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Best Transmission Fluids In 2019: Different Types For Different Needs

Unless you’re a car enthusiast or a mechanic yourself, you most likely don’t really know what transmission fluid is, or – at the very least – what it’s responsible for in your vehicle.

After all, it’s just something that’s checked when you take your car for its service, right? It’s not something you actually need to worry about until then—or is it?

Well, it’s not that simple. If you hear grinding noises or experience any transmission problems when shifting gears—then it probably is something to worry about, and you’re a little too late to the party!

Mechanic standing next to an open hood while performing maintenance tasks on a car

Don’t worry about any of that, though, as this guide is going to help you understand exactly what transmission fluid is and what it does in vehicles.

By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know all the different types there are, what type is the best transmission fluid for your vehicle, as well as which products on the market right now are worth your attention.

Quick Links to Our Top Recommendations for the Best Transmission Fluids

Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.

What Exactly Is Transmission Fluid?

In order to understand what this fluid is, it’s essential to first know what your car’s transmission actually does.

Simply put, it receives power from the engine of your vehicle and sends it to the wheels. This is what dictates both the car’s speed and the engine’s torque.

There are two basic types of transmission: automatic and manual.

An automatic transmission, as the name implies, shifts your gears for you: you don’t have to do anything. It all takes place automatically when you reach different speeds.

A manual transmission, on the other hand, utilizes a stick shift. In this case, you have to maneuver the stick manually to change the gears by yourself.

In either case, transmission fluid is the liquid that’s used to lubricate all of the components. It keeps things running smoothly and stops the gears from grinding and rubbing against each other.

Without this fluid, you’re going to damage to either type permanently. You need the slick surface of this fluid to make shifting gears easy and to reduce friction.

The fluid acts as a coolant too, reducing high temperatures in the transmission when your car is on the road.

How Does Transmission Fluid Work?

Now you know what this fluid is, but how exactly does this liquid work its magic?

When your car is changing gears, there is friction between all the different components. As your vehicle works hard to sustain speed, heat is created. This is where transmission fluid kicks in to lubricate the different parts and prevent this heat from building.

In addition, automatic transmission fluid helps to provide hydraulic pressure that is needed for your vehicle to function. It flows through the transmission and is pressurized by the torque converter and into the gears.

Without it, your car won’t move – don’t forget that the transmission is essential to transfer power from your engine to the wheels.

What Different Types of Transmission Fluids Can I Choose for My Car?

If you’ve ever been into in an auto store, you’ll have seen many different types available to choose from.

A lot of people simply think you only have to decide between automatic and manual transmission fluids, but it’s a little more complicated than that.

So, let’s break it down.

Dexron/Mercon

Dexron and Mercon are most likely the ones you’ll see recommended for your vehicle. There are different quality grades, with most modern car transmissions being suited to one or the other.

Dexron is licensed by General Motors, while Mercon is licensed by Ford.

This means that GM vehicles like Cadillac, Pontiac and GMC are going to use the Dexron series. On the other hand, if you drive a Ford car such as Mercury, Ford or Lincoln, Mercon will likely be your required option.

Synthetic Fluids

Synthetic transmission fluids use synthetic base oils and additives to take better care of your vehicle’s components. They are also referred to as aftermarket fluids, as they are not made/licensed by car manufacturers.

The specific synthetic fluid will be recommended by car makers for a variety of models.

Normally, synthetic transmission fluids can better withstand temperature changes than Dexron and Mercon. This means they won’t break down easily.

The downside to synthetic fluids, however, is that they can sometimes have a high price tag which not everyone can afford.

Type-F

Type-F is an automatic transmission fluid that’s normally only used for pre-1977 Ford cars. If you’ve got a vintage 1970s Ford, you’ll want to go for Type-F.

The reason it’s not suitable for modern cars is because it doesn’t contain friction modifiers.

Hypoid Gear Oil

If you’ve got a manual transmission, you might want to consider hypoid gear oil.

This has a high viscosity level, which means it can deal with extreme temperatures very well. This is going to cool the temperature down and prevent grinding damage.

Motor Oil

Most of us know that motor oil, as the name suggests, actually lubricates a vehicle’s engine – but a lot of drivers also previously used motor oil to lubricate manual transmissions.

It’s now commonly recognized that motor oil isn’t as good at handling heat as other types. In addition, motor oil doesn’t have the additives which help to prevent damage.

How Do I Find Out What Type I Need?

Now, you’ll want to find out what type you should buy for your vehicle.

Every car is different, which means that you will need to consult the owner’s manual to find out what your particular vehicle needs. Your owner’s manual will specify the type your manufacturer recommends for your car.

If you don’t have the manual and aren’t sure which one to use, you can always ask at your local car dealership or service center. They should know what’s most suitable for your make and model of car.

Always take the time to determine which fluid you should use, since using the wrong one can cause serious damage. For some cars, failure to use the recommended option may actually void your vehicle’s warranty – yikes!

Speaking of which, what if you do fail to use the correct type and product? This can translate to costly repairs or the even costlier need to replace your entire transmission altogether.

What Happens If a Car Doesn’t Use Transmission Fluid or It Runs Out?

What if you’re on the road and – all of a sudden – you see the warning light for your transmission fluid? It’s only natural that you’ll be worried, but how long can you keep driving if you have low levels or almost nothing to get you by anymore?

If Your Car’s a Manual

If your car has a manual transmission, you’ll still be able to continue driving, but you will most likely notice grinding noises and delayed gear changes. It’s not going to be a smooth ride and it won’t feel right to drive, that’s for sure!

Once you see the warning light, you should refill the transmission fluid as soon as possible. Otherwise, you risk causing damage and incurring huge repair bills.

If Your Car’s an Automatic

If you have an automatic transmission in your vehicle, we’ve got bad news for you: You may be in immediate trouble.

Automatic cars need transmission fluid to create power, as it works with the torque converter to power the wheels.

Without sufficient levels in an automatic vehicle, it can be dangerous to drive. As a matter of fact, there’s actually a good chance you won’t be able to drive any longer in an automatic vehicle without any transmission fluid, even if you tried.

For these reasons, it’s imperative that you watch these levels in your vehicle.

Most modern cars have warning lights on the dashboard that’ll notify you whenever something’s wrong. If this light comes on, you should add some fluid immediately.

With that being said, there are some telltale warning signs of low levels you should keep an eye out for. These include:

  • a burning smell
  • trouble shifting gears
  • puddles underneath your vehicle

If you notice any of these things, it might be related to your transmission fluid. In that case, follow our guide on how to check transmission fluid level, and be sure to fill it up right away if it’s running low. Otherwise, it’s something that will be checked during most routine car servicing.

When it’s time to change your transmission fluid, you have two choices: You can either take it to a garage where they do this for you, or do it yourself at home with our guide on how to change transmission fluid.

If you’re interested to know more about the DIY route, take a look at this video:

What Should You Look for in Transmission Fluid?

There are some key features you should consider, including the presence of friction modifiers and the fluid’s viscosity index.

Let’s explain what these are and why you should pay attention to them.

Friction Modifiers

Friction modifiers are additives that, as the name suggests, help reduce the friction between the different components. They are lubricants which help prevent harsh contact that can cause wear over time.

While you may think friction modifiers are standard in all transmission fluids, that’s not true. For example, Type-F transmission fluid doesn’t contain any friction modifiers, and this is why it’s not suitable for most modern vehicles.

If you have a high-performance vehicle, you may want to look for an advanced product that contains more friction modifiers than usual.

High Viscosity Index

Usually, you’ll want to choose something with a high viscosity index. This means that the oils will stay thick and flowing through easily, even in extremely high temperatures.

If you choose something that has a low viscosity level, the oil can become thin and won’t lubricate the components properly.

On the other hand, a higher viscosity index means that the state of the oil hardly changes, despite extreme rises or drops in temperature.

The Best Transmission Fluids – Our Top Recommendations

We’ve reviewed some of the top products on the market today to save you some time, as well as some of their shortcomings you have to be aware of.

Take a look and see which one(s) might be best suited for your car.

Mobil 1 112980 Synthetic Automatic Transmission Fluid

Mobil 1 112980 Synthetic Automatic Transmission Fluid - 1 Quart (Pack of 6)

This option from Mobil 1 is fully synthetic, and has a number of benefits to offer your vehicle.

First of all, we love how versatile this product is – it can be used in a lot of popular vehicles out on the road. This includes cars requiring Ford Mercon V as well as General Motors Dexron III.

This fluid has a high viscosity index of 176. In other words, this product is going to work well at both high and low operating temperatures.

In particular, it may be great for you if you live in colder areas of the country. Mobil claims that it can help transmission efficiency at temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

When you use this product, you can rely on it to improve the overall performance of your vehicle. It promotes a smooth and quiet gear shifting, while also helping to prolong the life of your transmission.

Manufacturers Specs and Feature List

  • Fully synthetic formula.
  • Meets or exceeds the requirements of Ford MERCON V and JASO 1-A.
  • Helps to provide outstanding resistance to oil deposits and breakdown.
  • Improves overall transmission cleanliness and durability.
  • Multi-vehicle formula recommended for SUVs, SUTs, high-performance vehicles and vans/light trucks.
  • Pack of 6 x 1 quart (32-ounce) bottles.

What We Like

  • High viscosity index.
  • Fully synthetic.
  • Suitable for most popular car brands.
  • Enhanced friction durability.

What We Don’t Like

  • Not recommended for Dexron IV vehicles.

Summary

Overall, this is one of the best automatic transmission fluids out there. While it’s not recommended for Dexron IV vehicles, it’s going to suit most other car makes out there on the road.

The high viscosity index is a real advantage if you live in colder regions of the country. It’s not going to break down like cheaper brands, and it may help to improve fuel economy and make for a smoother ride.

At the time of writing, this isn’t exactly the most budget friendly option out there, so this is something you might want to consider before purchasing.

To check out its current price and learn more about it, you can click this link.

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

Valvoline MaxLife Full Synthetic Multi-Vehicle Automatic Transmission Fluid

Valvoline 773775-3PK Auto Trans Fluid, 3. gallons, 3 Pack

We love transmission fluids that use synthetic oils, and this is exactly what you get with this option.

This is going to help reduce friction and oxidation, which may help promote smooth gear transitions. Synthetic oils are also less likely to break down in high temperatures.

In addition to that, this Valvoline fluid includes advanced additives, which may help to clean and prevent deposits developing on components. This can, in turn, help to extend the life of your transmission.

This product is known as a multi-vehicle automatic transmission fluid. This means that it may be suitable for lots of different vehicle makes.

It will work in cars requiring Dexron, Mercon and Mercon LV. These include high performance vehicles, such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz, as well as Toyota and Subaru.

Manufacturers Specs and Feature List

  • Available in 1 gallon (case of 3).
  • Fully synthetic formula.
  • Suitable for most Dexron/Mercon and Mercon LV vehicles.
  • Unique blend to promote better oil flow at extreme temperatures.
  • Contains cleaning additives.
  • Includes seal conditioners to prevent leakages.

What We Like

  • Fully synthetic.
  • Includes cleaning agents.
  • Suitable for most popular car brands.
  • Deals with high temperatures.
  • Reduces friction.

What We Don’t Like

  • Not suitable for cars with continuously variable transmissions (CVT).
  • Not an OEM licensed product.

Summary

There’s no doubt that this product offers a lot for drivers.

The fully synthetic formula is beneficial for cooling the transmission and promoting smooth gear shifting, and the cleaning additives are also an advantage which might help you avoid damage.

However, it’s important to note that this is not an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) licensed product.

This means that car manufacturers have not evaluated whether this is 100 percent suitable for their vehicles. For this reason, some drivers may prefer to choose an OEM licensed product for added peace of mind.

To find out more information about this option, you can follow this link.

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

Castrol 03521 Transmax Import Multi-Vehicle Automatic Transmission Fluid

Castrol 03521 Transmax Import Multi-Vehicle Automatic Transmission Fluid - 1 Gallon, (Pack of 3)

Castrol is a famous brand across the world, known for creating quality (yet affordable) products for the automotive market. The company certainly doesn’t let you down with this option.

With its enhanced formula, this product may help reduce friction within your transmission. This results in reduced wear and tear, as well as smoother gear changes.

This product is known as an import multi-vehicle fluid transmission, and it is OEM approved.

This means that it’s recommended for most Japanese vehicles, such as Honda and Nissan, and also for other imported cars. It’s also suitable for vehicles requiring Mercon V and a variety of Dexron fluids.

Manufacturers Specs and Feature List

  • 1 gallon (128 ounces) (pack of 3).
  • Synthetic automatic.
  • Meets or exceeds DEXRON-IIIIH, MERCON V and JASO-1A.
  • Suitable for passenger cars and light trucks.
  • Recommended for imported vehicles, such as Toyota and Nissan.
  • Excellent protection at high temperatures.

What We Like

  • Large size option.
  • Recommended for many different car makes.
  • Reduces friction.
  • For transmission and power steering.
  • Works well in cold weather.

What We Don’t Like

  • Not suitable for continuously variable transmission (CVT) vehicles.
  • Not suitable for Dexron VI vehicles.

Summary

First things first, and at the time of this writing, this is an affordable choice compared to similar brands on the market. If you’re on a budget, this product may be a great choice for you. (Be sure to double check yourself first just to make sure this is still the case and nothing has substantially changed).

Of course, you’re not getting a substandard product either; we’re definitely excited with what this product has to offer. It’s able to protect your transmission in cold weather, as well as reduce high temperatures friction of the components.

In addition, if you’ve got an imported vehicle, this might be one of the best transmission fluids for you in that case.

It’s recommended for a variety of car makes, especially Japanese vehicles, but it’s important to note that it’s not suitable for CVT cars or those requiring Dexron VI.

To make sure this is the right choice for your vehicle, you can click this link.

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

Royal Purple 12320 Max ATF High Performance Multi-Spec Synthetic Automatic Transmission Fluid

Royal Purple 12320 Max ATF High Performance Multi-Spec Synthetic Automatic Transmission Fluid - 1 qt. (Case of 12)

If you’ve bought products for your car before, you’ve probably heard of Royal Purple.

It’s marketed as a high-performance transmission oil, and this is due to its ability to withstand extremely high temperatures.

It’s certainly suitable for a range of vehicles too. This includes variations of Dexron and Mercon, as well as Japanese imports such as Honda and Toyota. Also, if you’ve got a European car like BMW or Volkswagen, you can use it as well.

One of the great things about this product is that it can be mixed with other automatic transmission fluids. When doing this, it won’t lose its effectiveness or cause any damage, which means you can top up anytime.

Manufacturers Specs and Feature List

  • Case of 12 quarts.
  • Synthetic base oils used.
  • Ability to mix with other automatic transmission fluids.
  • Recommended for a range MERCON, MERCON V AND DEXRON vehicles.
  • Designed to be long-lasting.
  • Deals with oxidation better than other options.

What We Like

  • Compatible with other options.
  • Suitable for a range of vehicles including imports.
  • High viscosity index for extreme temperatures and conditions.
  • Reduces friction.
  • Good lubrication.

What We Don’t Like

  • Not suitable for Dexron VI vehicles.

Summary

Royal Purple has done well with this option, as it does everything you want any similar product to do. This includes smoother gear shifting, as well as cooling the transmission—even in high-performance vehicles.

It’s also going to prevent oxidation and wear and tear by acting as a lubricant. This is exactly what you want, assuming you’re trying to enjoy your vehicle for a long time without expensive repairs, of course!

With all that being said, if you need Dexron VI compatible transmission fluid, this one’s definitely not for you.

You can make up your own mind by reading more about the product here.

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

Red Line (50204) SAE 75W80 API GL-4 Synthetic Manual Transmission and Transaxle Lubricant

Red Line (50204) SAE 75W80 API GL-4 Manual Transmission and Transaxle Lubricant Car Gear Oil-1 Quart Bottle

If you’ve got a high-performance vehicle, you may want to have a look at the Red Line synthetic oil transmission fluid.

Unlike many of the other products out there, this is for manual transmissions and transaxles. So, if you’ve got a manual or transaxle BMW, Dodge or a Jeep vehicle, you can consider this option.

This is also going to be a great lubricant that cools your transmission and reduces friction. Of course, this also means preventing wear and tear.

Manufacturers Specs and Feature List

  • 1 quart (32 ounces).
  • For manual and transaxle vehicles.
  • Suitable for imported vehicles, such as Mini Cooper and Mitsubishi.
  • Low sulfur formulation for compatibility with brass synchros.
  • Achieves gear oil viscosity requirements of 70W, 75W and 80W.
  • Satisfies motor oil viscosities of SAE 30, 5W30 and 10W30.

What We Like

  • Works well at high temperatures.
  • Synthetic base oil.
  • High-performance option.
  • Reduces friction.
  • Improves gear changes.

What We Don’t Like

  • Smaller size. Many people prefer the option of buying a larger size, especially if they’ll use it for top-ups.
  • Improvements can be hit or miss – sometimes it’s obvious, other times it’s minimal.

Summary

This is one of the best manual transmission fluids out there, and is a great choice for high-performance vehicles.

The use of synthetic base oils also acts as a great lubricant to protect the transmission and promote more speed through smooth gear changes.

You can decide for yourself whether or not this is the right product for you by following this link to find out more.

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

Valvoline DEXRON/MERCON Automatic Transmission Fluid

Valvoline DEXRON/MERCON Automatic Transmission Fluid - 1gal (773636)

There’s no doubt that Valvoline is a well respected brand in the automotive industry, so it’s no surprise that this is a good choice to consider.

If your vehicle requires specific variations of Dexron or Mercon, this may be suitable for you.

This product is especially formulated to operate at low temperatures, which means that it should be easier to start your car and drive on a cold winter morning.

It also contains friction modifiers that are there to protect your transmission all year round. It can stop sludge from developing and prevent deposits that can cause clogs.

Manufacturers Specs and Feature List

  • 1 gallon (128 ounces).
  • Includes special friction-reducing additives.
  • Suitable for MERCON, DEXRON, DEXRON II, DEXRON III AND ALLISON TES-389.
  • Not compatible with cars requiring Mercon IV or Mercon SP.
  • Rewarding for electronic and hydraulic transmissions and transaxles.
  • Protects against wear and provides shudder resistance.

What We Like

  • Suitable for most Dexron and Mercon vehicles.
  • Responsive in low temperatures.
  • Large size is available.
  • Contains friction modifiers.
  • Prevents deposit build-up.

What We Don’t Like

  • Not suitable for CVT vehicles.

Summary

We’d say that this is a good choice for vehicles requiring variations of Dexron and Mercon. We especially like that this fluid can protect your transmission from damage with its additional friction modifiers.

Being responsive at low temperatures means that this may be a good choice if you live in colder regions of the country, but keep in mind that this product won’t work for CVT vehicles.

You can read more about it by clicking on this link.

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

Genuine Honda Fluid 08200-9008 ATF-DW1 Automatic Transmission Fluid

Genuine Honda Fluid 08200-9008 ATF-DW1 Automatic Transmission Fluid - 1 Quart

Do you drive a Honda and want to get what’s arguably the best product possible for your ride? In that case, you might want to take a look at this one.

This is a genuine Honda automatic transmission fluid, which meets all their quality standards. You can enjoy peace of mind and know you’ve chosen the right option.

This aims to make shifting gears smoother and it’s been specially formulated to work well at low and high temperatures, and there’s also special additives for protecting seals and o-rings.

Manufacturers Specs and Feature List

  • 1 quart (32 ounces).
  • Meets Honda quality standards and OEM product.
  • Formula that offers seal and o-ring protection.
  • Promotes better fuel economy with low viscosity.
  • Ability to deal with low and high temperatures.
  • Low oxidate rate.

What We Like

  • Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) fluid.
  • Works well at extreme temperatures.
  • Protects the seals and the o-rings.
  • Lubricates.

What We Don’t Like

  • Not suitable for CVT.
  • Might not work for other (non-Honda) car makes.
  • Only available in 1-quart bottles (although multi-packs are available).

Summary

When you’re choosing between anyone of these products, you don’t want to worry about whether it’s going to be compatible with your vehicle.

It’s already tiresome enough knowing what you need to look for in these products, and the last thing you need to worry about is compatibility.

If you’ve got a Honda car, this may be the best choice for you. Choosing an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) fluid lets you know it’s a quality product, and the right one for your vehicle.

The downside to this product is that it’s not suitable for CVT vehicles, or possibly other vehicle makes. It’s also only available in small (quart) size bottles – at the time of this writing, at least.

You can check out more information about this product by following the link below.

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

ACDelco 10-9395 Dexron VI Automatic Transmission Fluid

ACDelco 10-9395 Dexron VI Automatic Transmission Fluid - 1 gal

AC Delco is a well-known brand, and this product isn’t going to let you down.

It’s suitable for almost any vehicle requiring Dexron fluids, and is also backward compatible, which means older vehicles can benefit from this newer formula – not exactly a common feature other similar products on the market boast.

You can enjoy friction modifiers with this AC Delco product, which includes fully synthetic oils. This is going to cool your transmission and prevent damage to the components that can result from constant grinding.

It can also withstand extreme temperatures pretty well and still deliver smooth gear changes.

It’s also worth noting that some users report improved mileage when using this formula.

Manufacturers Specs and Feature List

  • 1 gallon.
  • Fully licensed and approved by GM.
  • This product is DEXRON backwards compatible.
  • Suitable for vehicles with GM transmission from 2006.
  • Recommended for DEXRON VI, DEXRON III OR DEXRON II(E).
  • Improved friction durability and oxidation resistance.
  • May improve your vehicle’s fuel economy.

What We Like

  • Backward compatible.
  • Friction modifiers.
  • Fully synthetic oil.
  • High viscosity index.
  • Improve fuel economy.

What We Don’t Like

  • Not suitable for CVT vehicles.

Summary

All in all, this choice from AC Delco has a lot to offer.

We specifically love that it’s one of the only products on our list that’s backward compatible. This means that you don’t have to have the newest car on the road to enjoy an advanced formula, and there’s something for you guys and gals with older rides to work with.

With the inclusion of fully synthetic oil and friction modifiers, you can also improve the performance of your vehicle. Plus, you can get suitable protection from the wear and tear of grinding in the long term.

It should be noted that this product isn’t suitable if you have a CVT transmission, though.

You can find out the current price of this product and learn more about it by clicking on the following link.

 

Click to Learn More / Buy from Amazon

 

Conclusion

Congratulations, you’ve graduated from the university of transmission fluids! Well, not really, but you now know more about them than most drivers out there, anyways.

While there’s a lot of different types and products to choose from, they all strive to serve the same purpose: to lubricate the components and lower the temperature of the transmission.

All of this, in turn, leads to better performance, a more enjoyable ride, and very possibly prolonging the life of your vehicle’s components.

With that being said, and just like every other car product available in today’s market, some do their job better than others, and some are more suitable for specific car makes and models than others.

With the help of our recommendations, we hope that you’ve found the best transmission fluid for your vehicle! You certainly know enough now to make a very well informed decision.

 

Product image credits: © Amazon.com

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Kyle Palmer

From childhood go karting and motocross, to collecting and obsessing over scalextric, matchbox and radio controlled cars, I've always had an obsession with cars. Learning through manuals, books, trial and error, and more knowledgeable family members, I've also enjoyed tinkering with the mechanics and electronics of any vehicles I've owned. Now, over 3 decades later, I've started this site as a place for me to share my knowledge, to teach others how to care for and maintain their vehicles themselves, at home, so they can get the most of their vehicles and save a pretty penny compared to always seeking out professional help.

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