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Will car smoke if transmission fluid is low?

How Long Can You Drive With Low Transmission Fluid?

Both manual and automatic transmission fluids serve to keep the transmission cool and lubricated. When the car is in motion, the gearbox is grinding constantly, creating immense pressure and friction in the gears. The transmission fluid now comes into play; it helps prevent the transmission from overheating due to high pressure and friction. But if it’s low, or empty, can you safely drive your vehicle? We’ve researched this to get the best answer for you!

Technically, the vehicle can still be driven with low to no transmission fluid for 10 to 15 miles. However, doing so will lead to transmission system failures and can damage the car permanently.

In this article, we have in-depth information to share and have some significant tips waiting for you. Stay with us as we discuss how to detect low transmission fluid, what this fluid actually does, and what you can do to keep the fluid cycling smoothly to avoid damage to your car or truck.

Mechanic pouring transmission fluid, How Long Can You Drive With Low Transmission Fluid?

Can you start a vehicle with low transmission fluid?

Yes, you can still start your vehicle but it isn’t advisable to operate it any further. Considering you could run out of transmission fluid in the middle of your journey surely wouldn’t be good for the car. It’s important to remember these are the major functions of transmission fluid:

  • To generate power from the engine to your transmission.
  • Serves enough lubrication to ensure your car runs smoothly.
  • Absorb extreme heat caused by the intense friction of transmission.
  • Prevents the gears from crashing along each other, potentially leading to broken gears.

Mechanic pouring a container full of transmission fluid to the engine

Don’t recklessly operate your vehicle because of low transmission fluid; checking your transmission dipstick regularly is ideal. It can save you from having big transmission repair bills in the future. You’re on the right track please keep on reading!

How long can you go without transmission fluid?

Automatic cars are built with safety features designed to prevent drivers from continuing to drive. However, a manual transmission can run without transmission fluid for approximately 10 miles up to 15 miles -althought, this may not be applicable in your own scenario depending on the condition of your vehicle.

What are the signs of low transmission fluid?

Technician using a dipstick to measure the transmission fluid

Transmission fluid acts as a lubricant and coolant to the transmission, an essential component to power up the transmission. There are multiple ways to tell if your transmission fluid reaches an insufficient level . When these symptoms occur it’s necessary to have it checked out immediately.

Shifting Gear Difficulty

You will probably notice that shifting gears isn’t as smooth or easy as usual. This normally happens when the transmission fluid has already reached an insufficient level causing the transmission not to function properly.

Delayed Gear Shifts

This will occur when the transmission has not had enough fluid causing the gear engagement to stall. Delayed happens because the hydraulic can’t generate enough power to shift due to insufficient lubrication on it.

Unusual Noise

This happens because of the extreme friction of the gear severely colliding with one another without enough lubrication. If you experience this, you must stop the vehicle immediately and have a quick inspection of it.

Transmission Overheating

The indication of transmission overheating is an unusual smell and smoke billowing out from transmission. In this situation stop immediately and let it rest for a couple of hours to avoid unnecessary major damage.

Transmission Fluid TemperatureApproximate Fluid Life Expectancy
175° to 195° F100,000 miles
215° F50,000 miles
235° F25,000 miles
255° F12,000 miles
275° F6,250 miles
295° F3,125 miles
315° F1,600 miles
335° F800 miles
355° F400 miles
375° F200 miles
395° F100 miles
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Warning Light Comes On

The sign may come in the form of a check engine light or another warning light. This lets you know that your transmission fluid levels are beyond average sufficient settings. Having a quick inspection is always a practical decision.

How to Identify a Transmission Fluid Leak?

A transmission fluid cap located inside the engine

The reason for leakage in your transmission fluid is often caused by the wearing of the gasket and seals. These are the following techniques to diagnose and assess to help you confirm that your vehicle is leaking:

  • Using a white, clean rag, position it precisely underneath the transmission pan
  • Let the rag stay right in the position for an hour or more
  • Examine the rag if it has a fluid stain on it

After you identify the leak your next action is to secure the leak and brush it with hard soap temporarily. This way it will prevent the fluid from draining continuously and helps you not to lose even more fluid. At your convenient time, immediately seek the service station and have a proper replacement of the gasket and seals.

How long does it take for transmission fluid to cycle through?

Mechanic pouring a container full of transmission fluid

Modern vehicle manufacturers recommend that you change your transmission fluid every 30,000 to 50,000 miles. Check also the owner or the manufacturer’s manual for explicit recommendation details. Understanding and following the recommendation of the manufacturer’s manual will help you understand how to look after your car maintenance needs.

To wrap up

Mechanic pouring transmission fluid

When the fluids in your transmission get too low numerous problems can occur since running smoothly is its main purpose. Transmission fluid provides lubrication, power, and even cooling of the intense gear friction. In situations like overheating your vehicle, this is due to insufficient fluid present in your transmission.

If you are going up and down a severe incline you might find that the vehicle stops moving. Because the fluid has sloshed away from the pick-up tube you might notice the fluid itself is getting burnt. The high pressure of heat and friction caused by too much heat will result in major damage to your car.

Checking it regularly is a great habit and definitely helps you avoid such big repairs and rebuilding bills in the future. Remember to include the owner’s manual and manufacturer’s guidelines in your checklist to ensure you meet the specifically required amount of transmission fluid.

Thank you for reaching us. Feel free to browse our blog for related topics!

Low Transmission Fluid: Symptoms, Causes, and Repairs

Like your body needs water, your trans needs its fluids.

by Tony Markovich | UPDATED Jul 26, 2021 12:16 PM EDT

Low Transmission Fluid: Symptoms, Causes, and Repairs


Tony Markovich

Tony Markovich View tony markovich’s Articles

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The Floor Check™ is a subtle art known and executed by nearly every home mechanic around the globe. What was once a clean garage floor, driveway, or parking spot has now been Jackson Pollacked by a foreign substance. Is it alien blood? Oil? Melted Burt’s Bees? You must inspect closer.

So, you drop down, belly-to-ground like a burpee, to get a closer look. The color, the smell, and the feel of the liquid (no tasting necessary) tell you everything you need to know: It’s transmission fluid.

You can’t use The Floor Check™ method unless you know what you’re looking for, so The Drive is here to educate you on the details and walk you through the process. While we’re at it, we’ll examine common causes of a potential leak and possible solutions to your problems. Let’s get to it.

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What Is Transmission Fluid?

In both manual and automatic transmissions, transmission fluid is the liquid that lubricates and cools the device’s internal parts. In an automatic transmission, the system also utilizes the fluid for hydraulic pressure and actuation. In real-world terms, it’s the stuff that keeps your transmission shifting smoothly and on time.

What Color Is Transmission Fluid?

Transmission fluid is typically red or pinkish, but in rare cases, other manufacturers might choose something else. In good condition, the fluid is slightly translucent. If it is bad and/or soiled, it might look dark red, brown, or milky.

What Does Transmission Fluid Smell and Feel Like?

Transmission fluid is viscous and slimy like motor oil. It is relatively odorless, if not a bit chemically, but bad transmission fluid might smell burnt and nasty.

How Long Should Transmission Fluid Last?

For this answer, it’s best to look into the details for your specific car in your owner’s manual as some manufacturers claim lifetime use, while others only 100,000 miles. There are those people who prefer to change transmission fluid every 40,000-50,000 miles, but that can be considered wasteful and excessive if your car is in good working order. Again, check the book.

Because transmissions are extremely complicated mechanisms and transmission oil flushes require a specific machine, we recommend taking your car to a trusted and proven professional.

Always use the manufacturer-recommended automatic transmission fluid., Amazon / Honda

Causes of Low Transmission Fluid

There is essentially one primary reason your transmission fluid is low, and it’s leakage. The fluid is finding its way out of the system and into our big world. Here are a few places the leak could occur:

  • Transmission pan crack or puncture
  • Transmission pan gasket failure
  • Fluid line crack
  • Axle seal failure
  • Torque converter failure

Symptoms of Low Transmission Fluid

  • Drips or puddles underneath the car
  • Difficulty shifting through gears and/or slipping
  • Shuddering or shaking
  • Lurching or sudden jerks
  • Transmission won’t engage
  • Humming or clunking noises
  • A burning smell

Servicing a Transmission

Know the basics and prepare the necessary tools before you begin your project.

Estimated Time Needed: 20 minutes to 2 hours

Skill Level: Beginner to Professional

Vehicle System: Transmission


Working on your car can be dangerous and messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you don’t leave the garage in the same condition in which you entered.

  • Mechanic gloves
  • Safety glasses

Everything You’ll Need For Servicing a Transmission

We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done.

Tool List

  • Funnel
  • Dirty cloth, shirt, sock, or microfiber towel
  • Socket set

Parts List (H3)

  • Transmission fluid
  • Transmission gasket

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won’t need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

You’ll also need a flat workspace, such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking that’s also well-ventilated. Check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes when using the street because we aren’t getting your ride out of the clink.

Transmission are one of the most complicated devices on a car., Depositphotos

How To Check Transmission Fluid

Consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual to determine whether or not your transmission fluid can be checked with a dipstick.

Vehicles Without Transmission Dipsticks

If your vehicle does not have a transmission dipstick, read your owner’s manual for instructions. It likely will tell you to have it serviced by a professional with the correct tools for the job.

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Vehicles With Transmission Dipsticks

  1. Make sure your car is parked on a flat and level surface to ensure an accurate reading.
  2. Start your car to warm up the transmission and keep it in park or neutral, depending on the vehicle and manufacturer.
  3. Identify the dipstick, pull it out, and wipe the stick clean with a spare rag or towel.
  4. Place the dipstick all the way back into its original position.
  5. Remove the dipstick once again and locate the fluid level indicators on the stick. There might be two indicators for hot or cold temperatures.
  6. If the fluid is low, there’s likely a leak or issue that needs servicing.

NOTE: If you want to be absolutely sure there is a leak and don’t need to drive anywhere, you can add more transmission fluid and check the floor again the next day. However, a transmission is a pretty sealed-off system, and a leak is one of the only ways fluid can escape.

How To Add Transmission Fluid

  1. Read your owner’s manual to determine your car’s specific transmission fluid needs. Check for the specific type, as well as the amount.
  2. Locate the filler tube.
  3. Remove the dipstick.
  4. Place a funnel into the tube.

How To Change Transmission Fluid

Servicing the transmission will require you to jack the car up, get underneath, and remove the pan. A full flush will require professional help. For more information, visit The Drive’s detailed guide, How To Change Transmission Fluid.

Getting a Pro’s Help from YourMechanic

There’s nothing like getting midway through a job and finding yourself, well, stuck. Sometimes, it doesn’t affect driveability, other times, you may have shot yourself in the foot and can’t get to work. It’s then you need help ASAP, that’s why The Drive partnered with YourMechanic to help find you a local mechanic, get a quick quote, and back to work in time for your morning meeting. Use promo code THEDRIVE to save $10 off any appointment $70 or more.

FAQs (H2)

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Q. What Happens If You Overfill Transmission Fluid?

A. Overfilling a transmission could cause damage to the transmission’s internal parts. If the transmission oil level is too high, it could submerge the gears, which could cause foaming, which could cause issues. The system requires specific levels to maintain specific pressures, and if it’s not on point, the transmission could act up and show physical symptoms such as leaks or malfunctioning.

Q. Can a Transmission Go Out Without Warning?

A. Never say never, but your transmission will almost always tell you it’s struggling before failing completely. This is why it’s important to consistently check and service your fluid to keep everything running like a synchronized swim team.

Q. Will Check Engine Light Come On If Transmission Fluid Is Low?

A. Most modern cars are equipped with some sort of warning light or alert when there is an issue with the transmission.

What Does White Smoke Coming Out of the Exhaust Mean? (Causes and Fix)

White smoke coming out of your exhaust pipe can be worrying. Reasons could range from something as harmless as condensation to something as serious as engine damage. It is generally never a good sign that your car is producing smoke. However, there are some circumstances in which this is normal. Learn when this may be normal, and find out what to do when it’s an issue.

In a Gasoline Engine

There are various reasons why white smoke could be coming from vehicles with a gasoline engine. Common causes of white smoke emission are improperly burning fuel, coolant leaking, or low combustion chamber temperatures. Water collects in the exhaust system and produces steam.

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In a Diesel Engine

In a diesel vehicle, thicker smoke indicates that fuel is not burning correctly. It could also be that coolant is leaking, or the temperature in the combustion chamber is too low.

An issue unique to diesel engines involves the injection pump. An injection pump pumps fuel into the diesel engine. If the pump’s timing is off, the vehicle’s fuel will not completely burn. There could also be water mixing with the diesel, likely caused by a crack in the head gasket.

What Should I Do If I See White Smoke Coming From My Exhaust?

Nobody reacts well to any sort of smoke coming from their vehicle’s exhaust system. Here’s a look at when white smoke is regular and when you might have a reason for concern.

When a White Smoke in the Exhaust is Normal

White smoke may not always be a cause for concern. In cold or damp weather, condensation can collect inside the exhaust pipes and other vehicle parts, such as the muffler. It may cause thin, white smoke to come out of the exhaust pipe when this happens.

Once the temperature of the engine is regulated, the smoke should disappear. This occurrence is standard after a long period of inactivity. However, if smoking continues after the engine is warmed up, it could signify another issue with your vehicle.

When a White Smoke in the Exhaust Could Be a Problem

If the white smoke coming out of your exhaust is thick, it may indicate a problem. One of the most common causes is a coolant leak. Coolant regulates the temperature of an engine. A coolant leak may be the result of a cracked head gasket, a blown radiator hose, or radiator corrosion.

When coolant leaks, a thick, white smoke emits from the exhaust. Smoke caused by a coolant leak is often sweet-smelling. You should address even the most minor leaks because, if left untreated, they can cause engine damage.

If white smoke appears during accelerating, it can be due to coolant or transmission fluid leaks. If the exhaust smells of burned oil, the smoke may result from transmission fluid leaking and burning.

5 Common Causes of White Smoke During Startup

  1. One common cause of white smoke during startup is temperature regulation. The engine and exhaust must reach the proper temperature to operate correctly.
  2. Another common cause, as previously mentioned, is condensation. You’ll typically see this happen during colder months when hot air or gas from the exhaust meets cold air.
  3. A more worrisome reason for white smoke upon startup is a coolant leak. These leaks can result in an overheated and damaged engine.
  4. Another cause of white smoke on startup is piston ring damage. Piston rings regulate oil consumption. A leak in the combustion chamber can cause burning and result in smoke in the exhaust.
  5. A fuel injector delivers the fuel to the engine. If your fuel injector is damaged, it will deliver either too much or too little fuel, leading to improper burning and exhaust smoke.

How to Fix White Smoke From Exhaust

There are various ways to try to determine the source of the smoke coming from your exhaust. If you suspect that coolant levels are causing the issue, you can check the coolant levels; if they’re too low, you can obtain the correct fluid and fill the reservoir to the appropriate level. If coolant levels aren’t low, the issue may lie in a coolant leak. Check for cracks or damage in parts of the engine.

If you have the appropriate tools, a cooling system pressure test may be helpful. This test checks for leaks by applying pressure and simulating a hot engine. If the system cannot hold pressure, there is likely a leak.

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A damaged head gasket could be the source of a coolant leak. It is possible to change your head gasket on your own. You can watch instructional videos online, but it is crucial to contact a professional if you are uncomfortable or unsure of what you are doing. If your head gasket isn’t the source of the leak, you should check the cylinder head.

If there are cracks in the cylinder head, you will have to replace it. Replacing the cylinder head will cost at least $500, depending on the vehicle. If it is an older or more expensive vehicle, the cylinder head may be iron and more costly to replace.

If you believe that transmission fluid is the issue, you should first check the fluid level. If the fluid is too low, it may be causing the problem. If the correct amount of fluid is present, this may mean that your transmission vacuum modulator valve may need to be changed. If the exhaust smells like gas, you may need to replace the fuel.

Once you’ve identified the source of the white smoke, you should contact a trusted professional if you need assistance.


If you have more questions about white exhaust smoke, here are some of the most commonly asked questions.

Does white smoke always mean a blown head gasket?

White smoke does not always mean a blown head gasket. White smoke could be anything as harmless as condensation to something as serious as an engine coolant. It is essential to determine the cause of the smoke and contact a professional if necessary.

Why is there blue smoke coming out of my exhaust?

Blue smoke coming out of your exhaust likely indicates an oil leak. Issues such as damaged piston rings, cylinder heads, or valve seals can cause these types of leaks. It could also mean that there is too much oil and that you need to get it drained.

What does grey smoke during startup mean?

Grey smoke during startup could be due to several causes. There could be excess oil that needs draining or a transmission fluid leak. Another possibility is a PCV valve failure.

What causes white smoke when it’s idle?

In this case, white smoke could be condensation, which will go away once the engine temperature is regulated. However, it may be an indication of issues with the combustion chambers. Oil may have leaked inside and burned.

Why does my exhaust have white smoke when it’s cold?

White smoke emitting from the exhaust when it is cold outside is normal and usually not a cause for concern. Engines need to be at a specific temperature to operate correctly. When it is cold or damp outside, steam will come out of the exhaust pipes until the temperature is regulated. If this continues, there may be another issue.

Why is my car blowing white smoke but not overheating?

If your car is blowing white smoke but not overheating, it could be due to condensation or a coolant leak. White smoke due to a coolant leak can be identified by its thicker appearance and sweet smell. The coolant has escaped and is burning with fuel in the combustion process.

What does it mean when my car blows white smoke then losing power?

If your car is blowing out white smoke and then losing power, it likely indicates overheating. You should check for a coolant leak, as, if left unchecked, it could lead to further engine damage.

Author: DJ

Dave Junior is a hands-on automotive technician with experience in performing service, diagnostics, and repairs on domestic and imported vehicles. He enjoys writing and sharing his knowledge far and wide.

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