So we’ve covered the basics of the automatic transmission and the fluid that keeps it going. Now it’s time to figure out what kind of ATF is right for your vehicle.
These days there are a number of different types of ATF available, each formulated for specific types of transmissions. The most common types are Dexron/Mercon and Multi-Vehicle Synthetic. The transmission is one of the most complex systems in a vehicle, so it is critical to use an appropriate and high-quality ATF to help ensure performance well past the 100k mile mark. Here’s a guide to the most common types of ATF and what makes them different.
Dexron VI (GM) / Mercon V (Ford) / ATF+4 (Chrysler)
These three ATF products are the most common on the market, designed and licensed exclusively by the three largest North American automobile manufacturers: GM, Ford, and Chrysler (now FCA). These ATF fluids are designed for the newest transmission technologies being sold in the marketplace. In addition, these same fluids can also be used in many imported vehicles (always check your owner’s manual for specific recommendations). All three include friction modifiers, which reduces the friction in lubricated parts.
Multi-Vehicle Synthetic Transmission Fluid
Multi-vehicle transmission fluids are becoming more and more popular in the marketplace. Oil marketers design these fluids for a wide range of automatic transmission types. While they are not licensed by any specific auto manufacturer, they are designed to provide superior performance and protection. They are formulated with the latest additive technology and their performance is typically supported by extensive field testing. Most multi-vehicle transmission fluids utilize synthetic base oils.
Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) Fluid
More and more vehicle manufacturers are using continuously variable transmissions in their new car offerings to improve fuel economy, with ~20% of all new cars being sold utilizing this technology. The fluid requirements for CVT transmissions are very different versus a typical stepped gear transmission. Each specific CVT fluid is formulated for a specific transmission; however, oil marketers have been able to demonstrate good performance with a single CVT oil across many different transmission designs. Most CVT transmission fluids utilize synthetic base oils.
Type F (Ford)
Type F hasn’t been used in vehicles since the early 70s, and even then it was typically only used in Fords. Unlike most ATFs, Type F doesn’t include friction modifiers. So unless you’re driving a car that’s pushing 40, this isn’t the type of ATF for you.
Choosing the correct transmission fluid is critical to insuring the maximum performance and fuel economy from your car. Always check your owner’s manual for the type of fluid recommended for your vehicle by the manufacturer. Most, but not all, transmission fluids are blended with synthetic base oils to offer better performance, with improved resistance to heat, cold, oxidation, friction, and shearing. Check the bottle or product information sheet online to confirm what’s in the product before purchasing.
Once you’ve figured out which type of transmission fluid is right for your vehicle, check out How to Change Transmission Fluid.
- Prior to using or installing any of these products always consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual for compatibility and warranty information.
- Always take appropriate safety precautions when working on or operating your vehicle. Take the necessary steps to help prevent injuries; always use protective gear like helmets, safety goggles, and gloves.