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Dirty Transmission Fluid, Do I Need To Repair?

Took my 60,000 mile 2009 toyota corolla for maintenance, they did a transmission fluid drain and refill with filter change and told me that the fluid was dirty with debris.

Haven’t noticed any strange sounds while driving and the car drives completely fine for now.

The guy said the debris is most likely clutch disk material and said he’d need to take the entire transmission out to replace the clutch disk. Estimated costs is $1600 just for labor without replacement costs. How serious is this issue and is this guy overcharging me?

Personally, I wouldn’t do any repair like this proactively. I would wait for some drivability issue to surface. What I would do is another fluid drain and refill in about 5-10k miles and check it again then. Depending on how quickly you accumulate miles on this car…


I really question a repair like this. I’d get a second opinion. This doesn’t pass the smell test.

First off I don’t know of any reputable transmission shop that’s going to open up a transmission just to replace the clutch disks. That doesn’t make sense. At $1600 in labor actually seems low for a tranny rebuild.

If there actually is a problem (which I seriously doubt), then I’d contact Toyota to see if they’d cover it. There’s no way you should be having any problems in this transmission this soon.

The reason for dropping the pan on the transmission to service it is to clean the acumulated debris from clutch wear. A black residue and metal scraps are normal. There are magnets in the pan to hold steel shredded from the clutches. I suggest you find another shop.


Agree! Years ago I had the transmission serviced by a local shop, and the tech carefully explained to me that “some debris in the pan” was normal, but eventually all that wear would mean a rebuild. That was at 125,000 miles and we were pulling a small camper at the time. The transmission outlived the car, which succumbed to rust.


+1 more. That is the reason for a drain and pan drop and filter change. I suspect the gentleman was Covering His Ars; if you have problems, he can say he told you so, but it’s doubtful you will. Just keep up with your recommended maintenance as you have been, check all your fluids on a regular basis, and keep motoring on.

One point to add to the good advice above: be sure the transmission fluid that was used is the exact fluid recommended by the carmaker.

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What kind of shop did you take it to? Dealer? Chain? Independent?

The Guinness Book of World Records can’t count the times a mechanic said something like that and was telling a tall tale. There is always 60,000 miles worth of debris. RV people get lied to all the time when they get their axle fluid changed the first time. This is ground transportation not spacecraft. Normal performance doesn’t require super maintenance or super-often maintenance.

I am impressed that a 2009 car has only 60K miles.

The mechanic is dishonest.

Don’t know if you have a standard or automatic, but I had a standard with 242,00 miles.

And had to do only minor transmission repair on a Mazda Protege. (Less than $300)

I would never go back to him and tell him so.

This guy might not be honest. At this low miles, and in the absence of any other problems coming from the trans? I’d dump this guy like a bad habit. ALL used transmission fluid is going to have dirt even if it only has a couple hundred miles on it. This dirt could be clutch material, wear from the gear teeth, a combination of lots of other things. So long as the vehicle hasn’t been in water or some such slightly dirty trans oil is completely normal and not necessarily indicative of any problems. Sounds to me like this guy is trying to sell you unnecessary repairs, he wouldn’t be the first. But thing is he could not be a thief he could just be full of wrong ideas and maybe he really does believe the trans is wearing out. I was in automotive for 30 years and the number of mechanics I met who were more or less skilled, but full of wrong information, never ceased to amaze me. So I’d take the high road and not condemn the guy for being full of it but I wouldn’t take my car there again either.

I’d just drive the car, check the trans fluid once a month, and forget about it. If he was right, the trans will conk out and then and only then you have to pay up. But I don’t think this is very likely, given the info you told us, if it still worries you there are companies that can take a sample of your trans fluid and do an analysis. They will read the PPM or percentage of contaminants and tell you if its excessive or not. Also the most important thing, make sure they used the right trans fluid and not just what they had in their flushing machine that day! I used to work in a shop that had one of these machines, refilling fluid once its in the reservoir is not easy and a lot of sloppy mechanics might not bother to use the right fluid (I saw that done too more then once). The dipstick or owners manual tells you which is correct and most of them do not interchange, so long as the fluid is “compatible” (according to the fluid maker) that’ll do. If they used the wrong fluid you will soon know it since your trans might start slamming into gear and slipping sometimes, if that happens have them drain it out and GIVE them a couple gallons of the proper fluid to use, ask them to use that only, (no reason they wouldn’t do it unless you didn’t give them enough fluid for the job i guess). But i change my fluid every 30,000 miles and have good luck with that in all the 10 cars i’ve owned so far.