Transmission Fluid Color Meaning and How to Check

If you own a car, you should know how vital transmission fluid is for an efficient operation.

Besides, if you don’t change your transmission fluid as required by the maintenance schedule, it will turn to different colors. What do they mean? And is there any way to check?

Well, if you don’t, this post will show you different transmission fluid color changes, meaning, and methods to check.


What Is Transmission Fluid?


Transmission fluid protects all the components of a transmission system. It protects your gear sets from friction by providing a lubricating surface for a smooth clutch and gear engagement.

Hence, your transmission system can transfer energy from the car engine to the wheels efficiently. Furthermore, this kind of fluid can keep your transmission system completely free from dirt.  As a last note, you can identify the fluid through its red color.


Why Is Transmission Fluid Red?


The red color for transmission fluid boils down to the applied dye at the point of manufacture. The reason is unknown but serves as a clue separating the fluid type from engine oil, radiator oil, washer fluid, and coolant.

red fluid
Transmission fluid usually has a translucent red color.

What Should Transmission Fluid Smell Like?


So far, your transmission fluid is fresh off the marketplace; it should have a sweet or tart-like smell. Trouble looms whenever the fluid gets a burnt-like smell, indicating signs of heat and increased friction. Therefore, you do need to fix this issue with fluid flush or leak repair. An indifferent attitude will harm the transmission and result in a negative effect on a car’s engine.


Transmission Fluid Colors: What Do They Mean?


One way to know if your transmission fluid still has good quality is to check for the color properties. For the best part, most fluids come in a red color form. Save for the fluids used in Mercedes and BMW that sometimes have a blue color.

Checking your transmission fluids will reveal color fluids such as Red, Light-brown, brown, dark brown, and pink.

Now here’s what each color means and what you need to do.

1. Red

red fluidIf your car transmission fluids appear red, then it goes to show that it’s healthy. Most likely, it is still fresh or new. At this point, ensure there is sufficient fluid in the system.

When it’s fully topped, there will be no need for regular diagnosis and problem checks. More importantly, follow the owner’s guide on practices to keep the fluid for longer shelf life.

2. Light Brown

light brown fluidA light brown color With your transmission fluid having this color, be sure it has some internal damages. At this stage, the fluid starts to smell like burnt oil. Hence you have to take action immediately to avoid incremental damages. You can consider changing your fluid. Or in case you find some imminent damages, you need to rebuild a total transmission. that is somewhat transparent shows the fluid is in good condition. Hence such fluid is acceptable, but you need to ensure proper flushing for such at the right time. This lets the transmission outlive the car for a long time.

3. Brown

brown fluidThis indicates that fluid is becoming old and dirty for use. Such fluid has low lubricating properties and can cause further wear and tear to the system’s parts.

Your best take is to consider refilling transmission fluid to avoid transmission failure and other damages. Take your car to an automobile service station to perform a transmission filter or fluid change.

4. Dark Brown to Black

black fluidWith your transmission fluid having this color, be sure it has some internal damages. At this stage, the fluid starts to smell like burnt oil. Hence you have to take action immediately to avoid incremental damages. You can consider changing your fluid. Or in case you find some imminent damages, you need to rebuild a total transmission.

5. Pink

pink transmission fluidThis characteristic color shows the transmission fluid with coolant contamination. The ability of coolant-contaminated fluid to lubricate at this stage is quite uncertain. Unfortunately, a fluid contaminated with water or coolant is one of the signs that alert you to flush the transmission system and replace it with new fluids.

How to Check Transmission Fluid

Checking the nature of transmission fluid can be easy or complicated, depending on your car’s architecture. For some, it’s just a matter of using a dipstick, inserting it in a fluid container and rubbing over a white tissue to reveal the color.

Let’s see how you can check the fluid:

Preparation

You will need the right tools (mechanical and safety) to check your transmission fluid color. That includes but not limited to;

    • Gloves
    • Rags
    • White tissue

Step-By-Step Guide


Note: This is a simple step-by-step DIY guide you can take on your own without supervision. However, consult the car manual to help locate and understand the nature of your car’s automatic transmission.

Step 1: Park Your Car On A Level Surface And Open The Car Hood

Drive your car and park on a level surface. You can place a balance scale on the ground to check your vehicle is on level ground. Turn on your car ignition to ensure it’s warm and switch off after some minutes. Then open up the car hood.

Step 2: Locate The Transmission Fluid Dipstick

Look out for the transmission dipstick, which you can find under the hood. Don’t mistake this for the engine oil dipstick. You can check through the car manual for reference.

However, note that the transmission dipstick is usually around the engine bay towards a firewall. Some car models earmark the dipstick with a red color or symbol for easy identification.

transmission fluid dipstick
The transmission fluid dipstick usually has red color and is located on the passenger side of the engine bay.

Step 3: Pull Out The Dipstick

Once you locate the dipstick, pull it out. It may not be easy to pull at the initial stage, but ensure you do this carefully. You don’t want to damage or break off the dipstick for no reason.

pull out transmission fluid dipstick
Once you locate the dipstick, pull it out. It may not be easy to pull at the initial stage, but ensure you do this carefully. You don’t want to damage or break off the dipstick for no reason.

Step 4: Wipe It On A White Tissue Or Towel

wipe clean rag
After pulling the dipstick, get a clean white tissue or towel. Place the dipstick on the top of the cloth or tissue and wipe clean. Re-insert the dipstick into the transmission fluid container again and pull it out.

Step 5: Check Its Color And Level

Level: Once you pull out the dipstick with the sticky oil, check for respective markings to see how the oil level ends. The markings will let you gauge how low or high the oil level is. If your fluid is down, you should consider topping the automatic transmission with some fluid.

Color: Wipe the dipstick on white tissue to reveal the color. If the color appears red after wiping it, then consider your automatic transmission safe. However, if the fluid color appears brown or black, you should consider refilling with new, fresh fluid.


Conclusion


Make checking your car’s transmission level and color a top priority. That way, you can always keep both the transmission system and engine safe from damage. This habit guarantees less or no upfront bills at a mechanic workshop. There are numerous ways to check your fluid level and color, with or without a dipstick. So always feel free to check the nature of the fluid regularly.


See AlsoHow to Dispose of Antifreeze, Respect our Environment

Tim Miller, Author at Auto Trends Magazine
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Author: Tim Miller
I’m Tim Miller, a mechanic and car blogger from Denver, Colorado. I’m the editor-in-chief of gmundcars.com - a blog about Automotive. My fan page is https://www.facebook.com/timautozik. I’ve had 10 years experience in car repair. Some of my review articles about car parts and tools can be found on my website.

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