Do I need transmission fluid or a new manual transmission?

For the past month or so, my '99 Outback has been making what I can only describe as a rattly noise when it is in gear. The noise is loudest when the car is cold or has been sitting for a while. It stops when I take it out of gear or engage the clutch but it doesn’t seem to make a difference what gear I have it in. I haven’t noticed any difference in the way that the car drives, just the noise. I first noticed it after having my master cylinder replaced.

I was thinking that I would check my transmission fluid level but my Haynes manual is mute on how to do that. Is that something that I can do myself and/or does that sound like it could be a fluid problem or is my transmission biting the dust?

I’d suspect a rattly exhaust shield before a dying transmission. Your transmission has two drain plugs in it, one high (for filling) and one low (for draining). You know the transmission is full when fluid overflows from the fill hole. I think your car also has a dipstick tucked toward the rear of the engine on the passenger side. It is short and deep in the engine compartment so it’s kind of hard to find.

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It might be the throwout bearing, if that’s bad you would need to remove the transmission to replace it, and I would replace the clutch at the same time.

Is this the same dipstick as the one for the transaxle? My manual has a picture that shows the location of that dipstick but I wasn’t sure if it was the same thing. Is the exhaust shield a DIY thing or should I suck it up and take it into a mechanic? I have replaced a few things on my car (brakes, caliper, actuator for the door locks) but I have never delved into anything really complicated. At least the exhaust shield sounds cheaper that a transmission, right?

Thank you so much for your help! I have been driving myself crazy over this.

I just had the clutch replaced last November. On the plus side, I think that it is still under warranty. Any other diagnostics that you could recommend to see if that is the problem? I feel like mechanics see dollar signs when I come into their shops so I like to have as much info as possible before I take it in.

Oh, but wait, is that something that they automatically would have replaced when they did the clutch?