What Color Should Transmission Fluid Be?

Transmission fluid is an essential feature in all automatic transmission vehicles. This fluid is specially designed for vehicles which self-shift gears, and will not be found in manual transmission cars.

It is uniquely designed for automatic transmission cars and the special requirements they have, including valve operation, torque converter, brake band friction, and gear lubrication. But the all-important question when it comes to transmission fluid is ‘what color should it be?’

Today we’re going to answer this question and supply you with all the information you need to know about your automatic car and the transmission fluid it uses. 

What is transmission fluid?

We’ve already established that transmission fluid is something that’s unique to automatic vehicles. It is an essential part of these vehicles, as the motor itself has to complete more jobs than a manual transmission car does.

Automatic vehicles self-shift gears and reduce the tasks the driver has to complete while the vehicle is moving. Modern transmission fluid is packed full of additives to improve the performance of your automatic vehicle, as well as all the essential functions it completes. 

There are lots of different manufacturers who produce transmission fluid. Most of these products will offer different properties that make them ‘better than the rest’, but all you need from transmission fluid is the basic functions to allow your car to run.

Transmission fluid is essential to lubricate the bearings and metal parts within the car’s gearbox and prevent grinding. It also provides hydraulic pressure and friction to the internal components and keeps the transmission cool. 

How do I check the color of my transmission fluid?

Transmission fluid is a handy way to identify potential problems with your car’s automatic transmission.

There is a color chart that you can use to identify different issues with your car’s transmission, simply by looking at the color of the fluid. To do this, you first need to identify the color of the transmission fluid. 

To do this, the first thing you need to do is pop the bonnet of your car and identify the location of the transmission dipstick. If you are unable to do this, you should check your car’s manual as this should tell you where the lipstick is located.

Next, you need to pull the dipstick out of its tube. From there you should be able to determine the color of the transmission oil from the remnants left on the dipstick. 

If you are struggling to determine the color, you should focus specifically on the remnants left at the end of the dipstick. If you still cannot tell the color, you should wipe the dipstick with a piece of white paper or cloth.

The color you find might not exactly match the color on the chart, but you should try and match it as closely as possible. After you have determined the color, simply return the dipstick to its home and close the bonnet of your car.

You have the color reference of the transmission fluid on the paper, so there is no need to keep the bonnet open while you research.

What do the different colors mean?  

When it comes to transmission fluid, you will usually find it subscribes to 1 of 5 different colors when you check it.

The color of the transmission fluid can tell you a lot about your vehicle and provide explanations for issues you may be experiencing. The colors that your transmission fluid may be, range from red to pink to a variety of shades of brown.

All of these colors are linked to different issues within the vehicle’s transmission. 

If the transmission fluid is red, this means everything is perfect as this is the color the fluid should be. When you check the color of the transmission fluid you should always hope for red fluid as this means everything is good with your car’s transmission.

If you find red fluid, you don’t need to do anything. Just keep the transmission fluid in this condition and ensure that it never runs too low as this can result in serious damage. If the fluid is red, you should continue to check the transmission regularly and follow the instructions that match the transmission fluid you are using. 

Should you find a light brown transmission fluid, this is also pretty good. Light brown transmission fluid usually has a slightly transparent appearance and means that your vehicle is in pretty good shape.

However, light brown is not as good as red. That being said, if your transmission fluid is light brown there is no need to take further action.

Simply continue to monitor the color of the transmission fluid and ensure it never runs empty, just like with red fluid. You should watch out for leaks, however, light brown transmission fluid usually means your transmission will live longer than other vehicle parts. 

From there, the rest of the colors are not good news. If your transmission appears in an opaque dark brown, this means the fluid is very dirty, contaminated, and unable to do its lubricating job properly.

Poor lubrication can cause damage to the transmission and gearbox, so you must take action immediately. You should complete a transmission fluid change immediately. 

Extremely dark brown or even black transmission fluid is even worse news. This means that the fluid and the transmission itself is contaminated, likely beyond repair. It also makes it likely that the transmission fluid has oxidized.

Should you find your transmission fluid is this color, you must complete a fluid change immediately. However, this might not fix the problem and there’s a chance that a transmission rebuild will be necessary. 

The final color you may encounter is pink. This is the worst possible outcome, as it means water or a coolant has entered the transmission. This will cause irreversible damage to the clutch and seals within the transmission.

If it has not already happened, pretty soon the transmission will fail completely making your car unable to drive. As this is the worst-case scenario, it’s unsurprising that this color will mean you need an entire transmission rebuild which can be a costly process. 


If you suspect an issue with your vehicle, checking the transmission fluid can be an easy way to identify if this is where the problem lies.

The transmission fluid in your vehicle should always appear red in color, any other color means it is on its way to being or already damaged.

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Sean Mendez

Hi, I am Sean, a self-confessed petrolhead. I live in Boise, Idaho with a busy family of four and our energetic Labrador retriever. Thank you for visiting my website. You can find my email on the contact page.

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