If your transmission gives out, your car may go into limp mode, meaning loss of power, limited speeds (30 to 45 mph) and only a single available gear (2nd or 3rd). And all of this could happen while you’re driving on the highway. Not only is this dangerous, but it can be expensive too. Several thousand dollars’ worth of ‘expensive’. To prevent this from happening and extend the life of your transmission, get your transmission fluid changed regularly.
Alternatively, there’s the option of getting your transmission flushed, which will cost about twice as much as a change.
How Much Does a Transmission Fluid Change Cost?
The cost to have your fluid changed by a dealer, service center or independent mechanic ranges from $80 to $250. The average cost is around $100 for both automatic and manual transmissions.
We recommend getting the filter replaced and pan cleaned every time the fluid is changed. Contaminants are collected by the filter and pan over time which can reduce the effectiveness of new fluid if they are not removed. It isn’t necessary to do this every time, but it will help your transmission last longer which we believe is worth the additional fees.
|Transmission Fluid Change Cost|
|Range||$80 to $250|
|Mechanic||$80 to $150|
|Dealership||$150 to $250|
|Do it Yourself||$40 to $90|
Modern cars usually require a specific type of transmission fluid like ATF+4 or SP4, which can range in price from $8 to $20 per quart. The average fluid change requires 5 to 15 quarts of fluid ($50-$120), a new filter ($15-$30), and sometimes, a new pan gasket (typically included in filter kits) for a total of roughly $75 – $150.
Factors that Affect the Cost
- Whether the job is done by a dealership, mechanic/service center or yourself
- The make and model of your vehicle (high-end brands cost more)
- Type of automatic transmission fluid (ATF) used
- How much fluid is needed to fill your car
- Cost of living (labor) in your area
Mechanic or Service Center – The most common option. Expect to pay around $100.
Dealership – The most expensive option. A dealership is going to cost 2-3 times more, averaging around $220.
Do it Yourself – The cheapest option. Changing the fluid yourself will cut the price approximately in half – down to $40 to $90 for the gasket, new filter and of course the transmission fluid. The process is very straightforward for most cars as long as you have the right tools for the job, so if you’re feeling motivated and willing to learn the process, you can save some money. Note: this price range assumes you already have the tools required (socket wrench, mallet, screwdrivers, safety glasses, clean rag and a pan large enough to catch all the fluid as it drains).
However, it can be a messy process. Some automatic transmissions don’t have drain plugs, so you have to carefully remove some of the pan bolts while the fluid is still inside. If this is the case, you’ll need a large catch pan for the old fluid to drain into, and a bag of cat litter to soak up any spilled ATF. The job is quite straightforward, but you will see why many people pay to have it done.
High End/Luxury Vehicles – High end cars are not cheap to maintain. For example, changing the transmission fluid on a paddle-shift Lamborghini can cost upwards of $750.
What is a Transmission Fluid Change?
An automatic transmission uses a special blend of hydraulic fluid to transfer power from the engine to the wheels. This liquid is vital for many processes, including:
- Actuating gear changes
- Transferring power from the engine to the transmission inside the torque converter
- Absorbing and removing heat generated by the moving parts inside the gearbox
So as you can see, transmission fluid is constantly being subjected to high heat, pressure and friction.
As the miles add up, this wear and tear causes the transmission fluid to become thin and dirty – losing it’s ability to remove heat from inside the transmission. If the fluid isn’t changed, high operating temperatures will cause the transmission to wear out much faster than it should.
Changing your transmission fluid is a relatively straightforward process that you can do yourself.
To change the fluid, a car should be run or driven for a while in order to warm the fluids up to normal operating temperatures. The car is then elevated enough (on a ramp, lift or jack) to provide access to the transmission pan. To drain the fluid, the entire pan or just the plug can be removed. The benefit of removing the pan is that it can be checked for warning signs of developing problems such as sludge and debris, and be thoroughly cleaned. The filter and gasket are then replaced and the pan/plug is re-attached. Finally, the recommended amount of new fluid is poured into the reservoir.
There will still be 5-8 quarts of old transmission fluid inside the torque converter, and that old ATF will mix with the new when you start the engine. So for the best results, it’s recommended that you completely drain and refill the transmission fluid 2-3 times, to get all of the old fluid out.
How Often Should it Be Done?
A transmission fluid change should be done every 30,000 to 60,000 miles or at least one every 2 years or so. ATF is just like motor oil – it has to be changed periodically (along with the filter) in order to keep your vehicle functioning properly. Check your car’s owner’s manual to find the exact mileage interval in the maintenance schedule recommended by the manufacturer.