When you’re in the market to buy a used car, it’s always best to have an inspection first. An inspection will help you check for any faults with the car and also alert you of potential issues with the car that may need fixing soon. A pre purchase inspection is an excellent way to do this before you sign on the dotted line.
However, with so many components working together, it can be challenging to know where to check for problems. Even if a car has recently had a full service completed and all its fluids topped up, there are still some key areas where problems are likely to appear sooner rather than later. One of those areas is transmission fluid.
If the transmission fluid is dirty or smells burnt, then there’s probably something wrong with your transmission. Here’s what you need to know about checking transmission fluid as part of your pre-purchase inspection…
What Does Transmission Fluid Do?
Transmission fluid is the lifeblood of your transmission. It carries the power from the engine and delivers it to the wheels. It also keeps all the moving parts inside the transmission lubricated and cooled.
Transmission fluid is very similar to the oil in your engine. It’s designed to protect and keep everything inside the transmission moving. There are two types of transmission fluid:
- Automatic transmission fluid: is basically a synthetic oil.
- Constant velocity transmission fluid; is a different type of synthetic oil
- Manual transmission fluid: is a heavier oil with a higher viscosity. (not normally easy to check)
When you buy a used car, it is always important to check the transmission fluid to make sure it’s clean and looks like new. If the transmission fluid is dirty or smells burnt, then there’s likely a problem.
Why it is important to Check Transmission Fluid?
The transmission is one of the most expensive parts of a car to replace. If you notice there is something wrong with the transmission fluid, it may be an indication that the transmission itself is not working correctly.
Transmission issues don’t just affect the life of the car, they also affect your wallet. If the transmission fluid is dirty or burnt, it may be an indication of a problem. If you don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on transmission replacement, it’s important to look out for signs of transmission issues during your pre purchase inspection. With many cars coming out of a lease with a transmission that has been abused, now is the perfect time to check your potential used car for transmission issues.
How to Check Transmission Fluid for a Pre Purchase Inspection
You can check transmission fluid by lifting the bonnet and removing the dipstick(if applicable). Make sure the transmission fluid is at the right level, not overly full or too low. If it looks new, smells clean and has no debris or metal flakes in it, then everything is likely fine. But if it appears burnt or unusually black, then you may have found a problem.
To be really thorough, you can remove the dipstick and wipe it off with a paper towel. Then, put it back in, remove it again, and rub the fluid between your fingers. This will allow you to see if there is metal in the transmission fluid.
What to Look for When Checking Transmission Fluid?
Transmission fluid can be several different colours and have a sweet/clean smell to it. Usually, it is bright red, or CVT fluid is clear or yellowish. If you smell something burning, then it’s likely burnt or dirty fluid. If the fluid is burnt or dirty, you should ask the owner if they know what’s going on, but it will likely relate to worn/burnt transmission internals.
- Colour: You can check the colour of the fluid by looking at the dipstick if it has one fitted.
- Odour: Transmission fluid should have a sweet smell to it. If it’s burnt to smell, it’s likely dirty or burnt fluid.
- Level: Transmission fluid levels should be between the MIN and MAX levels on the dipstick. If the fluid is low, it will cause your transmission to overheat and could cause transmission damage and poor shifting – overfull will cause other issues such as wear and leaks.
Why is a Dirty Fluid an Issue?
Dirty transmission fluid can be an indication of a problem. It can also lead to premature transmission failure by slowing down the transmission and causing excessive heat.
When you buy a used car, you want to make sure there are no signs of transmission issues. If the transmission fluid is dirty, it’s a good idea to question the owner about why it’s dirty and how often they change it. If the transmission fluid is dirty and burnt, it could be an indication of a problem. At the very least, should change it as soon as possible to avoid any major issues, but usually, once it is ‘burnt’ it has gone beyond the point of no return, and a fluid change (possibly with filter where applicable), may be a last ditch attempt to salvage the transmission but may not be successful.
If the transmission fluid is dirty and the owner hasn’t changed it at the recommended intervals, it’s a good idea to walk away from the car, or be prepared for the ongoing pain.
Hire A Professional Pre Purchase Inspector
Transmission fluid is the lifeblood of car transmission. When you check the transmission fluid as part of your pre purchase inspection, it gives you an idea of how the transmission has been treated and maintained. If the transmission fluid is dirty or burnt, it may be an indication of other major problems.
When you buy a used car, it’s important to check the transmission fluid and the other parts of the car like the engine, suspensions, brakes and body.