Kia seems to think that I should take it to the dealership, but...
March 21, 2010 2:10 PM   Subscribe

How do I get the transmission fluid/gear oil into the transmission of an '08 Kia Spectra5? It's a manual 5-speed, and, as far as I can tell, there is no dipstick.

I feel like there should be an answer somewhere in a kia-specific forum (e.g., but I can't find it. Google is clogged up with auto parts dealers trying to sell me crap, and the local auto parts stores don't have a service manual I can check.
posted by pullayup to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Generally speaking, manual transmissions do not require the addition of fluid. There is no user-friendly way to add fluid.
posted by Old Geezer at 2:22 PM on March 21, 2010

The bigger or beggar question here is "What makes you arrive at this diagnosis, that your transmission neads oil?"

Because, in most cases, a manual transmission should only need oil if there is a leak. And again, most manual transmissions use gear oil or motor oil--a rare few use ATF, and a few manufacturers DO recommend replacing or servicing the gearbox at regular intervals (though those intervals should be long in between).

So, if you are sure that your gearbox needs oil--and not that your clutch needs replacing or servicing (the far more likely case in manual transmissions, but should not be necessary on an '08 Kia--unless you live at the top of a steep hill and slip the clutch all the way up or down)--then Kia is probably right, you should have them or another under-the-car mechanic service the gearbox.

My answer assumes that you are not disposed to do the heavy engine maintenance yourself. If I am wrong, I apologize. Changing the clutch in your KIA includes dropping the transaxle to remove the gear oil.
posted by beelzbubba at 2:42 PM on March 21, 2010

Manual transmissions virtually NEVER have a dipstick.
What's most likely is that there is a fill port and a drain port on the transmission case. From underneath the car, you'll be able to see the two bolts that comprise the fill and drain plugs. Naturally, the fill port will be higher up on the case than the drain port.
Typically, they're either a large bolt (16-19mm) or a bolt that accepts a 3/8ths drive square drive male. Occasionally, they're a specialty fastener like a large Torx (like a T50) or a large (14-17mm) Allen.
The procedure for checking a manual transmission fluid level is usually to remove the fill plug and insert a finger. If it comes out wet, then it's full. (That's what she said.)
These plugs are generally extremely tight and have developed a nice seal of corrosion. Be prepared to exert yourself beyond measure removing these plugs.
Unless it's leaking, manual transmissions do not require a top up. And, unless it's making noise and the effort required to shift gears has increased, you probably don't even need to go to the trouble of checking or changing the fluid between the intervals scheduled in your owners manual. From what I've seen, gear oil or manual transmission fluid has a much longer service life than automatic transmission fluid. Auto trans fluid is subjected to much greater heat and pressure than manual transmission gear oil. Gear oil just splashes around in the gearbox while auto trans fluid is part of a hydraulic and friction system.
Filling the unit usually consists of squirting the gear oil through a hose into the fill hole, since pouring it in is basically impossible.

A few questions:
Is your 2008 Spectra scheduled for this fluid change?
Have you already drained this fluid?
Are you attempting to fill it back up with the correct fluid as specified in the owners manual?
posted by Jon-o at 3:09 PM on March 21, 2010

Well, I'm not sure that I was really due, but the car has 80,000+ miles on it already, and there is evidence that the previous owners (responsible for the first 75,000) were fairly hard on it, probably in a fast-and-furious kind of way. As in, I found an aftermarket chrome/flashing LED shift knob in the bottom of the glove box. I've heard that if you're really responsible, you could change your transmission fluid/gear oil every 30,000 miles, and as far as I knew, it had never been done. It also tended to grind if I shifted from first to second with too much enthusiasm, though I don't know enough about how manual transmissions fail to know if that meant an oil change was in order.

But, all of that was moot, because I had opened the wrong drain plug in the course of my first oil change. Of course, there were no photos or schematics in the manual, which admonished me to take it back to the dealer for oil changes (fat chance), and I had had a couple of beers. I knew something was wrong when the car only yielded a little more than two quarts, and I figured out what was going on fairly quickly thereafter (though not before adding a couple of extra quarts of oil to the engine). So, the horse/oil was already out of the barn/transmission.

Luckily, I was able to borrow a friend's car, so I picked up three quarts of 75W/90 gear oil, but I didn't like the idea of loosening bolts on the transmission at random trying to find a place to put it. Which is where you guys caught up with the story.

Anyway, it turns out that Kia has all of its service manuals online, for free, accessible to everyone (!!!), which might be why they were so hard to find in the real world. They're here, though registration only seems to work in Internet Explorer and you'll need an svg plugin to view them (though the images are vectory-smooth and zoomable when you finally get it installed correctly). Once I was confident about the location of the fill plug, it was pretty much like Jon-o said, and I couldn't get it to grind at all on the way to pick up my victory pizzas.

I'll post another follow-up if it dies on the way to work tomorrow. And don't worry, I got the extra oil out of the engine, too.
posted by pullayup at 5:44 PM on March 21, 2010

Oh, also, for posterity, the fill port is located on the front of the transmission about halfway down, close to the battery, and it is secured by a 17mm bolt. As Jon-o indicated, filling it involves squirting the new gear oil through a tube into the fill port until the level reaches the bottom of the port, which takes 2.25 qt./2.15 L if it's dry. Of course, the car needs to be level when it is filled (that is, not on ramps or a jack).
posted by pullayup at 6:09 PM on March 21, 2010

That's quite a story dude!
You'll never forget the smell of gear oil, will you? That stuff sticks with you and, as I'm sure you're finding, the smell doesn't fade even after vigorous scrubbing.
posted by Jon-o at 6:28 PM on March 21, 2010

It's funny, the old stuff didn't really smell or look that different than regular used motor oil, but the new, clean batch had a purulent yellow tint and a totally unhealthy sulfurous odor. And, yeah, I can still smell it!
posted by pullayup at 7:03 PM on March 21, 2010

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