Transmission fluid insight please

I own a 2011 toyota scion tc. It’s on about 65k miles and I’ve had it for about 4 years. I am pretty good with the service maintenance, and lately I 've come across something I’ve never checked: transmission fluid. Ever since I saw that this is supposed to also get checked/changed, I’ve been paranoid about my car just blowing up in the middle of the road because of a lack of maintenance. I get super nervous at the smell of smoke when driving and prepare myself for possible pulling over. It’s really stressful.

I go into my local service center and make an appointment. My car must be serviced from underneath, that’s the only route to mingle with the transmission mechanisms.
They are charging me to just check it.

Are there any signs that come up on the dash when this is in need of a change or does it show up when damage has already been done? I checked the vehicle’s service history from previous owners and I have no data of a transmission fluid check. I want to assume it’s been done at some point considering the mileage but I don’t know if I can truly rely on that. How often should it get done on my vehicle? How does a fluid change differ from a top-off and how do I know which I need?

Thank you kindly

If the fluid level were low, you’d probably know it by now as the transmission would probably be slipping or you would have other noticeable problems. Everything is probably fine. There is no warning light or reminder on the dash that will tell you when to change the fluid or if the level is low. A “top off” generally isn’t needed unless there is a leak somewhere because transmission fluid cannot burn off like oil inside the engine can. 65k miles is not a ton of mileage, but I would recommend changing the fluid. The owners manual for your car should specify the mileage at which the fluid should be changed. Many people here recommend changing the fluid more often than the manual states. On many of the newer cars, in fact, the manual doesn’t state that you should change the fluid at all. I’m not sure about your 2011, but our 2013 Toyota Highlander states that the transmission is “sealed for life” and that the fluid changes are not necessary. I recommend changing it every 50k miles anyway. That’s what I’ve done with our Toyota and it has over 150k miles now with no issues. If you plan to keep the car a long time, I believe changing the fluid is a good idea.

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Change it every 30,000 miles with Toyota fluid at the dealer or trusted trans shop. It sounds though that you might be more attuned to a new car with a warranty.

Toyota gave you a maintenance schedule for your car. Haven’t you been following it for the past four years?

Following the mfr’s maintenance schedule is definitely necessary, but–unfortunately–many mfrs removed a trans fluid change from their maintenance schedules quite a few years ago. The maintenance schedule for my friend’s 2008 Rav-4 (very likely the same transmission) was silent on that topic, and when I told the service writer at the dealership that we wanted the trans fluid to be changed, I actually had to argue with him.

The service writer insisted that the car had “lifetime” fluid, and stated that the trans shouldn’t be touched unless it was showing signs of problems. I prevailed and the fluid was changed, even though the vehicle’s maintenance schedule stated nothing about trans fluid changes.


The service writers at dealer are told by who that changing fluid will lead to trans issues? And piss off customers? This is a service writer personal opinion? Or dealer opinion?

Quien sabe?
All that matters is that the guy was spouting spurious information and that I prevailed.

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A lot of people don’t ever change the transmission fluid. Then the transmission wears out sooner and the car goes to the junk yard at 200 some thousand miles when it could have made it past 300k.

I wonder what this service center is ? As for charging to check it that is normal . Safyay , as paranoid you seem to be you might be better off if you can use an independent shop that friends , relatives or coworkers recommend .

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Can’t speak to your Scion, but my truck’s C4 automatic with a trans dipstick, I change the fluid when it starts to look dark and/or develops any unusual odors. Doesn’t ever seem to get low, doesn’t leak and nowhere else for fluid to go I guess. Usually I change the fluid at around 70 k miles. So while that may be too long on your car from an ideal point of view, I doubt there’s any serious damage been done. Suggest to make sure whoever does this job for you has Toyota transmission service experience. Here’s some very good general info on the subject.

You should also change the filter while your under the car draining it if you can. Your already there under the car so might as well. I recently did this job on a 2005 Camry with about 186K miles. Old Fluid was nice and red. I think it might have been the original filter. Some metal particles on the magnets but at 186k miles I would expect some. Heads up if it’s like my car. Two of the bolts for the pan are less than 18 mm from the subframe and are very hard to get too.

I also must say I have a very bad eye for the dip stick and transmissions. Can never tell because of the long pipe the dipstick goes in. Fluid clings to the side walls making it hard to get an accurate reading.

The joke is on you, the transmission would have outlasted the engine with the factory fill transmission fluid.

I have never found “sealed for life” in an owners manual, however it is a common message board comment.

The transmission fluid in a Highlander should be changed at 60,000 miles under certain driving conditions or 90,000 miles based on inspection.

You think this person is going to do this thierself ?

Toyota likes 30k drain/fills. My rig is at 203k now. But, 1k miles in last year, so.

I don’t know about your car, but mine have said to check the transmission fluid but not explicitly to change it.

You’re going about this the wrong way, imo

Don’t pay to “check it”

Just pay the shop to drop the pan, replace the fluid and filter

fyi . . . I believe your transmission requires the fluid to be pumped in from below, because there’s no dipstick, not even a dipstick tube. Do NOT allow the shop to use a fluid exchange or flush machine. Either pump it in from the bottom . . . after replacing the filter and pan gasket . . . and then do a final check on the fluid level at the correct temperature, or they don’t do it at all.


In that case, you should assume it’s never been done and is way overdue to be serviced


Have the transmission fluid flushed, and if the transmission has a filter, change that too.

A transmission flush changes all the fluid and removes any debris from inside the transmission.

A transmission fluid flush has become the standard in vehicle maintenance, that even dealers have these machines to perform this service.

Pat explains why a flush is more effective in maintaining a transmission than a pan drop.


Look in your owners manual and see what ATF is required for your transmission. If it calls for T-4, then schedule a transmission service at your dealership, don’t worry about checking it. Plan on doing the service about every 30-40k miles.

If it calls for WS ATF, then it will last about 300k. Your car wont gain anything by having it serviced, but if it still causes you concern, then go ahead and schedule a service. A good nights sleep has value too.

Edit: If you have WS and you chose to have it serviced, ask to see a sample of the old fluid and compare it to the new fluid. If they look the same, then you really didn’t need the service, but you will sleep better knowing that it wont be a problem in the future. You can also decide based on any discoloration you see, if any, when you will get it serviced again. One way or the other, you will learn something.

There’s a sticker on the plastic part of the dipstick that reads “no need to change ATF under normal circumstances”. White sticker, blue lettering in English and I assume Japanese. So I assumed that to mean they didn’t intend for it to be changed…under normal circumstances.

Me being me, I change it every 50k anyway