Used Car Maintenance: What about Transmission oil?

For many of us new cars just aren’t in the budget, so we get to go used car shopping. The problem with buying a used car is that used car maintenance records are seldom kept and questionable at best. Usually there is no record at all and you have to take the seller’s word. There is almost NEVER a record of a transmission fluid change, and if you ask the seller you’ll get a mixed bag of answers. There are 3 basic places that most people will buy a used car from

  • Dealership (or as I like to call them – Stealership)
  • A used car dealer
  • Private Owner

I prefer to look at used cars for sale by owner when I can because if you are any good at reading people you can tell if they are feeding you a line of bull about the vehicle. Used car salesmen are not so easy to read, and you expect them to tell you what you want to hear. This is a problem when you ask about previous maintenance records. Dealers are sure to tell you that a little old lady from Pasadena owned the car and only drove it to church on Sundays and had all scheduled maintenance performed. Not likely.

How to tell if a used car needs a transmission oil change

If the car is an automatic something you should do before, after, or during the test drive is check the transmission fluid. You’re not really checking for the fluid level (although if it’s significantly low, that’s a sign of poor maintenance), you’re really interested in how the fluid looks and smells. Automatic transmission fluid should be red. If it’s brown, then it’s time for a change and the more dirty brown it looks the longer it’s been since the last change. Also, keep your eyes (or nose in this case) out for a burnt smell. As the oil degrades it will take on a sort of burnt carbon smell that’s usually pretty noticeable. Lastly, mileage is a pretty good tell tale. If the car is over 30,000 miles it’s due for a transmission oil change. I’d say any car over 50,000 miles is going to want a change done after you buy it regardless of what you were told. Better to be on the safe side, and you won’t find many fluids out there that have a life past 50,000 miles.

If the vehicle is a manual transmission you’re probably not going to get a chance to inspect the fluid unless you want to take the time, energy, and possible money to bring it to your auto mechanic of choice. You could check it on your own, but it involves pulling plugs on the transmission itself and that’s probably best left untouched since you don’t own the car yet. However, you can still get an idea whether the fluid should be changed or not. Again, mileage is a good indicator and anything over 50,000 miles should have the fluid drained and filled with some fresh fluid. Pay attention to how the transmission shifts when you go on the test drive, is it smooth, does it go from gear to gear easily? Also be listening for sounds that could come from the transmission, if the fluid hasn’t been changed and the car has high mileage there is a possibility that the bearings are getting worn. You can usually hear them spinning if they are going bad.

So no matter which transmission the used car you’re looking at has, be sure to check it out on your test drive. You don’t want to buy a used car only to need transmission work shortly afterward. To learn more about oil and fluid changes be sure to check out other good sites online.