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Transmission Fluid and Volvo S40/V50, C30 & C70

Wondering if you need to change the transmission fluid in your P1 generation — 2004-2012 — Volvo S40/V50? MVS user cleve33 had a similar question after his mechanic recommended every 30k miles and worrying it was just a cash grab. Turning to the good people of the MVS forum, he asked how often to change his S40’s transmission fluid.

This Information Covers North American Market P1 Volvos

Although this is written about an MVS member and his second-generation S40, it applies to a group of Volvos that share their “bones” with each other.

Let’s take a look at how often to change the transmission fluid in your P1 S40/V50 and whether you should do a full flush or a simple drain-and-fill. But first, let’s start with how to change your S40/V50’s tranny fluid.

How to Change the Transmission Fluid on Your S40/V50

In response to cleve33’s question, MVS Moderator MadeInJapan noted that he’s been changing his own transmission fluid each year for quite a while. He had this to say:

The drain and fills are easy and you can do them fairly quickly and you don’t need to pay a mechanic to do it for you.

Good enough for us! If you’ve ever changed the oil in your car, you won’t find any real surprises when you go to change your transmission fluid. And even if you haven’t ever changed any oil, you’ll be surprised how easy it is! Let’s get started:

Trans fluid draining tools
Trans fluid draining tools

  1. First things first, drain your old fluid. Underneath the car you’ll easily find the tranny drain plug. (Helpful tip: Don’t get it confused with the engine oil drain plug.) Just unscrew it and wait for all the fluid to come out. You’ll only get about 40% of all the fluid, but that’s still about 4 quarts, so be ready with a large container. Once all the old fluid is gone, replace the drain plug with a new washer (same as the oil drain plug).
  2. Now, remove the transmission dipstick and add in the same amount of fluid that you removed. To make the process easier, MadeInJapan recommends finding two identical jugs (he uses old windshield washer bottles), pouring the old fluid in one and filling the other to the same level with new fluid. After pouring in all the new fluid (a long funnel helps), replace the transmission dip stick. You’re done!

If it’s been a while, consider doing the drain-and-fill two or three times to get out most of that old, useless fluid:

You are at 40K miles now since it was done last. So,instead of 1, I would recommend you do 2 drain and fills back to back and you will be fine and this will prolong your transmission, more than you suspect. Do one drain and fill and drive the car for a bit…even do the second one the same day if you want. At your miles, this should be plenty.

MadeInJapan finishes off with a warning on fluid type:

Last things: make sure and use the correct fluid, either Volvo ATF, Toyota Type -IV or Mobil 3309 – they are all the same fluid specification. I would however avoid any other ATF no matter what you read on different websites. The fluids I mention are all tried and true, but with the Volvo fluid costing an arm and a leg so most people avoid buying their ATF from the dealer.

How Often Should You Change the Tranny Fluid?

(What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?)

Volvo doesn’t give a hard-and-fast rule on how frequently to change your transmission fluid. For automatic S40/V50s, they officially recommend inspecting the transmission fluid every 15,000 miles (every other oil change) to see if it needs to be replaced, up to 90k miles.

Beyond 90k, Volvo refers readers to their “Warranty and Service Records Information Booklet” for more info, but that can be a rather elusive item considering the newest of the Volvo P1 generation S40/V50s are nearing 7 years old.

Tip: If you’re doing the old drain-and-fill, then some of the old transmission fluid will mix with your new, bright red fluid, so keep this in mind when you pull the dipstick out.

Taking a peek at the 2015 Warranty and Service Records Information Booklet, Volvo recommends owners take their high mileage vehicles (150k + miles) to the Volvo dealer and letting them sort out the fluid change intervals. Not too helpful.

For most high mileage vehicles, the general consensus is that you should change your transmission fluid every 30,000 miles.This keeps your transmission running in tip-top shape, and gives you a chance to watch for tell-tale signs of any damage or issues.

The best advice for your high mileage Volvo? Learn to read your transmission fluid. Quickly check your tranny fluid every other oil change, just like Volvo recommends.

Color, smell, and particles in the fluid give you clues on the health of your tranny fluid, the transmission itself, and whether or not it’s time for a fluid change.

Most transmission fluids you’ll see today start off bright red. As you drive around mile upon mile, that fluid get shot and turns into a reddish-brown color. This is completely normal for any transmission fluid. As the transmission continues to function, that fluid will change from reddish-brown to dark brown. There’s your warning sign that it’s time to change your transmission fluid.

If your fluid is black, smells burnt, or you find metal shavings or particles in your fluid, that’s a sign that your transmission is working with bad fluid and is getting slowly and quietly clobbered.

Should You Change Your Transmission Fluid in Your High Mileage Volvo?

There’s a lot of misinformation around whether you should change transmission fluid in a high mileage vehicle…  it’s not just Volvos, the concepts are universal. It seems like everyone’s cousin has a story about changing the transmission fluid in their old car, only for the tranny to completely die the next day.

What’s going on? Should you change your transmission fluid? Absolutely yes. Changing your transmission fluid will never damage your transmission. If the components in your transmission are in great shape, changing the transmission fluid isn’t going to suddenly break them.

However, if your transmission fluid is burnt or there’s small metal shavings floating around, the answer becomes a little more complex. Instead of should you change your transmission fluid? the question becomes HOW should you change your fluid?

Over on YouTube, the extremely knowledgeable ChrisFix covered this issue exactly, breaking down a transmission and showing exactly why some fail after a transmission change.

Turns out, a lot of it depends on whether you drain-and-fill your transmission or do a complete flush.

Drain-and-Fill or Flush?

We mentioned that a healthy transmission can never be damaged by a fluid change. If you’ve kept up with your transmission service and you’ve got nice, bright red fluid, you’re good to go. No matter if you drain-and-fill in your driveway or take it to a shop for a power full flush, you don’t need to worry at all!

Flushing your transmission however, can create problems if your tranny is showing signs of damage – burnt fuel and/or particles in your fluid. As your tranny’s clutch wears down, that clutch material (ie the metal shavings) is floating in your transmission fluid,helping the clutch engage as you change gears. If you fully flush your transmission, you’re removing that clutch material that’s helping create friction and introducing new, clean fluid. Now, you’ve got a worn out clutch and you don’t have any clutch material floating around to help out, so your gears can begin to slip.

On top of that, the labyrinth of small passageways in the transmission valve body can accumulate grime and dirt from the old, worn out transmission fluid. The detergent used when flushing the transmission can shake up all that grime and dirt, potentially blocking these small channels and leading to hard shifting.

If you’ve got an older Volvo S40/V50 with less-than-stellar transmission oil or you don’t the service history of your vehicle, it’s probably better to play it safe and simply drain your transmission fluid instead of a full flush.

Unlike a flush, which removes 100% of the fluid from the tranny, draining only removes about 40% of all the fluid per drain/fill cycle, so it’s less invasive and leaves much of the oil in the gaskets intact, which prevents new leaks.

Read more about Volvo transmissions: V70, S70, 850 and V70 XC

And unlike a flush that forces all the fluid out, with a drain you’re just letting gravity do the work, so all that gunk stuck inside is also left undisturbed, giving you better chances that you’ll have no issues when you drive to work the next day.

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How to Change Transmission Fluid in Your Volvo S40/V50
Let’s take a look at how often to change the transmission fluid in your P1 S40/V50 and whether you should do a full flush or a simple drain-and-fill. But first, let’s start with how to change your S40/V50’s tranny fluid.
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