What transmission fluid do I need?

What transmission fluid do I need? Automatic transmission fluid it is clearly different from transmission fluid made for manual transmissions. In the US, most passenger cars have an automatic transmission, which means the transmission automatically changes gears as needed; the driver does not need to take any action. Manual transmissions, on the other hand, rely on the driver operating the clutch and shift lever each time a gear change is required. Transmissions require different fluids for best performance depending on the make, model and year of the vehicle.



Key performance and protection requirements for manual transmissions include synchronizer compatibility, durability, and shift quality. The transmission synchronizer must engage smoothly for proper shifting performance. In addition, anti-wear and load-carrying components in the transmission fluid must ensure long synchronizer life and gear protection. Manual transmission fluid, like motor oil, is generally brown to amber in color.

Commonly recommended manual transmission fluid formulations include SAE 80W, 75W-90, 80W-90, and SAE 90. In some cases, a multigrade motor oil or automatic transmission fluid may be recommended. However, a manual transmission fluid is usually the most optimal for manual transmissions. Always check your owner’s manual for the proper transmission fluid to use in your vehicle.


Automatic transmission fluid, commonly known as ATF, ensures proper automatic transmission function, performance, and protection. This fluid is generally red in color with the exception of fluid made specifically for continuously variable transmissions (CVTs).

Critical areas of ATF performance include:

  • Heat resistance and thermal stability to help prevent the formation of deposits and sludge due to high temperatures
  • Friction characteristics to enable smooth gear changes by providing the correct friction to the clutches and drive bands
  • Extreme load/pressure performance to ensure gear durability and wear protection
  • Viscosity stability or proper fluid thickness over a wide temperature range
  • Low temperature flow to ensure effective operation of hydraulic and electronic controls at low temperatures


Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVT)

CVTs have continuously changing gear ratios, unlike typical automatic transmissions that have separate gear changes. CVTs can also help improve fuel economy. Hybrid vehicles are often equipped with CVTs and are occasionally used in non-hybrid vehicles. A specific CVT fluid should always be used to ensure proper performance and protection. There is no standard color for CVT fluid, however Castrol Transmax CVT Fluid is red.



The type of transmission fluid you should use depends on the make, model, and year of your vehicle. For example, many General Motor cars will require a DEXRON fluid and Ford cars commonly specify a MERCON fluid.Always follow the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendations for proper fluid usage and change intervals. In many cases, fluid change intervals will be more frequent if the vehicle is operated in severe conditions. Such conditions will be defined by the manufacturer.


Low fluid levels can cause noise, clutch slippage, overheating of clutch components, and rough shifting. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and have the transmission serviced at the recommended intervals.

What transmission fluid do I need?

You know transmission fluid is important for your car, but what specific type of transmission fluid are you supposed to use? With so many different types on the market, it can be a confusing task to choose the right type. There are different grades of fluids, all with different properties and specifications. While your vehicle’s owner’s manual will give you the finer details of transmission fluid, we’ll explain the different types and the general makes of cars they’re used for. So if you’ve ever asked yourself the question, “What transmission fluid do I need?”, look no further because we have the answer.

Transmission Fluid Types

Different fluid specifications mean different additives and ingredients are used, which is why it’s so important to only use the fluid recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer. Each specification is intended to provide only the best lubricating, anti-wear, anti-rust and anti-corrosion properties for specific car brands. Transmission fluid properties are also intended for:

  • Protect and clean metal surfaces.
  • Expand rotation speed and temperature range
  • Provide the correct amount of viscosity.
  • Prevent foaming and oxidation of the fluid.
  • Extend the life of the fluid.
  • Improves cooling capacity and reduces high temperatures.
  • state boards

The most notable transmission fluid specifications are the DEXRON and MERCON series. This is what most car manufacturers use today. There are also oil-based and synthetic ATFs that provide different properties, such as longer pot life and effectiveness at high temperatures. The different types of transmission fluids include:

F-TypeType F is the most used specification on cars in the 1970s. It’s not as prevalent now, but Type F was widely used in the past and did not includefriction modifiers (reducing friction on lubricated parts). Mostly for old streaming nowadays you won’t see much of this kind.

Dexron/Mercon –Probably the most common ATF specifications today, DEXRON and Mercon have very similar standards, so they are often grouped together. Both include drag modifiers and many other grades are based on these two.

HFM Fluids – It stands for Highly Friction Modified, and as you might guess, it includes friction modifiers for vehicles that need a lot of reduced friction. Not much explanation is needed.

Synthetic Fluids –Synthetic fluids are very popular today and are available from aftermarket brands (meeting Dexron and Mercon specifications). Synthetic fluid offers better performance and service, with greater resistance to heat, cold, oxidation, friction and shear. Many manufacturers are adopting synthetic fluids today because they are simply better, even though they often cost more.

What transmission fluid do I need?

So you may be wondering, what transmission fluid do I need? This really depends on the make and model of your vehicle, as different manufacturers have different recommended transmission fluids.

For example, there are many variants of Mercon and Dexron today, such as Mercon V and Dexron VI. These variants are backward compatible, which means that Mercon V can be used for a vehicle that requires Mercon III. However, they are not backward compatible.

How to Check Transmission Fluid

  • Transmission fluid should be checked regularly to make sure there are no leaks causing low fluid levels and to make sure the fluid is not worn out, allowing damage to occur.
  • Before you begin, grab a light-colored towel and find the transmission dipstick, which should be located near the oil dipstick and labeled appropriately. If you cannot locate the dipstick, consult your owner’s manual. Some cars today are not equipped with dipsticks, probably because they don’t want you messing with it and want you to take it to your dealer.
  • When you’re ready, park your vehicle on a level surface, set the parking brake, and start the engine. Put the car in neutral or park. Allow your vehicle to warm up and continue to run during operation, unless your owner’s manual says otherwise. (Note that some automatic transmission fluid levels are checked with the engine off. See your owner’s manual.)
  • Remove the automatic transmission fluid dipstick. Clean, fully reinsert and remove again.
  • Observe the marks at the end of the dipstick. Your dipstick may have two marks for “full”: one warm and one cold. If the automatic transmission fluid level is not up to the “hot” line, you will need to add automatic transmission fluid.
  • Also look at the fluid color – it should be a bright red; smell–should not smell burnt; and consistency: the liquid must be free of any contaminants.

What type of transmission fluid should you use?

There are two main types of transmission fluid, automatic and manual. Automatic transmission fluid (ATF) is used in all cars that have automatic transmissions and in certain modern cars with manual transmissions. Manual transmission oil is the fluid used in some manual cars; It is never used on automatic transmission vehicles. In some cases, gear oil is used in manual transmissions.

Under the ATF umbrella there are several varieties, Type F, Dexron III/Mercon, HFM-Style Fluids used by Chrysler, Honda/Acura, Jeep/Eagle, Hyundai, Toyota/Lexus, Saturn, Sterling.

Some of these types of fluids are interchangeable, though it’s important to check your owner’s manual to be sure. Numerous manufacturers formulate fluids that meet the individual standards of these various ATF fluids. It is important to review the “spec sheet” to validate that your vehicle’s fluid requirements have been tested and approved for any fluid used in your transmission.

More and more vehicles require a synthetic variation of ATF. Synthetic transmission fluid tends to be more expensive, however it has numerous benefits compared to regular ATF. It has a superior ability to handle heat and is more resistant to oxidation and rust. Driveability and smooth shifting are also improved. These features can save you money in the long run due to their ability to extend transmission life.

Once you know which fluid is correct for your vehicle, you can complete your maintenance check and add fluid if you are low. Do this by inserting a long funnel into the ATF dipstick hole. Carefully add fluid in small increments, rechecking the level each time until the fluid level reaches the “hot” line. Be careful not to overfill or spill ATF on hot engine parts. Reinsert the dipstick all the way.

The Specs: Choosing the Right ATF for Your Vehicle

There are several different types of ATF available today, each formulated for specific types of transmissions. The most common types are Dexron/Mercon and Multi-Vehicle Synthetic. The transmission is one of the most complex systems in a vehicle, so using proper, high-quality ATF is critical to help ensure performance well past the 100,000-mile mark. Here’s a guide to the most common types of ATF and what makes them different.

Dexron VI (GM) / Mercon V (Ford) / ATF+4 (Chrysler)

These three ATF products are the most common on the market, designed and licensed exclusively by the three largest automakers in North America: GM, Ford, and Chrysler (now FCA). These ATF fluids are designed for the newer transmission technologies being sold on the market. Additionally, these same fluids can also be used in many import vehicles (always check your owner’s manual for specific recommendations). All three include friction modifiers, which reduce friction on lubricated parts.

Synthetic Transmission Fluid for Multiple Vehicles

Multi-vehicle transmission fluids are becoming increasingly popular on the market. Oil marketers design these fluids for a wide range of automatic transmission types. While not licensed by any specific auto manufacturer, they are designed for superior performance and protection. They are formulated with the latest additive technology and their performance is generally backed by extensive field testing. Most multi-vehicle transmission fluids use synthetic base oils.

Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) fluid

More and more vehicle manufacturers are using continuously variable transmissions in their new car offerings to improve fuel economy, and approximately 20% of all new cars sold use this technology. Fluid requirements for CVT transmissions are very different than a typical stepped gear transmission. Each specific CVT fluid is formulated for a specific transmission; however, oil marketers have been able to demonstrate good performance with a single CVT oil in many different transmission designs. Most CVT transmission fluids use synthetic base oils.

F-Type (Ford)

The F-type hasn’t been used in vehicles since the early ’70s, and even then it was usually only used in Fords. Unlike most ATFs, Type F does not include friction modifiers. So unless you’re driving a car that’s around 40, this isn’t the type of ATF for you.

Choosing the correct transmission fluid is critical to ensuring maximum performance and fuel economy from your car. Always check your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommended type of fluid for your vehicle. Most, but not all, transmission fluids are blended with synthetic base oils to offer better performance, with increased resistance to heat, cold, oxidation, friction, and shear. Check the bottle or product information sheet online to confirm what is in the product before purchasing.


Many people, including some professional general repair mechanics, don’t realize that there are many different types of transmission fluids (also known as transmission oil). You have different brands with different mixtures and additives designed for specific types of transmissions. Using the wrong type of transmission fluid in your car can cause extensive damage over time. So it’s obviously very important to use the right type of fluid, but how do you know which one is right for you?your vehicle?

The first thing you can look at is the owner’s manual. You must specify the transmission fluid used in your particular vehicle. If your transmission fluid level is low and you’re just looking to top it off, this will help you purchase the correct type of fluid.

Otherwise, this is one of the advantages of entrusting your vehicle to atransmission repair and service specialist. A knowledgeable transmission technician will understand which fluid is best for your vehicle’s transmission and will ensure that you put in the correct type when performing a repair.fluid change or complete fluid flush.

Automatic Transmission Fluid (ATF)

Automatic transmission fluid is most commonly used in vehicles with automatic or manual transmissions. However, there are many different types of ATF available from Mercon V and Mercon LV to Dexron VI and Matic S, K or D. It can be extremely confusing and the correct fluid will depend entirely on the specific make and model of your vehicle. Again, this is when consulting with a transmission repair expert or your dealership will be extremely beneficial in ensuring the proper transmission fluid is used. And just like regular motor oil, there are also synthetic blends available that have advantages and disadvantages that are worth knowing about.

Continuously Variable Transmission Fluid (CVT Fluid)

More and more modern vehicles with highly advanced technology require the use of CVT fluid in the transmission. It is a more advanced fluid designed to work in more advanced cars, trucks and SUVs. If your vehicle requires continuously variable transmission fluid and you put in regular automatic transmission fluid (or vice versa), it will ultimately cause problems. Your vehicle will run and you may not notice anything right away, but problems will eventually develop.

Your Central Valley Transmission Specialist

InWe see it all the time. Cars arrive at our shop with the wrong type of transmission fluid put in by another shop or a DIY mechanic. The good news is that major damage can be prevented by doing a fluid change or flushing early on. Failure to do so may result in major repairs or a recommendation for a complete rebuild.

The important thing to remember is that you want the job done right. When it comes to your vehicle’s transmission and fluid, trust a local transmission specialist to ensure the proper fluid and other parts are used. This will keep your transmission running smoother and lasting longer.

If you find this post about What transmission fluid do I need helpful to you and you want to know more about car fluid knowledge, please check more on our website Auto Oil And Fluid. Thank you for your interest!



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