Choosing the Best Automatic Transmission Fluid

An automatic transmission relies heavily on ATF (automatic transmission fluid) for all of its major functions, and while you might say ATF is extremely useful for your transmission (which would be a huge understatement), that’s only if it’s in good condition and the right type. So although it’s essential to change the ATF every now and then, it’s also very important to make sure you’re using the right kind of automatic transmission fluid as well, or else you could be risking serious damage to your transmission. So with that being said, we’ll walk you through what you need to know about ATF.

What is Automatic Transmission Fluid For?

ATF does a lot for your transmission. This includes responsibilities such as lubrication, fluid pressure, cooling, oxidation preventative, gasket conditioner, anti-rust measure, and more. Lubrication, fluid pressure, and cooling are its primary functions though, since an automatic transmission relies on lubrication to keep parts moving smoothly, fluid pressure to activate transmission bands and clutch plates in order to change gears, and cooling capacity to prevent the transmission from overheating, which causes the majority of transmission failures.

automatic transmission fluid types

While manual transmissions also use special oils (whether motor oil, gear oil, or ATF in some cases), it doesn’t require nearly as much care and attention as automatic transmissions do. That’s because while the main problem with manual transmissions is fluid contamination that can occur over time, automatic transmission fluid breaks down with normal use (due to automatic transmission’s higher operating temperature) and contamination. So, as you can guess, it’s important to choose the correct fluid since it will be providing all these important functions every time you start your car.

What’s the Best Automatic Transmission Fluid to Use?

Okay okay, so what’s the best automatic transmission fluid to use for your car? The answer might be a little obvious, but it should be the ATF your car manufacturer recommends (you can find this info in your vehicle’s owners manual). That’s because the manufacturer recommended ATF will provide all the functionality your transmission needs for your particular vehicle’s make and model.

ATF manufacturers include different additives in their fluid depending on what specific transmission model it’s for. Of course, this can be harder to find if you’ve had the transmission replaced. You’ll have to find the transmission’s model and contact the manufacturer to find the best ATF to use. For a general guide on automatic transmission fluid compatibility, take note of this chart:

Car MakeTransmission Fluid Type
  • Dodge
  • Jeep
  • Chrysler

ATF+4

ATF+4

  • Ford
  • Mercury
  • Lincoln
Mercon V

Mercon V

  • Ford (DuratecHE)
  • MAZDA (Europe / Asia)
Mercon LV

Mercon LV

  • GM
  • Toyota (pre-2004)
Dexron VI

Dexron VI

  • All Honda (except CVT)
  • Acura (except CVT)
ATF DW-1

ATF DW1

  • Nissan
  • Subaru
  • Infiniti
Matic S, Matic K, Matic D

Matic S

  • Toyota (2004 and later)
Toyota ATF-WS

ATF WS

  • Most Toyota, Lexus, and Volvo
  • Some Audi and Volkswagen
ATF-TIV

ATF T IV

  • Hyundai
  • Kia
  • Mitsubishi
SP-IV

SP IV