Transmission Flush vs. Transmission Change (2024)

Like a turtle and a tortoise or a malted and a milkshake, a transmission flush and a fluid exchange are similar but different. Let’s look at these two services, how they help keep your car running smooth, and how much you can expect to pay for each.

TRANSMISSION FLUSH VS. EXCHANGE: AT A GLANCE

Transmission Flush Transmission Fluid Exchange
Requires a professional-grade flush machine to flush away the ATF (automatic transmission fluid)Uses natural gravitational forces to drain the ATF
Completely removes all the ATF from the transmissionDrains ATF from the pan
Flushes away grime and contaminants from the torque converter and cooler linesDoes not remove contaminants
Runs a special solution through the cooler lines until completely clean, and refills the system with new ATFOnly drains 20% to 40% of the total ATF volume
A trained professional should perform this serviceDrivers may choose to handle this themselves
Transmission flush cost: Typically, $125 to $250Transmission fluid change cost: Typically, between $80 and $250; the cost varies depending on where the service is performed, what fluid is used, and other factors

WHY ARE TRANSMISSION FLUSH SERVICES NECESSARY?

ATF lubricates, cools, and cleans the internal transmission parts. As it ages, ATF becomes thin and dirty, losing its ability to remove heat from inside the transmission. If the fluid isn’t changed, high operating temperatures and contaminants will accelerate transmission wear. Periodically changing ATF will help extend transmission life and may help maintain your vehicle’s warranty.

There are many different types and grades of ATF. One that is often recommended — especially for older cars — is synthetic. Full synthetic transmission fluid is more expensive, but it also lasts longer, lubricates better, and is more effective in combatting heat and friction. However, full synthetic may degrade certain transmission components. So, make sure the right type of transmission fluid is used after your flush or fluid exchange. Consult your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation. If you can’t find your manual, or if more than one ATF is recommended, ask a trained Jiffy Lube® technician for assistance. Jiffy Lube locations use quality Pennzoil® products (where available) that meet or exceed OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) specifications.


That’s the overview. Now let’s take a deeper dive.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING A TRANSMISSION FLUID FLUSH SERVICE?

First, a test drive is performed. This helps the technician recognize and diagnose any problems that should be addressed during servicing. Then the transmission is inspected for any external signs of problems or leaks.

Cooler flush method: The lines between the transmission and the cooler will be disconnected and attached to the flush machine. This allows the ATF to be transferred to and from the flush machine. The transfer process uses the pressure produced by the transmission pump to circulate the ATF. This way, no damage is done to the internal parts of the system.

The ATF circulates just as it would under normal operating conditions. The only difference is that the incoming ATF is clean, and the outgoing, used ATF is stored for recycling.

While popular, there are downsides to this method:

  • Due to the way the ATF cycles through the unit, some of it will may land into the pan without going to the cooler.
  • The old ATF is not completely replaced. Instead, it is continuously diluted with the new ATF.

Pump inlet flush method: The system is completely flushed, with ATF transferred through the transmission into a drainage pain. When the system is cleared, new ATF is supplied.

More complete than the cooler flush method, this method has drawbacks, too:

  • Requires the removal and replacement of the pan and filter
  • A few extra quarts of ATF are needed
  • Takes longer to complete

Therefore, the pump inlet flush method can be more expensive.

Drivers can expect to pay $125 to $250 for a transmission fluid flush service. This is approximately twice as much as a transmission fluid change. This is due in large part to the additional fluid required. A flush will take 12 to 22 quarts, while a fluid change requires 5 to 7 quarts.

7 FACTORS THAT CAN AFFECT TRANSMISSION FLUSH COST

  1. The year, make, and model of your car and transmission. An ATF flush will cost more in a high-end car
  2. Your location. Labor costs can be more expensive in urban areas.
  3. The type of service center. Are you bringing your car to an independent repair facility, a dealership, or an automotive maintenance provider, like Jiffy Lube? With more than 2,000 locations, there’s sure to be a Jiffy Lube® near you.
  4. Method of flushing. Pump inlet method can cost a little more than the cooler flush.
  5. Type of ATF used. Synthetic is more expensive.
  6. Amount of fluid required. Remember, all the fluid is replaced in a transmission fluid flush.
  7. Additional services. Filter replacement and pan removal are often included. While they add to the cost, they’re recommended because they can help extend the life of your transmission.


A CLOSER LOOK AT THE TRANSMISSION FLUID EXCHANGE

While the flush removes and replaces the ATF in the pan, torque converter, and cooler lines, the fluid exchange drains the fluid from the pan. Here’s how it’s typically done:

  • First, the car is test driven. This will warm the ATF to normal operating temperature. Then, using a lift, the vehicle is raised to provide access to the transmission pan.
  • To drain the ATF, either the entire transmission pan, or just the drain plug can be removed. Removing the pan is recommended, because it enables a careful check for problems like sludge and debris, as well as a thorough cleaning. The filter and gasket should be replaced before the transmission pan/drain plug is re-attached.
  • Now the transmission will be refilled with new ATF. Be sure that the right amount and type of fluid is used. If you aren’t sure which ATF is recommended for your car, check your owner’s manual, or ask a trained Jiffy Lube technician.
  • This new fluid will be added to the used ATF (approximately 5 to 8 quarts) that’s still inside the torque converter. The old fluid will mix with the new when the engine is started.

It’s important that the car be driven after the transmission fluid exchange. The test drive helps ensure:

  • The transmission is shifting properly
  • There are no ATF leaks
  • The dashboard warning indicators lights are extinguished

If during the test drive, the transmission is grinding or making other noises, there may be problems that require further attention.

MANY DRIVERS CHOOSE TO PERFORM A TRANSMISSION FLUSH THEMSELVES

Since the transmission fluid exchange is straightforward on most cars, many drivers find DIY (Do It Yourself) is a good way to save money.
Before you decide to DIY, keep in mind that you must have the right tools for the job, and that a transmission fluid exchange can be a messy procedure!

  • Since most automatic transmissions do not have drain plugs, you’ll have to remove some of the pan bolts while the ATF is still inside
  • A large catch pan is needed for the old fluid to drain into
  • A bag of clay cat litter can be used to soak up any spilled ATF

If this sounds too complicated or time-consuming, don’t worry. Jiffy Lube has your back. Just bring your car in and let the trained technicians take it from there.

4 FACTORS THAT CAN AFFECT TRANSMISSION FLUID CHANGE COST

Typically, this procedure costs between $80 and $250. Why such a wide range? It depends on your answers to these questions:

  1. Who will perform the service? Is this a do-it-yourself job? Or are you bringing your car to an independent shop, a dealership, or a quick lube location, like Jiffy Lube®? If a professional does it, you will incur labor costs.
  2. What’s the make and model of your car? Many modern cars require a specific type of ATF, and that can be expensive.
  3. How much ATF will be used to fill the transmission?
  4. Are you replacing the filter and pan gasket at the same time?

HOW OFTEN SHOULD TRANSMISSION FLUSHES BE PERFORMED?

Refer to your vehicle owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s specification for your vehicle. If you can’t locate your owner’s manual, or if you have questions about these services, feel free to reach out to a Jiffy Lube technician.

Transmission Flush vs. Transmission Change (2024)
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