How to Check Transmission Fluid When Hot or Cold (5 Easy Steps)

The same way an engine relies on motor oil, an automatic transmission needs to be lubricated with transmission fluid. It has several moving components which rub together just like the engine does.

Automatic transmission components can only work smoothly if they’re consistently lubricated while the vehicle is running. Any type of fluid leak would cause major problems for the transmission’s components and for the vehicle itself.

To ensure you have the proper amount of transmission fluid available, you need to regularly check your automatic transmission fluid to see what level it is at. Most auto manufacturers will recommend that you check the fluid level every 40,000 miles.

Of course, you can look in the owner’s manual for your vehicle to confirm the number of miles. If the manual suggests different mileage, then go with that number.

There may be times when you’ll want to check the fluid level earlier. For instance, if you shift gears in an automatic vehicle and it starts to hesitate, then you should check the fluid immediately. In fact, do this before you even go to the mechanic because they may try to sell you an unnecessary service.


Read Also: How Often Should You Change Transmission Fluid?

Checking Transmission Fluid (Hot or Cold)

transmission fluid measure

Below are the 5 steps for checking your automatic transmission fluid when the engine is hot or cold.

1) Prepare the Vehicle

The first thing you need to do is find a flat and firm surface for your vehicle to park on. Set the parking brake and start the engine. Let it run for about 5 minutes so that it can warm up.

Some car manufacturers will recommend you turn the engine off before checking the transmission fluid, but most don’t recommend this.

2) Find the Dipstick

Open the hood in the front and find the transmission dipstick. The handle of the dipstick should have a red or orange ring on it.

In a front-wheel drive vehicle, the dipstick for the transmission usually sticks out from the transaxle. If you have a rear-wheel drive vehicle, check toward the back of the engine and you should find the dipstick.

3) Check the Fluid Level (When Engine Cold)

low transmission fluid symptoms

Pull out the dipstick once you’ve found it and the engine has warmed up. Wipe it clean with a rag and reinsert it all the way in. Now, pull out the dipstick again and observe the markings.

There are typically two marks spread out on the dipstick and are usually labeled “Cold” and “Hot”. Sometimes they may be labeled “Add” and “Full”.

Other times there may be no words. Dots, notches, or lines next to each label provide a fluid level range you want to be in. Since the engine is barely warm at this point, you want the level to be somewhere in the “Cold” or bottom range.

Related: 10 Symptoms of Low Transmission Fluid

4) Check the Fluid Level (When Engine Hot)

To get an accurate transmission fluid level reading when the engine is hot, you will need to check the level after normal driving (idling in the driveway is not enough). Usually, driving about 10 miles will do the trick (slightly less if on the highway; slightly more if in winter).

Once the engine is hot, repeat the same process as step 3 above. Be careful since the fluid and engine will be very hot so you can easily burn yourself. When you look at the measurement, you’ll want the level to in the “Hot” range.

5) Add Fluid if Necessary

adding transmission fluid

If the fluid level was below the “Cold” or minimum mark on the dipstick when the engine is cold, then you need to add more transmission fluid to the transmission.

If the fluid level was below the “Hot” or maximum mark on the dipstick when the engine is hot, then you need to add more transmission fluid to the transmission.

Make sure you choose the right transmission fluid, though, because not all fluids will be compatible with your vehicle’s transmission. The best way to figure out which fluid to use is to check your owner’s manual.

When you’re ready to add the fluid, put a funnel in the opening of the tube and slowly pour the fluid into the funnel. Add the fluid slowly and keep checking the fluid level until you get to the correct mark.


15 thoughts on “How to Check Transmission Fluid When Hot or Cold (5 Easy Steps)”

  1. I have a 2002 Buick LeSabre transmission oil recommends Havoline dextron 3 but I cannot find that brand I found Valvoline Dex 3 will that work okay

  2. 05’ Nissan Altima 2.5s has been parked for 3wks due to leaking rack and pinion and sever leak on both sides the whole front left-right axle the bottom of car is soaked wet thick sludge. I don’t think theres any transmission fluid in it is there a way to check fluid cold? Before starting car so not to burn tranny.

  3. Hey fluid in transmission is full when its cold but after driving when its hot it shows no fluid at all do I need to add fluid its a light pink color and car has 400,000 miles runs great 2000 Buick regal LS

    • The owner’s manual should outline a procedure for checking the transmission fluid. Many cars need you to check it in park and at idle after it’s reached operating temperature for a correct reading.

      If you can’t find it in the manual, try searching for “2000 Buick Regal LS check transmission fluid”.

  4. You talk about everything possible except if it is reading above the full level(high)mark. Give your knowledge on what could happen if it’s high mark .cold an hot?


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