Transmission Fluid Colors & What They Mean

The color of transmission fluid appears to change with different intervals of time. Why does that happen? How Can you tell if the transmission fluid is clean? Is there any way to check if it is in good condition and what you should do if it is not?

If you have any of these questions, Well, you don’t need to be troubled. We have covered everything you need to know and the answers to all of your questions in this article. 

Clean transmission fluid color is normally a dark red or red translucent color. Transmission fluids are dyed to help in easy identification. The transmission fluid color will help you tell when the fluid is aging and needs replacement.

This article will give you insights into the different transmission fluid colors, their meanings, and the course of action to take when you notice a different transmission fluid color.

Let’s begin!

What Is Transmission Fluid Color?

Clean transmission fluid should have a dark red or red translucent color. Transmission fluids are dyed to help in easy identification. With the aid of a transmission fluid color, you can easily tell when it is overused and requires a replacement. 

Accumulation of dirt and other particles in the transmission fluid reduces its effect, thereby changing the transmission fluid color. 

This transmission fluid color chart will help you determine what type of color your fluid is and what action to take.

transmission fluid color

Contaminations and causes of contaminations, including leaks, overheating, and others, determine the transmission fluid color, and it must be replaced for the transmission to function properly.

To check the transmission fluid color, first, take a look for the transmission dipstick, take it off, and wipe off the contents on it with a cloth or material. Whatever color seen on the cloth shows the condition of the fluid. After Finding out the transmission fluid color, knowing what action to take afterward becomes easy. 

Below is a guide to help you learn about the different transmission fluid colors and what each one implies.

Also Read: What is a Serpentine Belt & When Should You Replace It

Transmission Fluid Colors and Their Meaning

Here is a list of the different transmission fluid colors and what they mean:

Red Transparent Fluid

A new, clean transmission fluid that is free from contaminants and dirt has a dark red color. If the transmission fluid retains this color in the right amount, it is still in proper condition, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be inspected properly.

Light Brown Semi-Transparent Fluid

The transmission fluid color changes from the normal red to a light brown color in time. If this happens and the transmission fluid is still in proper condition, there is no need to change transmission fluid.

A transmission system with the correct fluid color and the amount is considered safe. However, if either of those conditions changes, there should be a concern. 

Dark Brown Opaque Fluid

Old, contaminated Transmission fluid color is dark brown. Basically, in this case, the transmission fluid is aging, no longer effective and incapable of supplying lubrication for smooth transmission operation. In addition, it can lead to overheating in the system, leading to a breakdown of the vehicle. 

Do not hesitate to do something if the fluid turns into this color. Endeavor to flush out the fluid and replace the fluid filter with a new filter. 

Very Dark Brown or Black Fluid

When a transmission fluid color turns to dark brown or black color, the fluid is completely aged. It has accumulated so much dirt and has become contaminated. This type is accompanied by a particular smell indicating oxidation

Immediate action is called for when this happens to avoid a total breakdown of your transmission system as a result of the fluid. Flush out the fluid and replace the filter if your transmission is still in good shape. Any damage noticed should be taken care of before replacement.

Light Pink Fluid

Light pink transmission fluid color indicates a larger problem. It implies that the transmission system has water in it, and the leakage can make the transmission prone to friction. 

Leakage in transmission fluid cooler line permits passage of water into the transmission fluid, making it less effective and out of use. This causes the breakdown of the transmission. 

Burnt Transmission Fluid

If you notice a black transmission fluid color or an irritating smell from the transmission, there is no heat removal, and the internal parts are not lubricated. This shows transmission failure. 

Check for metal shavings in your transmission by removing your transmission pan. When you see metallic particles, it’s a good idea to call a transmission repair technician since large particles can cause transmission failure.

Burnt transmission fluid indicates that your transmission is in a crucial condition, and the fluid would not function even when replaced. It causes hard shifts when gears are changed. If special attention is not taken, the transmission could break down totally. Ensure the transmission fluid is immediately replaced if you don’t wish to buy a new vehicle. 

Faulty torque converter, loose solenoids, and slipping clutches also lead to burnt transmission fluid. 

Water Or Coolant In The Fluid

If your transmission fluid has lots of air bubbles in the form of a foam, it means there is water or coolant in the fluid gotten from floods or leaks. If this happens, it could result in transmission failure. 

 When there is an anti-freeze in the transmission fluid, damages can occur from leakage in the cooling line, and there will be little supply of lubricants to moving parts.

Endeavor to flush out the fluid and replace the transmission fluid filter. You can get a new transmission if there are many contaminants in it.

When Should You Change The Transmission Fluid?

To learn when to change your transmission fluid, you can consult your manual or schedule an appointment with a technician. Transmission fluid should be changed every two years or between 30,000 to 50,000 miles. But this is not the case for heavy-duty vehicles. Heavy-duty vehicles require frequent servicing because they generate a lot of heat.

Inspect your transmission fluid regularly, flush the fluid, and replace filters when the transmission fluid color is dark brown.

Car Leaking Red Fluid?

It’s time for a service appointment if you notice red fluid leaking from your car parts onto your driveway. The most common reason your vehicle has a transmission fluid leak is that the seal or gasket has failed. This must be repaired immediately to get your vehicle running again safely and optimally.

Other Ways To Check Transmission Fluid Condition

Check-Transmission-Fluid
Credits: C7 / Shutterstock

1. Fluid Smell

If you smell an irritating smell, you have fluid that isn’t in the right condition. Overheating causes a burnt smell of the transmission fluid. As a result, internal parts are damaged by friction and insufficient lubrication.

2. Blotter Test

On a piece of towel or cloth, place a few drops of your transmission fluid and wait for a few seconds. At this point, a reddish-brown or light brown color will be evenly distributed on the cloth. 

If you notice a dark color and there is no spread, the fluid may have oxidized. Replace the filter and flush the system. 

Also Read: Car Shakes When Braking 

Frequently Asked Questions About Transmission Fluid Color

What Color Is Transmission Fluid When It’s Bad?

Transmission fluid can change from bright red to dark brown to black over time due to oxidizing. Transmission fluid is prone to oxidation. Transmission fluid that is black or dark brown in color is not able to lubricate the many transmission parts. If it isn’t changed, it can cause serious damage.

Is Transmission Fluid Blue?

Transmission fluid can be any color, but yellow and blue are not common. Note: Some windshield wipers and anti-freeze fluids may be red. Always read the label!

What Color Is Manual Transmission Oil?

Like engine oil, manual transmission fluid is usually brown-colored to amber. The most common manual transmission fluid formulations are SAE 80W and 75W-90, SAE 80W-90, SAE 90, and SAE 85W. Sometimes, automatic transmission fluid or engine oil multi-grade may be recommended.

Conclusion

The color of the transmission fluid is one indicator of your vehicle’s health. You should also consider its consistency and scent. Transmission oils tend to be red, but you can also find some in blue and yellow. To distinguish them from other fluids, manufacturers dye them red.

The transmission fluid color changes as it ages from light brown to dark brown to black. If your transmission oil turns a dark brown, you should change it. Maintaining your transmission will not only prolong its life but also save you money on costly replacements or rebuilds. For top-notch performance, make sure you use the right transmission fluid.

Scott Greene is a seasoned automotive technician for over 5 years and has been deep into advanced automotive diagnostics for a couple of years. He Loves writing about Automotive Diagnostics and Repair, Trouble codes, Buyer guides for various car parts and accessories, and lots more. 

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