Back when the first quick lube facility started showing up, my first thought was that this is going to affect our business. Customers will go these shops to save money for not only engine oil changes, but also transmission services.
It can also open a can of worms for the transmission industry. One of these service centers opened up just down the street from our shop and within a month they came to us with a problem. We were friendly with all the shops in the area and didn’t refuse anyone who needed help, even if they were our competition. If another shop needed a part we would lend it to them and they would replace it right away.
Well, this quick lube shop had just serviced a Mazda with an F4A-EL (single pan) and now it wouldn’t move, so they asked if we could take a look at it. They towed the vehicle to us and we dropped the pan to discover they’d installed the wrong filter. It was a shallow pan 2WD and they installed a deep pan AWD filter (figure 1).
Of course there was no way for the pump to get oil with the pan pressed against the filter inlet. At first we told them it was going to cost $1200 dollars to fix it. After they freaked out for a few seconds we told them it was only the wrong filter. How they got the pan on with that filter is beyond me.
There are other issues, such as flushing machines being used to service vehicles with internal filters, such as Acura, Honda, and the CD4E transmissions to name just a few. After servicing one of these units, especially with high mileage, the new fluid may loosen some of the caked-on debris inside the transmission and restrict the internal filter. It doesn’t take too long either. Then the customer has to have the vehicle towed to a local transmission shop.
Not that there’s anything wrong with using a flushing machine to perform normal maintenance on a transmission of this type, as long as it was performed right from the beginning at low mileage; not when it’s never been serviced and it has 130,000 miles and burnt fluid.
Not too long ago, several new Subaru Lineartronic CVTs had differential failure after a visit to one of these quick lube facilities (figure 2). When they had the cars on the lift, they removed and replaced every drain plug they could find.
The problem was they only refilled the transmission section of the unit; they didn’t see the fill plug for the differential because it’s partially hidden by the axle (figure 3). Otherwise we don’t hear about too many failures on this transmission.
Another issue has to do with some offshore aftermarket filters showing up in shops everywhere. Some of these poorly made filters have the filter media getting sucked up into the pump inlet and blocking off pump flow (figure 4).
This has become a common call to the HotLine, so beware of filters with no brand name markings on the filter body. The symptoms are usually similar to a restricted filter. The complaint is the vehicle stops moving when it gets hot; then, if they turn the engine off for a few minutes and then restart it, the vehicle moves again for a short distance and stops.
There have been some odd symptoms, like no reverse when hot on some Toyotas, such as the U140E, when the original screen type filter is replaced with an aftermarket, cloth media filter. You may not see the media pulled up into the pump inlet when you remove the pan and inspect the filter.
The most recent problem found on the ATRA HotLine has been with GM 6T40/70 and Ford 6F35/50 transmissions. On the GM transmissions, code P0218 (Transmission Fluid Over Temperature) may set shortly after a transmission service. This may occur whether it was serviced in a transmission shop or quick lube.
With the GM models the only issue beside the code may be fluid leaking out the vent. On the Ford 6F35/50 models it’s a bit more catastrophic: Along with code P0218 the transmission may have already melted down, and I do mean melted down: Here are some photos from a 6F35 that we received from a transmission rebuild facility that was only serviced a few days before the problem occurred (figures 5a-5d).
As you can see, some of the plastic components actually became so hot that they liquefied. Plastic was found inside the valve body springs and thrust bearings. On both the GM and Ford units, this is caused by the transmission being overfilled.
The reason? The expansion rate on the synthetic fluid in these units is very sensitive to heat, and can easily be mistaken for being only slightly overfull, when just a ¼” over the full mark may actually be 3 to 4 quarts too much.
Ford has a TSB for the 6F35 for an updated dipstick (fluid level lines; figure 9) and revised filler tube venting to prevent overfilling. The complaint on these units was fluid leaking out the filler tube. This information, along with the new dipstick and filler tube part number, was covered in ATRA bulletin ATB1563, which applies to some 2009 Escapes and Mariners built on or before 10/29/2008.
Maybe the most important consideration when it comes to performing a transmission service is that most of the lube technicians at the nearby quick lube don’t know what they’re looking at. To them, it’s just one more oil to drain; one more filter to replace.
But as we all know, that transmission service can tell you a lot about the condition of the transmission. And it takes an experience transmission technician to examine the oil and the sediment in the pan, and know whether it’s okay to go ahead with a service… or to refuse it, because there’s just too much damage evident.
Even though we weren’t talking about it in this article, don’t forget how important it is to use the correct fluid. That could be an entire article itself. So remember: Be careful, because, in today’s market, a transmission fluid service is no longer just a service.
Special thanks to Bill Anthony from TDE for the photos of the 6F35 parts.