Best Transmission Fluids Reviewed & Rated for Quality

If there is any part of the car that must be kept constantly in proper working order, it would have to be the transmission. You’ve most likely seen what happens when you don’t if you’ve seen any movie where a car breaks down, and smoke is billowing out of the engine. The guy checking the engine, almost 99.9% of the time, blames the transmission. And indeed, if that part breaks down, your car isn’t going anywhere. So, with that said, it’s probably a good idea to keep it working properly.

Featured Recommendations

Genuine Toyota Lexus
  • Genuine Toyota Lexus
  • 4.8 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Corrosion Protection
  • Price: See Here
Honda FBA
  • Honda FBA
  • 4.7 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Smooth Shifting
  • Price: See Here
ACDelco Dexron VI
  • ACDelco Dexron VI
  • 4.5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Improved Performance
  • Price: See Here

If it runs on some kind of motor, then it needs lubrication at some point. When a machine is running on a motor, it’s producing a lot of chemicals that can end up harming it, without a counter agent keeping those chemicals in check. And that agent then needs to make sure that the machinery isn’t scratching or catching on itself as it runs. And we’re counting down the ten best of these fluids, here today. So, if your transmission has been giving you problems, read on, as we count down the:

 

10 Best Transmission Fluids

 

1. Genuine Toyota Lexus

1. Genuine Toyota Lexus
Kicking off our list, we have the Genuine Toyota Lexus Automatic Transmission Fluid. As the name suggests, this transmission fluid is really meant to specifically work with Toyota Lexus and not a lot else. But beyond that hurdle, we still feel confident putting this entry at the top of the list.
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Chemically balanced

Transmission fluid is meant to help your vehicle, but you’re still pouring a ton of chemicals into very delicate machinery, so it’s always nice to know for sure that it’s safe. Fortunately, your Lexus has nothing to fear from this fluid. This transmission fluid has been carefully chemically balanced, so as to be compatible with the rubber seals and metal finishes found inside a Lexus’ transmission.

Corrosion protection

You definitely do not want your transmission to become corroded, because that equals a breakdown, which will always happen when you least need it to and will more than likely strand you in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, this transmission fluid contains special additives, designed to protect your transmission against corrosion as well as excessive wear and tear.

Cost and Value

Of course, transmission fluid isn’t going to be cheap. This is sensitive, and thus expensive material you’re working with. Fortunately, as far as the general price of transmission fluid goes, this is actually not all that bad.
Pros

Chemically balanced

Corrosion protection

Smooth shifting in extreme climates

Cons

Only for Toyota Lexus model cars

2. Honda FBA

2. Honda FBA
Coming in second place, we have the Honda FBA Automatic Transmission Fluid. Whereas the previous entry was meant for one specific model of Toyota vehicle, this entry can be used for pretty much all commercially available Honda vehicles. But does it actually work for those vehicles? Let’s take a look and find out.
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Longer, smoother rides

If you want to check the quality of your transmission fluid after a while, you put in a dipstick and check its color when you pull it out. If it’s okay, it’ll be pink, and if not, it’ll be black. You’ll be amazed at just how long your dipstick will come up pink when you use this transmission fluid for your Honda car. And that will definitely reflect in how it handles on the road, giving you a constantly smooth ride for longer periods of time.

Smooth shifting

If your transmission fluid is old, or you’re using lackluster brands, then you’ve probably by now noticed a rough patch whenever you shift gears, as if the car is straining to meet your demands and just barely holding together. This is, as you can imagine, the transmission buckling under its own strain. Unless, of course, you use this transmission fluid, which will quickly clean out your transmission and make the transition between gears smooth and instantaneous.

Cost and Value

While by no means cheap (this is the genuine stuff, not third party after all) this fluid is much cheaper than the previous entry. And considering that you often can get these in a pack of 4 for around the same price, we consider it a much better deal as a result.
Pros

Longer smoother rides

Smooth shifting

Great deal

Cons

You need a lot of fluid to flush out your old transmission fluid

3. ACDelco Dexron VI

3. ACDelco Dexron VI
Finishing up our top three segment, we have the ACDelco Dexron VI Automatic Transmission Fluid. With this, we move into what some consider to be dangerous territory when it comes to transmission fluid; 3rd party fluids. 3rd party is rarely as good as the genuine article, but as you will soon see, there is not a single entry on this list that we chose lightly.
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Backwards compatible

When switching out one transmission fluid for another, even if it’s just a slightly newer version of the stuff you’re already using, there’s usually a period of frustration as you have to flush out as much as you can in order for the new stuff to start working. Not so with the Dexron VI, however, as it is completely backwards compatible with older versions of its formula, able to move in without a problem and get to work, slowly replacing the old formula without a single issue.

Improved performance

And once it replaces the old transmission fluid, you’ll be amazed at just how much better it is than the old stuff. The Dexron VI formula basically improves on everything the previous formulas did, from friction durability, viscosity stability, foam and aeration control, to even oxidation resistance. In short, anything the Dexron V could do, the Dexron VI can do better.

Cost and Value

As is usually the case with ACDelco, this transmission fluid sits at a very average price for what it’s offering you. So, if you need the newest form of ACDelco’s Dexron transmission fluid for a good price, then you’ve come to the right place.
Pros

Backwards Compatible

Improved performance

Affordable

Cons

Can have issues with some SUV models

4. Mopar Automatic

4. Mopar Automatic
Coming in at #4, we have the Mopar Automatic Transmission Fluid. If you have a heavy duty offroad vehicle like a Jeep, then this is the transmission fluid for you. This fluid will ensure your transmission gives you top notch performance, even in the most hectic of offroading situations.
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Quiet performance

If your transmission isn’t making a lot of noise, then that’s your cue that you’re doing just fine. But even after you replace your transmission fluid, for a while afterward, you can still hear the noise as if something is wrong, because there’s still bits of the old stuff left in there, even if everything is actually fine. Which is why this transmission fluid is formulated to quiet down your transmission, even immediately after it’s put into your car.

Bottle measurements

If you haven’t ever replaced the transmission fluid on your car before, or if you don’t do it often enough to get all that good at it, then you probably have trouble with knowing when you’ve poured in enough. Fortunately, the bottle of this fluid has you covered, as it provides a window to the inside of the bottle, and a set of measuring notches that help you keep track of how much you’ve poured into it.

Cost and Value

The price of this transmission fluid sits a little bit above the average price for a 3rd party transmission fluid. Just high enough to be considered expensive, but we still think it’s worth your money.
Pros

Quiet performance

Bottle measurements

Improves performance for offroad vehicles

Cons

Pricey

5. Ford Genuine

5. Ford Genuine
For our #5 spot, we chose the Ford Genuine Fluid Full Synthetic Manual Transmission Fluid. Just rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it? Despite the adjective soup of a name, we consider this to be one of the absolute best first party genuine transmission fluids on the market right now. What makes it so great? Let’s find out.
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Improved gear shifting

Shifting gears can be hard enough on a transmission under ideal conditions, but when the weather gets really bad, and it doesn’t have good enough transmission fluid to fall back on, it can get a lot harder on your transmission. It isn’t enough to have a transmission fluid that can smooth out gear shifting on a regular basis, it also needs to do so when the weather would otherwise make it hard. A feat that this transmission fluid is happy to make look easy.

Extends component lifespan

There’s a lot more at risk than just the transmission itself, as there are a ton of smaller components inside the machinery that also need to be maintained by the fluid. Which is why it’s so significant that this transmission fluid not only does its basic job but also extend the lifespan of smaller components like the synchronizer and the bearings. Which add up to increase the lifespan of the transmission as a whole.

Cost and Value

The main problem with this fluid is the price. Whether you’re getting it in single bottles or in sets, you’re guaranteed to be spending a lot more than what you would spend on the previous entries.
Pros

Improved gear shifting

Extends component lifespan

Reduced friction

Cons

Very pricey

6. Mobil Synthetic

6. Mobil Synthetic
Coming in at #6, we have the Mobil Synthetic Automatic Transmission Fluid. This is definitely one of the most common brands of transmission fluid, unsurprising given the brand it’s under. Mobil began its life by making oil for race cars but have since proven themselves as one of the best 3rd party oil and fluid companies in the automotive industry. And this transmission fluid is a perfect encapsulation of why that is.
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Improves fuel economy

Fuel economy refers to how much fuel your car burns through when you drive it, and thankfully, there are ways you can cheat the system in your favor to make your car use less fuel per mile. One of those ways is to use certain transmission fluids, like this one, to greatly improves your car’s fuel economy while you drive.

Keeps transmission clean

Like engine oil and other fluids that you pour into your car, one of the many jobs of transmission fluid is keeping the transmission clean while in use. Because the transmission will otherwise get very dirty, very quickly. Even under the most severe driving conditions, your transmission fluid will remain perfectly clean for thousands of miles to come.

Cost and Value

The best part about this transmission fluid is the price. You’re unlikely to have to pay a whole lot for this transmission fluid, due to how easy it is for Mobil to make more and how common it is.
Pros

Improves fuel economy

Keeps transmission clean

Cheap

Cons

Some models, like several Honda vans, can’t use it

7. Red Line D4

7. Red Line D4
For the #7 spot, we chose the Red Line D4 Automatic Transmission Fluid. Despite people’s general distrust of 3rd party synthetic transmission fluids, there are a few brands that are generally considered to be reliable. Red Line is one of those brands, with this transmission fluid serving as evidence.
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Versatile

This is easily the most versatile ATF’s on the entire list, simply because you can use it to replace so many different types of transmission fluid. This transmission fluid can replace up to three different types of Dexron fluids, and a ton of other third party transmission fluids. So, if you can’t find the same transmission fluid you were using for a good price, look at this fluid and see if it’s the one for you.

Excellent cold weather operation

If there’s any weather that stands as a huge problem for transmission fluid, it’s the cold. The reason for this should be simple to understand, liquids tend to freeze when it gets cold, so any transmission fluid that can operate at peak efficiency is always more valuable. Which is why we love that this transmission fluid doesn’t even slow down no matter how cold it gets.

Cost and Value

While a good bit above the average price point for transmission fluid on this list, a lot of that has to do with the fact that while the others sold in quarts, this one comes in a gallon, so of course the price is a bit higher.

Pros

Versatile

Excellent cold weather operation

Can be used with both automatic and manual transmissions

Cons

Not a lot of change to the gear shift

8. Royal Purple Max

8. Royal Purple Max
Kicking off our final three entries, we have the Royal purple Max ATF High Performance Synthetic Automatic Transmission Fluid. And here we have by far one of the most trusted oil and fluid brands in the automotive industry: Royal Purple. Royal Purple has always turned out excellent products, and this case is no different.
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Reduces heat

Most transmission fluids simply prevent the transmission from building up too much heat, which works just fine. However, Royal Purple stands as a cut above the rest, because it actually reduces how much heat your transmission builds up in the first place. Through the use of high film strength, this transmission fluid reduces the heat and wear of your transmission, making for a much longer lifespan in the process.

Fully compatible

Draining out transmission fluid can take a while, considering that old worn out transmission fluid is slightly less thick than plastic mixed with molasses. Your best bet when this happens is to find a transmission fluid that can mix in with the old stuff and slowly replace it. And that’s the real secret weapon of Royal Purple, as it can mix in with basically any other automatic transmission fluid.

Cost and Value

Of course, the main problem with this entry is the price. It should come as no surprise when you read over the benefits of this product. However, if you want some of the best transmission fluid on the market right now, then you’re looking at the right stuff.
Pros

Reduces heat

Fully compatible

Extends lifespan

Cons

Pricey

9. Castrol TransMax

9. Castrol TransMax
For our second to final entry, we have the Castrol TransMax Automatic Transmission Fluid. Castrol is one of the most famous fuel and oil names out there, and their transmission fluid is one of their hallmarks as is shown with this excellent formula.
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Enhanced friction durability

If a machine runs on a motor, then friction is going to be its worst possible enemy. Metal rubbing up against metal at high speeds is never a good thing when you aren’t trying to wear down either or both metals into useless stumps. Which is why you need a good bottle of transmission fluid, like this one, to enhance the friction durability of the transmission. This not only makes the transmission less likely to malfunction but also smooths out the gear changes and can even be used for power steering applications.

Versatile

This transmission fluid isn’t as versatile as previous entries, but the versatility it does possess is in such a way that those other entries don’t compare in. This fluid meets the requirements of several other transmission fluids, such as Dexron and Dexron III, IIE and II, as well as both Mercon and Dexron III-H. Meaning that you can use this fluid to replace those fluids, and of course, use them in vehicles where only they would otherwise be permitted.

Cost and Value

The best part about this fluid is the price. While not the cheapest thing on the list, it’s still very affordable, and when you consider what it offers you in terms of performance per gallon, it becomes an even better deal.

Pros

Enhanced friction durability

Versatile

Great deal

Cons

Domestic cars might have some issues

10. Valvoline MaxLife

10. Valvoline MaxLife
For our final entry for this list, we have the Valvoline MaxLife Full Synthetic Multi-Vehicle Automatic Transmission Fluid. Like before with other entries, this is a full gallon of transmission fluid, and of course, with the price that entails. But does this transmission fluid have the benefits to match that price? Let’s close out this list by finding out.
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Extends transmission life

You may regularly maintain your transmission’s fluid, but without that extra bit of help, your transmission lives on borrowed time. But you probably aren’t in a situation where you can pay for a replacement, so you probably want to find a way to extend your transmission’s life as much as you can until that changes. Which is where Valvoline comes in, as their transmission fluid features advanced additives that, once released into the transmission, help to drastically extend its lifespan.

Incredibly versatile

The feature they’re so proud of, they put it in big bold red letters on the box, indeed the best part about this transmission fluid is its ability to be compatible with pretty much any vehicle under the sun. Thanks to extensive in house and field testing, this transmission fluid has been fine tuned to be compatible with almost any commercial vehicle.

Cost and Value

Being a full gallon of fluid, this is, of course, a pretty expensive bottle of fluid. But we hope we’ve convinced you that this entry is more than worth the price.

Pros

Extends transmission life

Incredibly versatile

Seal conditioners reduce leaks

Cons

Pricey

Everyone needs a good bottle of transmission fluid at some point. If you drive a car, you probably already own a bottle, if you want to keep that car for much longer. If not maintained and kept with good fluids on an annual basis at the very least, a car’s transmission is guaranteed to burn out and strand you in the middle of nowhere. So, it’s always good to have at least one bottle of transmission fluid in your garage at all times. Don’t worry about running out, as we said, it will be some time before you need to refill, especially if you get the really good stuff. And speaking of good stuff, that’s precisely what we have here with these ten entries. These ten are what we consider to be the absolute best of the best when it comes to transmission fluid. Providing top of the line performance and quality to your car’s transmission. Some may be meant for specific cars, but make no mistake, there’s a transmission fluid out there for every kind of car under the sun. So, if you need some new fluid for your car’s transmission, and you want to make sure you’re getting the best stuff possible, then look through these ten entries, and that’s precisely what you’ll find.

Criteria Used in Choosing the Best Transmission Fluids

Putting together a list of criteria for this article was definitely far from easy. We basically had to dig into the formula of transmission fluid, find out what it does on a fundamental level, and then figure out what factors we considered to be common enough to warrant demanding to be present for a list of the best. However, we managed to come up with a good list of criteria by the end, so without further ado, here are the criteria we used to determine which entries got on the list and where.

Friction durability

Decreasing the friction sustained by your transmitter and increasing its durability to the same should be the mission statement of all transmission fluids because it is one of the core fundamental reasons why it was created in the first place. While we have definitely found multiple other uses for the fluid since its inception, this was one of the main problems that its invention aimed to initially solve. Transmissions simply can’t survive as long as they otherwise should when they’re constantly clanging and rubbing against each other at high speeds. But good transmission fluid reduces the friction caused by the various bits and pieces rubbing up against each other. This makes the transmission much less likely to break down over time from friction and the heat that comes from it. Speaking of which.

Heat reduction

A byproduct of reducing the friction of an object is reducing the heat that friction generates. Which, for any piece of machinery, is always a good thing. Extreme heat and cold are the two biggest enemies of machinery. One heats up the wiring and motors until it can’t take anymore and suffers a meltdown, while the other just slows everything to a crawl because the cold is freezing all the lubricants and fluids. And while there are certain transmission fluids dedicated to resisting the cold, there are plenty more transmission fluids out there that serve a more common purpose: reducing how much heat the transmission puts off. Which considering that the transmission adds to that problem a lot more than cold, is understandable.

Lifespan extension

Your transmission is not going to last forever, this should go without saying. The problem is that replacing them is not exactly cheap, and money is pretty tight with most people these days. Which is why there’s a big rush to find transmission fluid among car owners, that extends the lifespan of a transmission when applied. And don’t worry, we’re not here to burst your bubble, because this is in fact very possible, to the point where several entries on this list do just that. The most common way to do this is by including special additives in the formula that clean and maintain the smaller nooks and crannies of the transmission to keep them nice and clean.

Versatility

When we say versatility in reference to this particular product, what we’re referring to is how many types of cars a transmission fluid can be used on. A lot of transmission fluid, as you’ve seen in the first few entries of this list, only work on one, maybe two brands or models of car. This is because transmissions are not built to be uniform like a lot of car engines are, with maybe one or two additions to make it more powerful. Transmissions are very much the creation of the manufacturers, and thus have their own needs that must be met by a unique formula of transmission fluid. However, 3rd party transmission fluid manufacturers don’t have to be brand loyal to anyone but themselves, and so companies like Castrol and Mobil try to make sure their transmission fluid can be used by as many different car owners as possible to maximize profit. If your car doesn’t have a specific type of transmission fluid made only for it, then that’s the route you’re probably going to have to take in order to keep your transmission lubricated.

Price

The last criteria we looked at for this list was the price of each entry and how it reflected on the quality of the fluid itself. Transmission fluid, as you can imagine, is a pretty expensive product. Thankfully, you won’t have to buy it all that often, like transmission fluid (the good stuff anyway) lasts quite a while before needing to be replaced. But you will have to hand over the big bucks if you want the really good transmission fluids. But despite that, we looked at each entry and judged how well the quality of the product could justify the price it was asking for. You will, after all, be far more likely to spend a lot of money on something if you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.

FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

For the final segment of this article, we’ll be taking a look at some frequently asked questions surrounding transmission fluid. Since transmission fluid is so important and using the wrong transmission fluid can have disastrous results, it makes sense that those uninformed about the stuff would want to change that before making a purchase. Which is precisely what we’re here to discuss today. So here are the most frequently asked questions surrounding transmission fluid, and the answers thereof.

Q: how often should I actually change my transmission fluid?

A: The answer to this question varies, depending on what model car you have, and the kind of fluid you’re using. Because of this, when you go to buy a car, make sure that this is a big question for the car dealer, as the manufacturer has more than likely listed this for them to be informed to the consumer. Typically speaking, however, the range tends to be somewhere in the ballpark of 30,000-10,000 miles. Or in layman’s terms, every 6 months to a year or so, depending on how much you drive per day. On the other hand, newer car models have transmission fluid that never has to be replaced and can last the entire lifetime of the vehicle. However, do note that frequently driving in harsh weather conditions can have an effect on the lifespan of your transmission fluid.

Q: I have a pretty old transmission, but my auto shop only sells newer ATF, can I use new ATF on an old transmission?

A: Once again, this all depends on the transmission fluid you end up getting, and the transmission you’ll be using it on. For the most part, modern ATF’s like Dexron VI and Mercon V, are in fact backwards compatible with the majority of older transmissions. There are exceptions to this, to be sure, but for the most part, backwards compatibility is the norm among transmission fluids. If you’re buying a newer version of Dexron or Mercon, and your transmission was using an earlier version of one of those fluids, hey, you’re in luck! Because if a transmission can use one version of those fluids, it can use the newest model fresh out of the lab. You don’t even need to completely flush out the old stuff to use it, as the new stuff will fit in nicely, and just slowly take the old stuff’s place.

Q: What’s so special about the newest forms of transmission fluid? Don’t they do the same thing the old stuff did?

A: Technically yes, but in this case, they do what the old stuff did better than the old stuff. Modern transmission fluids utilize chemical additives that, while harmless to your car, are very harmful to dirt and grime that would otherwise mess up your car and add to the friction occurring within the transmission. Those additives also include viscosity modifiers, which keep the fluid from thinning when the temperature starts climbing up high. Modern ATF’s also have a cooling effect on the transmission that simply wasn’t present in earlier forms of their formulas. These keep your transmissions even cooler than they were previously while running, ensuring that no amount of friction can heat up the transmission too much. As you can imagine, this does wonders for extending your transmission’s lifespan.

Sources

  1. Wikipedia, Automatic Transmission Fluid
  2. Best Synthetic Oil Guide, The 4 Best Automatic Transmission Fluids Available
  3. Pro Car Reviews, 5 Best Transmission Fluids