What YOU need to ask for when purchasing ATF fluids

Often distributors will approach you with “the brand of the month.” They know you’re interested in profit, but buying just based on price can lead to trouble. Today’s automatic transmissions are complex, so demand an ATF that’s OEM-licensed, and nothing less. Here’s a list of terms commonly used to describe ATFs, so you’ll know what they really mean and exactly what to ask for.

Glossary of ATF Terms

OEM-licensed The best, and really the only choice. These are factory quality fluids that you and your customer can count on because they are manufactured to OEM specs. If you don’t see the OEM’s logo and registration mark on the label, it’s not licensed.
Approved for use Just because it’s approved for use, doesn’t mean it’s licensed by the OEM. This generally means it’s suitable for use.
Universal Unfortunately, at the moment no ATF is appropriate for EVERY transmission, and this “one size fits all” approach can lead to damage.
Multi-vehicle Often presented as suitable for a broad range of vehicles. You may hear “it’s good for 90% of the cars on the road.” But what about the other 10%?
Branded Yes, you may know the name brand on the label. But these aren’t necessarily licensed by the OEM. It’s still confusing to find what MIGHT be appropriate, so why not do the simple thing and just use OEM-licensed fluid?
Dealer Dealer fluids are usually OEM-licensed and match certain vehicles made by that dealer.
Suitable for use When you see this description, you’ll also see the caveat “for many transmissions.” Don’t take a chance. Use an OEM-licensed fluid.
Factory fluid Often used to describe OEM-licensed fluid. But be sure! Is the OEM’s logo on the label?
Independent, not licensed They may save you a few cents, but many nameless fluids lack complete additive packages, regardless of what the label says.

The bottom line: Demand documentation that any fluid you buy is “OEM-licensed.” If a fluid doesn’t clearly state this or show the OEM’s logo on the label, it probably isn’t OEM-licensed.