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How Often Should You Get a Transmission Fluid Change?

A cutaway of an automatic transmission.

How often should you be getting a transmission fluid change? Although some manufacturers recommend doing so every 30,000 miles, others might say you can go longer. Some even say transmission fluid is good for 100,000 miles or more. But is it?

How Often Is Enough?Automatic gearshift

Your vehicle owner’s manual will list the mileage at which your transmission fluid change should take place. It will also recommend the automatic transmission fluid you should use and advise you on the maximum distance you should go between automatic transmission fluid changes.

Conditions May Vary

However, even in your owners’ manual, you’re unlikely to find one hard and fast rule about the number of miles you can go before you’ll need a transmission fluid change. More likely, you’ll find two or three numbers broken down by driving conditions, such as “normal,” “moderate” and “severe.”

“Normal” is a mix of different types of fairly low-stress driving. “Moderate” might involve more stop-and-go. If you do a lot of stop-and-go in an extreme climate (whether hot, cold, dry or dusty) and throw in some trailer towing, that might fall under the “severe” category. Driving in severe conditions will likely require you to change your transmission fluid sooner and more often over the lifespan of your vehicle.

Here’s Why

Automatic transmission fluid acts as both a lubricant and a coolant for the internal parts of an automatic transmission. It helps keep shifting smooth and precise. The fluid cools by absorbing the heat as it flows through the transmission. But like all chemicals, over time automatic transmission fluid begins to break down. As it does, it loses its cooling and lubricating properties.

Not only does your automatic transmission fluid trap heat; it also traps debris and particles. The longer the fluid is left, the more debris accumulates, which can cause the fluid to become more abrasive than lubricating. These conditions can lead to premature wear of the automatic transmission components and a shorter life span for the vehicle. If the issue is left unaddressed for too long, you could face a big bill for a transmission repair or replacement.

It may come as no surprise, then, that a lot of maintenance-savvy owners use the “severe” recommendation as a benchmark. After all, buying automatic transmission fluid more often than the owners’ manual recommends can be cheap insurance against bigger problems down the road.

Check out all the automatic transmission fluid products available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on how often you should get a transmission fluid change, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Mike Hagerty View All

Mike Hagerty is an automotive journalist whose work has been featured on radio, TV, in print and online since 1997. He's the Publisher and Editor of MikeHagertyCars.com, and contributes car reviews to the Los Altos Town Crier and losaltosonline.com. Previous outlets have included KFBK and KFBK.com in Sacramento, California, the ABC television affiliates and Hearst-Argyle and Emmis radio stations in Phoenix, Arizona; AAA magazines for Arizona, Oklahoma, Northwest Ohio, South Dakota and the Mountain West and BBCCars.com.

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