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I am doing routine maintenance on my wife's forester. She only has 70k miles on it. All previous maintenance was performed at the dealer.

I drained the automatic transmission fluid, and collected ~3.8 quarts of COLD fluid. Thinking that an extra 0.2 quarts (or ~ 6 ounces) of fluid was no big deal, I dumped in all 4 of my 1 quart Idemitsu HP containers. I then drove the car around a good bit to warm everything up and when I checked the level was high and there were some bubbles on the dipstick (I hear the bubbles are a bad sign). So when the engine cooled off a bit, I drained 1/2 quart (16 ounces) of warm, but not hot fluid. I then let the car sit overnight and this morning I had to check it cold before my wife left for work. With the engine running, and after moving the shifter through R, N and D a couple of times, based on the cold marks, the fluid was too low! So I added back 8 of the 16 ounces of fluid I had drained (all I had). So at that point I figure I put back in 3.75 quarts... or very close to the 3.8 quarts I took out.

Tonight, after the engine was once again COLD, I did the same check and the fluid was still LOW! So I added 4 ounces (~3.875 quarts), and drove the car again to warm it up and check it when the fluid was at operating temperature. Again, I'll be damned, the dipstick shows too much fluid (using the HOT marks), and some bubbles were on the dipstick.

Can someone please let me know what in the hell might be going on? I have never had so much trouble with fluid levels in a car before.

Does anyone have any idea whatsoever how much fluid brings the level on the dipstick from the cold (or hot) "low" hole to the cold (or hot) "high" hole?
 

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@wingerplop Man, I feel your pain. I had the same problem with my 2010 and also think the cold readings should be ignored. I think the problem is with the cold readings as its more dependent on the ambient air temperature rather than the hot temperature which is more consistent with the operating temperature. I even found that driving a few miles wasn't enough time for it to heat up all the way. My suggestion is to drive it at least 10 miles, and check it and dribble off any excess if needed by loosening the plug.
 

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Thanks for the help. Do either of you know how big the "window" is for the "proper" amount of fluid? Is it 2 ounces? 8? etc? How on the nose does this really have to be?!

Also, is it better to be too low, or too high when you're driving the car around to warm up the fluid? How worried to I need to be about destroying this tranny?!
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Oh, and one more thing. I have a hard time getting a nice clean reading on the dipstick. No matter what I do, there is always fluid on both edges of the dipstick that run way up on the sides. There's only probably half the width of the dipstick in the middle that shows what I assume to be the true level. Do you have this issue as well?
 

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I drained mine on the level (cold) And added around 8oz short of a gallon. Probably did that about a dozen times on my 08.
 

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I believe the document I inserted above shows that detail
Unless I'm missing it, I did not see anything about how much fluid the dots represent. Nevertheless... FYI:

I once again drained more fluid. Minus the small drips and so forth, after draining I had about 3 quarts and 12 ounces of fluid remaining in the transmission. I drove the car ~6 miles, which took about 25 minutes in town, and checked the fluid level... it was right at the L dot for the HOT fluid readings. I added 4 ounces of fluid, drove the car around the block, and measured again. The level was right at the F mark! So there we have it... evidently the margin of error on this is +/- 2 ounces, or +/-1.5% of 4 qts. I find that to be completely ridiculous. I'd be shocked if the average Forester driver that has this done at a shop ends up with the correct amount of ATF fluid according to the dipstick.
 

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Yea, I found it doesnt take much between the dots, maybe a half quart of cold fluid which evidently expands quite a bit..... and the trick to getting clean readings is to let it idle without the dipstick in for a few minutes.
 
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