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Lexus ES350 Transmission Fluid: change it or not at 120K?

edited September 2011 in Repair and Maintenance
My Lexus ES 350 has about 120000 miles on it. I took it in to a private mechanic to get the 120K service. He gave a quote and then recommended that I have him change/flush the transmission fluid. I thought the tranny was sealed. He said that it is "sealed" and the fluid is "lifetime" but lifetime to him means 100K. I called Toyota (no Lexus dealer near by) and they said you have to pull the tranny to change the fluid and it's just not necessary. My mechanic says it IS necessary and he does NOT have to pull the transmission to change the fluid.
So what's the story?


  • I am not at all sure about what you were told by Toyota. Far too many people ignore changing/flushing the transmission fluid. The same is true for most if not all other makes as well.

    What I don't know is this stuff about the difficulty and the requirement to pull the transmission to do the work. I am sure someone will be here soon to let you know.

    BTW don't believe the story about how changing the fluid will cause the transmission to fail. That story is common because the transmission does often fail shortly after having the fluid changed. However the reason for the failure is the fact that the fluid had not been changed as soon as it should have been (something like 40 - 50,000 miles). When the transmission starts to feel wrong or show signs of a problem, then they have it changed. When that happens people like to blame the car or transmission rather than themselves for failing to change it. I really feel sorry for the poor guy who has done everything he knew should be done, but no one told him to change it or someone told him that changing it would cause the problem.
  • You don't have to pull the transmisson out. Maybe the transmission pan, but not the entire transmission. Worth doing if you are planning on keeping the car for a while.
  • They're both wrong. The fluid should be changed at 30k mile intervals and you do not have to pull the transmission to change the fluid.

    The "lifetime" word that is applied to many automotive fluids and services leaves many people facing major financial headaches later.
    That word is courtesy of the marketing department.
  • I'll add a little to what ok4450 stated. The "marketing" department has one main job and that is to sell vehicles. They don't always tell the truth when doing their job. "Lifetime" in this case is not an accurate term by any means.

  • I'm thinking that "lifetime" makes perfect sense - since for many people the end of the transmission's life makes the end of the life of the vehicle.

    So you apply the same logic to oil, your oil is also "lifetime" fluid. You never have to change it because this will kill the engine and then the oil will have lasted the lifetime of the car.

    Or, in other words, the entire "lifetime" fluid thing is ridiculous and does work very well for sales & marketing but is terrible for car owners.
  • Depending on the car, there is either a drain plug in the transmission pan, or the pan can be dropped (add the cost of a new pan gasket to the procedure), or the mechanic can hook a flushing machine to the transmission cooler lines. I think 30,000 miles is a pretty short interval to change the transmission fluid, although many here swear by it. But at 120K it is definitely time to do it, if you plan on keeping the car.

  • According to Toyota the tranny fluid IS a lifetime fluid. It uses the new WS (World Standard fluid).

    With that said do NOT leave it in there for the life of the vehicle. Wife has 80k on her 07 ES-350 and we've already changed it twice.

    The tranny does NOT have to be pulled..Just drop the pan and change the filter...Then refill.
  • For a sedan that is not abused and does not pull a trailer, 30k miles is perhaps a bit conservative. On my older cars with conventional ATF, I went 50k miles and never had any transmission problems. On my wife's '04 that uses synthetic ATF ($$$$) I plan on changing it every 100k miles.
  • Change it now, and change it every 25-30k miles regardless of what any owners manual says. Use ONLY Toyota fluid in it.

  • Thanks everybody! Great comment's and great suggestions. I was totally in the dark about this..... now it all makes sense!
    -- Charlie
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