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HOW TO: Transmission Fluid Level Check (the proper way)

7672 Views 11 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  Sienile
This info is specific to 41TE with ATF+4 fluid, but general guidelines apply to others as well.

FSM said:
The transmission sump has a fluid level indicator
(dipstick) to check oil similar to most automatic
transmissions. It is located on the left side of the
engine. Be sure to wipe all dirt from dipstick handle
before removing.

The torque converter fills in both the P Park and N
Neutral positions. Place the selector lever in P Park
to be sure that the fluid level check is accurate. The
engine should be running at idle speed for at
least one minute, with the vehicle on level
At normal operating temperature 82° C
(180° F), the fluid level is correct if it is in the HOT
region on the oil level indicator (Fig. 209). The fluid
level should be within the COLD region of the dip-
stick at 27° C (80° F) fluid temperature.
If you have access to the temp sensor data, with DRBIII or equivalent scan tool OR you can measure the fluid temperature, refer to the following chart for correct fluid level:
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That's great info Atoman, thanks.

The way I see it:
Cold: Vehicle is cold, start the engine, and run for a minute or two. Check the level using the cold range on the dipstick.

Hot: Drive the vehicle for 15 minutes, then check using the hot range on the dipstick. The Owner Manual says something like this as well. My sense is that many do not get their transmission fluid hot enough to take a proper "hot" reading, hence the over filling which is common. The transmission fluid warms up slower than the engine coolant by 5 to 10 minutes, in fact on a cold day, the engine coolant helps heat up the transmission fluid via the cooler in the radiator.

Engine cold, not running: The transmission fluid will be close to or at the notch in the dipstick. That makes for a quick check as to major loss of fluid. Keep in mind that the transmission holds a lot of fluid, a little under is better than a lot over.

The transmission dipstick has meaningful information on it:

How the transmission responds as the fluid warms up from a cold start. It does not shift normally until warmed up to 80F:
There is an "extreme cold" schedule when the oil temperature is below -16 degrees F that allows Park, Neutral, Reverse, 1st and 3rd gears only. If the oil temperature is between -12 degrees and 10 degrees F, it uses the "super cold" shift schedule that delays 2-3 and 3-4 upshifts, and provides an earlier 4-3 and 3-2 coastdown shifts. High speed 4-2, 3-2 and 2-1 kickdown shifts are prevented in this mode. When the ATF is between 10 and 36 degrees, the "cold" schedule takes over and the transmission shifts at higher throttle openings and high speed 4-2, 3-2 and 2-1 kickdown shifts are still prevented. Also, there is no torque converter clutch lockup in the cold, super cold or extreme cold ranges.
Once the ATF is above 40 degrees, the TCM goes to the "warm" schedule which allows normal upshifts, kickdowns and coastdowns, but still no torque converter lockup. When the ATF reaches 80 degrees, the TCM changes to the "hot/normal" mode and begins to engage the torque converter when vehicle speed is above about 22 mph.
A temperature gage for the transmission fluid would be neat. I believe I have seen aftermarket gages mentioned on here.
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One thing that makes it tricky is that since the tube is so curved, the dipstick can pick up fluid from the sides on the way down. This ends up looking like the fluid is at the proper level on one side of the dipstick, but not on the other, just 1/8 inch away, even after several wipes and re-insertions! It can cover 9/10 of the entire width, but have just enough dry on the edge of the dipstick to make you wonder if you're getting a true reading. Any experience with that?
Try checking when cold. If it is in the cold range then you are okay. See Post #2 above. Getting a consistent reading when hot takes some patience.
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