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#1 Old 01-07-2011, 01:24 PM
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Unhappy owners manual defect/ transmission fluid check

I have a 2004 camry xle with 33,000 miles. Thought I would review the info in the owners manual re checking transmission fluid. It should be there, right, just like info on checking engine oil, since both are important? The manual has a page on how to check ENGINE OIL, and shows the dipstick and how to read it. There is info in the back specs portion of the owners manual re type of ATF (T-4) and fluid capacity. There is NO instruction on how to check transmission fluid or how to read the transmission dipstick. We all know it is not the same as engine oil check, so why the lack of information in the owners manual? Just because the fluid doesn't need changing in theory for 100k, doesn't mean it shouldn't be monitored. And if you want to stay within warranty requirements, you need to monitor it according to Toyota instructions, not based on prior experience with handyman technique. I'm not sure my Haynes manual is accurate, since it generalizes on some things.
I am appalled that no basic instructions are in the original Toyota owners manual. Has anyone noticed this? Maybe it's in the Service manual, but who buys a service manual for information this basic and critical?

This comes up because when I checked the fluid warm, it was halfway between the lower and upper notches. I expected it to be at the upper notches.I check several times, level, running, and cycled thru the gears to be sure. It is proper red color and I have noticed no shift problems.
Then I checked it cold the next day, running, level,and cycled thru the gears to be sure. It was below the lower notches by about 1/2 inch. Does this confirm that my ATF is low even though it functions properly? There are no visible external leaks.
You may say, 'top it off carefully" and be done with it. But how do I know the correct technique for certain if none is listed in the Owner's manual?
Comments will be welcome.
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#2 Old 01-07-2011, 07:09 PM
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The T-IV ATF (dino Mobil-3309) is good for about 20K miles before turning brown (BITOG "Bob is the Oil Guy" discussions). I'd say treat it like the old Dexron III and change it 15K for severe service and 30K for normal service.

There is also a felt filter in there. That should be changed maybe 30K miles?

I personally don't believe the "lifetime" fill thing if you intend to keep the car for a longer period of time past the powertrain warranty.
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#3 Old 01-08-2011, 08:29 AM
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Thanks for the reply. I am not concerned at this time regarding how to change out my fluid, because I don't yet have a consensus on how to measure the level and whether I am running low. I am interested in 2 things.
1)How do I confirm whether I need to add fluid in this case? Please reread my original post.

2)Is anyone aware that there is no information in the owners manual for 2004 camry regarding the technique for checking transmission fluid level, or even how to read the dipstick?

Thanks to all for any help you can provide.

Last edited by rleescott; 01-08-2011 at 08:30 AM. Reason: typo
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#4 Old 01-09-2011, 07:19 AM
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You're very unlikely to be running low on transmission fluid, but you check it with the transmission dipstick, it's on the right side of the engine bay, and there's two markers showing you where the fluid level should be-but those are only valid when the transmission is warm IIRC. The reason why it's not in the owners manual is because it's really more of a service thing, so you'll see how to do it in the service manual, or probably if you buy a Haynes manual. I wouldn't spend the money just to check it though since it's really not that complex.

There's only two dipsticks in the whole engine bay so it's not really rocket science-it's the one that's lower down and isn't going into the motor Check it when the transmission is warm the same way you'd check motor oil, take the dipstick out, wipe it off, dip it in, take it back out and look at the level-should be within the dots. You want the color of the transmission fluid to be somewhat pinkish looking and you should smell it to see if you smell any weird burning smells. If it's been a while since you changed it it's probably not gonna be really pink so don't freak out too much.

If you actually look at your toyota service intervals they actually don't ever specify a specific time to change the transmission fluid, only an inspection interval. Since you have 33,000 miles if you want you can do a quick drain and fill since it's pretty darn easy. The only tools you'll need are a 10mm hex wrench to undo the bolt on the transmission drain pan and a long funnel to get the new ATF in. I'd use either OEM Toyota Type IV ATF or Castrol *IMPORT* multi-vehicle ATF or Mobil 1 Synthetic ATF.

I actually would recommend against dropping the pan-I went ahead and bought a new filter and pan gasket and all that stuff but after taking a look at the actual transmission pan setup it's pretty clear that Toyota really doesn't want anybody dropping the transmission pan. The original seal isn't with just a gasket, they apparently used a liquid sealer that hardens up as well, and several of the bolts have been purposely made ridiculously hard to reach-I used a U-joint and all sorts of extensions and it's really not doable unless you have just the right tool. On top of which the original bolts weren't just screwed in, they had a sealant put on them right before being screwed in to prevent leaking. Would be a major pain in the butt to seal it back up as well as they did at the factory, since you'll have to scrape off all the original factory sealant once you got the pan dropped.

Honestly I'd recommend just doing the pan drop and fill, then repeating it at 60K and 90K. Should keep your transmission fluid in good shape. Use a bucket with measuring lines to see how much fluid you got out of the pan and put the same amount in then check on the dipstick after driving a little bit to see if the level is right. Your mileage is so low there's really no point in doing a flush now, but later on you could take it in for a flush or do a transmission cooler line flush.
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#5 Old 01-09-2011, 08:27 AM
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Thank you, tecdemon, for your very thorough reply. It seems we are on the same page regarding how to check transmission fluid levels, but you left out a very critical part, which is, the transmission fluid is checked with the engine running. Since I have checked the level several times, I am past the point of needing to find the transmission dipstick. Please read the following quote from my original post.

[QUOTE=rleescott;3437395]
This comes up because when I checked the fluid warm, it was halfway between the lower and upper notches. I expected it to be at the upper notches. I checked several times, level, running, and cycled thru the gears to be sure. It is proper red color and I have noticed no shift problems.
Then I checked it cold the next day, running, level,and cycled thru the gears to be sure. It was below the lower notches by about 1/2 inch. Does this confirm that my ATF is low even though it functions properly? There are no visible external leaks. QUOTE]

I have reconfirmed that when warm, after driving 12 miles in city, and checking the level as I described, the level is halfway between the lower notches and the upper notches. It is supposed to be between the upper notches at least, preferably at the highest upper notch. Because it is winter, 36 degrees outside, maybe it is best to use the lower mark of the upper 2 notches, so as not to overfill, but it seems that midway between the 2 lower and 2 upper notches is too low. The cold reading of 1/2 inch below the lower notches seems to confirm this. Since we all know this isn't that complex, isn't this proof that the level is low?

Please someone explain where I am wrong to try to raise the level, or there is no purpose in having a transmission fluid dipstick.

Also, unlike an air conditioning system, which is closed so that the refrigerant level never drops unless there is a leak, I believe both engine oil and transmission fluid can degrade over time from use, so that the level can drop due to mechanical usage without a leak. Does anyone think this is untrue?

I know there are lots of camry owners out there with more knowledge than I. What do you think about this situation, and how do you monitor your transmission fluid needs?

Last edited by rleescott; 01-09-2011 at 08:34 AM.
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#6 Old 01-09-2011, 08:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rleescott View Post
I have reconfirmed that when warm, after driving 12 miles in city, and checking the level as I described, the level is halfway between the lower notches and the upper notches. It is supposed to be between the upper notches at least, preferably at the highest upper notch. Because it is winter, 36 degrees outside, maybe it is best to use the lower mark of the upper 2 notches, so as not to overfill, but it seems that midway between the 2 lower and 2 upper notches is too low. The cold reading of 1/2 inch below the lower notches seems to confirm this. Since we all know this isn't that complex, isn't this proof that the level is low?

Please someone explain where I am wrong to try to raise the level, or there is no purpose in having a transmission fluid dipstick.
I think you're overthinking this! I agree its low... just top it off and be done with it.

Anyway, it seems you are checking the transmission fluid correctly... directly from the service manual:
1. CHECK FLUID LEVEL
HINT:
Drive the vehicle so that the engine and transaxle are at normal operating temperature.
Fluid temperature: 70 – 80 C (158 – 176 F)
(a) Park the vehicle on a level surface and set the parking brake.
(b) With the engine idling and the brake pedal depressed, shift the shift lever into all positions from P to L position and return to P position.
(c) Take out the dipstick and wipe it clean.
(d) Put it back fully into the pipe.
(e) Take it out and check that the fluid level is in the HOT position.
If there are leaks, it is necessary to repair or replace O–rings,
FIPGs, oil seals, plugs or other parts.

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Last edited by LE05; 01-09-2011 at 08:41 PM.
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#7 Old 01-10-2011, 08:58 AM
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Thanks for the reply, LEO5. I wouldn't be overthinking, and ranting as well, if this was covered in the owner's manual the way checking engine oil is covered .

But, because it is important not to overfill, and because I have noticed no transmission issues, it is important that everyone, including me , knows the correct procedure, and, again, (rant) WHY IS THIS NOT IS THE OWNER'S MANUAL, AND WHY IS NO ONE SQUAWKING ABOUT THIS OMISSION???

By the way, how much fluid is necessary to raise from the lower notches to the upper notches? Even trial and error needs a baseline, so as not to overfill.
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#8 Old 01-10-2011, 02:33 PM
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There is no specified interval for changing the transmission fluid. So Toyota assumes that it is a maintenance thing, leave it up to the technicians checking over your car, and omit it from the owner's manual.

There's nothing in my owner's manual either (2011) about transmission fluid....mine's a manual trans anyway so there is no dipstick.

6 speed manual 2011 Camry SE
1995 Mustang-1994 Mustang GT
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#9 Old 01-11-2011, 10:57 AM
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The Toyota service manual[shop manual]vol 3 says to check the transmission fluid with the fluid at operating temp[176 F +],shift the transmission thru all the gears, put the car in park and check the fluid while engine is idling.I changed the fluid by draining it hot[4.5qts],installing the same amount of Mobil 3309, running the car for a day or two[any amount of time will probably work,repeating the procedure three more times. This left the fluid looking like new. As far as I can tell from talking to a shop in town that has a machine for changing the fluid,the machine does essentially the same thing. By hooking the machine to the ATF cooler lines coming into the bottom radiator tank, the machine uses the transmission pump to pump off the old fluid while the machine pumps in a like amount to the sump where the pump picks up the fluid and pumps it to the various circuits including the torque converter. I don't think they make a machine that can get all the old fluid off without mixing new and old fluid. Some members may know of other ways to do your ATF change yourself. The above method worked for me on my 2004 V6 with the 5 speed AT. I purchased the Mobil 3309 from a Mobil jobber at $5.00 quart,12 to a case. I have also seen the Mobil product on some parts store shelves. I would guess your AT is probably about one half quart low. Use a new plug gasket[aluminum -18mm] and torque to 36 ft. lbs. I thank other members for their excellent posts. Regards from a very cold Nebraska.
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#10 Old 01-11-2011, 05:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rleescott View Post
Thanks for the reply, LEO5. I wouldn't be overthinking, and ranting as well, if this was covered in the owner's manual the way checking engine oil is covered .

But, because it is important not to overfill, and because I have noticed no transmission issues, it is important that everyone, including me , knows the correct procedure, and, again, (rant) WHY IS THIS NOT IS THE OWNER'S MANUAL, AND WHY IS NO ONE SQUAWKING ABOUT THIS OMISSION???

By the way, how much fluid is necessary to raise from the lower notches to the upper notches? Even trial and error needs a baseline, so as not to overfill.
yeah, it should be in the owners manual... but since i have the service manual, i'm not bothered by the omission .

as far as how much to add...i'm not sure, but i would say adding in 1/8 qt at first would be a small enough amount not to overfill.

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#11 Old 06-28-2012, 03:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Donald E. George View Post
The Toyota service manual[shop manual]vol 3 says to check the transmission fluid with the fluid at operating temp[176 F +],shift the transmission thru all the gears, put the car in park and check the fluid while engine is idling.I changed the fluid by draining it hot[4.5qts],installing the same amount of Mobil 3309, running the car for a day or two[any amount of time will probably work,repeating the procedure three more times. This left the fluid looking like new. As far as I can tell from talking to a shop in town that has a machine for changing the fluid,the machine does essentially the same thing. By hooking the machine to the ATF cooler lines coming into the bottom radiator tank, the machine uses the transmission pump to pump off the old fluid while the machine pumps in a like amount to the sump where the pump picks up the fluid and pumps it to the various circuits including the torque converter. I don't think they make a machine that can get all the old fluid off without mixing new and old fluid. Some members may know of other ways to do your ATF change yourself. The above method worked for me on my 2004 V6 with the 5 speed AT. I purchased the Mobil 3309 from a Mobil jobber at $5.00 quart,12 to a case. I have also seen the Mobil product on some parts store shelves. I would guess your AT is probably about one half quart low. Use a new plug gasket[aluminum -18mm] and torque to 36 ft. lbs. I thank other members for their excellent posts. Regards from a very cold Nebraska.
I realize that this is an old thread, but for the benefit of people that may read this thread I think a few things need to be mentioned.

First, the original poster (rleescott) clearly had a legitimate concern with his dipstick's fluid level. At minimum his fluid level should have been at the lower 'HOT' level, not midway between 'COLD' and 'HOT' levels once the temperature is at operating temperature. This low fluid level brings to question why the fluid level was low on a low-mileage car that shows no signs of having a leak. Does Toyota turn out vehicles that are low on fluids? Has his Toyota dealer, and any other service dealer, ever checked the ATF level and seen that it appeared to be low...and not brought it to the owners attention? I find his low transmission fluid level strange too!

Moving on Donald E. George's comments (quoted above). I also own a 2004 Camry XLE V6 with 115,000 miles. The automatic transmission is a 5-speed (151E). Owners of [at least] a 2004 Camry will have a label on the ATF dipstick that states: NOTICE: NO NEED TO REPLACE ATF UNDER NORMAL DRIVING CONDITION. Also, the owners service manual does not give any mileage or time period in which the transmission fluid is ever changed under normal driving condition. This leads one to believe the ATF never needs to be changed, regardless of mileage or age...unless the vehicle is used for severe service, e.g. towing, etc.

There's no doubt the topic of changing/replacing ATF has been discussed numerous times. But, I have yet to see a clear and concise response from Toyota about whether the ATF ever needs to be changed/replaced under normal driving condition. Does that mean 300,000 miles? No fluid is forever...in my opinion. Lifetime could simply mean - until it gives out! Personally, I'd like to know what Toyota's engineering experts say about this never having to replace the ATF...but doubt I ever will.

I am under the belief that (even though Toyota suggests you never need to change/replace the ATF) that the transmission fluid should be replaced 'every so often' to help prolong the transmission's life. I do not like the idea of a so-called flush, but instead like doing a drain-and-fill once every 15K-20K miles or so. This method only removes about 40% of the 9.3 quarts, but is enough to keep a sizable percentage (40%) of fresh ATF in the transmission.

Some owners may have mileage approaching 6-digits, or even surpassing 100,000 miles, that have never replaced/changed there ATF due to Toyota's 'NO NEED TO REPLACE' statement (and no mention of replacing the ATF in the service manual). These owners might [now] want to consider replacing/changing the ATF to help prolong the transmission's life. These owners may all of a sudden have a different view about whether it's wise to 'never replace' the ATF. If so, the following should be helpful...

2004 Camry V6 5-Speed Automatic Transmission U151E
(Genuine Toyota Type T-IV Fluid - Total Fill 9.3 Quarts)

According to the service manual (and also the ATF dipstick) the transmission fluid never requires changing unless the vehicle is used for severe duty, such as towing. The ATF dipstick label states: NOTICE: NO NEED TO REPLACE ATF UNDER NORMAL DRIVING CONDITION.

You might consider freshening-up the transmission fluid ever so often with 3.7 quarts of ATF using the drain-and-fill method, in lieu of a full flush method that can dislodge gum, sludge and lacquer in vehicles that haven’t routinely had the ATF replaced.

Every time you do a drain-and-fill only about 40% of the total fluid is drained so 60% of the old fluid remains in the torque converter. When you drive, it circulates the old fluid in the torque converter with the new fluid in the pan, mixing the old remaining fluid with the new fresh fluid.

1st drain-and-fill will leave ~ 60% dirty fluid remaining
2nd drain-and-fill will leave ~ 36% dirty fluid remaining
3rd drain-and-fill will leave ~ 22% dirty fluid remaining
4th drain-and-fill will leave ~ 13% dirty fluid remaining
5th drain-and-fill will leave ~ 8% dirty fluid remaining

Multiply 0.60 each drain-and-fill to get the % of dirty fluid remaining.

To overcome a previously lax maintenance schedule – plan on doing at least 2 initial drain-and-fills back-to-back after driving the car for a minimum of a few hours (or wait a few weeks), then do a drain-and-fill at 2,500 mile intervals until it has been done a total of at least 4 times. This will get you back to where a ‘normal’ maintenance schedule of having a drain-and-fill (40% ATF replacement every time) can be done only once every 15K-20K miles or so.

Note: Approximately 3.73 Quarts (3530mL) is drained out, which of course must be replaced. (1 Quart = 946mL)

I would recommend using Toyota ATF Fluid TYPE T-IV: Toyota Part# 00279-000T4-01 309 ATF T-IV Q

The drain-and-fill method is very easy to do, but if you do not want to do it yourself most shops (oil change & transmission shops) will do it for you for a cost of around $50 or less, with you furnishing the ATF.


Note: Donald, you said you drained 4.5 quarts from your transmission. I have never drained out even 4 quarts of fluid - it's always been 3 3/4 quarts maximum...

Hope this helps...

PS - If you want to replace the aluminum crush washer on the drain plug, it's called the Transmission (Transfer Case) Drain Gasket: Toyota Part# 90430-18008

Last edited by Kooter; 06-28-2012 at 04:41 PM.
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