What Color is Transmission Fluid?

The color of transmission fluid (typically red) is the result of a dye that is added to help you distinguish it from other fluids in your car such as engine oil, power steering fluid, brake fluid, and antifreeze. It can also give you an idea of the fluid’s condition and tell you that it needs to be changed. Let’s find out how…

Need a replacement transmission? Get an estimate for replacement transmissions and local installation. Look up your transmission model by vehicle make and model.

What Transmission Do I Have?

Note: While not as common, transmission fluid can also be other colors such as blue and yellow.

Note 2: Certain windshield wiper and antifreeze fluids can be red, so make sure you always read the label first!

New-Automatic-Transmission-FluidWhile off-color fluid can point to a potential transmission problem, the color should not be the only reason a shop gives you as proof that you need to get a transmission flush or repair/replacement (which are both very profitable for them). An old, worn our transmission can have clean, red fluid and a brand new transmission can have dark fluid. The color doesn’t mean much when taken out of context.

Several other symptoms should also be apparent when a real problem exists. The fluid alone cannot diagnose a problem and be used to prescribe a particular (likely unneeded) service – be wary of a shop that thinks otherwise.


What color is clean/new transmission fluid?

When the fluid is new, it has a translucent red color. It may be hard to see on the dipstick, but if you wipe it on a clean white rag, it will appear bright to dark pink/red.

Here is how to check your transmission fluid.

The color will change over time as it ages, is subjected to heat and friction, and collects contaminants (dirt and debris). It typically starts out bright, translucent pink/red and slowly transitions to a darker, more brown and more opaque color until it appears black. This process is completely normal and does not mean there is a problem.

Manufacturers use a number of different chemical compounds, resulting in the various kinds of fluid available (ie. Dexron, Mercon, ATF+4 etc). Each type is formulated to work with a particular series of transmissions and can have a slightly different opacity and tint when new compared to other brands.

A good indicator that it’s time to change your transmission fluid is the mileage and time since it was last done, but in general, the darker/more opaque the fluid is, the sooner it needs to be changed again.

Under regular driving conditions, the fluid should be changed every 2 years or 30,000 to 50,000 miles, whichever comes first. Heavy-use commercial vehicles such as those used for hauling or towing run much hotter so they should be serviced more frequently.

What color is worn transmission fluid?

As fluid flows around the internal parts of a transmission, it absorbs the heat that they create. It then travels to the front of the engine compartment and passes through the radiator, where it expels the heat and cools down before returning to the transmission.

Over time, this process will cause the fluid to darken from bright, translucent red to a dark red and eventually to a brownish color. This means that the chemical composition of the ATF is starting to break down, reducing its ability to remove heat from the transmission and lubricate its moving parts.

It is important to note that some fluid is left trapped in the torque converter when the fluid is drained. This old fluid mixes with the new fluid that is added and can give it a brownish tint – even though the majority of the fluid is brand new.

What color is dirty transmission fluid?

Age and high temperatures can turn the normally reddish colored fluid to black. This may indicate that the fluid’s heat removing properties are severely compromised, and it may not be able to effectively protect the internal components from excessive wear and tear. However, as mentioned previously, the color alone does not mean there is a problem unless other symptoms are present. What’s most important is that the filter is changed regularly so that it does not become clogged and restricted.

Burnt transmission fluid

If the fluid is black and has a burned smell, it indicates that it is no longer removing all the heat from the transmission or lubricating the internal parts properly and more than likely, the transmission has suffered some internal damage.

If this is the case, look for metal shavings in it by dropping the transmission pan. Some metal shavings should be expected, but a significant amount of debris could indicate severe internal damage, in which case you should have it serviced as soon as possible. This is one of the most common symptoms of a transmission problem. Unfortunately, changing the fluid usually won’t have much of an effect at this point, so it’s important to make sure that your fluid never gets to this stage. If not dealt with, the transmission will eventually fail, leaving you with the options of getting it repaired, replaced or buying a new car.

A malfunctioning torque converter, failing solenoids and slipping clutches can also cause the symptom of burnt transmission fluid. Hard shifts and slipping when changing gears are symptoms that are often present at the same time as burnt fluid.

Water or coolant in the fluid

If it appears to be foamy, has lots of air bubbles or it looks thin (more fluid on the dipstick the normal), then there may be coolant or antifreeze leaking into your transmission fluid.

If a significant amount of water gets into a transmission due to flood/high water or a leak, rust will develop and the transmission will fail.

This problem can be caused by a blockage or leak in the cooling lines on the radiator. If coolant leaks into the fluid, it won’t be able to lubricate the moving parts properly. The chemicals in the anti-freeze can also cause severe damage to the internal components of a transmission. To fix this problem, the leak/blockage will have to be addressed, and the filter/fluid should be changed as well. If a significant amount of foreign liquid got in, the transmission may have to be rebuilt with new components to replace those that were damaged.

Need a replacement transmission? Get an estimate for replacement transmissions and local installation. Look up your transmission model by vehicle make and model.

What Transmission Do I Have?

Over to You

What is the color of your vehicle’s fluid? If you have a question, let us know in the comments and we’ll do our best to help you out.

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brandon thompson
1 month ago

the fluid is black and has a burnt smell it started out as jumpping and haveing to put in m2 to start driving and could only shit to 3rd now it wont go forward and when u put it in revers it jumps stutters idk if the shif silonids are gone out and if the torque converter is going out

Lillian wright
2 months ago

Just bought a 2008 Nissan Xterra. It’s been running great. I decided to check and change all fluids to prevent any problems since the previous owner had no documentation. While checking trans fluid I noticed it was extremely dark. I then drained the fluid via the drain plug. The color was dark brown and smelled extremely foul. It’s not foamy to indicate water and it’s not black, its the color of dark muddy water and the smell is putrid. what could this be? I plan on repeating this drain & fill 1-3 more times to see if it’s just the previous owner had never changed it. Also it is having hard shifts and occasionally RPM goes high (2500-4000) during shift. When in O/D it shifts in the 3000-4000 range almost constantly so been keeping o/d off.

William david morgan
2 months ago

2015 ss camaro will not shift after it warms up through any gears…

1 year ago

I changed engine for my ford edge 2009 in January 2019 and not driven it since then due to the faulty alternator which I fixed Las month and had been test running but I discovered there is no transmission fluid in the vehicle. What do I do?

1 year ago

Took my 01 Dodge Ram to transmission shop for leaking and said I need a part thats $500. What leaky part would cost that much for transmission and that’s not including labor?

5 months ago
Reply to  Melissa

Your Valve Body

Rose M Przybylski
1 year ago

Can tranny fluid for a 2006 pont. Grand prix be clear???

Robert Daehler
1 year ago

I have 2001 honda civic of it just started acting up you drive it an it quits shifting but you to key off start back up it will drive again what is the problem

Sue Clarke
1 year ago


2 years ago

my transmission fluid is yellow

3 years ago

I have a brand of cvt fluid in my vehicle which is green in colour, can I too up with a different brand which is red in colour

David Ewart
3 years ago

Since My 1997VW Polo Classic is supposed to take green Transmission oi
and there is currently red oil presently at minimum level ,would it harm the steering if i just fill it up with the correct green oil?

kent lindberg
3 years ago

Transmission is pink mechanic said radiator has leak pressure tested radiator with water
p.s.i. 75 tested ok could it still be getting into transmission

4 years ago

If the transmission fluid is old could that be a reason for hard shifts?

1 year ago
Reply to  Jose


4 years ago

Do it yourself…..its easy……don’t pay those dishonest crooks

victor morris
4 years ago

where do u put the transmission fuel in a 1999 Saturn sl1 am a first time car owner.

Liz Manaois
4 years ago

The cvt oil color removed from my car is red & we tried to find CVT FE but not available in the service center, I replace it with brand CVT N2 & color is green, is there any problem to the transmission

4 years ago

I took my car for a transmission service 1 month ago they changed the oil. Paid $225
I checked the level last weekend.

Should the oil be black already???

5 years ago

I have a 2006 Chrysler 300c it leaked light brown watery in the front passenger side what type of oil is that? motor? Tranny? Or something else? Thank you

5 years ago

Change the radiator and transmission filter and transmission fluid is still foamy pink.what should I do

Winter good
5 years ago

I’m having trouble starting my car. The lights come on ,the bells for doors, headlights etc.. I checked the transmission fluid it is brown. I will have it changed immediately. Where is the filter located and do I need a automatic transmission mechanic to change the filter?

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