If you open the bonnet of your car right now, the chances are that you will know exactly where to look to find the engine oil dipstick. However, do you know where to look when it comes to checking the automatic transmission fluid for your all-important gearbox? Many people omit to check this, but it is vitally important if you want to maintain the efficiency of your car over its lifetime. What do you need to remember, so you don't encounter any surprises?
How to Check the System
The first thing that you should do is to pull out your vehicle owner's manual and find out where the transmission fluid can be checked. Typically, the dipstick is located at the same place where you add fluid to the system. Before you go ahead and check the levels, make sure that the fluid is warm. In other words, only do this after you have recently finished a journey.
Pull the stick out and check to make sure firstly that the level is in between the two marked lines. While you are looking at the stick, however, you also need to check for any unusual signs.
Having a Good Look
Have a look at the consistency of the oil. You may notice some miniature specks which are dark in colour, embedded within the oil. The specks are particles of friction material that have worn away from the clutch pack and are perfectly normal during everyday driving. If this is all you see, consider when you last changed the fluid as it may be time for you to flush it out and refill, anyway. This is especially important if you cover a lot of miles in any one year.
On Closer Inspection
However, if you notice something else when you check the oil, you may have to take a different approach. When you first pull out the dipstick, do you notice a burning smell and does the fluid itself appear to be black? Also, are there any miniature metallic specks, which will be very different in nature to the friction material?
In this case, the transmission has likely been damaged and some of the internal components may be about to malfunction. You shouldn't immediately rush to flush out the old liquid and replace it, because this may exacerbate the situation.
Sometimes, a faulty transmission can immediately fail when the system is flushed and new oil put in and you don't want to be caught out on the side of the road in a situation like this. Rather, you need to talk with a mechanic as soon as possible to get their advice. They may recommend a different course of action, which might minimise any down time you could otherwise encounter.