I have read a lot about transmission fluids, what good ATF looks like, and when to change it. But, I still have trouble defining the deterioration level of transmission fluid I extracted from my 2008 Camry (See attached image). It looks quite muddy but it has no burnt smell. What you think, how deteriorated is this ATF? Should I have changed it before it started to look like this?

ATF transmission fluid

  • The color is dark, but it's not black or close to it. There don't seem to be any particulates in it so it doesn't look terrible. How many miles on this car? In your post, what does PFA stand for? What trim level is your Camry btw? CE, LE, or XLE? Is it the 4 cylinder or the V6?
    – cdunn
    Jan 6 '17 at 17:57
  • PFA for please find attachment. :) My Camry is XLE L4 2.4 and made 150000km. I bought it used, previous owner said he changed the fluid at 110000km.
    – stardust
    Jan 6 '17 at 18:55
  • Thing is, "change the fluid" can be through any one of a couple of methods. 1: Spill and fill. Just let the fluid drain from the drain plug and replace it once it stops. This only replaces something like 30% of the fluid. What's in your torque converter and other parts of the transmission won't be changed this way. 2: Forced fluid change. Best done by the dealer, this forces the fluids in the transmission out as the new fluid goes in. This changes nearly 100% of the fluid. If the previous owner did a spill and fill, then what you see makes perfect sense. Not so much for method #2.
    – cdunn
    Jan 6 '17 at 19:32
  • I am going drain all fluid, replace the filter and gasket and refill with original ATF WS. But I have read somewhere that, if it's too late (fluid and some parts are burned in AT) it's better not to change anymore. Because new fluid will clean all burned stuff and debris will kill the transmission. In this case it's better first replace all worn-out parts inside the transmission.
    – stardust
    Jan 6 '17 at 19:57

The colour is too dark, this fluid should be changed. As mentioned in the comments, automatic transmission fluid lives in 2 places: in the drain pan and in the torque converter.

Some cars have a drain plug for the fluid in the pan (that's as simple as a motor oil change), others don't and you need to remove the pan and change the gasket (that's a messy job).

To get to the fluid in the torque converter is more involved and usually can't be done at home. You don't need to go to the dealership, any mechanic shop can do this. Find one that you trust.

If the automatic transmission fluid was "dirty red," you could have just drained the fluid from the pan and replaced it. But this fluid is too dark, I would have the entire system drained (torque converter and pan) (it's simpler), or drain the pan and refill multiple times.

For this last option, you'll need lots of fluid and you'll need to drive the car a little bit between flushes to get the fluid to mix. Basically, this will dilute out the old fluid, you'll probably need 10 to 12 flushes to get the ATF to "look like new." The amount of ATF needed for this will cost the same if not more than getting a shop to flush the entire system (1st option).

  • Should I have changed the fluid before it become that much dark? I mean, am I late? I just want to note for the next time.
    – stardust
    Jan 7 '17 at 16:24
  • 1
    You should have changed it sooner than this, yes, but if the transmission still shifts smoothly, you probably didn't hurt it. If you don't have a drain plug and need to remove the entire pan, make sure you clean the magnets good.
    – tlhIngan
    Jan 7 '17 at 19:00

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