Changing Transmission Fluid in a Toyota Camryby Doug Desjardins
Most Toyota Camrys are equipped with an automatic transmission that is lubricated with automatic transmission fluid (ATF), but some Camry models--especially from the 1980s and 1990s--have manual transmissions. The fluid serves the same purpose that oil serves for your engine and should be replaced every 30,000 to 60,000 miles, depending on the type of driving you do and the condition of your transmission. Changing the ATF is a bit more involved than changing engine oil but you can do it yourself by following a few simple steps.
Check your ATF
Like engine oil, transmission fluid begins to break down and lose its viscosity with age. To check your fluid, remove the dipstick that extends into the transmission fluid pan, wipe it clean, re-insert it and remove it again. If the fluid is red and syrupy, it's in good shape. If it's starting to turn brown and runny, it's in poor shape and needs to be replaced. Warning: If you have an old transmission with more than 100,000 miles, check with a mechanic before you change the fluid. Adding new fluid can sometimes do more harm than good.
Changing Fluid for an Automatic Transmission
To change your transmission fluid, you'll need a socket wrench, a pan to drain the fluid into, a new transmission pan strainer and gasket and several quarts of new ATF. For your Camry, you'll probably use Dextron or Type 4 fluid but check your owner's manual or ask the clerk at the auto parts store to look it up just to make sure. Remove the drain plug from the bottom of the transmission pan and let the old fluid drain into a plastic bowl. Remove all the bolts from the transmission fluid pan except for two then hold the pan in place while you remove the final bolts so it doesn't fall to the ground. Then remove the strainer and the gasket and clean the fluid pan and the mount it's attached to. Once everything is clean and dry, you can reassemble the transmission fluid pan and replace the fluid. Install a new fluid strainer and a new gasket to the edge of the fluid pan and re-attach the pan to the mount. After tightening the bolts and re-inserting the drain plug, you can climb out from under the car and pour new fluid in. To do this, take the transmission fluid dipstick out and insert a funnel into the tube. Pour new transmission fluid into the funnel and check the level after each quart until the level reads full. Replace the dipstick, start the engine and shift through the gears to make sure they all work then shut off the engine. Check the fluid level again and if it still reads full, you are good to go.
Changing Fluid for a Manual Transmission
If your Camry is equipped with a manual transmission, changing the fluid is easier. All you need to do is place a plan beneath the transmission drain plug and remove the plug. Once the fluid has drained, put the plug back in and find the fluid replacement plug in the side of the transmission. Fill it and check the level with the dipstick until it is full. Then drive the car around the block, park and check the level again to make sure it's still full. Manual transmissions have fewer moving parts than automatics and are easier to maintain.
Doug Desjardins is a journalist and research analyst. He has worked for more than a half-dozen newspapers, magazines and websites and hiswork has appeared in a number of publications including the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Magazine.