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 guarantee 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 do you need to do a transmission flush?
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 from 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 can get contaminated
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 towards 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. It has several side-effects if not properly flushed and replaced.
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.
What are the differences that you need to know between a transmission fluid change versus a full flush?
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…
1. Transmission fluid “change” – A quick drain and top-up
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. 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. Or, 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.
2. Transmission fluid “flush” – A very thorough cleaning
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, time, and therefore will be more expensive for a full transmission flush cost.
How can you know when 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 differing 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 x10 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…
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.
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 forwards and back. Another possible reason is your gearbox completely missing or skipping entire gears. You’ll feel this most while accelerating or decelerating.
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.
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.
5. 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.
What is the full transmission fluid flush cost that you need to know?
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 flush cost breakdown
The median transmission flush cost is around $150 to $250. This, as we mentioned earlier, is more or less twice as much compared to 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’d 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
Can you save on transmission flush cost by doing this at home?
“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 that 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.
How can you prevent from needing to pay for transmission flush cost too often?
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 from getting your transmission fluid flushed all too often is by practicing a more progressive attitude towards maintenance.
Every car has its own set 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 in the first place.
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 a smoking start 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 that bit longer.
Transmission flush cost – 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.