ford focus vacuum pump auto transmission fluid change easy

My parents have an old 2003 Ford Focus that has started to have some Automatic gearbox problems such as gear slippage and reverse gear jerking. It is really not as smooth as it was when they brought it 10 years ago.

I really didn’t want to take it to a service department as they were quoting me crazy prices over the phone like $2000 for a rebuild of the auto transmission. I don’t think the car is even worth that much. So I thought I would give it a go at a quick DIY service myself to see if I could at least fix the problem myself for minimal cost.

The car had been into the local dealer’s workshop a few years ago for a 120k full service. They had supposed to have replaced the auto transmission fluid and filter, but I am beginning to question if this had been done. So with 170k now on the clock, I decided to change the transmission fluid anyway. It is looking dark in color and smells burnt. It should be red-pink in color.

2003-2012 Ford Focus transmission fluid change

The proper way to replace the oil is to hoist the car up either on car jacks or on a garage hoist and remove the auto transmission drain pan. Ford didn’t include a drain plug on this model car so it will create a mess when removing the pan.

To minimize the amount of transmission oil that will be left in the pan, you can use a transmission oil vacuum pump. This will remove the excess fluid out of the dipstick hole.

Once you have sucked out most of the oil you can remove all of the 8mm bolts that are holding on the pan. Use a pry bar to separate the pan from the auto transmission box. Try not to insert the pry bar too far into the transmission, as there are solenoids and electrical wires in there that could be damaged.

Be careful as the oil can still be hot and will spill out all over the place. If you drop one end of the transmission pan first you can direct the flow of liquid into your drip tray.

ford focus automatic gearbox oil change dropping pan
Removal of auto transmission oil pan

Once your oil pan is off, removed the filter sensor electrical connection. It will just unplug and you can then remove the auto transmission oil filter. Be careful as more fluid will come out.

Ford Focus 2000 - 2012 auto transmission filter and solenoid kit.
Ford Focus 2000 – 2012 auto transmission filter and solenoid kit.

Apparently, failure of the auto-shifting solenoids in the Ford Focus is quite common and the kit shown above has a few included.

Reinstall and top up fluids

Now you can replace the old filter with the new one from the repair kit and clean up the old gasket material from the pan. Ford uses a silicone type of material so you will have to scrape this off. Use a knife or a razor blade.

Reinstall the new gasket. I like to use a few bolts to hold the gasket in place while you install the pan. Tighten them up going from side to side so the pan tightens up evenly. Now we can pour in the Auto transmission fluid which is Mercon V type for the Ford Focus.

The 2003 Ford focus owners manual says to use 6.6 quarts. I only was able to pull out 3.5 quarts. This is because the rest is still sitting in the low parts of your transmission and also in the torque converter. Only put back in the amount you take out unless it was low to start with.

You can download the Ford Focus 2003 Manual from Here ford-focus-03

Make sure not to overfill your fluids. Top it up to around halfway on the dip stick and then go for a 10-minute drive. Come back and check again once the oil is warmed up. Always check the transmission level with the car running. If you require a key to pop open your bonnet (it is under the Ford Logo) you will have to use a spare key.

Motorcraft Mercon V Ford Recommended Auto Transmission fluid

Mercon V automatic transmission fluid
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Motorcraft MERCON V is a premium automatic transmission fluid that is recommended by Ford for use in Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury vehicles. These older cars require either MERCON V or MERCON type fluid and Motorcraft is perfect for these applications.

It was really hard for me to track down some Mercon V transmission fluid. Many small auto parts stores wanted to sell me a generic brand that was supposed to be compatible with all vehicles. I wonder if this is why those solenoids are failing in some people’s cars. Incorrect transmission fluid.

Stick with what’s recommended in the owner’s manual and you can’t go wrong.

Ford Focus automatic gearbox oil change only

2003 - 2012 ford focus transmission fluid change using vacuum pump

If you only want to change your ford focus automatic gearbox oil then just use the oil pump to drain the oil. You will leave a small amount of gearbox oil at the bottom of the pan and filter. I was able to get 3.5 quarts out using the vacuum oil pump.

This is the cheapest way to remove, flush, and replace your oil. Keep in mind that the filter is still going to need replacing down the track but if you keep on changing your hydraulic oil every few years you should have trouble-free running.

Once you have sucked out all of the auto fluid, its best to measure the quantity and then replace the exact amount. Use a funnel into the transmission dip stick tube to refill it to the correct level.

top up ford focus automatic gearbox oil change with mercon v

Most people don’t think to service their auto boxes. But just like engine oil, these have to be replaced. The trans oil from my parent’s Ford Focus was very brown. It should be a nice red color so its old and has lost much of its lubrication and shifting capabilities.

How often should I change my automatic Transmission fluid?

Most manufacturers recommend changing your auto transmission fluid every 30,000 to 100,000. Although my Toyota Highlander manual says no need to change the transmission fluid for the life of the vehicle unless you are doing 4×4 work. WOW.

Check your service manual for the recommended replacement timeframe. If you start to see a change in color or a burnt smell its best to change it at your next service interval. Changing it more often won’t cause any harm to your vehicle. Just time and added costs.

Symptoms of bad transmission fluid

    • Your Transmission is making grinding or squealing noises.
    • Shifting Gear problems.
    • Slipping Gears.
    • Surging of the Vehicle both in forward and reverse direction.
  • Delay in selecting gears and auto movement of gears.
  • Dark in color and burnt smell of the transmission fluid.

How to check the transmission fluid level

  1. Drive the vehicle 30 km (20 miles) or until it reaches normal operating temperature.
  2. Park the vehicle on a level surface and engage the parking brake.
  3. With the parking brake engaged and your foot on the brake pedal, start the engine and move the gearshift lever through all of the gear ranges. Allow sufficient time for each gear to engage.
  4. Latch the gearshift lever in P (Park) and leave the engine running.
  5. Remove the dipstick, wiping it clean with a clean, dry lint-free rag. If necessary, refer to Identifying Components in the engine compartment in this chapter for the location of the dipstick.
  6. Install the dipstick making sure it is fully seated in the filler tube.
  7. Remove the dipstick and inspect the fluid level. The fluid should be in the designated areas for normal operating temperature.

Low fluid level

Do not drive the vehicle if the fluid level is at the bottom of the dipstick and the outside temperatures are above 10°C (50°F).

Correct fluid level

The transmission fluid should be checked at normal operating temperatures 66°C-77°C (150°F-170°F) on a level surface. The normal operating temperature can be reached after approximately 30 km (20 miles) of driving. The transmission fluid should be in this range if at the normal operating temperature (66°C-77°C [150°F-170°F]).

High fluid level

Fluid levels above the safe range may result in transaxle failure. An overfill condition of transmission fluid may cause shift and/or engagement concerns and/or possible damage. High fluid levels can be caused by an overheating condition.


The ford focus automatic gearbox oil change is really easy. Dropping the pan is the hard part so expect to take around 1 hour from start to finish. If you do it yourself you will save a ton of money from taking it to the dealer or your local workshop.

Always read your owner’s manual for the correct oils to use. The Ford Focus used Mercon V also known as Mercon 5. Don’t use anything else as it could destroy your auto transmission.

Now is a great time to continue to check over all other areas of your car like engine oil, coolant, battery, and tire pressures. It will save you from becoming a bush mechanic with no tools down the road when something goes wrong. Take preventative action now and your car will be good to go forever.

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