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Fluid Level Checks on Automatic Transmissions Without Dipsticks

No Transmission Dipstick

No Transmission Dipstick
No Transmission Dipstick

Making automatic transmissions with no transmission dipstick seems like a strange thing for manufacturers to do, but looking at it from their point of view might make sense.  If a vehicle that’s under warranty is damaged internally because the owner or a mechanic overfills the transmission, the manufacturer may end up having to pay for the repair.  Limiting access by eliminating old style filler tubes makes sense to reduce their liability.

Here’s a quick list of some vehicle models that could have a transmission without a dipstick and require a “no-dipstick” fluid level check:

  • Cadillac Catera
  • Saturn ION and Vue
  • Lincoln Navigator
  • Chevrolet Aveo
  • Chevrolet Equinox
  • Chrysler 300
  • Ford Cars
  • Mazda MPV
  • Mazda Miata

Some vehicles in this category actually have a special tool that is used like a dipstick to check the fluid level but then is removed.  Year 2005 and up Chrysler models with a NAG-1 transmission are an example.

There are some “DIY” (do it yourselfers) who have been checking transmission fluid levels on their own for years.  With the newer “no dipstick” style transmissions, there are quite a few different procedures that will be involved.  If you still want to “do it yourself”, you’ll have to be very careful to follow the manufacturer procedures exactly to avoid damage to your car and reduce the risk of personal injury.

Here are some of the reasons why it’s going to be more difficult, more risky, and therefore not such a good idea to check fluid levels yourself on these newer style transmissions:

  1. You may need to put your car up on jack stands to gain access to the checking point
  2. The vehicle has to be level to get an accurate measurement of the fluid level
  3. Leveling your car on 4 jack stands in your garage instead of on a hoist is very difficult at best
  4. Temperature of the fluid is critical to getting the fluid level correct; fluid at this temperature can burn skin
  5. If the fluid level is low, adding the correct fluid type in the correct amount is critical
  6. Specialized tools, like scan tools and special wrenches, are often required to do the steps correctly

Here’s an example of what is involved to check the fluid level for a 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier with a 4T40-E automatic transaxle:

  • fluid temp must be at 104 degrees F. when checking
  • engine must be running with transaxle in Park
  • an oil pan should be placed under the removal plug area; then remove plug
  • if fluid doesn’t come out when plug is removed, add fluid until it starts to come out; then stop adding
  • allow level to stabilize even with the bottom of the check plug hole
  • replace plug when fluid no longer comes out of check plug hole
  • tighten plug to the correct torque specification

You can see it’s no longer a simple matter of lifting the hood, pulling out the dipstick and looking to see where the fluid level is on vehicles with these newer style transmissions.  Give Wayne’s Transmissions a call.  They have the right tools and the skill necessary to maintain or fix your transmission.

Wayne’s Transmissions,  Boise Idaho   (208) 322-1236

12 thoughts on “Fluid Level Checks on Automatic Transmissions Without Dipsticks”

  1. I have a Chevy Equinox, need to check the transmission fluid, can’t cause of no dip stick, so how do I check it, take it to a shop so I will have to pay someone to look at it.

  2. Lana,

    You did not say what year your Equinox is or what model. Be aware that for some of those models with automatic transmissions GM recommends replacement of the transmission filter and fluid at 50,000 miles depending on your driving conditions.

    Fluid checks for these transmissions does require removal of a bolt to access the fluid level dipstick.

    If we can further assist you please go to the Contact page on our website to call us or email us directly.

    Thanks for you request.

    Wayne’s Transmissions, Boise

  3. Wayne, you still didn’t answer Lana’s question. I personally think “dipstickless” trannies are a crock, and just a way for the manufacturers to FORCE you to take it just to check the fluid. I will assume that your shop is different, and, if you are a smart businessman, you would check transmission fluid levels on these types of vehicles for no charge. Then, when it is due for a transmission service, the owner will remember that and bring their vehicle back to you. So, do you check levels at no cost for such vehicles? There the question repeated again!

  4. John,

    Thanks for bringing to our attention that we did not answer Lana’s specific question. It was not intentional!

    Yes we do check vehicles that do not have an automatic transmission dipstick “at no charge”.

    We also agree with you that it is a great opportunity for us to provide valuable service to our customers and potential customers.

    Thanks again!

  5. Dan,

    Thanks for your comment. Do you know if the $60 charge would include a small amount of transmission fluid if needed?

    Many shops and dealership service departments are looking at the “bottom line” profit. Here at Wayne’s Transmissions we work to provide inspection services like this for our customers at no charge. We would just charge for the fluid.

    Wayne’s Transmissions

  6. Wayne`s

    I have a 2011 equinox. it has a 4.0 liter v6 6 speed automatic or manual transmission.
    vin #2cnaldec0b6289635
    I need to know can I check the fluid in this style transmission on my own?
    if I can check it myself do I need a special tool?
    could you explain the procedure for me?
    thank you for your time.
    signed Darrell Cole

  7. Darrel,

    Most manufactures do not have dipsticks on automatic transmissions like we had in years past. The procedure now requires a scan tool to verify the vehicle is at the correct temperature. A shop would then lift the vehicle to access the fluid check plug. As you can tell these procedures are not longer something a DIY person can do. You could check your owners manual to verify the recommended procedure.


  8. I have always been a do it yourselfer. I forgot to check the level with a homemade device I was going to make when I bought it for my wife. Now I have to wait till they service it at the dealer. I have a 2012 equinox with the 4 cylinder engine and auto trans. I was going to make a dipstick to go into the top where you unscrew the black cap with the gear logo on it and check it that way at normal operating temp.whatever the level is after they service it at operating temp should be the same as long as I always check it when it is fully warmed up as in driven for few miles (8-10 miles) correct? This is the procedure we use at my work on the same vehicles and have never had a problem and have some of them pushing 300k miles now.

  9. Hi I own a 2010 Chrysler Town & Country Touring Plus 3.8L with the 6 speed tranny. I to have the infamous missing dip stick, I hate the dealers did this it is rape. For people like me who service their own vehicles and save money it is now just a new procedure for us. I just purchased the dip stick, I have to remove it every time I check the fluid, now I am looking for a scan tool to check the tranny temp. Do you have any recommendations for my situation. I also have went to school at Harcourt direct, I never finished so I am not ASE certified but also don’t mean I don’t know what I am doing any help would be great thank you.

  10. A question for you Keith. Where did you buy the dipstick for your van? I have a 2011 Chrysler Town and Country Touring and I need to check my transmission fluid level but cant find a dipstick.

  11. informative for checking dipstickless transmission especially temperature issue 2003 malibu

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