Your car’s transmission is what allows your wheels to turn and your vehicle to move, and transmission fluid is crucial for keeping it working properly. But have you ever wondered what would happen if your vehicle had low transmission fluid?
It’s generally not recommended to drive on low transmission fluid, but you may be able to drive a short distance, up to 15 miles, without causing significant damage to your transmission. However, it’s important to add more fluid as soon as possible and avoid heavy acceleration or high speeds.
In this guide, we’ll explain what transmission fluid is, why it’s important, and what you should do if you have low transmission fluid in your vehicle.
Signs of Low Transmission Fluid
If you’re experiencing issues with your car’s transmission, it may be due to low transmission fluid. Here are some signs to look out for:
- Dashboard warning lights—If you see a “check engine” or “transmission” warning light on your dashboard, it may be a sign that your transmission fluid level is low.
- Strange noises—Whining, grinding, or clunking noises can indicate a problem with your transmission, including low fluid levels.
- Slipping gears—If your car is slipping out of gear or not shifting smoothly, it may be due to low transmission fluid.
- Delayed shifting—If you notice a delay between when you shift gears and when your car responds, it could be a sign of low transmission fluid.
- Burning smell—If you smell a burning odor coming from your car, it could be a sign that your transmission fluid is overheating due to low levels.
Estimates on How Far You Can Drive on Low Transmission Fluid (and the Risks of Doing So)
In this section, we’ll explore how far you might be able to drive when your vehicle has low transmission fluid, which, again, is not something anyone should recommend doing.
In the best-case scenario, a car with low transmission fluid might still drive for up to 15 miles before experiencing significant issues. This could happen if the fluid isn’t critically low, the vehicle is newer, and you’re driving in mild conditions.
Remember that even in the best-case scenario, driving with low transmission fluid can damage your car, and it’s best to address the problem as soon as possible.
On the other hand, the worst-case scenario could mean your car won’t be able to travel far at all—maybe just a few miles or less. This can happen when the fluid is extremely low, your vehicle is older, or you’re driving in harsh conditions that put extra strain on the transmission. In such situations, you risk severe damage to your vehicle, including total transmission failure.
Risks of Driving with Low Transmission Fluid
Let’s take a look at what sort of things can happen—short and long term—to your car if you go against all the advice.
When you drive with low transmission fluid, your car might not perform well. You could experience issues like delayed gear shifting, strange noises, and overheating. These problems can make driving difficult and even dangerous. Ignoring these signs and continuing to drive with low fluid can lead to more severe consequences down the line.
Over time, driving with low transmission fluid can cause significant damage to your vehicle. One of the most severe problems is transmission damage, which can lead to total transmission failure.
Factors Influencing How Far You Can Drive on Low Transmission Fluid
Here, we’ll discuss the type of transmission, vehicle age and condition, and driving conditions that may influence the distance.
Type of transmission
Different types of transmissions can impact how far your car can drive on low fluid. Cars with manual transmissions might be able to drive a bit farther because the driver can control gear shifting.
On the other hand, automatic transmissions and continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) rely more on the fluid to work correctly, so low levels can cause more significant problems sooner.
Vehicle age and condition
The age and condition of your vehicle can also affect how far you can drive with low transmission fluid. Newer vehicles tend to be more resilient, while older vehicles might have more issues when fluid levels are low. If your car has been well-maintained with regular checkups and fluid changes, it might handle low fluid levels better than a car that hasn’t been taken care of.
How far you can drive with low transmission fluid also depends on the driving conditions. If you’re driving on a smooth highway at a constant speed, you might be able to go farther than if you’re in stop-and-go city traffic.
Extreme temperatures, like very hot or cold weather, can make the problem worse, as they can cause the transmission fluid to break down faster.
Driving on rough terrain or steep hills can also put more strain on your transmission, which can shorten the distance you can drive with low fluid.
How to Check Transmission Fluid Levels
Knowing how to check your transmission fluid levels can help you avoid driving with low fluid. Here’s how you do it.
1. Dipstick method
Many cars have a transmission fluid dipstick, which is a long, thin piece of metal with marks to show the correct fluid level. To check your fluid level, park your car on a level surface, and turn off the engine.
Locate the dipstick (refer to your owner’s manual if needed), pull it out, and wipe it clean with a cloth. Then, reinsert the dipstick, pull it out again, and check where the fluid reaches on the marks. If the level is too low, you’ll need to add more fluid.
2. Transmission fluid color and smell
Another way to check your transmission fluid is by examining its color and smell. Good fluid is usually a bright red color and has a slightly sweet smell. If the fluid is dark, brownish, or smells burnt, it might be time for a fluid change.
This method isn’t as precise as using a dipstick, but it can give you an idea of whether your fluid is in good condition or needs attention.
1. What are the risks of driving on low transmission fluid?
Driving with low transmission fluid can cause several issues for your vehicle. In the short term, it can lead to poor performance, strange noises, delayed gear shifting, and overheating. Over time, these problems can get worse and result in severe damage to the transmission, which can be expensive to repair.
To avoid these risks, you will need to maintain proper transmission fluid levels.
2. What type of transmission fluid should you use in your vehicle?
The type of transmission fluid you should use depends on your vehicle’s make and model. Different vehicles require specific types of fluid to work correctly. To find the right fluid for your car, check your owner’s manual or consult with a trusted mechanic. Using the wrong fluid can cause damage to your transmission, so it’s make sure to choose the correct one.
3. How often should you check your transmission fluid level?
Ideally, you would check your transmission fluid level about once a month. This helps you catch any potential problems early on and maintain the proper fluid level.
If you notice any issues, like a fluid leak or low fluid levels, you should address them immediately to avoid damage to your vehicle. Regularly checking your transmission fluid is an essential part of keeping your car running smoothly.