How Do I Know Which Transmission Fluid is Right for My Automatic Gearbox?
If you were to ask your neighbours or friends about the type of transmission fluid their car uses, what do you think they would say? What would you say if you were asked the same question? If your answer is something like “the standard one” or “the same one everyone uses,” then you might be quite close to the right answer, but still probably further away than you think.
Just as there are different engine oils for your car’s engine, there are different transmission fluids that people use depending on their car’s make and model, year of production, and so on. It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all system. That being the case, how does one really know which type of transmission fluid is the right kind for them? In today’s blog, we’re going to try and find out.
What Are The Main Types of Automatic Transmission Fluid
Broadly speaking, there are two main types of transmission fluid for automatic cars, namely ATF and CVT fluid. We’ll explain each of these below:
ATF – Automatic Transmission Fluid
Interestingly enough, ATF can be used both in automatic and manual cars, but once again it’s not a question of one formula suiting all brands of car. ATF is the common name for the fluid, but it comes in many different sorts, such as Mercon V, Mercon LV, Dexron VI, Matic S, Matic D, Matic K…among many others.
Volkswagen-brand cars, for instance, tend to work with Pentosin ARF-1, Mercon V, or Volkswagen G fluids, but it does depend on the specific model and the year in which it was manufactured. However, if your car is an automatic with a torque converter, or something more advanced like VW’s direct shift gearbox (DSG) dual-clutch system, then you’ll be using one form or another of ATF.
CVT Fluid – Continuously Variable Transmission Fluid
CVT gearboxes are common in entry-level vehicles, hybrid cars, and simple sedans and hatchbacks designed to be used for simple daily driving. They don’t offer strong performance credentials like a dual-clutch system would do, but they do offer smooth, steady gear shifts, and have some benefits when taking a car uphill, which obviously has benefits for family cars loaded up with kids, school bags, sports gear and whatnot.
CVT fluid is strictly for cars with a CVT unit installed, however. There can be no crossover. Regular ATF will do damage to a CVT vehicle, and vice versa. Even worse, getting it wrong won’t create an immediate problem, so it’ll seem to work at first but shortly after develop problems, possibly when you’re on the road somewhere. Therefore, it’s critically important to know whether you need ATF or CVT transmission fluid.
How do you know which fluid you need? We’ll cover that in more detail in the next section.
How to Know Which Transmission Fluid You Need
Below we’ve covered some of the best ways to ensure you always get the right transmission fluid into your car.
Ask Your Mechanic
The best policy is always to have your automatic gearbox regularly serviced by a professional and experienced mechanic, who will know for sure which transmission fluid is right for you. If you’re thinking about doing a DIY transmission flush and you’re quite set on it, at the very least you should ask your regular or dealership mechanic what kind of fluid it is you need.
Even if you’re fairly certain, however, it’s still best to leave it to the professionals. Remember that just like putting petrol into a diesel car, and vice versa, putting the wrong type of fluid in will only cause you more problems later, and the small amount of money you think you saved changing the fluid yourself actually just turns into bigger repair bills shortly down the road.
Check the Owner’s Manual
Another good place to look is your owner’s manual, which should state without ambiguity which type of transmission fluid belongs in your car. Contrary to popular belief, OEMs like Volkswagen, for example, do not arbitrarily recommend their own ATF products because they’re trying to lock you into some kind of product monopoly system. These transmission fluids are engineered and formulated to work optimally with certain vehicles.
Therefore, don’t believe that switching to a cheaper off-brand ATF will do you any favours in the longer run. It might work alright at first, but the likelihood of problems is increased because these cheaper generic fluids are not engineered to any particular car, and therefore they don’t offer optimal performance in every car.
Clarify Before You Buy
If you’re buying a second-hand car from a mixed car dealership or from a private seller, clarifying the type of transmission fluid required should be among your standard questions. In fact, if you have a private seller who claims that they just put any old kind of cheap or generic transmission fluid in there over the years they’ve owned it, you might even want to consider getting the transmission inspected before you go ahead and buy it.
When buying from a used car dealership, they should be clearer on the technical aspects of the car, and the in-house mechanic (assuming they have one) should be able to confirm it. If you’re buying from an OEM dealership (see more below), you have less to fear and they’ll certainly know, but it’s most important to qualify at mixed-brand or independent dealerships where there’s reason to suppose they’re not sure.
Inquire at a Dealership
If none of the above have satisfied you, then one more step to take could be to call up your nearest OEM dealership that carries the brand of car you own or are planning to buy and ask them. The OEM will use the exact same recommendation as appears in the owner’s manual as their minimum standard. The only other possibility is that they offer you a more premium version of that same product, perhaps developed in the years since your car was released.
In the end, the individual with the most authority on this subject is either a dealership mechanic or another mechanic who specialises in your particular car brand.