ATF: Is it time?

Hey guys,

My transaxle fluid was changed back in 2005 @ 141,000 miles; about 44,000 miles ago.

I just checked it (warm) and the level was just about exactly where it should be and the color was light red to pinkish with no burnt smell. Now I know it’s been awhile since the last change but it doesn’t seem to need one. Should I hold off until it starts to get dark red to brown or should I just go ahead & change it?

If yes:

  1. Is it okay to wash and reuse the old filter? If this is okay, what type of solvent should I use?

  2. My manual says to wash the pan and remove metal filings from the magnets. What type of solvent is best for this?

  3. And I assume I’ll need a new gasket but if the old one is still in good shape can I just go ahead and reuse it?

  4. My manual also says to install a new drain plug washer. (This sounds ridiculous to me but I’ve never done an ATF change before.)
    Can anyone explain why I would need a new washer? Is this standard procedure?


I would not wait for darkened fluid, that is too late. 41K seems about right for some and a bit early for others. It can’t hurt to change early on a 141K vehicle.

  1. I would not re-use the filter unless it is very, very easy to clean with no risk of leaving crud in the corners.
  2. Mineral spirits, brake cleaner, or a good soak and scrub in hot water with dish soap and a scrub brush. Dry quickly so it doesn’t rust. The metal fuzz you’ll have to clean off with your fingers and a rag. No solvent will break the magnetic bond.
  3. No, never re-use. The risk of leaks is large.
  4. Usually that is not a problem BUT if it leaks, you’ll have to drain it all back out to replace the leaky washer. That seems to be a bigger pain than the $1 the washer costs.


What kind of vehicle?

Yes, replace the drain plug washer. Those copper/aluminum washers “take a set” when they’re compressed, and many not seal as well a second time. Why are you questioning the manual?

Since I don’t know what kind of driving you do, and what vehicle you have, I’ll say you need to service the fluid and filter every 30K. That means you’re overdue. Platy it safe it and get it done

Some gaskets are reusable. These tend to have a metal core, with a rubber lining. Plain rubber or cork is definitely not to be reused. Some pans also have a message stamped in, that the gasket may be reusable. Be cautious, though. Sometimes guys will throw out the reusable original gasket and replace it with the cheap replacement gasket, because they don’t know better.

Definitely replace the filter. Some manufacturers incorrectly/optimistically call it a screen. But any mechanic worth his salt will tell you that it’s a filter, which must replaced. Think about it . . . would you go to all the trouble of draining the fluid, make a mess, clean, the pan, only to wash out and reinstall the same old filter?

As for the pan, wipe it out with a brand new shop rag, then spray any remaining crud out with brake cleaner. Use a scraper or brass brush, as needed, to remove any old gasket material. Gasket remover works great to loosen the stuff.


It’s a 1998 Mazda Protégé 1.5 litre.

It’s driven almost 100% ‘‘city’’ and very gently. I’m guessing this is why the fluid is in such good condition after all this time/miles.

I’ll go ahead and change it anyways though just to be on the safe side.

Thanks for the info guys.


I’ll go a little off topic

How do you like that car?

I had a 1997 Protege LX 1.5 automatic for several years, then my brother had it for several more years. It was reliable enough, but it was a horrendously cheap car with lousy pickup and not even great fuel economy.

Sadly, its basic ruggedness was its only saving grace

I would either replace a transmission filter or leave it alone but never clean it. If particles get dislodged on the “output” side of the filter and end up in the valve body they could raise all kinds of havoc.


I like the car a lot. Been driving it for about 11 years and it only ‘‘died’’ on me once. It was a very easy fix though; all it needed was a new ignition rotor that I was able to diagnose and install myself. 11 bucks total and about an hour and a half to walk home, get my spark tester & a spare distributor cap, (I now keep a spare cap and rotor in the car at all times) borrow a car and go to the auto parts store. I was so relieved. Wasn’t surprised it died though…

Because before this car I had a 1988 Mazda 323… very similar car that would do about the same thing; distributor caps would just quit working after about 20k - 25k and the car would just quit. 100% to nothing in less than a second. No misfiring or sputtering or any warning whatsoever.

It still boggles me to this day how these components just stop working. It’s as if they’re conducting one minute and then their ability to conduct just goes right out the window. lol

I’m surprised you say yours had lousy pickup and poor gas mileage. Mine seems to have plenty of power (but that might be partly due to the engine compression rising with age) and the gas mileage is good. Especially on the highway if I don’t go above 60 mph. And mine doesn’t seem cheaply made either but I’m unspoiled when it comes to cars so I bet If I drove something like a 2005 Honda Accord for a month and then went back to the Protégé it would feel like a sh*t box. :slight_smile:

Really the best car I’ve ever owned - and I’ve had quite a few.


Perhaps you and I simply see things differently. Or maybe your car was built on a Wednesday, whereas mine was built on a hangover monday or a can’t wait for the weekend friday.

As for the compression rising, mine had a different fate. My compression actually sunk, due to tight valves. Once I corrected that, the compression was acceptable again

It always had lousy pickup, even when it had very low miles

As for quality, in later years, the seat frame was actually sagging, and damaged. I need to lose some weight, but I’m not obese. So I attribute the seat to poor quality

But like I said, the car was pretty reliable. It always started, and always got me where I needed to go. Almost all of the repairs were wear and tear items. I never even had to replace the starter or alternator, for example.

Yup, same here. 185k and I’m still on the original starter, fuel pump and alternator - just to name a few.

And now that you’ve mentioned it, my compression did go down on one cylinder but after adjusting the valve clearance it was right up there with the other three and has been fine ever since.

I think I’ll just keep driving it to see how many miles it’ll go before it kicks the bucket. Partly out of curiosity and partly out of attachment.

These Japanese models definitely seem to outlast a lot of the others out there. At least that’s the way it seems.