, and time, and therefore will be more expensive than a full transmission flush cost.
Signs You Need A Transmission Flush
Regardless of whichever transmission you might be using – automatic, manual, or CVT – continually using old transmission fluid can cause a lot of problems down the line. It’s worth mentioning that different gearboxes may require different types of transmission fluid, such as ATF or ‘automatic transmission fluid‘. But they all work the same way, and you’re eventually advised to change or flush it.
Using worn-down or burnt-out transmission fluid will start prematurely wearing out parts of your transmission. Do it for long enough, and you could end up spending more than 1o-times the price of transmission flush cost to buy a brand new transmission, instead. At the very least, you’ll be spending a lot more than just the cost of liquids to replace bits and pieces inside of your gearbox. So, when should you start thinking about needing a transmission fluid flush?
Well… This varies by what car you’re driving. On average, experts suggest a full transmission fluid flush every 30,000 miles or 2 years. But some mechanics have said that certain transmission fluids can be good without a flush for 100,000 miles, or 60,000 miles in lower estimates. In short, it’s best to check your owner’s manual to find a more accurate quote for when your fluids are due.
Otherwise, there are some tell-tale signs that you might want to keep in mind as a sign that your car needs an urgent flush…
Symptoms #1. The Car Doesn’t Change Gears Or Is Stalling
If your car is refusing to change gears – or might take a few tries before it gets there – this is a clear symptom of using worn-out transmission fluid. You can tell this easily as a perceptible delay while accelerating. You notice this either with the car going up or down the gear ratios. Another clear sign is that your car might outright stall completely while trying to change gears.
Symptoms #2. Slow Or Missed Gear Changes
Here, your car will at least change gears. But it does so very slowly. This long pause from one gear to the next can be felt as your car lurches forward and back. Another possible reason is your gearbox completely missing or skipping entire gear. You’ll feel this most while accelerating or decelerating.
Symptoms #3. Odd Noises While Changing Gears
If you hear unpleasant sounds when trying to change gears, this is an indicator that your transmission fluid needs a flush. It could also mean that there’s probably a leak somewhere, and your gearbox doesn’t have enough fluids. It can be defined as hearing a grinding or crunching sound during gear changes.
Symptoms #4. Burning Smells
As we learned earlier in our transmission flush cost guide, we know that gearbox fluids will eventually break down. This is mostly attributed to the intense heat and friction while flowing around inside of your transmission. After a long period of use, the “burnt” transmission fluids will emit a ‘burning’ aroma. If you can sense this heaty smell, it’s a good time to check your transmission fluid and consider a flush.
Symptoms #5. Transmission Fluids Leaking
If you notice a puddle of reddish or pinkish liquids underneath your car, then that’s your car’s transmission fluid leaking. “Why is this related to worn-out transmission fluid”, you might ask? Well, contaminated fluids can clog up certain parts of your transmission. This will put a lot of strain on some components, such as the rubber hoses or seals, or it might cause overheating. Either way, this will eventually contribute to springing a leak.
Symptoms #6. Slipping Transmission
When the transmission starts to slip, it can be quite alarming. This means your car might unpredictably change gears on its own. In simpler terms, you might be cruising in third gear and suddenly find your car dropping to second without any input.
Often, this is a result of old or insufficient transmission fluid that doesn’t provide the necessary friction for gears to engage correctly. When you experience slipping, it’s crucial to inspect your fluid and possibly opt for a flush.
Symptoms #7. Shuddering or Vibrations
If your car begins to shudder or shake while you drive, this might be due to contaminants in the transmission fluid. Over time, tiny particles and debris can build up, causing the fluid to lose its smoothness and consistency. Consequently, these contaminants can lead to vibrations, especially when changing gears. It’s an unmistakable feeling, and you should definitely consider checking the transmission fluid.
Symptoms #8. Warning Lights On Dashboard
Modern cars come with an array of warning lights and systems to notify drivers of potential problems. If your transmission fluid is old, low, or contaminated, you might see a warning light on your dashboard. Don’t ignore this sign. While dashboard lights can signal various issues, if combined with any of the other symptoms listed, it’s a strong hint towards transmission fluid problems.
Symptoms #9. Delayed Vehicle Response
Upon pressing the accelerator, if there’s a notable delay before the vehicle starts to move, this could indicate a transmission fluid issue. It feels as though the car “hesitates” or “lags” before getting into action. Clean and adequate transmission fluid ensures seamless power transfer from the engine to the wheels. Hence, any delays in vehicle response often point toward the need for a fluid check.
Symptoms #10. Cloudy or Dark Transmission Fluid
Transmission fluid is typically bright red and clear. However, with time and usage, it can turn dark, cloudy, or even have a burnt appearance. You can check the fluid by wiping the dipstick on a white paper towel or cloth. If the fluid doesn’t maintain its red hue or appears dirty, it’s a good indication that your car is overdue for a transmission flush.
Symptoms #11. Gritty Texture in the Fluid
While you’re checking the transmission fluid’s color, feel it between your fingers. If it has a gritty texture, that’s a sign of contamination. Old transmission fluid can accumulate debris and particles, and feeling grit suggests that it’s high time for a flush.
Symptoms #12. Inefficient Fuel Economy
Old or contaminated transmission fluid can reduce the efficiency of your car’s transmission system. As a result, you might find your car consuming more fuel than usual. If you notice a sudden drop in miles per gallon (MPG) and are experiencing some of the other symptoms mentioned, your transmission fluid might be the culprit.
Symptoms #13. Hard or Abrupt Shifts
Finally, one more sign of needing a transmission flush is experiencing hard or abrupt gear shifts. Instead of the gear transitions being smooth and seamless, they become noticeably jarring. The feeling can be best described as a “hard thud” or a sudden jerk when the car changes gears. Such abrupt shifts can wear out your car’s transmission faster and need prompt attention.
To sum it up, your vehicle’s transmission system plays a pivotal role in your car’s performance. Recognizing the symptoms of a needed transmission flush can save you from bigger, more expensive issues down the road. Regular checks and timely maintenance are essential for the longevity and smooth operation of your vehicle. Remember to always consult with a professional mechanic if you suspect any issues.
How Much Is A Transmission Flush
Now, we can get into the nitty-gritty of discussing how much will you need to cough up for a full transmission flush cost. So, will it cost you an arm and a leg? For a start, a transmission fluid flush will have a higher bill than a simple change. It’s simply down to the fact that a flushing job is more detailed than a fluid change. This means that you’ll not only need to spend more on needing to use the flushing machine and cleaning agents but also more transmission fluid to top it up afterward.
Then, we’ll also have to take a look at what type of transmission fluid you’re using, not just the volume. You could opt for synthetic transmission fluid instead of more conventional or non-organic choices. Synthetics could maintain their lubricating and heat-moderating properties for much longer. They could also have other added bonuses, such as improved protection against oxidation or contaminants. However, synthetic transmission fluid does cost more.
There are also several other factors that will determine how much you’ll need to spend on a transmission flush. First off, what’s the type, make, and model of your vehicle? Heavy-duty or high-performance vehicles tend to cost more for a flush. You’ll also need to check and see if you’re sending your car over to an independent transmission specialist, a general-purpose workshop, or your car’s official dealership. Dealers would often charge higher.
Transmission Fluid Flush Cost
The median transmission flush cost is around $150 to $250. This, as we mentioned earlier, is more or less twice as much compared as a fluid change. But if we expand the price range a bit more, some transmission flushes may cost you upwards of $400. But compared to the cost of a brand-new transmission – which starts at around $2,000 to $3,000, but can go up to $10,000 – the price of preventive maintenance with a flush is quite reasonable.
If you want a more accurate quote for your car, then we recommend calling up your local workshop or dealer. If you’d prefer not to talk on the phone, you can use sites like RepairPal or YourMechanic, instead. This will help narrow down the estimates for a transmission flush cost a bit better. But just to give you an idea, here’s a breakdown of what you can expect to pay for a transmission flush with some of the most popular cars sold in the US today…
- Ford F-Series – $310 to $400
- Chevrolet Silverado – $210 to $270
- Toyota Camry – $220 to $350
- Nissan Altima – $150 to $290
- Honda CR-V – $170 to $310
- Honda Accord – $160 to $190
- Ford Fusion – $160 to $240
- Ford Focus – $180 to $240
How To Flush Transmission Fluid
“But…”, you might ask, “Maybe I could save some money by doing it myself.” So, can you manage a transmission fluid “change” by yourself? We’d say yes, you can. For those who have moderate to high knowledge of car maintenance, a fluid change is something that can feasibly be done within the comfort of your own garage. But how about a transmission “flush”? Could you handle this one on your own, or should you have your car sent to a workshop?
In short, we definitely do not recommend doing a flush at home. Transmission fluid flushing is a very complex and delicate process that needs to be done right. That is why we’re also taking this moment to recommend that you only send your car to a qualified technician for a flush. Firstly, transmission fluid flushing needs to be handled with the right equipment. You’ll need a specialized flushing machine to do this.
You can’t just stick a vacuum cleaner in there and suck all the fluids out! When done poorly, a bad flushing job could make things worse. It may dislodge contaminants or debris, but it will then clog up other parts of the transmission. We cannot stress enough how proper transmission flush work should only be handled by the experts. Otherwise, it might just serve up even more headaches down the line. It’s best to consult the experts for this one, ladies and gentlemen.
What Is Transmission Service
What is surprising amidst all this talk about money, is that some manufacturers claim that their cars won’t ever need a transmission flush in the first place. But how can this be? Well, as a matter of fact, there are ways in which you can stretch out the lifecycle of your car’s transmission fluid. Not necessarily “forever”, but long enough. The best way to prevent getting your transmission fluid flushed all too often is by practicing a more progressive attitude towards maintenance.
Every car has its own set of service intervals. Be sure to follow this schedule religiously. As we learned earlier, you can quite simply make do – in many cases – with a simple change instead of a flush if your transmission fluid isn’t too badly contaminated. Another bonus with keeping on top of your car’s maintenance is making sure your transmission as a whole is in good shape. Changing out more replaceable parts like the cooling lines and seals could prevent contamination from happening.
Beyond just car maintenance, there’s also the subject of your driving style. Quite simply, harsher or more aggressive driving will result in more strain on your car. As a result, this would wear out your transmission fluid a lot faster. So, think twice before doing smoking starts at a set of lights. Also, consider upping your gear-shifting game if you’re driving a manual. Smoother shifts will help a lot in extending the shelf-life of your transmission fluid just a bit longer.
Transmission Fluid Flush vs Exchange Facts
- A transmission flush uses a professional-grade flush machine to completely remove all ATF from the transmission, flushes away grime and contaminants, and uses a special solution through the cooler lines until completely clean.
- A transmission fluid exchange only drains ATF from the pan, drains only 20-40% of the total ATF volume, and does not remove contaminants.
- Periodically changing ATF helps extend transmission life and may help maintain the vehicle’s warranty. ATF becomes thin and dirty over time, losing its ability to remove heat from inside the transmission.
- Synthetic transmission fluid lasts longer, lubricates better, and is more effective in combatting heat and friction, but make sure to use the right type of fluid recommended by the manufacturer to avoid degrading certain transmission components.
- A transmission flush service includes a test drive, inspection of the transmission for problems or leaks, and either the cooler flush or pump inlet flush method, with costs typically ranging from $125 to $250.
- Factors that can affect the cost of a transmission flush service include the make and model of the car and transmission, location, type of service center, method of flushing, type of ATF used, amount of fluid required, and additional services such as filter replacement and pan removal.
- A transmission fluid exchange drains the fluid from the pan, refills the system with new ATF, and mixes the old fluid still inside the torque converter with the new when the engine is started.
- The cost of a transmission fluid change typically ranges from $80 to $250, depending on who performs the service, the make and model of the car, the amount of ATF used, and whether the filter and pan gasket are replaced.
- Many drivers perform the transmission fluid exchange themselves, but it requires the right tools, can be messy, and may involve removing some of the pan bolts while the ATF is still inside and using a large catch pan and clay cat litter to soak up spilled ATF.
- Drivers should test drive their car after a transmission fluid exchange to ensure the transmission is shifting properly, there are no leaks, and the dashboard warning indicator lights are extinguished.
Transmission Flush Cost: In Conclusion…
And there you have it… The end of our transmission flush cost guide. It’s fair to say that despite not being on a lot of people’s radars while having their car looked after, transmission fluids are very important. Your engine might be all shiny and new. But if your transmission is going awry, then your car still won’t go. It’s shocking to see how many gearbox problems – such as transmission slipping – are caused by sub-par and poorly transmission fluid.
Just like how important it is that you control your intake of clean water, your transmission expects the same. It doesn’t ask for much, nor does it need you to pamper every time you change gears. But at the very least, you should flush out that nasty transmission fluid every once in a while. So, is transmission flush cost worth paying for? Absolutely, especially if you’re not keen on replacing your whole gearbox.
Transmission Flush Cost: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
If you’re still curious to learn more about a transmission flush cost, our FAQs here might help…
How Long Does A Transmission Flush Take
While a relatively simple transmission fluid change can be done in just around 1 hour to 30 minutes or faster, a more thorough transmission flush can take longer. Depending on your car’s transmission, a flush can be done in as little as 1 hour or 1.5 hours. However, if your transmission needs a detailed flush, a trained and experienced mechanic using a commercial flushing machine could take upwards of 3 to 4 hours for a complete transmission fluid flush. It’s crucial that as much time is spent on a transmission fluid flush as possible, as a haphazard job can be highly damaging, such as leaving behind contaminants clogged in hard-to-reach areas.
Is A Transmission Flush Necessary
In most cases, no, it’s not necessary. Regular transmission fluid changes are highly recommended to ensure that your transmission is able to perform at its best while making sure that cooling and lubrication are maintained optimally. Typically, most cars require a transmission fluid change every 25,000 miles or so, but it will vary depending on the make and model of your vehicle, as well as how you’re driving it. However, some vehicles might benefit from a more thorough transmission fluid flush. This is especially so if your transmission fluids haven’t been changed in a long time, and have turned into a sludgy, contaminated mess that’s hard to dislodge from a more simple fluid change.
Will A Transmission Flush Hurt My Car
This will depend on how the transmission fluid flush has been performed. If it’s done properly by a qualified technician, and using the right equipment as well as procedures, a transmission fluid flush won’t hurt your car. In fact, a transmission fluid flush is sometimes recommended, especially after a high mileage has been logged, or if your fluids have been heavily contaminated. Thus, it requires a thorough flush and cleaning. However, a transmission fluid flush can be highly damaging if done incorrectly. Most of the time, using the wrong equipment or techniques can get these contaminants stuck in hard-to-reach parts of the transmission, causing further damage.
How Often To Change Transmission Fluid
Transmission fluid changes are highly recommended and have been proven effective at maintaining your transmission. Mainly, it ensures that your transmission’s ability to cool and lubricate itself remains optimal, thus extending its lifespan. Although, transmission fluid change intervals do vary depending on your vehicle and driving style. In most cases, a manual transmission may need a fluid change after 30,000 to 60,000 miles. Meanwhile, automatics typically require a transmission fluid change after 60,000 to 100,000 miles. For a more model-specific interval, you can always check your car’s owner’s manual.
How Much Transmission Fluid Do I Need
The amount of transmission fluid you’ll need will differ depending on the type of transmission, as well as whether you’re just changing it or flushing the system entirely. Most passenger cars undergoing a typical transmission fluid change would need just 4 to 5 quarts. Granted, high-performance or heavy-duty vehicles may need more, sometimes upwards of 8 to 9 quarts during a fluid change. However, if you’re flushing the entire transmission of fluids and need to fill it back up, you’ll need more than just that. With some cars, it would take between 9 to as much as 17 or even 20 quarts of transmission fluid if you’re filling it from empty.