Car Care

Automatic Transmission Service: What You Need To Know

automatic transmission

Failing to Properly Service An Automatic Transmission Can Be A Costly Mistake.

The automatic transmission is easily one of the most complex mechanical components on a vehicle, and transmission repair is also very expensive. For that reason, you’ll want to be sure to perform an automatic transmission service as recommended by the manufacturer in order to keep your car running properly. 

That being said, servicing transmissions might be one of the most overlooked preventative maintenance items due to the cost as well as the ambiguity of what actually defines “automatic transmission service,” but here’s everything you need to know about this very crucial service whether you’re looking to do it yourself or take it to a repair shop.

What Is Automatic Transmission Service?

automatic transmission diagram

Just like an engine, the automatic transmission is filled with a fluid that must be changed at specific intervals, and the filter is kept clean with a filter. An automatic transmission service is when the transmission fluid is drained and the filter is replaced, which requires the removal of the transmission pan. 

A separate service called a transmission flush hooks a machine to the transmission lines and flushes out the entire system for a full transmission fluid change. A typical transmission service does not include a flush, but most transmission flush services are performed alongside a standard fluid/filter service.

When Should You Perform This Service?

transmission pan being removed

Servicing the automatic transmission should be part of routine scheduled maintenance, which varies depending on your specific vehicle. The average mileage suggested for this service is around 50,000 to 60,000 miles with some manufacturers recommending such service at 100,000-mile intervals. 

The easiest way to tell whether you need to perform a transmission service on your vehicle is to remove the dipstick and check the condition of the transmission fluid. This fluid should be bright red, but if it is dark red or brownish, you should get the fluid changed. Physical symptoms could include a slipping transmission where the vehicle shutters in between gear shifts.

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Is This An Easy DIY Repair?

automatic transmission filter

If you’re just wanting to drain the transmission pan and replace the filter, this service is similar to an oil change, although the average cost is quite a bit more expensive. A DIY transmission service can be a little trickier than an oil change, though, as it requires more access under the vehicle and is usually a messier job. Flushing the whole system, on the other hand, is best left to the professionals as it’s easiest with the use of specialized machines. If this isn’t a DIY job for you, be sure to take your vehicle to a shop that specializes in automatic transmissions instead of a general repair shop or tire store.

Not All Automatic Transmissions Are The Same

automatic transmission gear selector

Almost everyone knows (or should know) the difference between automatic transmissions and manual transmissions. But did you know that modern vehicles have several different types of transmissions that act as automatic transmissions? While a large number of vehicles still use hydraulic or electric transmissions, a growing number use Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVT) or Dual-Clutch Transmissions (DCT). These advanced transmissions help to maximize fuel efficiency or performance. Know what type of transmission your vehicle has before attempting any DIY service or transmission repair. 


Don’t burn up your transmission by forgetting to have this service performed on your car regularly. Whether you do it yourself or take it to a professional shop, this scheduled maintenance item should be a top priority to keep your vehicle on the road. 


Lifelong automotive enthusiast with a soft spot for offroading. Wrencher turned writer, but I still love to tinker on just about anything with an engine. Dream car: tie between a ‘71 Hemi ‘Cuda and a ’91 GMC Syclone. #GirlDad #SaveTheManuals

Jeffrey N. Ross
Lifelong automotive enthusiast with a soft spot for offroading. Wrencher turned writer, but I still love to tinker on just about anything with an engine. Dream car: tie between a ‘71 Hemi ‘Cuda and a '91 GMC Syclone. #GirlDad #SaveTheManuals

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